School bus drivers are proud people - proud of their bus, the way they drive and the way they deal with their student-passengers.

Many people don't think of bus drivers as professionals and as educators. But R.J. Hone, Alpine School District driver trainer, said it's time people realize bus drivers are both."At Alpine we select the best people for the job - people who are people-oriented and who love the younger generation," Hone said. "We are the first positive person children meet outside the home. We set the tone for the day for them to learn."

To become a bus driver, a person must complete the state's new commercial driver's license program - a series of written and driving tests. Once issued a license, bus drivers are required by most districts to receive training in assertive discipline, which teaches drivers how to handle discipline problems on the bus.

Alpine requires drivers to know each student's name by the first month of the school year. The district also requires drivers to wash their buses once a week and wax them once a year.

"When you have a clean bus and know the students' names, you create a very positive learning situation, and you are a better defensive driver," Hone said.

Alpine has a voluntary program designed to help drivers have more pride in their job. Called the Inter-Circle, the program divides drivers into teams. Each team evaluates the other drivers and inspects their buses.

"This teaches our drivers all about the bus they drive and the shape it has to be in to pass the state inspection," Hone said.

As required by law, the Utah Highway Patrol inspects every school bus in the state twice a year. Nine of the past 11 years Alpine has won the UHP's AAA School Bus Award, the state's highest transportation honor.

As part of the Inter-Circle program, police departments from Lehi, American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Orem inspect Alpine's buses - something not required by law. Law enforcement officials also evaluate a driver's cleanliness, attitude and appearance.

With 146 buses and 196 employees transporting 14,242 students on 358 daily routes, Alpine's bus fleet is the third largest in the state.