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The wheels on the bus ...

Karen Goldenberger does more than just drive a bus.

Like other bus drivers in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, Goldenberger sees her role as beyond just ferrying children to and from school.

Rather, Valley drivers see their bus as an extension of the classroom, with the same importance placed on learning and safety that's found in a brick-and-mortar school.

Last Thursday was "Bus Driver Appreciation Day" at local schools, part of a week celebrating classified staff. Drivers received caramel corn from Mount Si High School, pizza from Chief Kanim Middle School and cookies from the district office. During the week, students and parents thanked drivers individually, with goodies such as gift cards, e-mails and letters.

While so much community focus is on teachers and schools, "We don't really talk about bus drivers," said district transportation supervisor Jim Garhart. This past week, though, drivers received lots of appreciation from community and families.

About 3,000 out of a total of 5,500 district students ride a school bus.

Thirty-seven drivers pilot 47 buses and together log 600,000 miles annually, with the longest daily driving route about 150 miles.

For a bus driver, the day begins around 5:30 a.m. when drivers check in at the transportation office and proceed to safety inspect their vehicles. Buses roll out at about 6 a.m., and the morning routes wrap up around 9 a.m.

Afternoon routes head out about 1:30 p.m., and the routes wrap up around 5 p.m.

For some drivers, midday is taken up driving morning kindergartners home and picking up afternoon kindergartners. Some drivers head home for a break. But drivers who live outside the area say they regularly spend 12 hours at work to get paid for eight hours.

For drivers, buses are a part of the children's school experience.

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