SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Driving the school bus is a family tradition for Lisa Park, who has transported students to and from school for more than 25 years.
Park’s mother drove a school bus. Her sister currently drives a bus in Massachusetts. That is where Park’s bus driving career began, but for the last eight years she has been driving the students of Pemetic Elementary School and Mount Desert Island High School.
“When I turned 21, I figured I’d get my bus license,” said Park, who is also a custodian at Pemetic. “This is probably the best bus driving job I’ve ever had… because it’s so close-knit. It’s more personable. It’s not just a job to me.”
Every day after school, before her bus pulls out of the school parking lot, Park reviews what each student who is meant to ride the route has planned for after school. She talks with teachers and other students on the bus as they settle in to traverse Route 102 and 102A. Because of after-school programs and activities, on a recent Thursday not even 15 students were on the bus for the ride home.
Park said that taxpayers sometimes complain that the buses seem empty. She explained that the schools that own their own buses (Pemetic, Tremont and Mount Desert) all collaborate. When bus loads are light, they can combine routes to keep costs low.
“These kids are all real good kids,” said Park. “Being a small community, you get to know them and to know their family.”
Recently, the school boards of Tremont and Southwest Harbor have discussed installing video cameras on the school buses. Bus drivers in these towns and in Mount Desert are school employees.
“Boys, boys,” Park yells out to a few students in the back as she drives into direct sunlight on Route 102. “Sit down. Get out of the aisle.”
Each school has individual needs when it comes to cameras. Officials describe the cameras as “passively recording” because the video feeds are not actively monitored.
Tremont’s school board discussed putting cameras within the buses to record student activity while the drivers focus on the road. In Southwest Harbor, drivers passing stopped school buses has been a problem and the school board is talking about installing cameras on the outside of the buses. Since the school year began in August, Park has encountered a half-dozen vehicles passing a stopped bus with red lights and the stop sign out.
“It was the worst year ever between Seawall and right downtown,” she said. When a driver passes illegally, she honks the bus horn and waves out the window to get the drivers’ attention.
“It was mostly tourists,” she said.
In fact, because of her close relationship with the students who ride her route, Park doesn’t feel there is a need to install cameras inside the bus.
At one stop along Seawall Road, she notices there isn’t anyone out to retrieve the student she is dropping off. So she continues along the route, figuring once she turns around at Seawall and heads back down the same route the parent will be there. They are.
“We’re really personable with all the kids,” she said. “It’s not just a school bus driving job.”
As the population in the seats dwindles with each stop, the students edge their way up closer to Park at the front of the bus. They tell her about something new at home, what they will be doing once they get off the bus or who will be picking them up.
She is a comfortable and familiar part of their day, on the bus and in the hallways of their school.
In addition to her relationship with the students, Park loves the route she drives each day that ends at one of the Quietside’s most popular parts of Acadia National Park, the Seawall.
“Haven’t gotten sick of it yet,” she says as the bus winds along the pavement with rocks on each side and the ocean out beyond.