Jobs which involve the care of children require a special person, especially if the job involves the safety of the children while delivering them to and from school.
Even though there have been a few challenging days where Julia Hickman-Hickman-Herron wanted to send some kids to the moon, she loves her job as a school bus driver.
Before Hickman-Herron sought the driver’s seat, it never occurred to her driving a bus could play such a big role in her life as well as others. On occasion, when she sees evidence on the bus riders’ faces that she has made them feel valuable and good about themselves, it solidifies her belief God has placed her behind the wheel for a reason.
She doesn’t do it for the salary and admits no one will get rich driving a bus; she does it for the joy of it.
“I love being the first person they see in the morning and the last before they return home,” said Hickman-Herron. “I always greet them with a smile and a ‘good morning’ and when I pick them up from school, I ask how their day was.”
When she became a mother, she longed for a career which would allow her to be with her two daughters, Brittany and Kaitlyn Hickman. When someone suggested she become a school bus driver, she liked the idea but wondered if she could really achieve it.
“I surprised myself and surprised others when I did so well at it,” she said. “At first I wondered if I could even drive something so big.”
Her plan was to be with her girls, but she soon found out God’s plan for her was to drive a bus as a ministry.
The first time she put the bus in gear to drive was an eye-opening experience. To her surprise, handling the large passenger vehicle came very natural to her.
“Richard Calfee, who is a bus contractor for Bradley County Schools, was the first one who helped me get started,” she said. “He and Gary Austin, Bradley County supervisor of school transportation, encouraged me when they saw I could manage a bus well.”
Hickman-Herron studied and memorized bus parts for the written and driving Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) test.
“I remember the night before the test. I had so many bus parts, hoses and laws running through my head I could hardly sleep. Thankfully I passed and did well.”
Hickman-Herron was the newest female bus driver 16 years ago driving a special needs bus. Soon after she drove a 98-passenger bus and today she is a private contractor, safely transporting elementary through high school students in her own 78-passenger bus.
“It has been the perfect job for me as a mother. I also feel it’s what God wanted me to do. Little eyes are always watching me. I think it’s important to be happy — to say good morning and ask them how their day was,” she said.
Her daughters are teenagers now but when they were little Hickman-Herron carried them to the front seat of the bus wrapped in their blankets. She ran her bus route and before they knew they were moved, she would have them back in their beds.
When her girls started school, Hickman-Herron enjoyed having the afternoon to do housework and the convenient hours to schedule medical appointments.
“It’s not always easy being a female bus driver because some of the students will try to take advantage of our nurturing side, but as a mother it is a good job with great hours.”
Rules are very few for the bus riders of Hickman-Herron’s bus. She expects them to live by the Golden Rule; to treat others as they want to be treated. She doesn’t allow curse words and expects them to conduct themselves with the same kind of behavior they do in the classroom.
“I think some of them have learned from the way I run the bus and it makes me feel good. I really want to be a good example.”
“Several of my bus riders don’t have a good family life,” Hickman-Herron said. “I tell them often they are great kids and they are smart kids.”
Over the years parents of the bus riders have shared with Hickman-Herron how much they appreciate her. She was not aware driving a bus could play such a big role in others’ lives.
“The first time a mom told me how I had made a difference in her child’s life, I knew God was confirming I was where he wanted me to be.”
Feeling as if she made a difference in someone’s life is rewarding. She cannot imagine doing anything else.
According to Hickman-Herron it’s like an addiction. She said no matter what happens on a particular day or how bad the day was, she always finds herself looking forward to the next morning to carry out her mission on the big yellow bus — keeping kids safe and assuring them somebody cares about them.