As the Upper St. Clair school bus rounded a corner on Hays Road, the people aboard saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles at one of the homes.
“I immediately knew that the entire ruckus was there for my grandmother,” said one of the passengers, a first-grader at the time. “When we reached my house, I stood up to leave, not knowing what would be awaiting.
“My bus driver would not leave until she knew I would be taken care of and that everything was OK. When I finally knew what was going on, I went back inside and told her that I would be OK. Every day after that, she made sure to ask me how my grandmother was doing, even though it was not part of her job description.”
The story is from the ironically titled “Just A Normal Afternoon,” an essay submitted with the student’s application for a scholarship awarded to an Upper St. Clair High School senior. Since 2011, the school district’s bus drivers have donated their own money toward helping graduates further their studies.
“We’ve been able to afford to give at least one $500 scholarship every year,” driver Donna Lassige said. “Last year, we were lucky enough to give two.”
This year, seniors can get applications for the scholarship from their bus drivers or the guidance office, with an April 30 deadline for submission. The winner will be announced at the annual high school awards program.
Lassige, who serves as treasurer for the Upper St. Clair Education Support Professional Association, said many factors weigh into the selection of recipients, including financial need, grades, school activities and plans for continuing education, including trade schools.
Applicants also must write a 250-word essay about their experiences on school buses, and many are indicative of just how their daily transportation can mean to students, including the folks who take them back and forth safely.
“They have been there for me most of my life,” one student wrote. “They have been to my plays, band concerts and fundraisers to cheer me on. Some of them have even become good family friends.”
Another student recalled a particularly favorite driver.
“Russ would always ask me how everything was going and was very caring toward me and other students on the bus,” the student said. “He and I would always sit down and talk. I enjoyed the conversations we had, even if they were brief.”
The scholarship started with Lassige’s idea for the drivers to connect more fully with the Upper St. Clair community.
“We do other things rather than just driving the bus. We get to know the kids. We care about the kids,” she said. “It takes everybody to work together to get the kids to school and have them have a safe experience.”
On her part, Lassige gets to know students so well that she is able to give instructions to substitute drivers on her route.
“Brian’s mom will be at the door,” Lassige said. “Don’t let him off the bus if you don’t see anybody at the door. But there’s always somebody at the door for him.”
She will admit driving a school bus isn’t for everyone, as the person at the wheel often has to take the bad with the good. But sometimes the experience offers pleasant surprises.
“I trained one gentleman who said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to like this job,’” she recalled. “About a month after school starts, he says, ‘I love this job. Those little kids are so cute.’
“Just give it a while. They kind of grow on you.”