Doing it for the kids

Rhonda Manning, left, and DeAnna Eisen are veteran bus drivers for the Watervliet School District. 

WATERVLIET — DeAnna Eisen and Rhonda Mannino love their jobs. 

“It’s stressful, but it’s fun and rewarding” Mannino said. “For all the bad, you get that one kid that will come up and melt your heart and you’ll forget about everything else.”

Mannino has been a school bus driver for Watervliet Public Schools for 14 years and Eisen has been one for 18 years. 

They said they both started because it was the perfect job to have while their kids were in school. 

“I just kept doing it because I love the kids, through the good and the bad,” Eisen said. 

Eisen drives Watervliet’s oldest bus, which is No. 1. She said it’s hers and all the drivers are territorial about their buses.

“I tell the kids that we’re No. 1,” she said.

And because she’s done the same route for so many years, she pretty much knows which kids are supposed to get off/on the bus each day, she said.

Mannino said that sometimes you lose track in all of the commotion, and one will fall asleep or something.

“In the morning it’s not so bad because if they’re sleeping we can always run them back to the school, which we’ve done,” she said.

At the end of the day, the drivers have to double check that there aren’t any kids left on the bus. There is even an alarm that goes off and lingers until the emergency door is opened and closed.

“Unless you’re completely and totally out of it, you’ll hear it. So that’s a good safety feature we have,” Mannino said.

They’ve never left any students on the bus because that would mean being fired automatically.

But sometimes other things get left behind.

Mannino said the drivers like to play pranks on one another. One time, one of their coworkers put a pouting doll in the back of one of the driver’s buses.

“So he gets on for a trip and he sees the little shoes and he said his skin about melted off,” she said. “We do stuff like that all the time.”

Eisen said the drivers have had a traveling stuffed possum and glove that will appear on someone’s windshield or bumper.

The actual driving part of the job isn’t that hard. And the drivers in Watervliet are trained by the district.

From sporting events and field trips to back and forth to school each day, Mannino said the best part about it is the kids. Even the naughty ones.

“It’s such a small community, we know most of their siblings or they went to school with our kids. It’s just a good community to be part of,” she said. “And then you cry when you lose them, but it’s nice to see them when they come back.”

Mannino drives one of the district’s vans. 

“I have a few special needs kids that graduated the year before last, and I still try to get them together because they became such good friends. I’ll pick them up and we go out. You get pretty close to some of these kids,” she said. 

Eisen said one year half of the inside of her bus was covered in pictures students had drawn for her.

They agreed that overall, the kids are very respectful of them. 

Eisen said the hardest part of the job for her is getting the little kids to sit down.

Mannino said driving in the winter can be difficult and some of the kids get nervous too.

She said she remembers one time when the weather got bad during the day and she was taking the students home.

“Everyone was jumping around as usual and I was trying to focus,” she said. “I’ve got a kid sitting behind me who turns around to the other students and says, ‘Do you all want to die? Sit down and shut up!’ And I said, ‘thank you.’”

Eisen and Mannino said they would recommend the job for anyone who loves kids and has a strong work ethic. They get paid holidays when the kids are off, and they get other perks. 

“It’s really rewarding, but it’s not for a person that is nonchalant,” Mannino said. “I enjoy it. That’s why we’ve been here so long and the coworkers have a good raport. We get along great, which helps.”

Eisen said Watervliet is great too.

“We hear from other other drivers and there’s no way I’d leave Watervliet for another school,” she said. 

Mannino said they grew up in Watervliet, went to school there, their kids went to school there, so they don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman