A life-long Mason resident, Charlie Marker has racked up a lot of miles over the years. And yet, the Mason City Schools bus driver constantly goes the extra mile for his passengers.
In February 2015, Charlie began driving some of the school district’s most incredible students - students with wheelchairs and other needs that require them to ride a specialized school bus. Charlie’s impact was immediately felt. Parents, teachers, aides and students all point out multiple examples of the “Charlie Effect” - like the “Bus Birthday party” he designed for one of his Mason Intermediate School passengers (complete with bus banner, special tiara, and gift bags filled with her favorite candy), the special Kids Bop-esque “mix track” he put together (and plays loudly) for a high school passenger as she leaves each day, or the “boogie bags” he purchases out of his own pocket that come stocked with wet wipes, extra Kleenex and other items to help his passengers.
Marker earned his Commercial Driver’s License almost 20 years ago, but he deeply believes that none of the “things” he moved over the years come close to being as precious as the cargo he now feels privileged to transport. He is grateful to serve this community’s children.
1. Your face lights up when you talk about your students, and you sought out the opportunity to bid for the routes that transport students with special needs. What inspires you about this job?
The kids. My sister has cerebral palsy and scoliosis. Growing up, I knew all the things she could do, rather than the things she couldn’t. Each one [of my students] really is a character. It is important for me to let [my students] know that I see who they are… I know what they can do, and I’m cheering for them. This is the best job I’ve ever had - and I’ve had a lot of jobs. It has become more than a job. I finally found my career.
2. People sometimes get panicked or annoyed when they are in a rush and see the school bus with its red lights flashing. How does that feel from you and your fellow bus drivers’ end?
We get that no one likes getting stuck behind a bus going the speed limit and stopping three times in a mile to pick up kids. But three or four times each day people blow through the red lights - which is really dangerous. Our bus is stopped and the red lights are flashing because a child is loading or unloading. It is a very dangerous time. It is the law to yield to buses, and we need people to be patient and remember to keep a safe distance so that we can make sure the kids get on and off the bus safely.
3. What has been the most surprising aspect of being a bus driver in Mason?
I’ve lived here my whole life, but I never realized we had this many students till I started driving a route. If you’ve never seen the kids pour out of MI [Mason Intermediate School] at 3:00, you’re really missing something! And, I guess it really isn’t that surprising, but I’ve also seen that kids count on seeing the same people. That’s why unless I have a fever, I’m going to be driving my kids. Consistency is so important. I want them to know I’m always there for them.