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School bus driver makes connections, brighten days

Lisa Greer assists Johnson County Schools bus driver Anita Smiley in transporting some exceptional students to school each day. It takes a special blend of skill, empathy, and patience to carry students with special needs and this duo flawlessly pulls it off on a daily basis. Photo by Jill Penley

By Jilly Penley
Freelance Writer

Every morning during the school year, a little bus travels the mountainous terrain of Johnson County, and every morning as the students board the school bus, a genuine, infectious smile greets them. Behind that smile is Anita Smiley.

“Being a bus driver means more than picking up and dropping off students,” says Smiley, who is quick to stress the connections with students really made it special for her and her assistant, Lisa Greer. “It’s a fulfilling job. You definitely don’t have the same thing happening every day.”

Each morning of the school year just after 6 a.m., Smiley, who also works part-time for Johnson County Trustee, Lisa Crowder, picks up Greer at her salon in Mountain City, and the two begin their daily route. Each afternoon the process starts again in reverse when Smiley picks up Greer and heads to the high school campus to pick up their first students to transport back home. Smiley’s not your typical bus driver. Whether the special need is easy to see or one that many people may not realize, Smiley and Greer, treat every child the same and welcome each child by name. “Saying they are special is an understatement,” said Smiley. “When they click that seat belt and give a thumbs up and a smile that they accomplished something,” Smiley adds, “It brings tears to our eyes.”

Her special-needs passengers range from first grade to students looking forward to high school graduation. Currently, this duo picks up & delivers five students. “Many people, despite their best intentions, do not know how to approach someone with disabilities,” admitted Smiley. “The main thing is to treat people the way you would want to be treated.”

The success of a program for exceptional children depends upon the people who have daily contact with the children. The regular bus ride to and from school can be an important part of a child’s progress toward accomplishment of goals. Once the bus is loaded, Smiley pulls out for a circuitous route through Johnson County’s highways and hollers to deliver children to waiting family