Aurelia Cuilan was driving her own kid to school when she first noticed a sign that said ‘Bus Drivers Needed.’ She drove for Tacoma for a year before moving to Bethel, and she’s never looked back. Although she said Tacoma was a good place to learn.
“I always tell people … if you can drive Hilltop and anywhere in Tacoma, you can drive a bus anywhere.”
“I enjoy the feeling of driving a big old bus,” she said. “Before I started driving a school bus, I always leaned towards smaller cars. Once I went through Bethel’s training my mindset shifted, and I feel like a better driver in a bus, because you have better visibility, you’re higher up, and because you have so much to navigate you do it slower and you make better choices.”
Like all Bethel drivers, Cuilan started as a substitute and had her own full-time route within a couple of months. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Once that began and students were no longer in schools, she began delivering meals to students that were now learning remotely.
“It gave us a chance to spend time with the Child Nutrition folks,” she said. “We never get to spend any time together, so it was fun.”
Cuilan also got to drive some new routes, as the meal deliveries were based on need, and not off of school boundaries. “I got to drive a lot more in Roy, which I don’t usually drive, and the Kapowsin area.”
With fourth and fifth graders joining the rest of the elementary schools students in the hybrid learning model next week, Cuilan is back to transporting students to and from school. But with the new health and safety guidelines in place, it’s a different feeling than before for the students.
“Now you have to sit in your assigned seat, you have to wear your mask, and you have to be six feet from your friends, unless you’re sitting with a sibling,” she said.
Cuilan is happy to enforce the rules to keep her kids safe, but she does have to show her stern side every once in a while.
“I feel like the wicked witch sometimes,” she said, laughing.
But there is still room for fun, and she enjoys when the kids want to sing together — a favorite song being, “The Wheels on the Bus.”
“They try to see if i’m listening and they sing, ‘The bus driver on the bus says, Sit back down!’”
As more students and buses are getting back on the road, Cuilan wanted to remind parents and students about safety. “I want to caution parents to remind their students, especially if their student has to cross the street to get to the bus, to wait for the stop paddle, as well as for a signal from the bus driver. Because the driver is looking for all the safety risks before they even throw the stop paddle,” she said. “Once you’re on the bus, it’s the safest place you can be. But you’ve got to get to it first.”
Drive with Us!
If you’re interested in joining the family of Bethel bus drivers, you can learn more about the process and apply here: https://bit.ly/3pcYr19