For 23 years, Sheila Vicknair has picked up and dropped off the students of St. Charles Parish Public Schools. And while her title may be bus operator, she has become so much more to the students who rely on her.
“As a bus operator, we see students in their home environment,” she said. “My first elementary run was challenging to say the least – there were kids that no one ever wanted to drive.”
When she started in 1997 as a new driver, Vicknair said she was given the route no one wanted.
“As I started driving these kids, I realized that they can’t help where they live or come from, so I made them a deal,” she said. “I said, ‘If I don’t have to correct anyone all week, on Friday I’ll give you a treat.’ It took off from there.”
Ever since then, Vicknair said she’s made sure “her babies” received something on holidays.
“I was unsure that their families could afford it,” she said. “I have also paid for seniors to be able to walk for graduation by paying their fees and buying hoodies through school so they would never know where it came from. Bus operators are more than someone that drives a bus.”
Vicknair grew up on Evangeline Road in Montz, the city she lives in today. Her children attended parish schools, and at some point in each of their academic journeys she was the one behind the wheel of the bus driving them to school.
“The reason I became a bus driver was because it was the perfect job for a mom of school-aged children,” she said. “When they had vacation, I was off too.”
In addition to driving, Vicknair has spent the past eight years training new bus drivers.
“I take them under my wing and teach them everything they need to know – like how to drive down those narrow streets in Norco that have ditches,” she said. “It’s hands-on teaching that you can’t get at truck driving schools. I take them out on the road and let them drive and feel comfortable”
Vicknair has worked for the school system for so long that now she is driving the children of some of the students she used to drive.
“I work for the parents and kids and I get a paycheck from the school board,” she said. “I would like my students to remember me as kind and generous … as someone that insisted on them doing the right thing for their safety, but also the one that they could turn to when they needed to be heard …someone that loved them like they were my own children.”
Vicknair’s time behind the wheel will come to an end in December, when she plans to retire and enjoy a slower pace of life. The coronavirus has changed the job, she said, and has added hours to each day because of the school system’s altered schedule and cleaning regulations.
She said it’s easy to name the thing she’ll miss the most when she retires – the students.
“They make my day,” Vicknair said. “They’re my babies. If I miss a morning to go to the doctor or something they ask me where I was and want to know all my business. I love my kids.”
And for parents of school-aged children, Vicknair said she has this advice: don’t tell your kids anything you don’t want the bus driver to know.
“I could write a book,” she said laughing. “You hear a lot of secrets.”