A desire to work with children prompted Billy Wilkes and Ann Mills to seek careers transporting pupils to school.
Columbia County school officials recognized their hard work recently by naming Wilkes the school system's Bus Driver of the Year and Mills Bus Driver Aid of the Year.
"It shocked me," said Mills of learning about the honor during an appreciation banquet. "I didn't think I would be picked. I feel like I'm the least one."
Mills started working as a bus driver aid 14 years ago to continue numerous years of working with children.
"Ever since I was a little child I loved to hold babies," she said. "As a teenager, I babysat all the time and even after I married I worked 15 years in a daycare."
The Martinez resident's bus route includes dropoffs to Lakeside High, Lakeside Middle, Stallings Island Middle and Riverside Elementary schools.
A mother of two and grandmother to five, Mills said the best part of her job is interacting with the pupils.
"I don't think it's really work," she said. "If I can let them feel the love I have for them, then my job is complete."
Wilkes, a Grovetown resident, has driven school buses for 20 years, but for the past four years he has exclusively driven special needs students to and from Stallings Island, Blue Ridge Elementary, Cedar Ridge Elementary and Euchee Creek Elementary schools.
"I was ready for a change and a challenge in my career," he said of switching to special needs buses. "You're basically doing the same thing as regular (education buses), transporting kids, but you have to work harder to earn the trust of the kids and the parents."
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of transporting special needs pupils, Wilkes said, is learning how best to relate to them.
"You have different disabilities and you have to deal with each child differently," he said. "You have to pick your strategies to see what works best in relating to them."
With their wins, Wilkes and Mills were awarded plaques and jackets. However, Wilkes got extra lucky during the banquet.
"They were doing door prizes and they started with the grand prize first, and it was my ticket," he said. "I won a 26-inch flat-screen TV."
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