At 6:40 a.m. one Thursday morning, while most of Ferndale was still waking up, Richard Boersma warmed up his school bus. Before Bus #4 left the transportation lot, he went through his daily pre-trip routine: checking the oil, making sure all the lights worked, and so on.
Soon afterwards, Boersma began his route, driving towards the Lummi peninsula to pick up his first students of the day. Even though the middle and high schoolers were groggy early in the morning, Boersma greeted them with a smile and an affirming attitude.
“Good morning, I missed you yesterday!” he told the first student to board his bus.
Boersma, who has been a bus driver for Ferndale School District for 12 years, said he loves his job as a bus driver because he can be a welcoming face for students. He strives to start off each student’s day on a positive note.
“There’s one little boy, where I tell him every day, ‘Everybody likes you,’” Boersma said. “I feed him that affirmation.”
Because Boersma sees the same group of students every day, he’s able to notice things that others may not catch. For example, one student who rode his bus wore the exact same pair of worn-out shoes every day for an entire year. When the student came back the following year in the exact same shoes, Boersma notified school staff, who were able to purchase him a new pair.
“You can make a difference in small ways,” Boersma said.
Driving students to and from school for a dozen years has also given Boersma plenty of experience on how to handle tricky situations. If a bee flies into the bus, he tells the kids, “The bee is my friend, don’t scare him!” This usually calms down the students, Boersma said.
“As the bus driver, one of my goals is to create a safe atmosphere on my bus,” he said.
Driving a school bus means Boersma sees many of the same people each day. Because he exclusively drives students with disabilities or in special education programs, Boersma has built relationships with the paraeducators who greet the students at school.
Every day when he drops off a student at Ferndale High School, paraeducators Don Ritchey and Josiah Aho do a short dance and say “Whoop! There he is!” As the student leaves the bus, Boersma playfully responds, “Whoop! There he goes!”
“It’s a highlight of my day,” Boersma said of the tradition.
Boersma has also built connections with Ferndale’s other bus drivers. In the time between middle/high school and elementary routes, the drivers congregate over coffee and breakfast in the bus garage.
“When you have that sort of a bond, you grow to appreciate and enjoy your co-workers,” Boersma said. “If you have an issue, you can chat with other drivers and ask, ‘Have you experienced this before?’”
Because Boersma has driven the same route around Lummi Nation, Sandy Point and the Mountain View area for three years, he’s noticed a few things with repetition. He can tell you exactly which trees have eagle nests in them. There’s one house that will occasionally leave him zucchini on the side of the road. And there are multiple locals he greets every day.
“There was one guy who would check his mail every day as I went by – after a while, we started to wave at each other,” Boersma said. “I never knew his name, but it’s those little connections … they matter.”
Director of Transportation Lewann Eggert described Boersma as safe, reliable, and kind.
“He has a great rapport with the kids and is just an all-around great bus driver,” she said.