By Kristin Schultz
For the first time in their five years of life, Niskayuna kindergartners stood on sidewalks and in driveways on Sept. 6, waiting for the big yellow bus to come and take them to school.
It can be a nerve-racking time for parents and students alike, but on the first day of school, Dan Elliott went out of his way to calm those nerves.
As each kindergartner boarded the bus for Glencliff Elementary, Elliott gave the youngsters a bright yellow baseball cap that read “Route 31” — the students’ bus route number. He had also marked the seats up front where kindergarteners sit so each student knew where to go.
Parker Redman and his mother Lindsey stood outside well in advance of the bus’s scheduled arrival time. They were both nervous.
“I was nervous but trying to keep it at bay,” said Lindsey, a seventh-grade science teacher at Van Antwerp Middle School. “Parker was quiet, and that told me he was nervous, too.”
The bus pulled up, the doors whooshed open and Elliott handed Parker the same yellow hat he had given the other kindergarteners on the bus. Lindsey said she saw Parker’s nerves melt into a smile as he took a seat with his fellow first-timers.
It wasn’t just the first day of school for the kids. Elliott started driving buses for Niskayuna in January so it was his first first day of school, too. His wanted to make sure he could know and spot those youngest students.
“I gave them the hats to help me keep track of them,” said Elliott. “Kindergarteners are small.”
Elliott said that especially at the end of the day he wanted to know which students needed to be on his bus and while there is a system at each school for getting kids in the right places, he wanted to be able to quickly spot the little ones as well.
Elliott went on to say how impressed he was with his fellow bus drivers’ ability to quickly learn all their students’ names. Since Elliott himself didn’t know if he could pick up the names that quickly, he decided to do hats instead.
Over the summer, he went to see Ava Paroly and Sue Stanley at Monograms Plus. The pair told Elliott that child-sized hats were hard to come by and after looking around, decided on small, adjustable adult-sized hats in bright school-bus yellow.
Elliott ordered nine hats, one for each kindergartner on his route.
“I handed them out the first day and they were a big hit,” Elliott said. “It helped get them to school happy.”
He didn’t do it for the PR he said. He just wanted a quick way to learn the students for whom he was responsible and to make sure they felt safe. Elliott said some of his kids are still wearing the hats.
“To have him go out of his way this way and make [the first day] pleasant … was great,” said transportation director Bill Garrison. “We didn’t ask him to do it, he did it on his own and I am really, really happy with him.”
Before becoming a bus driver for Niskayuna, Elliott was an air-traffic controller. He said he is pleased to see the district take safety as seriously as aviation professionals.
“I don’t have to do this but I love it,” Elliott said. “They’re top-notch, supportive and great to work for.”
It’s not a mutual-admiration society. Rather, it’s a top to bottom sincere concern for the safety, security and well being for the students — and their nervous parents. One kind gesture of one bus driver made the first trip to school smoother for parents and students alike.