Bus 26 isn't the fanciest bus in the Fort Mill School District, and it's called "The Fish," but what makes it special is its driver, Sharon Davis.
Last week Davis was named the Fort Mill School District's Bus Driver of the Year for 2007-2008.
After five years of working in Fort Mill's school cafeterias, she worked up the courage to learn to drive a school bus just this past school year, then walked off with the prize.
Her fellow bus drivers, who voted on peers for the honor, gave her a standing ovation.
"As I look into the audience, I see a slew of Bus Drivers of the Year," she told them. "You keep driving, my brothers and sisters."
Davis was judged on attendance, general knowledge, attitude, personal appearance and use of judgment, then underwent an interview before a selection board.
"I have never seen her with a negative attitude," said district Transportation Supervisor Bernard Gill. "One day when a bus broke down, she came there and talked to the kids to keep them calm and assure them that everything would be all right."
The Transportation Department's safety trainer, Gladys Sanders, commented on her smile.
"She has a wonderful personality," Sanders said. "She is always smiling."
It was Sanders who convinced Davis to tough it out when a car cut in front of her on her second day of driving, and now Davis is also helping to train new drivers.
It was the students who also convinced her to stick with it, Davis said.
"I love my kids," she said. "My kids drive me to come to work each morning."
She is up at 5 a.m. each and every school day and in the district's bus lot at 6 a.m. to begin her job. She had perfect attendance transporting students to and from Orchard Park Elementary and Fort Mill High each day in addition to running a shuttle between Nation Ford High and FMHS.
Davis, 36, is herself a product of Fort Mill schools. She graduated Fort Mill High in 1990. Her son, Swavae Davis, is a rising junior at Nation Ford. Coordinating her work schedule with her son's was a large part of her decision to work for the school district.
In his keynote address at last week's ceremony, Springfield Elementary Principal Scott Frattaroli pointed out that bus drivers are "an integral part of shaping lives of children in this community." He had compiled some statistics: District bus drivers had safely transported about 4,500 students every day, had traveled about 540,000 miles with students during the year and managed to avoid any major accidents or student injuries during that time.
Chuck Epps, the district's assistant superintendent of administration and instruction, told the crowd he thought of the bus drivers as "typifying family more than any other" group of employees in the district.
Davis garnered $1,500 and more in prizes for winning the award, but there are rewards even greater.
"I'm glad I made this choice, because I love my job," she said.
Outside in the bus lot, she marched to her bus sitting in the third row and proudly claimed it.
"This is my baby," Davis said. "It's an antique, but it's mine. It's my bus."