HAWAII AT WORK
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Christina "Miss Tina" Kapono, right, transports students to and from two schools on Windward Oahu. On a recent afternoon run from Kailua Intermediate School, the last four kids to get off the bus were, from front to back, Bliven Szakacsy, 13, her sister Vivianna Szakacsy, 11, Galen Slaughter, 12, and Vallie Rodriquez, 11. Bliven said that "Miss Tina is the best ... no doubt about it," as she gave her a hug.
The big wheel on the bus
"Miss Tina" approaches the challenge of safely transporting her young passengers with love and patience
Christina "Miss Tina" Kapono
Title: School bus driver
Job: Transports students between their homes and Keolu Elementary and Kailua Intermediate schools
Christina "Miss Tina" Kapono drives a Toyota Camry sedan when she's not at work. "It's low maintenance. I've had it six years," she said last week. But at her job, Kapono drives a vehicle that's in a whole other league: a huge Bluebird, 56-passenger school bus, which she uses as an employee of Roberts Hawaii to transport students back and forth between their Windward Oahu homes and Keolu Elementary and Kailua Intermediate schools. Her biggest challenge, however, is not driving the behemoth bus; it's dealing with the many young students who ride on her bus, which she does with love, creativity and patience. Kapono, 45, became a school bus driver seven years ago after working as a secretary at Work Hawaii. In addition to her many kids on the bus, the Kailua High School graduate has four children of her own-- a son, 24, and a daughter, 18, by her deceased first husband, Clifford Kapono, and two daughters, ages 14 and 15, by her current husband, Ted Kiesel, with whom she lives in Waimanalo.
Question: So are most of the kids you transport children of military personnel?
Answer: It's part military. I'm the only one that has military and local kids. They're not together. I do the military first (from Kaneohe Marine Base for Kailua Intermediate School), and then I go out and do the local kids (for Keolu Elementary School).
Q: What's their average age?
A: Oh, from kindergarten to high school.
Q: Are they well behaved?
A: Ehhhhh ... (Laughter) Fifty percent of the time. (More laughter) That's kids. There's just a few of them that ... But other than that, they're fine.
Q: Which group of children is more well behaved -- the elementary or intermediate students?
A: I guess the elementary is my best. They behave totally better. It's the intermediate; they're at that age where they're really aggressive. Towards the afternoon, they're really active. But it's OK. It takes a while to get used to it. Or should I say it takes years. (Laughter)
Q: Have you ever worried for your personal safety?
A: Yes. Totally.
Q: In what way?
A: With kids, it's hard to control trying to drive and watch the kids at the same time. It's really hard, so you just have to try your best from when you start driving, when you get on the road. So it's really up to the driver to control your passengers. Safety is really important.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
"Miss Tina" tells her kids to keep the noise down as she picks them up from Kailua Intermediate School to take them home.
But you're never afraid of being assaulted by the kids?
A: No. I'm not afraid. It's some of the parents that can be really rude, instead of the kids, because it's the parents we have to deal with, too. It's not just the kids.
Q: Does it get kind of noisy on the bus?
A: Oh very! (Laughter) I do a lot of singing with them. That's the only way I think I can have them a lot calmer and more respectful in that matter. Instead of them just yelling. So we sing.
A: What do you sing?
Q: Any type of songs that they can teach me, or I teach them, or a cheer. I can make it where the boys challenge the girls. I found it's a lot easier when you make something on your bus for the kids. Like for the elementary kids, we're part teachers when we're driving. Like, I'll go, "Give me 9 plus 2." So that's what I do, to keep them occupied, because they can really get out of hand at times.
Q: Do you ever make the kids sing the "Wheels on the Bus" song?
A: Oh yeah. All types of songs. I even get to teach the military kids some Hawaiian songs, like "Tiny Bubbles.".
Q: Do you ever play social worker to any of the kids that ride with you?
A: Yes. We're like their teachers, their doctors, their social workers. (Laughter) They tell you what's wrong, what happened to them. It's everything. They have so many questions to ask. It's interesting, and I answer to the best of my knowledge.
Q: Do you ever get attached to any of the kids?
A: Yeah, I do. I get so attached and then they have to leave. They stay three or four years, and then I get a new bunch come on after that. And usually by the time they leave, when they get off the bus, they go "Mahalo." They (the military kids) get to learn some new Hawaiian words.
Q: What do you do between your morning and afternoon bus runs?
A: We have charters to do in between. Like for field trips for schools. So it takes up the time.
Q: What do you do when school is out for the summer?
A: Oh, we service Parks and Rec (the city Department of Parks and Recreation). They keep us pretty busy.
Q: Doing what?
A: Taking them on their field trips.
Q: Who's them?
A: You know, like the summer fun. All kids.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Some of "Miss Tina" Kapono's passengers surrounded her for a group photograph at Kailua Intermediate School before getting on her bus and heading home. Kapono said she enjoys driving a bus full of kids and misses them when they move on.
Did you have to take some qualifying tests of any sort before you could become a bus driver?
A: Yeah. We have tests that we have to go through with Roberts Hawaii. We have safety classes -- defensive driving, first aid. You need to get it. You really need to have that. It will help you in the long run, working with students.
They also show you how to maintain your bus, what to expect, so it helps out a lot, especially when you're on the road.
Q: What are you supposed to do if the bus has mechanical trouble or gets a flat tire?
A: Then we call our mechanics up and they drive out. We wait there. And we call dispatch and they send another bus for the students.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: Seven years I've been with this company. And it feels like 15. (Laughter) You can get white hair from it. (Laughter)
Q: Do you know how many other school bus drivers the company employs?
A: At the Kaneohe (Marine) base, there's, like, eight of us that operates the base alone. And then we have a baseyard in Wahiawa, Waianae, Nanakuli, Ewa Beach; it's spread out.
Q: Where do you pick up your bus?
A: We park it in the Marine base. Our main yard is Sand Island, and there's not enough room for all of us to park our buses there, so we park it closer to where we service. It pretty much makes sense. (If we didn't), we'd have to start really early to get to the other side.
Q: Do you find this job rewarding in any way?
A: Yes. It is. You gotta love kids. And you better have patience. A lot of it. (Laughter) But other than that, it's interesting. It's really interesting. Every day is a challenge.