TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Many industries across the country are experiencing staffing shortages and school bus drivers are one of many roles that are in short supply. The National Association of Pupil Transportation found roughly 51% of the respondents described the bus driver shortage as severe.
Over in the Amphitheater Unified School District at Painted Sky Elementary School, Principal Bethany Papajohn is trying to fill the gap. She's getting her bus driver's license so she can help take her elementary school students on field trips.
"So I wanted to give this to my students that I can drive them and give them that really great experience that kids in elementary school need," she said.
It was actually her childhood dream to become a bus driver.
"But it has been a childhood dream of mine to be a bus driver, because my dad drove the bus and I spent hundreds of hours sitting behind him on a bus,” she said. "“i fulfilled this dream now because I saw a need. There's a bus driver shortage nationwide.”
Papajohn said after many tests and hours of studying, she's excited to be able to take the kids out on a trip soon. She said she has about 10 more hours of practice left.
"The training is a lot," she said. "And it needs to be, especially for safety reasons, and I've put in countless hours."
The district's transportation trainer Jose Ochoa said it's important for elementary school students to have this resource.
"The field trips are usually for the bigger kids with sports and stuff," he said. "That takes away from the younger kids so that’s nice she’s doing this for her elementary school.”
The students haven't been on a field trip in over two years due to the pandemic. Papajohn's efforts are going to pay off in mid April when the classes will set out on their first field trips.
The fourth grade class cheered in excitement when they found out Papajohn would be able to take them on a field trip to Catalina State Park to study the environment and history.
Fourth graders Brynn and Holly Greer said they are so excited for their prinicpal to head the trip.
"It’s very cool because Ms Papajohn is very nice," they said.
Their classmate, Ethan Walters, said he's excited to go to the park to see the things they've been studying in class.
"Now that our principal is a bus driver it’s really exciting." he said.
Tina Giuliano is a reporter for KGUN 9. She is a native Arizonan and grew up in Scottsdale. Tina is passionate about storytelling and is excited to work telling Tucson's stories. Share your story ideas and important issues with Tina by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.