By Sara Alvarado
She is there to tell them good morning and she is there to ask them how their school day was. She is there to hear their funny stories and she is there to hear their heartbreaks. She is there to make sure each child in her care makes it home safe and has a little fun on the way too. Jennifer Radach is a bus driver – and to more than twenty kids a day, she is so much more.
Jennifer has been driving for the Centralia-Chehalis Pupil Transportation Co-op since 2005. She has driven many different bus routes and has driven kids of all ages. Currently Jennifer is driving an elementary special education bus by choice. “I absolutely love driving a special education bus,” Jennifer shares. The reason she loves driving? The kids.
“You really see everything that is going on in the community through the kids.” Jennifer shares that through it all, she likes to see positive changes happening in the community – and she likes being there for kids and helping to make a difference in their lives.
“You have to get to know the kids. If you know how to connect with them, how to make them laugh, then it’s just a different atmosphere on the bus,” says Jennifer including that ever rider on one of her routes has needed something different. Knowing what they need is the first step to helping them.
“If they know that they can enjoy their time on the bus, that someone is paying attention, that can be enough,” she adds.
Jennifer has collected many happy memories and a few sad ones over the years. She makes a point to connect with kids and their families. They mean as much to her as she does to them.
A few years ago there was a little girl on Jennifer’s route who lost her mother. Jennifer says, “Never, never did I think I would have to deal with anything like that on my bus. How would you respond to a little first grader saying, ‘Bus driver, my mommy died.’”
Jennifer maintains a sense of family on her bus. And when tragedy happens, as it sometimes does, she is able to give back a little piece of normal to the kids who count on her. “You know, for her to come and tell me, that wasn’t easy to do.” Ultimately, Jennifer was a smile in that child’s day and someone who was there for her.
Jennifer shares another story from a few years ago about a kindergarten boy on her route who was in trouble for sticking his middle finger up at people. When Jennifer got to his stop, she told his mom what had happened. His mom leaned into the bus and said, “Where did you learn that from?”
Jennifer begins to laugh and says, “He popped his head over the seat, pointed at his mom and said, ‘You, mommy!’” Jennifer wisely shares and warns that kids hear everything, even if you think they might not be listening.
“You know, that route was my most challenging route, but I was able to get through to the kids, and I think that made a difference.” Jennifer’s stories and her joy for the kids shines through in her words.
Jennifer’s secret for a happy bus ride comes down to one idea—building relationships. Jennifer invests time to get to know her riders and their families and, in some cases, their teachers too. Jennifer’s ability to create community on her bus is part of what makes her bus so special.
In addition to driving for the Centralia-Chehalis Co-op, Jennifer owns her own business, Radach-al Hair Design, located at 2124 N. Pearl Street in Centralia. The services she offers include haircut, color, perms, up-dos, waxing, manicures and pedicures. Jennifer fits appointments in between her bus schedule and on weekends.
“I used to think that I would leave bus driving, but now I have my special education route and I love it,” says Jennifer, adding that right now she is content to do both.
When Jennifer isn’t busy driving her bus and styling hair, she and her husband Aaron are spending time with their two kids. Both of Jennifer’s kids attend Centralia schools and are busy with sports and music programs within the district. In fact, Jennifer was on her way to her daughter’s first choir concert of the year as we wrapped up our interview.
The final thoughts Jennifer shares are that good bus drivers are hard to come by. If you are interested in applying for a position to be a bus driver, go to the Centralia-Chehalis Pupil Transportation Co-op for current job postings and directions on how to apply.
Also, when you see a bus driver, please thank them for all they do for our kids and our community.