As 4-year-old Axel stepped onto the bus for his first day of pre-kindergarten, he panicked. He had attended summer classes, rode the bus and made friends, but something about the first day of school caused the tears to flow. He reached his hand out for support and 21-year-old bus driver Isabel Lane reached back to offer it.
Axel’s mom snapped a picture that moved many people after the Augusta, Wisconsin, Police Department shared its Facebook page. But Lane says that’s just what she and other bus drivers do for students — provide compassion and guidance.
“He was really just reaching for his mom. He was not going to let her off the bus without him. So, I just kind of reached my hand back to be something else to support him. He just happened to grab me,” Lane of Augusta, Wisconsin, told TODAY Parents.
For Lane, it’s just part of the job. This is her first year driving for her former school district and if the bus is full, she has 74 students from pre-K to 12th grade. She set out firm rules so that everyone gets along. But as importantly she also listens when it's needed.
“We are all on the bus together,” she tells the kids. “This is our bus. It is not just my bus. We all need to take care of it and it means taking care of each other.”
Lane also tells her students the rules are not arbitrary. They're for everyone's wellbeing.
“I build as much of a relationship as I can and I am not trying to yell at them,” she said. “(Rules) make the bus ride safer for everyone.”
While many parents might worry about their children being on the bus because they remember it as a lawless place where spitballs and bullying reign, Lane wishes parents understood the bus is not the wild west of education. Lane, who also works as a teachers aide, said that it’s on the bus where she sees children really shine and reach out for help when needed.
“Kids that are more trouble in the classroom than usual … they are the kids sitting up in the front seat talking to me,” Lane said.
What’s more, she uses the bus ride to talk to some about accepting children despite differences. For example, if a student doesn’t want to share a seat with another child because maybe he smells like cigarette smoke because of his parents, Lane will explain how that child can’t control this.
“We have conversations about the different kind of students that ride our bus,” Lane said.
Most people thought the image of Lane holding Axel’s hand showed her compassion and a special bond between the two, but some worried that she was driving the bus with one hand. She wants everyone to know that she was parked.
“We were stopped at the bus stop. That was how his mom was able to take the picture,” she said.
Still, she feels stunned by all the attention she's received.
“Who would imagine being from a town of 1,500 people that I would have people messaging me from all over the United States,” she said. "It is crazy how many people it touched."