FORT MYERS, Fla. — In the past, school bus drivers in the School District of Lee County were traditionally men.
But now, of the 600 drivers in the district, 62% are women.
“We are responsible to get these children to and from school. It’s a very responsible job. You have to be attentive and you have to follow the rules. Safety is the main key,” Shonta Mcleod Stewart said.
Stewart has been a driver for 16 years. She admits it was a job she thought she couldn’t do at first.
“I had a bus driver that encouraged me to drive. He was like, 'you would like it.' I was like, 'no, it’s a big bus. I can't do it.'”
The same encouragement she received has also motivated other women to join the bus fleet in Lee County.
“When you're driving on the highway, there are more and more women in the tractor trailers with the Class A. There's a lot of women now turning to these higher paying jobs where men used to be dominant in that field,” Denise Paz, Data Systems Supervisor said.
As a woman who served in the Air Force and now a woman in tech for the district’s transportation department, Paz has navigated male-dominated fields.
Regardless of what industry you're looking to get into, she says, “don't be intimidated. If the field is something you would like to do, do it.”
In Lee County, school starts on Wednesday and they’re starting with a shortage of about 134 drivers.
For Stewart, that means a new route this school year that starts at 5:00 a.m. with some added stops.
“We’re short bus drivers, we're short, we’re short. But we have a good team here. We all work together and we always get the job done,” Stewart said.