When Sara Niyonteze leaves to work as a carer on Derby’s transport scheme, she knows exactly where her two daughters are – and her mother too. That’s because all three generations of the family also work on $260 buses.
Although part-time jobs provide income for the four women, the job is more than that as it is part of an extended family.
They enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie between drivers and assistants, as well as the community of students, parents, teachers and staff.
“I don’t really feel like working because I like it,” Niyonteze said.
The bus service has been particularly important to his 62-year-old mother, Mary Oliver, who also works as a helper.
“It really brightens his day,” Niyonteze said.
Niyonteze, 43, also works for the district as a para at Wineteer Elementary School. His daughter Jasmine Edwards, 23, like her mother and grandmother, is a bus helper, while another daughter Selena Edwards, 21, is a bus driver.
Jasmine just finished her state board for her cosmetology license and Selena is studying engineering.
“It’s a steady income while they go to school,” Niyonteze said.
Training is a key aspect of the job
Niyonteze worked in a larger school district, but likes the smaller $260 and is fine with commuting from his Wichita home.
This is Niyonteze’s fifth year with Derby. Her daughters have been here for four years and her mother for three years.
The job involves a split shift and the family has to be at the bus station between 6:40 and 7:00 a.m. and is often finished by 8:10 a.m., but sometimes it takes longer. In all cases, they are guaranteed at least 1.5 hours of salary, with salary based on experience.
They must arrive between 2:40 p.m. and 3:10 p.m. and are generally finished before 4:30 p.m.
While large buses can carry up to 62 students, small buses that usually carry students with special needs often have six to 12 passengers. However, even if they are few in number, they generally need more services.
Some kids need a harness and all need to wear seat belts, unlike the big buses.
“You’re like the stewardess on that bus,” she laughed.
More seriously, they may have behavioral problems, such as aggression or anger, and for this the aides receive special training.
“The more you practice, the smoother the ride becomes,” she said.
Make a positive first impression
Employees must also have CPR and first aid training and attend monthly meetings where specialized topics, such as crisis management, are discussed.
Niyonteze sits in the back of the bus so she has a clear view of the passengers and any problems they may be having, including calming them down if necessary. Some of them may be autistic, and destructive behaviors are situations that helpers might encounter.
Whatever the challenge, Niyonteze is simply thrilled to work with children.
“It’s nice,” she said.
Being with children is a vocation she has been fulfilling for two decades. She also has a side bounce house business and previously operated a children’s daycare center.
She sees her job as making a positive first impression on students to start their day off right.
Transportation supervisor Randy Collins was helpful, Niyonteze said, including giving Selena the support she needed to get her CDL.
“Randy is a great guy,” she said.
At least for her future as a bus helper, Niyonteze said she wants to keep riding with the job.
“As long as they keep having me, they can’t get rid of me,” she said.