People Who Zum: Curtis Jenkins
We’re excited to kick-off #PeopleWhoZum celebrating Curtis Jenkins, a former school bus driver, now community relationship specialist in the Richardson Independent School District, Dallas Texas. Jenkins first won hearts across the Internet when he surprised students on his bus with hand-picked Christmas gifts.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
I wish school buses were more…
FRIENDLY— as in all bus drivers have certain standards in which they can set on that school bus for kids to feel that it’s just the friendliest place they ever want to be.
School Bus Culture
I don’t see color. Color is clueless to me. It’s all about the culture. Culture is a mindset. We all come from different mindsets, we come from different cultures.
When I first started driving a bus I had no idea of what operating a bus was all about. All I knew is that I had CDLs (Certified Driver Licenses). I’ve met so many cultures of understanding. It’s almost like I have a doctor’s degree and a PhD in something with all these cultures around me every day. A good doctor can know after years and years of experience like I did of learning the different cultures, of knowing how to bridge these cultures and make them understand each other.
I wasn’t driving a bus for the money, because the money wasn’t enough. I had to pick up another job. But I did it because my principal said I had a lot in me, that the kids need somebody like me, and that I need to get on that bus and turn it into a classroom.
When I started driving the bus I saw an opportunity to take kids and turn them into better citizens for the future. The school bus is a community.
I looked at the school bus as a self-contained neighborhood. When kids get on that bus, we needed some order on that bus.
So I started talking to kids about different things in their neighborhood. “What y’all want to be when y’all grow up?” They started raising their hands. I heard “I want to be this, I want to be that.” I made a list. I said, “Okay, why do you have to grow up to be that? Well, you can be that right now in this community.”
Kids have the best minds, they can do anything from their standpoint. That bus is a whole community because, in their eyes, it can be just as real as the community that we live in and go home to.
Lesson Plans: The Lunch Bag
A kid on my bus was bringing her lunch to school every day in a paper bag. It was a nice little paper bag. It was folded up nice, it wasn’t wrinkled, but the kid would leave it on the bus every day. I said, “Why would you leave that on the bus?” She said, “The kids laugh at me when I get up and go to lunch. The other kids have money to buy lunch and I have to go and get my stuff my mom made me for lunch. They laughed and made fun of me.”
So I created a lunch bringing day. I said to the kids, “Hey, let’s talk about making something healthy. What do you like to eat?” We had conversations to get them comfortable. And then I was like, “Well, check this out. I want everybody to bring a sack of lunch on Tuesday and just share the good things that you have in your bag with me before you get off the bus and you can earn some bus bucks.” (I made up bus bucks, to reward kids with). So all of a sudden the kids started bringing sack lunches to school and that one kid was happy about bringing sack lunches to school after that, because all the other kids were doing it.
One girl on my bus says “I got straight A’s.” I said, “Without integrity, you’ve got nothing.” She said, “What’s integrity?” I say, “Integrity is like a mother and a father standing over you all day, telling you to do the right thing.” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “That’s the inner voice in you, when you know something is not right, and it tells you so. When something doesn’t feel right, and you don’t do it, that’s integrity. That’s the mother and the father inside of you.”
You’ve got to learn what certain things are, and kids don’t know. They don’t go into explaining, what’s integrity? What’s morals? What’s value? What’s your plan in life?
My kids have plans. You can pull up one of the news shows… I think on Rachael Ray, one of the little girls— they captured me teaching her. And she said, “Mr. Jenkins taught us to have a plan.” She said, “P is for purpose. L is for ‘we’re all leaders,’ A is for ‘accountable’ and N is ‘to never give up’”. That’s the plan. As long as we have one plan, we can make a future together.
I’m starting a nonprofit that I called PROJECT WALK (We Are Learning Kindness). Anytime you get on the bus… you have to walk to the bus, right? Anytime you walk into somebody’s life, you should bring in some type of happiness as well.
Walking is always good exercise for your heart. And with walking you’re learning kindness. So all the kids, we used to have a walk early in the morning. We had a purpose-driven walk. We had to throw a ball up in the air and whoever caught the ball had to walk out front and tell me how they’re going to change somebody’s life today. And I told them, “Don’t ever fight over catching the ball because it’s not your time to catch it right now. Be happy for the person who caught it and be ready to listen to that person. That’s just the thing about life. When some people get things in life, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it. It means it’s not your chance to get it right now.” I turn these small little lessons every day into life learning lessons.
Open the ideas
The things that I have, it motivates people to be a better customer, a better person—not only just in school— in your life, too. These things can integrate into your life and change your life tremendously. That’s when you need to be willing to open the doors and open to ideas.
Open the doors and let them in. Let these ideas in. Let the ideas in the bus. Let them in the car. Let them in transportation. Let them in your job. You got to open the door and let them in. Once they’re on board, they can get to where they need to go.
#PeopleWhoZum is a celebration of the unique people who are driving change in the student transportation industry. A spotlight view of those who believe, as we do, rides to and from school impact the way children learn, grow, relate, and excel. We’ll be featuring individuals who embody our values and sharing their personal stories and perspectives. Please check back weekly for great stories starting next week.
Do you know someone in the industry who would be a great addition to #PeopleWhoZum? If so, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact us at email@example.com.