Rescue Union School District’s bus driver Char Feigles waves from her No. 6 bus. Village Life photo by Shelly Thorene

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The wheels on her bus go round and round

By From page A1 | November 15, 2017

There are some basic rules to effectively transport children to and from school.

Rule No. 1: A school bus driver should enjoy being around children who have the potential to be talkative, hyper and sometimes even disruptive.

Rule No 2: A school bus driver should be patient, kind, communicative and in touch with how a student is feeling on any given day. For instance, a student may have been bullied at school, or had an argument with a friend, or he or she might simply be shy, or perhaps simply nervous about riding the bus.

… Which leads to Rule No 3: A school bus driver should be able to stay calm at all times, read minds and ideally, have a Ph.D. in child psychology.

Lucky for the young riders on Rescue Union School District’s bus No. 6, Char Feigles has the first two rules down. And while she is not a licensed therapist (it’s unknown if she is psychic), she has what it takes after almost 15 years behind a school bus wheel — including a smile, which she was seen exchanging with her passengers on a recent Thursday afternoon as they boarded the big yellow bus.

The bus ride home

“Everybody buckled?” she said over the intercom from her place at the helm as she prepared to transport about a dozen kindergarten through fifth-grade students home from school. Her group was slightly smaller that day, which made for a fairly quiet trip. (Maximum capacity on a school bus is 84 students, so imagine that ride.)

The noise level was also down that day because the children were sitting in assigned seats, something she came up with to spread them out a bit and keep them from bunching up on the bench seats, which are equipped for up to three people. Feigles said she doesn’t always assign seats, but she “had some unkindness going on — bullying — so it seemed like a good idea to move them apart.”

“I didn’t see you on Halloween. Did you have fun trick-or-treating?” the bus driver asked her young commuters.

They chorused a happy-sounding “Yes.”

“What was your favorite treat?” Feigles asked.

A “big Snickers,” said one of the boys in the back.

There was no screaming or shouting, just seemingly happy, content children — a few playing a game they called “make the person laugh” — as she drove them to their El Dorado Hills neighborhoods.

Anika Vidovich, who immediately mentioned she’s turning 9 on Nov. 22, said she likes “everything” about her bus driver. Anika also said she likes riding this particular bus because “the other bus has like a million people and it’s really, really loud.”

Kierrah Klusty, 7, said, “I like the bus driver because she treats us nice.”

Ezra Stephenson, also 7, said, “I like her. I like how she drives.”

“She’s nice,” said 10-year-old Owen Cline. “She’s never in a bad mood and she’s not too strict. A lot of bus drivers are super strict and she’s not one of them.”

That’s not to say she doesn’t keep the children in check.

“Am I hearing people hitting back there?” she asked over the intercom.

“No” was the answer.

“Sounds kind of like caged animals, so let’s not do that, OK?” Feigles said.

“It’s my boots that are making that noise,” said the voice of a little girl.

Soon after, the bus driver pulled up to a stop in the Lakeridge Oaks neighborhood.

“Bye,” said Owen as he stepped off the bus.

“Have a good day, buddy,” she replied.

Making a difference in a child’s life — one bus ride at a time.

Feigles — who thinks “kindergartners are the sweetest things in the world” — also has a soft spot for middle schoolers, even those who do present more challenges.

“I have learned over the years that to get a good relationship with middle schoolers, there are some rules you have to follow. The No. 1 rule is to not embarrass them in front of their peers. So if I need to address an issue with a middle schooler, I always try to do it one-on-one. Sometimes that might mean I need to step off the bus with them or have them wait in the morning after everyone gets off the bus at school. If I can talk to them one-on-one, that is where the rapport starts.

“Sometimes you get that child who isn’t very compliant, but with most kids, if you handle it in that one-on-one way, they are a lot more willing to listen and not be defensive,” she said.

Rule No. 2?

“I try not to be a stickler about the tiniest things. I try to play the music and play music that they like, within reason. I usually drive with the music on. A lot of people don’t play music at all,” she said. “I try to do things they appreciate. I show them respect and I get more respect from them,” she said, adding, “One thing I don’t put up with at all is bullying. My big thing is you need to be respectful of others and be kind — otherwise be quiet.”

To be, or not to be” a school bus driver 

“We are all starving for school bus drivers; this is a nationwide issue,” said Pat Cahill, Rescue Union School District director of transportation. Anyone interested in driving a school bus should call their local school district, he said.

The reasons for the shortage are often the very same reasons some choose this type of work. “Most of it is split shifts. It’s not year-round; you’re off during the summer, on weekends and on holidays. Perfect for many people,” Cahill said. 

Take Feigles, for example, who said in the beginning of her career she was “specifically looking for a job working within the school district” because she wanted summers off and the same school schedule as her children.

School bus drivers go through a minimum of 20 hours behind the wheel. They must also receive a first aid certification, a rules and regulations certification from the California Highway Patrol, a commercial license through the Department of Motor Vehicles and then take (and pass) a driver’s test with the CHP.

Village Life Staff

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