SANDUSKY, Ohio — As the 2022-23 school year winds down, mental health remains a top priority in most districts. Students and staff increasingly report feelings of anxiety and depression, with some of those feelings emerging or exacerbated due to the pandemic.
One area feeling extreme fatigue is in transportation, as retirements and resignations dropped the number of full-time bus drivers over the past few years. This included Sandusky City Schools, which started the year with just four drivers before another one quit right before school started.
"For the most part, our drivers are getting older," Jerralina Shafrath, who took over the role of transportation coordinator this school year, said. "The younger people aren't interested in driving a school bus. Most of our drivers are upwards of 60, a couple almost 70."
Combining bus routes, adding stops, and dealing with more kids on board are now the norm everywhere. Here in Ohio, however, the law requires public schools transport all eligible students — their own as well as private and charter school kids.
Simply put, Ohio provides more bus services than most states.
"It's more stressful than normal," Shafrath succinctly admitted.
To alleviate some of that stress, students in Andy Shannon's graphic design class wanted to show how much they care. During class time, they would head to the transportation building and work on two murals in a room where drivers gather.
Junior Jerry Jordan says art helps him relax, and hoped it would help the drivers, too.
"It takes the added stress they have already on the job away," he added, "where they can relax on their way in and have a clear mind."
Shannon's class is known for its good deeds: The year before, they painted another mural in the choir room during a time when students were learning remotely. The class was happy to spread some of that cheer to the district's bus drivers, as well.
"I know they love their bus drivers," Shannon said, but it just added another layer to their love."
Mental health is an increasingly important topic in our schools. For these students, art is one way for them to find some peace.
"Whether it's actually drawing or painting or my music class, it's all really relaxing," senior Alena Spears explained. "A nice release from the, you know, the 'core class' stress."
One of the two murals is a worry tree. It's based off a children’s book and serves as a visual cue for drivers to leave their worries behind.
“Just good energy, good positive energy when they're driving to go pick us up, drop us off for school,” said Senior Jesel Agosto.
The other mural, a painting of the back of a school bus, inspired by another mural painted in Times Square by American artist Roy Lichtenstein. The version by Shannon's class represents what a driver might see looking in a rearview mirror, and the students added caricatures of themselves on the bus, smiling back.
"Like a safe haven from the stress and hard things that they have to deal with outside of here," Spears noted.
The safe haven has brought about change: Shafrath says more drivers remain in the gathering spot to sit and chat, as well as soak in the kindness they now feel.
"The transportation department has changed," she said. "Last year nobody, sat in here. They would come in, they'd do what they have to do, and they would leave. Now, in the afternoon, I come in, the room is full. We're a group, we're a team, we're pulling together, and I think the mural had something to do with that."