Bus driver goes extra mile for student safety

When HISD closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bus driver Althea McWhorter never got the chance to say goodbye to the seniors who rode her bus every day for four years.

For someone who thoroughly enjoys getting to know her passengers as she drives them to and from school each day, losing the chance to say goodbye was not easy. But she’s hoping this year will be different.

Armed with new bus safety measures and a duffel bag of disinfecting supplies, McWhorter was ready to welcome a new group of students returning this month for in-person instruction.

“I’ve worked through every storm — Alicia, Katrina, Harvey, you name it — but the pandemic is the biggest challenge the district has faced by far,” McWhorter said. “Nobody expected this. All we can do is the best we can.”

Under the HISD Communicable Disease Plan, buses run at half capacity with just 26 students. McWhorter’s bus load is even less with just 11 elementary and middle school students from Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy.

As she embarks upon one of her most challenging school years, McWhorter said her primary goal is to do everything she can to protect herself and her students. This means waking up at 5 a.m. so she can arrive at the bus yard in time to undergo her daily temperature screening, put on her mask, face shield, and gloves, and sanitize the bus.

District bus safety protocols require students to sanitize their hands and scan their badges upon boarding and maintain physical distancing — sitting one per seat by the window. McWhorter has taken it a step further, creating assigned seating with student nametags.

“It makes the students feel a bit safer if they know no one else has sat in their seat but them,” she said.

Although this year requires her to change her normal routine as a bus driver, there’s one thing McWhorter doesn’t plan on changing – the way she greets and gets to know her students.

“I still greet everyone with a good morning,” McWhorter said. “Whether [I’m] having a bad day or not, [I’m] not going to mess up anyone else’s day.”