"Our monitors are an extra pair of eyes for the driver," Carpenter said.
Assigned to Junction City
Robinson has been helping bus drivers for nine years. She currently is assigned to one of the six buses that serve Junction City Elementary School. The driver is Johnny Morgan. Their morning route is essentially in Junction City proper.
"A friend knew I was looking for a part-time job and told me about the bus monitor position," said the Jackson County native. "I rode a bus when I was a school kid. I behaved all the time, but that was because I was very shy, not that I was a perfect angel or anything, and my own kids rode a bus. The job seemed like something I'd like to do."
The morning route takes from 7:15 to 7:45. At the end, Robinson escorts the preschoolers to the school cafeteria for breakfast. She then heads to Lovett's restaurant in town where she works as a cook, waitress and "anything else they want me to do" from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. She returns to the school for the afternoon route, which runs from 2:25 to 4:15 p.m. "It's sounds like a busy schedule, but every day goes by fast," said Robinson, who also manages to squeeze in a marriage and motherhood. She is married to Joe Robinson, a former 36-year employee of the old Penn Ventilator plant in Junction and now a Wal-Mart employee, and they have two children, Shelly, 20, a college student, and Savannah, 5, a kindergartner at Junction.
"What makes the jobs fun is that I'm taking care of people, young ones in the morning and afternoon and older ones in between. I really love tending to the little ones."
As the bus makes its first stop and Morgan opens the door, Robinson greets passengers like a flight attendant, but with more warmth. "Come on in, sweetie," she tells a hesitant girl, probably put off a little by the new middle-aged passenger with a notepad.
"Good morning, Jonathan," she says to a boy with a moon-shaped face and mischievous grin. "I like talking to her," says the 6-year-old, who then fakes fainting, his eyes fluttering as he falls over onto the seat.
Jonathan soon has to make room for Cheyenne, also 6. She's a pretty little chatterbox with dark, curly hair and a pixy face. The only times she pauses from talking is to munch on a Pop-Tart. She apparently needs little air.
Robinson reminds Cheyenne to sit down, but doesn't dare to try to interrupt the little girl's act. She's a standup comedian, giggling as she offers one nonsensical one-liner after another.
"Could you fix my hair?"
Marissa, a 4-year-old preschooler, raises her hand. "Mrs. Robinson. Could you fix my hair?" she asks, already embarking on a female obsession that will last another 70 to 80 years or so.
Robinson dutifully adjusts the headband and gives her hair a bonus brush. "I do believe I made you look even prettier, if that's possible," says Robinson.
While responding to several raised hands, Robinson raises one of her own. She puts the index finger of her right hand over her lips. "I do this every time we approach a railroad crossing or something is coming over the driver's radio," she said. "It's important for the driver to be able to tell if any trains are coming and to hear of he's getting any instructions from base."
When Robinson puts her hand down, the kids start shooting theirs back up. "Mrs. Robinson, can I be first," said one passenger.
"She was first yesterday. Can I be first?" said another.
"You can be first Thursday and you can be first Friday," said Robinson.
Every morning Robinson deals with the "I wanna be first" pleas. The children want to be the first let off the bus at school, and Robinson assigns a day to each child. "I rotate them so that every child who wants to be first off gets a day," she said. "I don't write anything down. They'll remind me."
As the child with the cherished title of first-off-the-bus for that day leads the other 17 off the bus, Robinson stands outside the door. She says farewell with the same grin and cheer with which she greeted them.
"I really love this job because I really love working with these little ones," she says. "And I know what I'm doing really is a help for the drivers."