GREECE, N.Y. — Robert Bentley knows how to make a good impression on the kids he drives to school in Greece. At first sight, their favorite thing about him might just be his hair.
"His mohawk. It looks so cool,” said second grader Britney Lomax.
"Because it's yellow. One of my favorite colors,” said Jackson Almekinder.
For the last five years, Bentley has been a bus driver. He makes it his mission to connect with kids even further.
"Treat them all like they're my own,” said Bentley. “Joke around with them. Just have fun. Make sure they see a smiling face. Tell them to have a good day. Ask them how their day was."
The coronavirus has changed a lot this school year though, including how students ride the bus. Kids are spaced out only one a seat and the capacity limit is 22 kids per bus. Before, there used to be about 60.
"I miss all the kids,” said Bentley. “I mean having the bus ride home. Hearing them all hyper and them jumping around and happy. It's been where it's kind of more quiet...Kids are kids. They should be able to be a little loud in my opinion."
Almost 2,000 parents have opted out of having their kids ride the bus because of concerns with COVID-19. Instead, they are dropping them off and picking them up themselves. Cassondra McLaughlin is one of those parents. She drops her kindergartner off at English Village Elementary School.
"Well we don't really want him going on the bus until he gets older,” said McLaughlin. “And with the whole coronavirus thing we just wanted to be able to bring him to school. We're kind of still iffy about him even going to school but he does need to be around kids."
With more parents driving there's more traffic, but McLaughlin said it is getting better as everyone gets into their new routine.
"Picking up is a lot worse than dropping off, but during the morning I think they're getting it a lot more under control,” said McLaughlin. “After school is a little bit harder because I think more parents are picking up than they are dropping off."
David Richardson, the executive director for student operations at Greece Central, said even with more parents driving their kids, they are still looking for more bus drivers to hire.
"We've hired 16 drivers since the pandemic hit,” said Richardson. “We would love to have another 16 to 20 more. Just to have them so we can ensure that we're appropriately staffed to transport our students."
Bentley said despite this year being different, he is still trying to give the kids a fun way to start and end their school days.
"I'm a big kid at heart,” said Bentley. “So I like just joking and having fun. And this is like the job where you can do that."