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Banks driver wins Road-E-O

Elaine Harper gets up at 4 a.m. every school day, drives to Banks Elementary School, climbs behind the wheel of her school bus and at 5:52 a.m. begins her 90-minute morning route, picking up her fragile cargo of exceptional-needs children around Kinston, La Grange and north towards Snow Hill and bringing them to Banks by 7:30.

During the school day, she is a teacher assistant in an Exceptional Children classroom. When the last bell rings at 3 p.m., she’s a bus driver again, driving another 90-minute round trip. On a good day, she clocks out at 4:30 p.m.

It’s a tough assignment, but it has its rewards. For Elaine Harper on Friday one reward was winning the 2019 LCPS School Bus Road-E-O, a test of school bus driving skills and a qualifying competition for regional and state contests.

“I think I did pretty good,” Elaine said after learning she’d top all scorers with 174 out of a possible 200 points.

Thelonious Ford of Kinston High School finished second and Cindy Jones of Pink Hill Elementary School claimed third. Twenty bus drivers from the district competed in the Road-E-O, driving an obstacle course set up in the parking lot of Vernon Park Mall.

LCPS sends the top two finishers to regional competition held in Fayetteville in April. The top 10 finishers there qualify for state competition, to be held in Wilmington in June.

Elaine’s win was more impressive because she normally drives a smaller bus better suited to her special passengers. In Friday’s competition, she drove one of the 40-foot school buses people are accustomed to seeing on the road – without any practice.

“I just got in it and drove,” she said.

She does plan to practice her backing skills before the next contest, she vowed. “Backing up was the hardest part. I will continue to work on my backing-up skills.”

Elaine had competed in the Road-E-O previously but without such success. For four years, her wins have come from elsewhere.

“I love my job,” she said. “I get to meet and greet students first thing in the morning. I’m really the first (school) person they see and the last person they see. I get to help make their day by greeting them with a smile and saying good morning to them. It sets a mood for them for the rest of the day.”