Meet your government
Every Monday, The Times takes a look at someone who keeps local government running smoothly.
Jean Barnett is one of 41 Gainesville school bus drivers who greets children each morning, takes them to and from school, and then waves goodbye to them each afternoon.
For the past 12 years, 69-year-old Barnett has watched hundreds of Gainesville school kids march on and off her bus until they graduate from high school.
She said there have been many advancements in school bus technology and safety since she began driving Clayton County school buses in 1969 as a part-time driver and a full-time mom.
"I’ve seen a lot of changes in transporting children over the years," Barnett said. "When I started driving, we had standard shifts with heavy duty transmissions. Now we have high tech buses with intercoms, video cameras and two-way radios."
Although Barnett started driving buses because the schedule fit nicely with her children’s school schedules, she said even now that her children are grown, she continues to do it full-time because she enjoys the children.
Barnett totes Gainesville kids all over the district during the school day, as well as for field trips, and after school and summer programs. This year, she primarily transports special needs students.
"I made that change because I realized it was coming to a winding down time of my career," she said. "It’s a smaller bus with less kids and I have a monitor on the bus with me."
Barnett said she makes an effort to get to know the kids on her routes.
"There’s a lot that goes in to bus driving," she said. "... You do have a lot of relationships that last for years. I’ve talked with children who are married now with kids and I remember them; they remember me."
As the first person a child encounters each school day, Barnett said she tries to greet students with a positive attitude to set the tone for their day.
"You have to give them a smile and say, ‘Good morning,’ especially with beginners like kindergartners and first-graders," she said. "They’re always worried and scared. It’s a very scary thing to get on a big bus and leave your mommy at the bus stop. That’s got to be very scary for a little kid.
"And then you have to make sure when you get to school, they look at you like, ‘I don’t know where to go. I’m afraid.’ So you’ve got to kind of take time to show them and make sure they know where their teacher is waiting for them or whatever. It takes just a little time to show a little kindness, and that helps a lot."