WCPS Bus driver: 'I see a lot of promise in my mirror'

Mary Mullane treats her young riders like celebrities

April 07, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • As a bus driver for Washington County Public Schools, Mary Mullane drives students to Cascade and Smithsburg.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Mary Mullane's father was a school bus contractor and driver for 50 years, so she's been around bus drivers her whole life.

She admits to being a "people person," and when she was laid off from her drafting work at Grove Worldwide in the late 1990s, Mullane became a full-time school bus driver in Washington County.

Her day now starts at 6 a.m. when she leaves her home and ends with her return at about 5:15 p.m.

"Everything I needed to know about life I learned on the school bus," Mullane said with a laugh.

For about seven years prior to that, she helped her father, substituting for him as a bus driver on her days off.

Mullane, who lives on Millers Church Road near Leitersburg, has been driving for Hahn contractors for about 10 years. She transports students to Smithsburg Middle and High schools and, prior to redistricting last year, to Old Forge Elementary.

"Driving has been so rewarding for me. When I think about the future, they're it. Any time you can spend time with them, it's valuable. I see a lot of promise in my mirror," Mullane said.

"If the children I drive are any indication, I'm not worried about the future."

She said not all routes are like hers, where she drives the same students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Firm, but fair. Say what you mean, and mean what you say," is her motto.

Mullane, 48, said there was a lot of anxiety when her elementary school riders learned they would be going to Cascade Elementary this school year. Three new stops with 13 students were added to her route.

Mullane started with 41 students, but now is down to 32 as a result of families moving. To help ease the transition, she started bringing her elementary students lunch and eating with them at school to celebrate their birthdays.

"For me, investing a little bit of time now is worth it. Children are worth the investment," Mullane said.

Students get to request what they want for lunch, which usually means McDonald's or pizza. Mullane said she was surprised when one student told her his favorite lunch was a tuna sandwich, so that's what he got.

"The response from the children and parents has been wonderful. The kids really look forward to it. It makes them feel like a celebrity," Mullane said.

She said she probably won't do birthday lunches next year, but might do something like "Rider of the Week" instead. She also likes to do something special for each of the holidays, as many bus drivers do.

Mullane and her husband of 13 years, Tom, have one daughter, Mari, a seventh-grader at Smithsburg Middle School. Mari rides another bus to school, but some of her friends ride her mother's bus.

"When people ask, 'How many children do you have?', I say '75, and one is mine'," Mullane said.

Mullane, whose maiden name is Wolfinger, was born at Washington County Hospital, but only attended half a year of kindergarten here before her family moved to Ohio. She moved back to this area in 1992.

She also drives school groups to athletic and other events, as well as driving in the summer for day camps and church camps, and has been known to cheer for the students she drives.

"You support your kids. You drive them to sporting events and cheer for them. It means a lot to kids when you support them," Mullane said.

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