Lending a helping hand

Published 10:07 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Edyth Copeland does something that strikes fear into the heart of lesser people.

Every school day for the past 20 years, she has shared a ride with a bus full of children.

“When I started driving buses it was because I loved kids, and I wanted a job that I could have my kids with me on,” Copeland said.

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When Copeland watched the last of her children get off the bus and head for home, she closed the door on a career spent on the buses of Suffolk Public Schools.

Some people might see the big yellow buses as mobile torture chambers for adults — noisy, smelly and chaotic.

But Copeland looks at things a bit differently.

“I love children and working with babies,” she said. “I enjoy being with them and teaching them to do different things.”

Copeland began as a bus driver for the school system; when her eyesight began to deteriorate she stayed on as a bus aide.

For the past 10 years, Copeland has worked on the bus with special needs children in north Suffolk elementary schools.

“It’s a joy,” Copeland said. “It’s a joy to see them, get to know them and watch as they learn things you’re trying to teach them.”

Copeland’s duties include helping the children get situated, controlling any ruckus on board and other miscellaneous duties to ensure the students get from point a to point b.

“I show them where to sit, I make sure they’re safe and buckle them in,” Copeland said. “I teach the children how to get up into the car seat, if they can’t. You’re just there for them.”

As the most senior of four transportation employees who are retiring this year, Copeland has seen her share of changes in the job through the years.

“There are a whole lot more rules and regulations,” she said. “There are lots of things we used to be able to do that we can’t do now. The pay has changed a lot, too.”

Surprisingly, one of the most challenging parts of her job has been dealing with the attitudes of others.

“We’re treated like second class citizens,” Copeland said. “We go to meetings for transportation employees, and the whole time they talk to the bus driver and not a word to us. We just sit there and then go home. It makes you feel like second class. If it wasn’t for some of the aides, bus drivers couldn’t drive.”

Driving a huge bus requires the full attention of the driver, she said.

“They don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads,” Copeland said. “I know. I was a bus driver, too. We’re there to watch their back.”

Copeland’s job as an aid has had less to do with calming rambunctious teenagers and more to do with providing additional assistance to the children who need it while their driver is at the wheel.

“I love my children,” Copeland said. “I love to watch them grow. I’m going to miss this. I really am. Some people might think my job is hard, but it is if you make it hard. It was easy for me. If you love your job, it makes it easy.”