Tonda Russell is in her 27th year of driving buses for the Oklahoma City School District.
Getting children to and from school is for her a career, a responsibility and a special joy.
"We are the first person of their school day and we are the last,” Russell said.
"Some of the ones that I started with in '82 are now some of our town leaders, so they're very precious. They're our present and our future.”
Russell is so experienced that she leads the on-the-road portion of training to drive a school bus — for which a special license is required — for new recruits.
This year, Gayla Smotherman is among them.
"I always was the mother with the ‘TAXI' on her car, so I might as well start driving them anyway, get paid,” she said.
"To start a new career is what I'm looking for now, and it's going to be exciting.”
Freddie Hudspeth went through training two weeks ago with her. He said he's looking forward to learning the routes and taking the children to school.
"I love driving,” he said after riding a bus during a lesson, smiling despite the heat of the August day.
How things have changed
There are more safety features on buses now than when Russell began, such as mechanisms to keep children from being left sleeping on a bus, she said.
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