What does it take to be R2’s Bus Driver of the Year?

Sharon Chisolm helps mold the lives of Richland 2 students one bus ride at a time. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – For Sharon Chisolm, a Richland Two school bus driver who drives a route in Blythewood, the workday begins around 5:45 a.m. when she picks up her logbook, her school bus key and reviews her pre-trip safety check list.

But Chisolm is not just a bus driver. She’s the Bus Driver of the Year for Richland Two.  A sign on the side of her bus announces her special status as she tools around Blythewood dropping off and picking up students at Blythewood Middle School, Round Top Elementary and Westwood High School.

How did she become driver of the year?

While driving skills are important to the title, those who know Chisolm say it is her special relationship with the students she transports and what she tries to do for them during the short time she’s with them every day that won the title for her.

“Their school day starts with me and ends with me,” she said with a smile. “I’m the first thing they see in the morning, and I’m the last thing they see in the evening  – five days a week – and that gives me a great opportunity to influence the lives of every one of those kids for the better,” Chisolm said. “And I try to do that every day.”

Chisolm says she aims to do more for the kids she transports than just get them to and from school safely and on time.

Her charges call her “Ms. C,” she says, and riding with them is never dull.

“People say, ‘How do you deal with all these kids?’ I say, ‘You just have to have the heart to do it and want to do it and love what you do no matter how bad your day or theirs might have been,” she says.

“When I see something is wrong with one of the kids, I tell them, ‘You might’ve messed up today, but tomorrow we’re going to make it better.’ ”

The number one rule on Chisolm’s bus is to respect one another.

Chisolm says she tries to model being a good person and does her best to help, whether that means helping her elementary school riders understand new words or letting troubled high-schoolers know how much they’re valued.

“When I open the bus door to pick them up, it’s always, ‘Good morning!” Chisholm says brightly.

After the morning run and post-trip bus check, she does a little office work, has lunch, then begins her second route – taking children home from school – and wraps up her day after 6 p.m. – more than 12 hours after she started.

Before she became a bus driver nearly nine years ago, Chisolm says she was a nursing assistant working third shift. But she had a small child. When her son’s father passed away, her son was still in kindergarten.

“I needed to find a job to accommodate my schedule, so I could be home when my son was home and off when he’s off. I prayed and asked God to send me a job or show me a job that I can do that I can work and still be there to support him as he journeys through school,” she says.

“When I applied for a job as a school bus driver, two school districts called and interviewed me on the same day. I chose Richland Two,” she says, “and I’ve been driving for the district ever since.”

Her son is now a sophomore in high school.

During the nine years she’s been working for the district as a bus driver, Chisolm has also helped train new school bus drivers.

The process of being named bus driver of the year in Richland Two is not an easy path.

First, Chisolm was nominated by her hub manager based on her people skills and performance in that aspect of the job. Then, she had to compete with drivers nominated by other hubs in a bus driving skills test, where she was scored on a series of challenging maneuvers.

“More than anything, I try to be my natural self and just be genuine and loving to my kids and show them that no matter who they are or where they came from, they’re loved and needed,” Chisolm says.

She says her rewards from her work are many. She has received countless first-day-of-school hugs from students and their families who are happy to see her again for a new school year and she sometimes receives invitations from her current and former riders to attend everything from their band competitions to graduations, baby showers and weddings.

“I feel that if I can just reach one out of the 50 or so students who ride my bus – if I can reach just one, I know I have done my job.”

“I just love my job, I love the kids, I love the relationships I have…. I love what I do.”

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