Kids, just like adults, surprise us with their stand on things at times. I had a fourth-grade student who said “good morning” back when I greeted him, as I do with all my young school bus riders, but pretty much kept to himself otherwise. He always sat in the back with the “big kids” and rarely caused me any trouble.

I have no idea what caused his massive turn-around one morning, but he had changed. The “stuff” that was coming out of his mouth and his aggressive action just did not fit the person I had seen previously.

I pulled the bus over to the side of the road, applied the parking brake, turned on the hazard lights and ventured back to the hallowed area of the “big kids.” For those who aren’t exactly sure what that refers to, in this case it is the last four of five rows of the school bus.

Some of the bus drivers require that the kindergarten through second-graders must sit in the front rows, and the older students then occupy only the rear-most seats. I have not found it necessary to have this type of arrangement and therefore allow anyone to sit anywhere. This allows even the little, scared kindergartener to get the feeling he or she is a “ big kid.” (Most of the little kids really don’t care.)

To continue, I confronted young John (not his real name), saying what he was doing was not acceptable and I would like him to move up to one of the front seats. He said that was not acceptable to him and he was not moving. I proceeded to explain to him that this was, in effect, my bus and what I asked him to do was not negotiable. His answer remained negative and by now my patience was running short. I offered one more chance to change his mind and his answer was “ I make my own decisions.”

Personally, I think it is great for people to make their own decisions, but I felt I had to remind him that when you make decisions, good or bad, the decisionmaker has to be ready to pay for the results. I again offered him the choice of changing his mind and the answer remained the same. As a last chance, I told him he had until I reached the front of the bus to find his way forward and if he did not, that was it.

When I reached my seat, I radioed the bus dispatcher and requested that the principal of the grade school meet the bus and take charge of John as soon as we arrived.

There were about 70 students on the bus that morning and, in the rush to get off, John slipped by without talking to the principal. She and I talked while another teacher retrieved John, who had taken refuge in the boy's bathroom. She asked what I suggested be done. I felt that his attitude had delayed all of the student’s arrival and the minimum punishment should be that he stand up before everyone on the bus and apologize.

That afternoon, when I arrived to pick the students up for the trip home, the principal met me and said John had accepted my terms and was ready to get it over with.

I had John stand to one side at the front of the bus until all of the other students had taken seats. Once I had everyone’s attention, I announced that John had something he wished to say. It is hard to explain how pleased and proud I was for him in the following few moments.

He stepped forward, faced all of the other students and in a very clear voice said, “I want to apologize to everyone for the way I acted this morning, and I hope you will forgive me.”

What followed just blew me away. The students stood up and cheered.

My young friend has no place to go but up once he learns to pre-think his decisions. I just love a happy ending.

Sahuarita resident James Berg is in his seventh year of bus driving grade school and high school students for Sahuarita Unified School District 30. He lived in Seattle, Washington, before retiring and leaving a career in custom home and small commercial building. School bus driving, he says, is “the perfect answer to retirement boredom.”

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