GREELEY, Colo. (AP) – Over the course of his lifetime, Mark Baldwin has been called everything from son to dad to boss.

But it’s the name he’s developed over the past couple of years that means the most these days.

Mr. Mark, as he’s known by to the 60-plus children he transports every day to and from Dos Rios Elementary School, has grown to love, and be loved by, an extended family of children he would never have known if it weren’t for chance.

Baldwin began driving a bus for Greeley-Evans School District 6 in 2008 after a successful career in the construction business, one that included building the very school he stops at every day on his route, as well as Christa McAuliffe Elementary School and several projects on the University of Northern Colorado campus.

Driving a bus wasn’t something Baldwin just woke up one day and decided to do. After he retired from the construction business, he needed something to keep him busy. Then one day, he noticed the sign in front of Monfort Elementary School advertising for bus drivers.

A friend of his was retired from the Air Force and always talked about how much he enjoyed driving a bus for another school district, so Baldwin thought, “why not?”

A couple of months of training and a commercial driver’s license test later, Baldwin had a route that included the Dos Rios students and about 40 Greeley West High School students.

“It really wasn’t that much of a transition,” Baldwin said with a laugh about going from owning a construction company to being responsible for the safety of more than 120 children and teenagers. “When you own your own company, you have a lot of 40-year-old kids you’re responsible for.”

Children on his route said they wouldn’t want anyone else behind the wheel.

“He’s good,” said Alex Romero, 10. “He’s not ever mad, and he makes sure we’re safe in the bus.”

It’s what Mr. Mark does above and beyond his job description that these kids said makes him special.

Alex, a fourth-grader, is excited to be a fifth-grader mostly because of Mr. Mark, he said. Alex is excited because he’ll get to be “in charge.” A special mentoring program Baldwin implemented on his bus asks each fifth-grader to be responsible for making sure a kindergartner stays seated and gets off the bus safely and into the school.

Baldwin also has the older students teach the younger students the rules of the bus and has some students act as safety monitors, counting students as they get on the bus and helping make sure the students clean up after themselves.

“I tell them every day that they go to school to learn to think,” Baldwin said. “All the courses in math and reading are great, but in life, you’re going to have to make choices, and if you know how to think, you’ll make good choices.”

Baldwin, who knows every student on the bus by their full names, believes he’s the neutral ground between mom and dad and the teachers, so he takes a few minutes each day to talk to the students and help them with anything they need.

Samantha Gutierrez, 7, said the best thing about Mr. Mark is he gives out Buffalo Bucks, a special coupon that Dos Rios students get for following the four Buffalo B’s: be respectful, be responsible, be safe and belong. When they save up five Buffalo Bucks, they can trade them in for prizes at the school.

“I’ve got Play-Doh, a notebook and a bracelet already,” Samantha said.

Baldwin credits his high school students for keeping him up-to-date on the latest trends, teaching him handshakes and such. But mostly, Baldwin credits all his students for teaching him what he views as the most important lesson he can learn at this point in his life.

“I’m a new grandpa,” he said. “Overcoming fears is how you find out about yourself. And I’ve found out how to be a good grandpa because these kids tell you what they like about you and what they don’t like about you.”

From the looks of it, there’s not much about Mr. Mark that’s not likable.

– By Sherrie Peif, The Daily Tribune
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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