img_2520The Donna Independent School District’s Transportation Department has hired an employee who successfully completed an intense training program designed to target migrant workers to be skilled, professional public school-bus drivers.

Maria De La Luz Silva recently received a Continuing and Professional Education Certificate of Completion from South Texas College (STC). The two-and-a-half-week Bus Driving Skills Course was made available free of charge to De La Luz Silva because of her status as a migrant worker. Through the Motivation Education and Training (MET) Inc., a workforce development agency in Weslaco, De La Luz Silva was able to get the funding needed to enroll in the class.

“I knew I had to make a change in my life,” De La Luz Silva said. “I have four children and migrating up north wasn’t easy. When the season was over, it would be very difficult to find work when we came back home to the Valley because I didn’t have any kind of training. So when I heard about this course, I immediately enrolled in the program.”

De La Luz Silva said the course was very informative and well worth it. “I learned everything that has to do with driving a bus and all the rules and regulations,” De La Luz Silva said. “I feel confident and believe I have been trained well to safely drive a school bus and handle different scenarios.”

img_2521An agreement between Donna ISD and MET allows the district to get first dibs in hiring certified candidates who go through the workforce development agency. Donna ISD Transportation Director Luis Solis said the offer was extended to De La Luz Silva and she accepted. “Donna ISD is honored to have De La Luz Silva join our district,” Solis said. “She is the next generation of bus drivers and should be viewed as a pioneer in the area of transportation. None of our current drivers have the expertise she has. It’s not that she’s any better than anybody else, she’s just coming from a different class of training which is going to help our students in the long run.”

Solis said it is important that the district start looking for more certified candidates because the state is moving toward mandating districts to hire trained individuals. “In the past, drivers were able to take a Department of Public Safety test in Spanish, now they need to know English,” Solis said. “They must also be familiar with every part of a bus, from an alternator to a distributor, if it has one or if it doesn’t. It’s not just about lights and oil and water checks but drivers must know specifics like air brakes and nuts and bolts on the seats inside the bus.”

Donna ISD Route Coordinator Juan Ortiz agreed. “When I took my test to become a bus driver about six years ago, I didn’t have to do everything that’s asked of drivers today like a pre-trip inspection,” Ortiz said. “It was just get in the bus, and make sure everything was working. Now, so much is required. The state is raising the bar and wants school districts to hire well-qualified bus drivers.”

Solis said with student safety a priority, having a certified bus driver on the district roster is a big deal. “We provide all types of training for our bus drivers but the new bus drivers, like De La Luz Silva who are coming into the market are at another level,” Solis said. “We as a department have to raise to their level and utilize them to their full potential.”

De La Luz Silva didn’t realize seeking a certificate would create this much attention but appreciates that her training is being recognized. Most important she said she’s grateful she has a full-time job with benefits. “I never imagined I would become a bus driver,” De La Luz Silva said. “Now that I am, I am so happy. I love it here. Everyone is nice and treats me with respect. Everything is finally falling into place.”