Oct. 12, 2017 -- Cleveland Heights-University Heights’ school bus drivers are finally getting some of the attention they deserve. And it’s all thanks to a parade.
The Homecoming Parade, which wound its way through Lee Road’s business district for the first time last Friday night, was mostly filled with adorable children, donning their Tiger Nation tees, shaking pom poms, and cheering with their elementary schools.
“It was so hard for us to choose which group was the best,” said Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon, who served as a parade judge alongside J. J. Costello, Nadeen Hayden and DeAngelo Little, the three candidates for Cleveland Heights Municipal Judge.
“They were all so cute,” she said of the school groups, some of which sang songs, like Fairfax and Canterbury, and others with decorated vehicles like Gearity.
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“And then came the bus. The Bus. And we all said, ‘Hands down. Transportation wins.’”
She’s speaking of the Transportation Department, otherwise known as the district’s bus drivers, who filled out an application, decorated a bus, and stole the show.
“We just wanted to be part of it,” said driver Cameron Afzal, affectionately known by his riders as Mr. A. “We love being part of this community and working for these kids.”
Fellow driver Charlotte Edwards, who helped organize her colleagues, spoke highly of her job. “These are all my children, my babies. I call myself a rolling parent.”
“We are role models,” agreed Mr. A. “We have the ability to influence these kids in a positive way. I just want to help make them the best individuals they can be.”
Participating in the parade solidified the drivers’ key role as part of the broader school community. There was one little boy standing on the sidelines whose face lit up, according to Edwards, as they turned the corner. “He just couldn’t believe he was seeing a bus decorated like that. He had the biggest smile on his face.”
Students along the route were thrilled to see their drivers in a different context. The drivers chanted and cheered, throwing candy out of the windows at passersby.
“Oh my goodness, that day was awesome,” said Edwards, who’s worked for the district for more than a decade. “It was like the best day I’ve had on the job.”
They started their afternoon with a pep rally at the bus depot, organized by Nakita Payne, who also served as “head decorator.” “The high schoolers had a pep rally that day so we decided to too,” she said of the barbeque and music they enjoyed.
“We learned that there would be a judging station just minutes before the parade began,” said Edwards. “So I put together a last-minute chant: We don't mess around, we don't mess around, we don't mess around, We the best drivers in town.”
Parents and students agree. “They set the tone for the day,” said one parent whose daughter willingly wakes up 30 minutes earlier each day in order to ride Mr. A’s bus. “He greets us enthusiastically every morning. He talks to the kids about life - current events, following your dreams, being kind and responsible. He genuinely makes our day better and brighter every morning.”
“This job is dynamic, we don't just drive the bus,” said Afzal. “This is my opportunity to affect change.”
Edwards agreed, “I listen to their conversations, sometimes we have to encourage kids to approach their day differently. By the time they get off my bus at school, they’re ready for their day.”
On October 11, Dr. Dixon presented the transportation department with a plaque to recognize their winning parade float.
Participating in the parade was one way for the group, who calls each other family, to celebrate their hard work and just let loose a little. “We drove the bus around the block at least four times after the parade ended, honking and waving at everyone,” said Mr. A. “It was just too fun to stop.”
Edwards hasn't stopped yet. She’s already planning for next year’s Homecoming. “We’re gonna win this again,” she declared.
Cute elementary kids, consider yourselves warned.