Guillermo Alba loves being a bus driver for Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD)—his favorite part is greeting kids daily with a smile.
"As a bus driver, I'm often the first person kids encounter as they begin their school day. I always want to make sure they start their day on a positive note," said Alba.
A shared occupation
For more than four years now, Alba has been driving a bus in SBISD, an occupation he shares with his wife, Ana Herrera.
Alba and Ana enjoy their jobs as bus drivers, interacting with and transporting students throughout SBISD. Both routes encompass a diverse range of students, from kindergartners to middle schoolers and high school students.
They even get to transport their own kids.
"Our two children attend SBISD, and we have the unique opportunity to take them to and from school on the bus each day," said Alba.
Alba takes his 12-year-old son to Spring Forest Middle School, and Ana takes their 15-year-old daughter to Stratford High School, making their jobs even more rewarding. It brings their family closer, and Alba and Ana can ensure their safety firsthand.
"Being able to engage with our kids this way means a lot to us," said Alba.
More than a school district
To Alba, SBISD is more than a school district; it's a family. While he values the holiday breaks and his summers off to spend more quality time with his family, he also says he has found a profound sense of belonging and camaraderie as an SBISD employee.
He expresses deep gratitude for his supervisors, especially Sherri Lawson, who believes he takes excellent care of the entire transportation team.
"I'm fortunate to have such a supportive boss, one who has my best interest always at heart," said Alba.
Alba's positive interactions with SBISD leadership started well before he was employed as a full-time bus driver.
In 2017, Alba and his family relocated from out of state to Houston. Their move to the Bayou City coincided with Hurricane Harvey, a catastrophic storm that dumped unprecedented rain, flooding the entire city. The storm and its aftermath prevented Alba from starting his job in SBISD, delaying his start date for four months.
In the face of adversity and wondering how he would support his family, Alba had a chance encounter with Bob Lipkind, the transportation manager at SBISD. Lipkind moved the process along for Alba, and on Nov. 16, coincidentally Alba's birthday, he began a job as an assistant bus driver.
"I was so grateful to Mr. Lipkind for his compassion, understanding, and support of the situation," said Alba. "He renewed my hope and lifted my spirits. I will never forget that interaction.”
As an assistant bus driver, Alba quickly proved his dedication and reliability. By March of the following year, he was entrusted with becoming a full-time school bus driver, a position he has thoroughly enjoyed.
Even when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many teachers and supportive staff, including bus drivers, were leaving education, Alba remained resolute in his commitment to being a bus driver. He always followed his mother's sage advice to be frugal about money, enabling his wife, a former teacher in Mexico, to focus on helping their children learn virtually.
Alba doesn't just see his young passengers as kids on the bus; he sees them as individuals with unique emotions and experiences. He takes the time to recognize if a student appears sad and seeks to understand why. This empathy extends beyond the bus ride. You can tell just by talking to him that he genuinely cares about the well-being of the children he transports to and from school each day.
"I consider myself an advocate for the kids who ride my bus and will intervene, especially if I suspect any form of bullying," said Alba. "The role of a bus driver is more than just driving; it's serving as a positive influence and protector of kids in my care."
A parents' perspective
At age 60, most people might be counting down the days until retirement, but not Alba. He has decided to work until his son finishes school, even if it means he's 70 years old when he retires.
"As long as we have one child in the school district, I want to continue working at SBISD," said Alba. "It's important for me to remain active in my son's life this way."
From Alba and Ana, SBISD has not only a place of employment but has provided an environment where their kids can thrive.
"Our kids are happy and enjoy going to school in SBISD. They have many opportunities to learn and make friends," said Alba. "It's been a great experience for our family."
Providing a safe and cheerful journey
Alba's story reminds us that it's not just teachers and coaches who make a difference. Every person who interacts with students daily, from the bus drivers and cafeteria ladies to the crossing guards and police officers, can make a difference.
Through his daily routes and warm smiles, Alba and Ana have proven that being a bus driver is not just a profession – a calling, a commitment, and an immeasurable source of joy. As long as there are children to transport and lives to touch, the couple will continue to be smiling at the wheel of the school bus, ensuring that every day begins with a safe and cheerful journey.