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Woman finds her place on a bus

Published Sep. 4, 2005

Karla Scott needed help.

Her son was acting up in class at Blanton Elementary, and she rode his school bus to school to meet with his teacher. She was on welfare and needed a job, but she didn't have any transportation to get to one.

Appalled by the disruptive behavior she saw on the bus, Scott offered to ride the bus to and from Blanton. But school district rules only allowed school employees to ride the buses.

Then-principal Jim Madden found a solution. Impressed that Scott could get children to behave "without ever losing her cool," he hired her to help teachers in their classrooms. Then he also paid her to ride the bus and keep an eye on the children.

"He gave me my start," said Scott, now an Exceptional Student Education clerk at Blanton. "I will never forget him."

Now Scott is one of 13 employees who work at the school and rides buses.

It was the perfect tradeoff. Blanton watched its bus referrals, disciplinary citations that can lead to being kicked off the bus, drop from 700 in 1996 to 26 last year.

"When my children aren't on the bus," said Principal Deborah Turner, "they're not in school."

Scott has been off welfare since she started working at the school and riding the bus. That was six years ago.

On a recent afternoon, it was hard to concentrate on bus 827.

Children were admonished for sitting in the wrong seat, talking too loud or otherwise misbehaving. Serious offenders were summoned to sit next to Scott in what she calls the "love seat."

That's where she "loves the badness out of them," said Scott, 36.

The bus jerked forward as elementary students talked and laughed their way home.

One had lost his backpack. Two boys were engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and an artfully folded white sheet of paper was making its way from the back of the bus to the front.

Scott fired off orders and questions.

"Excuse me."

"Sit back, Robert."

"Alright, leave that boy alone."

"Who was passing notes?"

"Why did you hit him?"

When the air cleared, the children could hear only the rumble of the bus as it traveled down 54th Avenue N toward I-275.

Then Scott saw Marlon Dampier sitting in the wrong place.

He sat near the aisle when he knows he is what Scott calls a "window child."

Marlon couldn't keep his hands to himself, touching his peers as they walked by. Scott summoned him to her seat.

"I don't want to sit back here," Marlon said.

Regulars like Marlon take the entire ordeal in stride. He was more worried about being "squished" by Scott than he was about the embarrassment that followed.

The whole bus erupted in song: The Love Seat Song.

"We just love to make you happy, so happy, so happy," the youngsters crooned to Marlon, as the bus zoomed southward on I-275.

By the time the bus pulled off the Interstate, Scott's patience was ending. She said, "Pass it along," a strategy that quiets the bus as students whisper the words from seat to seat. A few stops later the bus was empty.

"I only have 60 children on the bus," Scott sighed.

But there are rewards.

Scott uses her position to teach her two sons, now 13 and 17, a lesson.

"I want to teach my children that if you work hard enough, you will achieve," Scott said.

Parents welcome the extra supervision.

"I know there are some rough ones, and I know mine is no angel," said Michelle Dampier, Marlon's mom.

Scott makes house calls in extreme cases. She has shuttled notes from the principal's office to parents' doorsteps and sat down for talks in their living rooms.

Parents who work at Blanton say their children earn better grades and stay out of trouble.

Parent Lucy Villafane's third- and fourth-graders straighten up when their mother is at school.

"They don't want to get me in trouble," she said.

Despite her tough image, the children know Scott is a softy.

"She's tight," explained 11-year-old La "Kendra Black, offering Scott a compliment. "She gives us treats and everything."

"She's fun to be with," said Dionte Streeter, 11.

Then he lowered his voice and gave away one of Scott's secrets.

"She gives us chances."