Printed on a cutout apple pasted inside Eursella Hamilton's school bus is the word "respect."
Hamilton uses the apple as a reminder to all the pupils she transports in Columbia County of what she tells them after they first meet.
"I let them know that their lives are in my hands, but my life is in their hands," Hamilton said. "They look at me funny when I say that, but it's true. To keep discipline they have to respect me and each other, then I'll respect them."
The veteran bus driver's straightforward attitude likely has a lot to do with her winning the award Thursday as the county's 2009-10 Bus Driver of the Year.
Hamilton was selected from 10 finalists for the honor.
"I'm so thankful," she said. "There are some great bus drivers here, and to be chosen from among them is unbelievable."
Finalists are nominated by their bus team captains. They then are interviewed by a three-person panel of school system officials, who select the winner.
"Ms. Hamilton's bus is like a rolling classroom," said school system Transportation Director Dewayne Porter, who was not among the officials making the final selection. "What other bus can you learn the state capitals on the way to school?"
In addition to a chart listing state capitals, the inside of Hamilton's bus includes hand-drawn pictures, a table of the basic food groups and other apple cutouts displaying words such as "courage" and "self-control."
"I like bus driving, because it is a chance to teach to the kids," said Hamilton, who takes pupils to Columbia Middle and Lewiston Elementary schools. "After their parents, I'm the first person they see in the mornings. Their school day really begins with me, and I take that seriously."
Lanora Hunt also was honored as Aide of the Year at the luncheon held at Grace Baptist Church on Hardy-McManus Road.
For more than 13 years, she has worked as an aide on special needs buses and has suffered some abuse.
"I've been hit. I've been kicked. I've had my hair pulled. I've been bitten. I've had my glasses knocked off my face. I've been cussed at. I've been hit in the face with a boot," Hunt recalled.
Why does she do it then?
"I love it," she said. "I love working with kids and helping them any way I can."
Hunt said her niece suffers from Down syndrome.
"She tells people I'm her favorite aunt," she said. "I think that's because I keep her during the summers and visit with her at Christmas. I always let her know how happy I am to see her."
The 78-year-old will miss some work this year while she recovers from knee-replacement surgery, but she intends to return.
"As long as I can get up and down those steps, I'll be on that bus," Hunt said.
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