Scroll down to the bottom to watch VIDEOS of Raime on the job.
Not that she’s bragging, but Raime Stewart, North Bryan’s 2021-2022 Bus Driver of the Year, has been down this road before.
So has her mother. Stewart was named North Bryan Transportation Bus Driver of the Year in 2014-2015. Her mother, Lynn Keen, was named the same in 2019-2020.
Along the way, they’ve become celebrities of sorts in North Bryand, by delivering meals during COVID-19 became a cheerful symbol of a community’s resilience during tough times.
More recently, Stewart and her bus helped in the relief efforts following the April 5 tornado.
“My bus has moved kids, it’s moved meals through the pandemic, it’s moved supplies when the tornado came through,” said Stewart, a Tennessee native who moved to Pembroke with her husband, Matthew, and children Tyler and Aubrianna more than a decade ago.
Not long after that, Stewart said as she was dropping her son off at school, she saw signs “all over Pembroke,” advertising for bus drivers.
“My husband drives a truck. I figured I could drive a bus, so I went and applied and fell in love with it,” she said. “I never dreamed in a million years I’d become the entertainer of the county.”
That aspect of Stewart’s career started, more or less, in the spring of 2020 as the school system shut down campuses for COVID-19 but continued feeding students breakfasts and lunch. Armed with bullhorns, chef’s hats, meals and school bus wheels, Stewart and Keen rolled through North Bryan delivering nutrition and laughter.
Some of it was videoed and became a staple on social media, including the Pembroke Downtown Development Authority’s Facebook Page. People noticed it when they stopped and asked them to resume.
“We stopped doing it for a little while,” Stewart said.
“Then I get up to look and people were sharing these videos all over the place.”
Fast forward to April 5, and Stewart got a call from Bryan County Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Trey Robertson asking her to load her bus with donations to tornado victims and drive them from Lanier Learning Center on Highway 280 to those in Pembroke who needed them.
“I never knew my bus would haul that much stuff,” Stewart said. It did.
And it still needed her to drive it.
But most of the time, Stewart’s bus hauls kids.
And that’s where she’s at her best, said her boss, North Bryan Transportation Director Allen Clark.
“Raime was chosen as north Bryan Transportation Driver of the Year because she loves being a bus driver,” Clark said in an email. “And with that love comes the dedication to serving her students, parents, and school personnel. With that love comes reporting to work each day and going above and beyond just sitting behind the stirring wheel. That same love allows Raime to manage student behavior in a fair and reasonable manner discipline on her bus. Raime demonstrates attention to detail by doing additional task such as turning in paperwork, showing up at events, keeping her bus swept and prepared for each day. It is because of this great spirit and wonderful attitude that I will often place brand new drivers under her care before ever turning them lose on their own. She is a great example that I want all new and old drivers to follow.
She knows without a doubt what it takes to be successful as a school bus driver.
And lastly, she supports not only her students but the mechanics, transportation admin, and all her fellow drivers.” Stewart is equally effusive in her praise of Clark, whom she credits with making the job so enjoyable in her eyes North Bryan is the best place on the planet on which to drive a bus.
“Ninety-nine percent of that is due to Allen, who does a phenomenal job of directing us,” Stewart said, citing team-building exercises ranging from cookouts to dolphin tours to driving around looking at Christmas lights.
That positivity about her boss extends to children.
“To me what makes a good bus driver is it someone that is a people person, who is able to build relationships and have good time management skills,” Stewart said. “But if you don’t have a relationship with your students, you won’t make it as a bus driver.”
For example, she carries a hot spot on her bus and allows her high school students to use it, if they behave.
“If they’re good, they get their hot spot. But if they cut up, I’ll cut it off.”
And you have to remember you’re driving children, not robots, she said.
“You’ve got to talk them and treat them like people,” Stewart added. “They’re going to put their feet in the aisle. They’re going to throw a piece of paper out of the window. That doesn’t make them a bad kid. I always ask myself, if I had a bus full of my own kids, would they eat on a bus?
Yes. Would they be talking too loud? Yes. Because they’re kids. They’re not robots.”
Nor does she understate the importance of her job.
“Bus drivers are the driving force of education, especially in our area,” Stewart said. “Out here if you didn’t have bus drivers you wouldn’t need a principal, especially in smaller areas, because if you shut off transportation 50 percent of the kids wouldn’t be in school.” In short, driving a bus is a big deal. And that’s not bragging. “I’m the first and last person to see some of them who has anything to do with the school system. I’m not a big deal, I’m just a bus driver,” Stewart said. “And I enjoy driving a school bus.”
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Raime Stewart, VIDEO 1
Raime Stewart, VIDEO 2