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She gives school bus driving job an A+

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A Berkeley native, Kemp moved over to the Central Valley for a slower pace of life. The daughter of a truck driver, Kemp always wanted to drive something large like a bus and loves every facet of h...


POSTED January 14, 2012 2:20 a.m.

Pat Kemp’s workday starts at 6:15 every morning.

She doesn’t do coffee, so it’s a glass of water before she leaves the house and maybe a bottle when she prepares for her route as a Manteca Unified School District bus driver.

After a quick but detail-oriented walk around the bus she’ll be driving for the day – checking everything from her blinkers to her backup lights to the gauges that tell her that her air lines are pressurized – she hops into her seat, puts on a smile, and embarks on a three-hour trek that will take her by various pickup stops before dropping off special needs students at Woodward Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School and Sierra High School.

It’s a schedule that has become somewhat second nature for the seven-year bus-driving veteran that will repeat that same route in reverse in the afternoon, after a few hours of time off to do whatever she sees fit to tackle.

But on paper Pat Kemp is the last person you’d think would end up being a bus driver.

A Berkeley native, she spent the majority of her life in the East Bay and had a long and fruitful career in an office doing administrative work. Nearly all of her family lived in the region and she enjoyed being able to spend time with them on the weekends.

All of that changed when she convinced her husband to move to the Central Valley 15 years ago and she finally got the hankering to pursue something different.

But the sudden change wasn’t really that far-fetched for the daughter of a truck driver that always knew that she wanted to drive something big – tackling the challenge of navigating the roadways in an oversized vehicle.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do from years back, and so I took the opportunity to get into it when I had the chance,” she said. “I wanted the challenge of driving a school bus or something big. I remember my dad traveling a lot and it intrigued me. He only had girls so I’m kind of the one that took after him in that regard.”

Accustomed to the slower pace of life – living in a more rural, country atmosphere was also on her list of things to do – Kemp jumped wholeheartedly into her work but didn’t immediately feel that she was up to snuff with other drivers that had been around for years.

Overcoming that would be a big step in her development as a bus driver and a milestone in her career.

“I was nervous when I first started – I didn’t feel like a top-notch driver. At the time we were using five-speed transmissions, and I courted second gear for a long time,” she said with a laugh. “But I grew more into it. After a couple of years it became second nature, and now I look forward to it.”

The job itself entails a lot more, however, than just driving.

On a regular route – after going through the entire inspection process and making sure that everything is functioning properly – Kemp has to ensure the overall safety of the children temporarily assigned to her care. Getting them from one point to another safely is her first priority, but maintaining a positive atmosphere on the bus is also near the top of the list.

A lot of times that means keeping up with as many as four different conversations at once, and making sure that nobody is singling out or ganging up on anybody else.

“You’ve got to focus on the road but you have to make sure that there’s a safe atmosphere on the bus as well. When you’re talking to some of the younger kids you have to bounce back between three different stories that are going on and you have to watch what’s going on behind you,” Kemp said. “You really get to know the kids on a first name basis, and I want the kids to be able to have a good time within reason.

“You don’t really want them to be sitting idle, so you try and interact with them.”

Since every day of work for a bus driver is a split shift, Kemp likes to be able to handle her daily tasks between her routes – doing her shopping, working in her yard and even preparing dinner early when she knows that she isn’t going to want to do it when she gets home.

And that can be late for a bus driver.

Since she’s part of the pool of trip drivers, it isn’t uncommon for Kemp to end up taking a team to an away sporting event or a class on a field trip, either across town or as far away as Santa Clara or Vallejo.

But those trips, she said, are often the most reserved.

“The high school kids are the easiest because they just want to get where they’re going. They just talk amongst themselves,” she said. “Those aren’t a bad way to end a day right there. Not a whole lot of stress.”

Jason Campbell
staff reporter

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