There’s a legion of support staff that help Bennett each and every day. Most of them work in special education at Bennett’s school — they are teachers, education assistants and therapists. They help him focus in class, support him in play with his peers and teach him prepositions or how to dribble a basketball.
Outside of school Bennett’s world expands to include doctors, specialists, babysitters and respite workers, swim instructors, volunteer adaptive ski instructors and soon, camp counsellors. They all do a small job in helping Bennett function and integrate into the larger world, by prescribing medicine, building his confidence on skis or helping him have an incredible summer filled with games, hiking and swimming.
And then there are the trusty folks who act as his conduits between his two worlds: the bus drivers who get Bennett to and from school safely every day.
Bennett has been riding a bus to school since he started at Renfrew at the age of three. We’ve had many different bus drivers over the years — and some repeat drivers — and they always greet Bennett with a smile in the morning and send him off with a wave in the afternoon. They patiently wait while Bennett dawdles his way to the bus, and drags his feet getting off after school (he doesn’t want to stop watching the TV screen!).
But I never really stopped to think about what the job might be like for them until I read Craig Davidson’s book, Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077, this spring. The book chronicles his experience driving a busette of differently-abled junior high and high school kids in Calgary. Davidson, who previously had no experience with people with special needs, finds himself leaning to operate a wheel chair lift on the bus, getting to know his charges through daily conversations and banter, and even defending them against a high school bully and the bully’s father. He learns a lot about himself along the way. It’s a great book: serious and poignant, but with hilarious bits, too.
I got to thinking — after a note home about a month ago informing me that Bennett had been hitting another boy on his morning bus — these wonderful Renfrew drivers really must be a special breed. The kids at Bennett’s school range in age from three to 12, and even greater is their range of conditions, from autism to cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome. The drivers likely endure tantrums, screaming or even children who unbuckle and get loose inside the bus while it’s hurtling down Deerfoot Trail! And they have to know how to handle all of these situations, including my eight-year-old with loose fists after the morning commute! Yet despite what must be a lot of stress, plus driving in Calgary rush hour traffic (arguably more stressful), they always greet the kids with a big smile and are still smiling at the end of the day.
Their patience and dedication helps Bennett’s life run smoothly — and by proxy, ours — and I can’t imagine how we’d keep all the balls in the air if that bus with the rainbow didn’t pull up at 8:15 every morning. Thanks for driving my precious cargo!