Christina Arnold has been a part of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project since May of 2017. I recently had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with her. Keep reading to learn more about why she’s such a key team member for ECMHSP.
Can you please tell me a little bit about your story at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?
I had spent seven months as a substitute bus driver for the Hamilton County School District in Florida. One day during our regular morning meeting, we were told that East Coast Migrant Head Start Project was looking to hire bus drivers. This information had been shared by ECMHSP’s Transportation Manager, Charles Leach. The opening was for the ECMHSP Jennings Center, conveniently located seven miles away from my house. At the time, I thought working there between May and October would be perfect, and then I would go back to the Hamilton County School District. My hire date at ECMHSP was May 5, 2017. Prior to officially starting, I got sent to two different areas of South Carolina to get training. I had never traveled outside of Florida. The mandatory training before becoming a bus driver for ECMHSP was 40 hours. I also received three days of bus monitor training. I was away from home for about a week and a half. ECMHSP took great care of me during this time.
What did you enjoy the most about the training you received?
Although it’s a long process, the yearly training sharpens you. I really liked that ECMHSP focused on safety being their number one priority. The training showed that you need to step it up.
What happened after the season ended at the ECMHSP Jennings Center?
Once the season finished, I was offered to work at the ECMHSP Okeechobee Center I and II between November and May of 2018. I already knew how everything worked and really enjoyed being here. However, Okeechobee was more than five hours away from my home, so I had to talk to my kids before accepting. As a child, my son, Richard Jr. learned to read using a Bass Pro magazine, and one of his dreams had always been to go fishing at Lake Okeechobee. The possibility of being able to take my family fishing made us very excited. After receiving my family’s support, I left for Okeechobee. At the end of December 2017, I was able to make my son’s dream come true. We caught over 40 fish during our trip!
How did going to Okeechobee change you?
Traveling to Okeechobee gave me financial stability. I had the chance to save up money to pay bills that I had pending. I’m glad I was able to help out other centers provide transportation services to the families.
Is it hard to leave your community behind in Jennings?
The hardest part is not being as involved with my own kids. I drive back home one weekend a month. While I’m away, my sister is a big help with Richard Jr., my 17-year-old son. He’s a junior in high school and works part-time. My daughter Chasity, 21, is currently doing basic training for the Army in Oklahoma. She wants to pursue a career in the medical field, so she signed up to be a combat medic. My daughter received special permission from the Army to go home for Christmas. She’ll graduate from basic training in January.
What do you like the most about driving for ECMHSP?
I enjoy the interaction with the kids. I enjoy seeing them happy every morning. It’s just a joy in my heart to see the kids growing and learning in a safe environment.
What’s a typical day for you?
I usually start my pre-trip inspection around 4 a.m. There are more than 140 items that I have on my checklist. My first pick up is around 5:20 a.m., then I arrive at the center around 6:30 a.m. After the kids are safely at the center, I finish the paperwork I must submit. For example, the seating chart and attendance. Then, the post-trip inspection begins, and we clean and sanitize the bus interior to get it ready for the afternoon. Around 4:30 p.m., I complete another pre-trip inspection. We start loading the bus around 5:20 p.m.
Can you share a little bit about how you work with other staff on the bus to make sure children arrive safely at the center?
We’re constantly communicating to make sure the kids are being transported safely. On the way to our Head Start center, the bus monitors entertain the children by singing with them. When the last child is escorted off the bus, the bus monitors inspect the bus to make sure no child gets left behind. They also report any incidents that occur while the children are on the bus.
Is there anything else you would like our ECMHSP community to know about driving a school bus for us?
It means a lot. It’s been a great experience, and I look forward to a long future here.
Thank you for taking the time to let me interview you, Christina. You go above and beyond to make sure our children arrive safely at our centers in Florida. Without you, we know many of our little ones would not have a safe way to reach our Head Start centers in Florida. As you get ready to start your bus driver responsibilities at our ECMHSP Fort Pierce Center, we wish you a great season!