On a school bus adorned with Pokémon cards left behind by past students, a Sedalia 200 bus driver known to riders and their parents as “Ms. Jackie” is creating a lifelong community.

Jackie Dellinger, who is in her eighth year driving for First Student, Inc., doesn’t see her riders as just passengers; they are part of her family. She guesses that about 90 percent of her riders have been with her since they started school. Those who were kindergartners when she drove her first routes are now in seventh grade at Smith-Cotton Junior High.

“They have kind of grown up with me,” she said. “I probably have gotten a little closer than I intended. I actually miss them in the summer."

After a couple of years of retirement from restaurant management, Dellinger gave school bus driving a spin.

“Retirement just was not for me quite yet, so this was a good opportunity for not full-time (work),” she said. “I had never even thought of driving a school bus."

Dellinger was a bit intimidated at the start, knowing children’s safety was in her hands. She got past that quickly and was able to start building relationships with her riders.
“I think I got lucky with my route,” she said. “I think I have one of the best routes that anyone could have."

Teresa Foote, whose sons Lukas and Liam have ridden Dellinger’s bus for years, said Dellinger always goes the extra mile to create a welcoming atmosphere on the bus.

“Ms. Jackie is fantastic because she ensures a safe and enjoyable ride for our kiddos each day.  Not only is she reliable, punctual, and patient, but her kindness, humor, and attention to the kids' well-being are invaluable,” Foote said.

Lukas and Liam describe Dellinger as caring and funny. Liam appreciates that she trusts her riders to sit where they want on the bus and that the students don't want to disappoint her by acting up. Lukas thinks it is great that Dellinger supports and celebrates her riders by attending their various activities and events throughout the year.

“She shows a genuine interest in our children and knows about their likes and interests,” Foote said. “She has attended some of their baseball and basketball games outside of school. This means the world to them."

Dellinger has a “Rider of the Week” program to incentivize good behavior on the bus. She said it serves as good motivation for elementary students, and, “It helps me out in the long run because they behave."

Dellinger proudly displays photos of her grandchildren, as well as Smith-Cotton Tigers and Kansas City Chiefs items on her bus. She said the students enjoy it and that it shows her pride in her job.

Besides her daily routes, Dellinger also enjoys transporting students for field trips, which allows her to visit interesting places she sometimes didn't know existed. Those trips have helped her identify places to take her grandchildren.

Connie Miller, First Student’s location manager for Sedalia, said Dellinger sets a good example for the other drivers by having fun at work but taking her responsibilities seriously.

“She takes pride in her children, her route, and her parents,” Miller said, adding that Dellinger “communicates with them well and is here every day. She is a very dependable, loyal employee. … She is an asset to this company, to the parents and to the students she hauls every day."

Foote said Dellinger’s ability to earn her riders’ trust and respect “speaks volumes about her caring and dedicated approach. It's reassuring to know our children are in such good hands during their daily commute.”

In the photo: First Student bus driver Jackie Dellinger has earned praise from her riders and their parents for creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere on her bus.

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