During National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 18-22, Atlanta Public Schools will highlight various APS transportation staff members and their outstanding commitment and dedication to student safety. The following feature is part of this special series.
For as long as he can remember, Ronald Benton always wanted to be a bus driver.
“My mom says that I’ve wanted to be a bus driver since I was 4 years old,” said Benton, a proud North Atlanta Cluster bus operator who began his transportation career at APS in 2016. “I have some family members who work at MARTA, but I’ve always wanted to drive a school bus. When I started driving, I loved everything. Of course, it’s the kids. But, it’s also everything about the bus itself. The color, the stop sign, the feeling of being in control. I guess my mom was right. I just love school buses.”
Benton, who is known affectionately as “Mr. B” by students on his Morris Brandon, Sutton Middle, and North Atlanta routes, gives much of the credit to his high school bus driver, Ms. Brown, who developed a great rapport with her passengers. That camraderie left a lasting impression on Benton and continues to influence how he engages and interacts with his riders each day.
And thanks to the rapport and respect Benton has established with students over the years, many feel comfortable talking with him.
“I remember Ms. Brown greeted me every morning and every afternoon, and if I was running late, she’d stop and pick me up,” he said. “It was the relationship that we built, and I love that for me and my little people. If there’s an issue, we can talk. Even my 11th graders who were sixth graders when I first started, we still talk. They’ll say, “Hey, Mr. B! Guess what?’ I tell them we can talk. I love that relationship. I love to see them grow.”
Benton now plans to combine his love for children with his desire to become an educator. Thanks to his flexible work schdule, he is currently studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education at Georgia State University. He ultimately wants to teach at a daycare or headstart program and own a franchise of daycare centers.
Working as a bus operator has proven the perfect training ground.
“I correlate bus management to classroom management. My bus is my classroom. I communicate with students, everyone says hello, walks to their seat, and stays seated,” he said. “And all of my elementary children and everyone else can tell you how to get home and how to get their friend’s house. If I was unable to drive the bus for some reason, the older ones know how to use the radio to call to get assistance. I have a good bunch.”
In the meantime, Benton makes sure that students, parents and families, and community members are aware of the importance of bus safety and his role as a bus operator.
Here are some of Benton’s top safety tips:
1. Don’t run stop signs
2. Appreciate bus operators & the challenges associated with driving a school bus
3. Be at the bus stop to receive your child
“This is a bus – I’m not driving a car or a motorcycle. It takes me a minute to stop – whether I’m going 6 miles an hour or if I’m on the highway going 45 miles an hour,” he noted. “Also, a bus is a machine. I have to drive this bus, drive for myself and the drivers in front, behind, and both sides of me, look in a mirror and watch children at the same time – and make sure they’re doing what they need to do. And if an issue occurs, I have to handle that while driving.”