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Bus rides prove special every day

Driver goes extra mile for students

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The teenager is hunched over, contemplating his sneakers with tired eyes. Shuffle. Step. Shuffle. Step.

Then he hears it.

"Roy!"

It's Charles Wilkinson, the Provo School District bus driver who takes the special education children home from Timpview High School every day. "Roy, how was your day?"

Roy doesn't speak — he can't really communicate through conventional means — but he responds with his whole body. He grins, a huge grin that spreads to the tips of his outstretched arms, and breaks into a lilting run, bounding the remaining 10 yards to Wilkinson. The bus driver greets him with a matching smile and a fatherly pat on the back.

"These kids are angels," Wilkinson said, as he greeted each of his 17 wards, whose disabilities range from autism to Down syndrome. "How could you not fall in love with them?"

Wilkinson only spends about two hours with the teens every day — just the amount of time it takes to drive them home, help them off the bus and leave them in the care of waiting family members. But, even so, he knows each student's individual quirks.

Cody prefers root beer-flavored candy to peppermint. Lynette is happiest when she's listening to music. Claire's favorite toy is a string of blue beads.

"How's Lynette doing?" Wilkinson asked one of the teen's teachers as he helped her strap the blond girl's wheelchair onto the mechanical lift that raises her into the bus. "She's had a runny nose the past few days. I've been worried."

Wilkinson didn't take the job with Provo School District expecting to bond with the children. A retired truck driver, he was just looking for part-time work because, he said, "I'm not ready to sit around just yet." The special education bus just happened to be the only route available.

Now Wilkinson can't imagine quitting.

"I'll stay until I get so old they won't let me drive," he said.

The bus route has reawakened a passion in Wilkinson. As a young man, he had dreams of becoming a social worker. He even graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree. After Wilkinson's first child came, though, making ends meet trumped paying for the master's degree he needed to progress in the field. He was happy driving freight back and forth across the country, he said, and never looked back — until now.

Wilkinson smiles and waves goodbye as each teenager gets off his bus.

"Have a great day!" he says. "It's so good to see you."

But he is a little sad to watch them go. Sometimes, as Wilkinson heads back to the garage, his bus empty, he daydreams about getting training to work with the children in the classroom.

"I only get a few minutes with them here and there," he said. "I want more time than that."

In the meantime, though, Wilkinson is plenty busy making the Timpview teenagers smile. He sings to them and talks with them from his seat at the front of the bus.

It's not uncommon to find Wilkinson at the craft store after work, picking out ribbons for one of his students who likes to play with string. He's been known to deliver ice cream to each of the student's families in the evenings.

"It's really great to know the bus driver cares about my son that much," said Chantale Aldous, whose son Trent, gets a ride home with Wilkinson. "It really makes a difference."


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com