Brian Heredia starts his day at 6:30 a.m to get ready to inspect his bus. After getting to his first stop at 7:45, Heredia picks up students, and is back to Cedar Shoals 25 minutes later. When he is not transporting students, Heredia is in the classroom teaching. Concluding a full day of instructing, his bus departs the parking lot at 3:42 p.m. After his regular route, he typically arrives at Hilsman Middle School or back at Cedar to pick up another group of students, and then arrives home around 7:00.
“You wish you had a lot more time to do certain things, but just being strategic about what to do in order to address the situation is the key,” Heredia said.
After immigrating to the United States from El Salvador, Heredia’s mother encouraged him to take advantage of every moment. She motivated him to achieve some of his biggest goals, including graduating high school and college.
“She didn’t have the same opportunities growing up in El Salvador, so she pushed me to value my education,” Heredia said.
Now teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, Heredia’s Latino identity has helped him encourage his students to reach their full potential, the same way his mom did for him. In addition to his mother, Heredia has had many inspirational figures in his life. Dedicated teachers showed him how impactful education can be.
“Their passion for what they do and their commitment (to teaching) really showed me something that I hope I can do for someone,” Heredia said.
One significant memory Heredia holds is one of a fifth grade teacher at Whit Davis Elementary School. The teacher took pictures of milestones during the year and compiled them on a CD that he gave to the students.
“(It) makes me reflect on the diversity that we have here in our county, and just the wealth of experience that we can potentially get through education,” Heredia said.
Heredia graduated from the University of Georgia in 2018 with a social studies education degree and later got his ESOL endorsement.
After COVID-19 hit, Heredia felt that it was time to reflect on his career and how he wanted to continue. Cedar Shoals, his alma mater, seemed to be the right fit. He began his journey as a high school educator this August after three years at Coile Middle School.
“I’ve always wanted to help students in that journey for what they do after high school,” Heredia said. “As a collaborator (teaching a subject with another educator), I have more time to work on those relationships with students, and I think that that’s something that I try to value.”
Heredia lived in Oglethorpe County until he was 10. Despite the lack of diversity, he says he still found acceptance and understanding in the community.
“I’m Hispanic, and when I went to schools in Oglethorpe, there weren’t that many students that looked like me. I really enjoyed my time growing up over there with everyone wanting to understand more about my culture, and where my parents came from. I really felt like there was a good school community,” Heredia said.
Heredia was not disappointed by Clarke County’s similar aspects when he finished elementary school at Whit Davis, attended middle school at Hilsman and subsequently high school at Cedar Shoals.
“I want to give every student that I interact with that same opportunity that I had here,” Heredia said.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed by his students. Sophomore Mariah Mathis first met Heredia in seventh grade at Coile where he taught her social studies.
“He’ll drop anything just to help me,” Mathis said. “He went out of his way for students.”
Heredia’s familiarity with CCSD helped him better understand its students’ specific needs. The transition from middle to high school also improved his acclimation to the high school environment. Having students that he previously taught at Coile gave him a head start with usual introductions.
“Having that prior connection with the community is going to help students and families, especially in that time where they really need support looking for resources,” Heredia said.
Heredia emphasizes the importance of lending an ear to any student who may need it. With the help of coworkers, his job as a collaborator allows him some freedom to make time to listen. By opening his room in the morning to students, Heredia says he forms more meaningful relationships with them, as well as helping students prepare for the day.
“He was the right person to open up to and ever since, he’s been the first person I go to when I have a problem,” Mathis said.
Even outside of school hours Heredia commits extra time and energy. His typical bus routes and any additional ones he may need to pick up keep him hard at work serving Cedar. His bus has made many trips to and from schools doing its usual double route. Occasionally, Heredia provides transportation for two groups of students at the same time because of the current bus driver shortage. With a mix of intuition, help from the bus riders and preparation with the route sheet, Heredia ensures that every student gets home safely.
As the pandemic continues, an increase in COVID-19 cases also causes absences among bus drivers. This issue is not limited to CCSD though. Heredia’s previous experience working on the UGA campus as a bus driver had similar problems, and “it’s an issue everywhere in Athens right now to be honest.”
In the face of a hectic schedule, Heredia balances his time by setting boundaries and focusing on the goal of each day. He has learned to make firm steps when following through with a plan. When substituting for colleagues, making sure that students sit in their assigned seats can be a challenge when the seating chart isn’t available. This can cause added difficulties to contact tracing if someone were to get COVID-19.
“A lot of changes are last minute, and when you have last minute changes like that, you can’t plan,” Heredia said.
Additional aspects of COVID-19 protocols, including masks, are even more difficult to enforce than normal while controlling a bus. With the heat in the afternoon, students are more inclined to take off their masks.
Being a bus driver and a teacher gives Heredia a unique perspective on students. He sees the struggle of getting to school that may be overlooked. Sometimes when bus drivers are out and others take over their routes, the schedule can be inconsistent. Heredia understands that the uncertainty is frustrating for students and families, so he helps out where he can.
Despite this grueling schedule, Heredia perseveres and ensures that each student has the opportunity to achieve their goals.
“I love to see the diversity that we have in our community, and honoring and respecting that we all are in the space, hopefully working for the same goal,” Heredia said. “That’s something that pushes me forward every day.”