Pam Anders tries to make a difference in kidsâ€™ lives by working as a bus-driving lunch lady
Someday thereâ€™s going to be a country song about the bus-driving lunch lady.
Pam Anders, the bus-driving lunch lady, is probably right, and the song may be written by one of the hundreds of Port Washington-Saukville School District students she encounters every day.
Anders is starting her fourth year as a bus driver for Johnson Bus Co. in Port Washington. A petite 5 feet, 3 inches tall, she has no troubling handling a 32-foot-long yellow International school bus as she picks up and drops off students in all grades.
Anders is also a lunch lady who has served food at Lincoln Elementary School in Port for 11 years. When she started, her son Triston, now a freshman at Otterbeine University in Ohio, was a third-grader at the school.
She loves both her jobs â€” although that means 12-hour workdays â€” and was eager for the school year to start.
â€śI love working with kids. I want to make a difference. Even if I make just this much of a difference, then Iâ€™ve done my job,â€ť Anders said, showing a very slim space between her thumb and index finger.
â€śI canâ€™t say enough positive things about the children on my bus. I tell everyone I have the best route, but it wasnâ€™t always that way. Like all children, they had to test the new driver.â€ť
The first day she drove the bus by herself â€” she had ridden with another driver for a couple days â€” students tried eating on the bus, changing seats, shouting and picking on each other.
â€śThatâ€™s all changed. Now we all get along fine. As long as you set clear guidelines, they will follow them,â€ť Anders said.
â€śI think it helps that I work in the school district. I expect to get the same respect on the bus as I get in school. Iâ€™ve always believed in rewarding good behavior rather than focusing on the bad.â€ť
She said it was by luck â€” or perhaps the grace of God â€” that she got the rural route that covers the south side of the district. A popular driver, Dan Fullington, had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and died later that year.
â€śThe kids talked about him all the time,â€ť Anders said. â€śThey loved Dan, and then they got to love me. Iâ€™ve always believed that God puts me where Iâ€™m supposed to be.â€ť
When Anders applied to be a bus driver, she was confident she could drive the big vehicles.
She pulled a three-stall horse trailer with an extended-cab diesel pickup truck to horse shows when she and her daughter Jessica, now 32, rode horses.
â€śI figured if I could back that trailer between two very close trailers at a horse show, I probably could drive a bus,â€ť Anders said.
She trained for several weeks with Johnson Bus instructors and passed the driving test for her commercial driverâ€™s license on the first try.
â€śIt was like riding a bike,â€ť Anders said. â€śIt all came back to me.â€ť
Helping kids comes naturally to her. Anders has fixed backpacks, helped students with homework and found lost items.
She also listens to their problems, which may be parents getting a divorce, struggles with teachers, substance abuse or a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
â€śKids have always felt comfortable coming to me. Iâ€™m not sure why. I think they know I care,â€ť Anders said.
â€śI look at every child and remember when I was a child. A lot of times, they just want to be heard. I see so much potential in all of them. Iâ€™ve gone through a lot in my life, so I can relate to them in different ways.â€ť
Before she turns the key in the ignition, Anders said, she says a prayer, asking God to protect everyone on the bus. â€śYouâ€™re driving somebody elseâ€™s kids, and I take that very seriously,â€ť she said. â€śIâ€™m responsible for them.â€ť
Her days are long. She gets up at 4:30 a.m., arrives at Johnson Bus at 6 a.m., completing her routes by 8:20 a.m., which leaves enough time to have a cup of coffee before arriving at 9:50 a.m. at Lincoln School, where she works until 12:30 p.m.
She then catches a 10 to 20-minute power nap at her Town of Port Washington home before returning to Johnson Bus at 2 p.m., finishing her day at 4:15 p.m.
She enjoyed her summer off, but was ready to get back into the routine.
â€śThe best part of my job is working with the kids. Sure, I need the paycheck, but I could go anywhere to get a paycheck,â€ť Anders said.
â€śWhen you enjoy working with kids, you could have the worst day going and it just takes a smile or something funny they say to change your whole day.â€ť