"Good morning," driver Holly Gouker said with a smile to three sleepy-eyed Spring Garden Elementary School students Monday morning as they climbed the steps of the school bus she drives for Carroll County Public Schools.

The Manchester resident has been a CCPS bus driver for five years.

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"I like it; a friend of mine works in the office at F&S [Transportation Md. Inc.] had talked to me about joining and being a bus driver," Gouker said, perched in the driver's seat of bus No. 301. "I said 'There's no way I could do that,' and she said, 'Yes, you can.' "

Gouker, who has four children, three of whom attend Carroll public schools, said she took the required tests for the job and has been doing it ever since. Gouker — who said the company she drives for, F&S, pays drivers $16.45 an hour — also pointed out that the school system is currently looking for qualified drivers.

"We need help," said Gouker. "It's a great job if you like [working] with kids."

Gouker is one of 386 school bus drivers, in addition to 99 school bus assistants who are responsible for ensuring the daily transportation of about 24,500 students, according to a news release from CCPS.

"We're always looking for drivers," said Keith Shorter, CCPS supervisor of transportation. "Right now, for some reason it seems like we're going through a period where drivers are in short supply; fortunately for us, our buses run every day, and we have drivers on them every day."

On Tuesday, for Bus Drivers and Bus Assistants Recognition Day the school system recognized bus drivers and bus assistants for the work they do. The recognition comes during National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 19 to 23.

"It's a great job, it's an important job and it's a rewarding job," Shorter said. "They're the first person to greet the kids in the morning, and they make sure they get to school safely."

CCPS requires bus drivers to possess a commercial driver's license with passenger, school bus and air brake endorsements, and be certified by passing required pre-service classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. They are also required to attend a minimum of six hours of in-service instruction each year, according to CCPS information.

Additionally, drivers must pass an annual physical examination, and are subject to random and post-accident drug and alcohol testing, according to CCPS.

Gouker begins each day at about 6:30 a.m. and ends at 4:25 p.m. on a bus route that takes her from North Carroll High School to Shiloh Middle School and ends at Spring Garden Elementary School.

Parents often question her, wondering why the bus is delayed, Gouker said. Her greatest challenge each day is dealing with traffic resulting from construction in the downtown Hampstead area, she said.

She is also responsible for the safety of the approximately 120 students she transports to and from school each day, a task that requires plenty of concentration and patience.

Dozens of kids squirmed and chattered in their seats on Gouker's bus Monday, excited to see their friends after the weekend break.

There are times, Gouker said, when she has to pull students aside to reinforce bus safety rules. For example, many of the students sit facing their friends in adjacent seats when they should be facing forward, Gouker said.

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"We have to ask them to sit down and clear the aisle, because we have to be able to see out those back doors," Gouker said, pointing to an emergency exit at the rear of the bus.

Gouker said one of the bonuses of the job is that she is able to spend more time with her children, who attend school in Manchester.

CCPS transportation officials said the position can be convenient for parents because they can transport their children to school. There are more than 50 school bus contractors located around the county, and drivers are often placed with contractors by location, said John O'Meally, area supervisor in transportation services.

"I'm home when they are, and I like that," Gouker said.

410-857-7862

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Want to be a bus driver?

Contact Dianne Grote, president of the Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association, at 410-848-4649, ext. 101. She can help place people who are interested in bus driver positions, based on company needs and their geographic location.

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