The state’s COVID-19 guidelines say the seat behind school bus drivers must stay empty to prevent the possible spread of the virus.
Forrestville Valley School District driver Marsha Birkholz used that open seat to spread holiday cheer to riders in recent weeks. Each day the seat had a different Christmas theme grinch day, elf on the shelf, Christmas socks and plaid.
“The school spirit, we were trying to keep that up and make it fun for them,” Birkholz said. “I pick up my first kids at 6:25 a.m. They loved the lights on the bus. It would brighten up the seat and they’d smile. They wondered what I’d do the next day. They just looked every morning at that seat.”
Before COVID-19, Birkholz had about 53 riders on her bus. This semester, she had 20 due to parents opting to drive their kids or families choosing to have their kids do remote learning. Under state COVID-19 guidelines, only 49 people can be on a bus including the driver.
Birkholz said the district has had to take other measures on its bus operations due to COVID-19. Extra cleaning has to be done each day. Riders must use hand sanitizer before getting on the bus. Siblings are grouped together on the bus to minimize possible spread.
“We had to make sure they were wearing masks,” Birkholz said. “It was like teaching students, a classroom on wheels. Wear masks, wash hands and use sanitizer.”
Birkholz has spent less time driving her bus as a whole this past semester. No sports meant no night trips to games or extra curricular activities. Seeing less students has been hard, and seeing no students during the school shutdown in the spring was even ha
“I’m very close to my students,” Birkholz said. “You miss the students. We’re the first and last person they see on school days. It’s good morning and have a nice afternoon and night.”
Birkholz said she’s seen students have a tougher time as weather got colder and outdoor activities with less restrictions became less possible. Students were unable to gather for larger holiday activities at school. That’s why she tried to think outside the box to spread cheer.
This year is Birkholz’ 12th as a school bus driver. The occupation runs in her family. Her mother, husband, uncles and brother-in-law have all driven for the district.
There are a handful of things Birkholz is excited for when the pandemic ends.
“I’m most excited to not wear a mask so I can see,” Birkholz
said. “My glasses get fogged up. And to interact again with kids without feeling like it may be unsafe. Seeing kids get their lives back, they need each other and interaction.”