By upper elementary, I reached expert levels for ditching school. My parents had kids at a young age and were too busy figuring out their own lives to pay much attention to my whereabouts during the school day. They trusted the public school system to deal with me. Why else would we hire teachers, attendance clerks and truancy officers? It’s not that my parents didn’t value my education, they just had a lot going on and knew other people had their backs. I could slip them all. Only one obstacle stood between me and a day of freedom–Sid Griffin.
Sid drove the school bus that transported me to school nearly every single day from kindergarten to sixth grade. Sid struck the balance between allowing us to socialize and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Sid understood that his bus charges needed discipline but that we also needed to blow off steam.
One of my favorite memories of Sid reoccurred every year. Instead of our regular route to school, he altered the course. When we questioned him, he told us a horrible tale about how our beloved East Side Elementary burned down over night and so the district was sending us to Jarman Junior High until they came up with a long-term solution. You can’t imagine such a happy crew of bus riders! The thought of hanging out with the older kids filled us with such joy and anticipation, we could hardly hold ourselves together. Then, with the junior high in our sights, Sid turned away from Jarman and toward East Side and declare, “April Fools!” Every year.
Sid certainly had a playful side, but his interest in his charges went deeper than this yearly prank. If I wasn’t waiting at my bus stop in the morning, Sid would pull his entire bus of kids in front of my house and honk twice. If I didn’t come to his bus, Sid came to my door. If I said I was sick, he conducted a visual exam exactly like the one I got from my mother. My public school bus driver was on to shenanigans and he wasn’t going to let me get shortchanged on my education.
We obviously undervalue teachers. We also undervalue the teams of school bus drivers, monitors, cafeteria workers, groundskeepers, attendance clerks, counselors and other staff who serve most of the country’s children. Sid got me to school nearly every day and always on time. He didn’t threaten or tattle or look the other way when we misbehaved–he didn’t have to. He showed us that he cared about every kid packed onto his bus and we loved him for it. When the district got Sid a new bus and he asked us to treat it with respect, we did because we respected him. Sid made a difference for me and likely for every other young person he got to school on a daily basis.