Bus drivers in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. were off to a busy start as students made their way back to the classroom early Wednesday morning.

Kim Fowler of Taylorsville who has been driving school buses for the district since 1995, said there’s plenty of preparation that goes into each day before she gets onto the road before 6:30 a.m. each day.

At the start of this school year, 112 buses are covering 159 bus routes for BCSC, transporting an estimated 8,500 students to school each day, said Patty Lewis, routing specialist with BCSC’s transportation department.

More than 11,000 students were expected to return to class at BCSC schools Wednesday morning, although actual enrollment numbers won’t be available until later in the week, school officials said. More than 800 students were expected to be starting their first day at Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. also on Wednesday.

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Fowler’s first passenger for the school year was Skyler Hill, a freshman at Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech, who also happens to be Fowler’s next door neighbor.

Hill, who quickly found a seat in the second row, said he got to know Fowler as a driver during the 2016-17 school year and had good things to share about her.

“She’s been a really awesome bus driver,” Hill said. “She’s really nice, and sometimes she’ll give us snacks on the bus.”

Being a school bus driver allows Fowler the chance to get to know her bus riders on a first-name basis.

She’s handling two bus routes in the Taylorsville area this year, with pickups and deliveries to Columbus North High School and Northside Middle School.

Some of those students also transfer to Central Middle School.

But no matter where each student is being dropped off, they receive a high-five from Fowler as they get into the bus and make their way to their seats.

Fowler also gave instructions on the first day over the intercom.

“Are you ready for today?” she said. “You need to buckle up if you haven’t buckled up yet. Get ‘em on!” she said about the seat belts.

When the school bus drivers finish their morning routes, there’s still the afternoon return home to prepare for, drivers said.

The BCSC school buses will log a total of about 1 million miles annually, Lewis said.

BCSC’s drivers have a wide range of experience driving school buses.

Drivers such as Nancy Mahoney, who is retired and fills in for other individuals when needed, said Wednesday marked her 48th year driving a bus. She was parked next to Fowler’s bus outside Northside Middle School and was taking a brief break in between routes.

She described Fowler as a person willing to help other BCSC bus drivers.

“She’s a disciplinarian,” Mahoney said. “She’s very kind to her (students), very friendly, good to other drivers.”

Other drivers, such as Stacy Baker, are newcomers in learning the ins-and-outs of driving a school bus and considers Fowler to be a mentor. Baker is in his second year driving a school bus for BCSC.

“She’s a blast,” Baker said. “She’s been a big help. You couldn’t ask for a much nicer person than Kim.”

The atmosphere on both of Fowler’s routes also was different.

While the bus was mostly quiet during her first route that began shortly after 6:30 a.m., there was plenty of energy and noise on the second route as students from Taylorsville Elementary School got on the bus. Many of those riders also were familiar faces as well to Fowler.

Fifth-grader Elizabeth Meek has rode on Fowler’s bus the past few years and sat next to fourth-grader Yahani Hernandez, who said that Fowler is known for giving out candy during the holiday season. Meek added that she was looking forward to starting the school year, but was quick to point out her favorite part about riding Fowler’s bus.

“When she takes us home,” Meek said with a smile.

Safety is also important to ensure that each passenger has an enjoyable bus ride, according to Fowler.

“If you’re buckled up, thumbs up!” she said over the intercom, which drew plenty of thumbs in the air as she glanced back in her rear-view mirror.

Buses are equipped with several cameras that monitor activity, but Fowler said her goal is to make sure her riders have a positive outlook to their day.

“I think kids have respect for their bus drivers,” she said.

Fowler also offered some advice to novice bus drivers.

“Whatever you tell the kids, make sure you can back it up,” Fowler said. “Pick your own battles. You don’t know if a kid has had a bad morning.”

And as far as other motorists on the road, she said she’s seen many people on their cellphones while driving, something she strongly discourages.

“Let’s all be safe on the road together,” she said. “It’s keeping the kids safe and keeping me safe out there on the highway.”

About Kim Fowler

Age: 52

Residence: Taylorsville

Family: Married to husband Doug; they have four children, Nikki Jewell, KB Cotten, Cory Fowler and Liz Winters

How long has she driven a bus for BCSC? Since 1995

Favorite part about the job: “Talking to the kids, getting to know them.”

By the numbers

1 million: Number of miles BCSC buses travel annually

8,500: Average number of students who ride the bus each year

159: Number of bus routes Wednesday morning

112: Number of buses in operation Wednesday morning

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com