Shawn Linsacum's career is dotted with surprise salamanders and childhood confessions.
As a former bus driver for Moffat County School District for 15 years and dispatcher at the district for the last 8 years, Linsacum said she's just about seen it all in the course of watching students grow up.
Twenty-three years ago when Linsacum started at the district, things were much different.
The then mom of two children under 6 years old, brought her youngest along on her bus route strapped securely in his seat, while her other child attended kindergarten.
Challenges of the job included scraping the ice off bus doors in an effort to pry them open each morning. The icy door dilemma disappeared when a garage was later built to house the district buses.
And standards for bus training used to be much more lax, she said. Linsacum remembers receiving approximately one day of training in 1980. These days, training sessions for bus drivers, many of whom Linsacum teaches, have morphed into 40 to 60 hours of training and requires drivers to gather a slew of district and state credentials.
As another school year quickly approaches, Linsacum reviews her role as a dispatcher in preparation of another nine-month whirlwind. Though she answered the telephone five times in the course of this interview, Linsacum assured this is only the beginning of her chaotic job as a dispatcher.
"Parents will call and ask where's the bus, a class may want to go the museum and sports teams will want to schedule trips," Linsacum said of her duties. " And I have to arrange all of them, if there's enough vehicles at that time."
Fridays tend to be Linsacum's busiest day, especially during the fall and winter sports season.
But even in the midst of turmoil, Linsacum always seems to keep her cool, said driver Kirsten Remmick.
"She always seems so calm and collected," Remmick said. "She works with a positive attitude."
Starting her position with the district as a driver, Linsacum knows some of the experiences other drivers might go through.
Once Linsacum had to keep a student calm after he stuck his tongue on an ice-cold mailbox. Other times, children would burst into tears if questioned about their day at school. And Linsacum wasn't exempt from the trials of childhood, which included surprise shows of snakes, salamanders and other creepy crawlies students wanted to show off.
To those displays Linsacum would reply, "We only allow two-legged critters on the bus."
A couple of years ago when a district bus overturned en route, the shock and sadness reverberated through the transportation department. Though there were no fatalities, the incident that disrupted the district's previous 24-year-long clean safety record, affected all employees, she said.
"We take a lot of pride in our safety record and we always go out and want to do a good job," Linsacum said. "As defensively as we drive, we're always watching, seeing and listening."
While local roads are kept up well because of the county and city efforts, Linsacum said, some treacherous situations call for tough decisions to stay put in order to ensure the safety of all passengers.
The welfare of students is sometimes compromised with impatient drivers, she said.
"What do people think we have in these buses," she said about drivers who drive erratically around busses. "It's not just a bag of potato chips."
To be sure, the school bus is the child's first classroom, albeit on wheels.
"They learn how to share, get along with others and keep their hands to themselves," she said.
"The bus driver can be the students' first teacher. You're going to get bombarded with a wide variety of questions," she said, some that she didn't feel comfortable answering in the company of younger students. "They know you're not grading them, so they are very honest."
The opportunity to be a bus a driver and now work in dispatch isn't lost on Linsacum. It's the same experience for bus drivers soon to be making the rounds.
"When you open that door and say 'good morning' it might change their whole mood," she said, of the potential to have a positive effect on students.
"I think you touch kids as a bus driver more than you think you do."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.