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By STEVEN NALLEY
More than a quarter of the student body at Annunciation Catholic School in Columbus comes from Starkville.
Sayuri Beltran, ACS marketing director, said transporting these 30 students used to involve three Bulldog Cab Company vans each day and 30 parents volunteering as chaperones each week. Now, she said, it involved just one bus.
At the beginning of this semester, ACS began a partnership with Waters Transportation Services, LLC to transport students from St. Josephâ€™s Catholic Church to ACS and back by bus.
Beltran said the new service culminated a five-year journey. She said her own family was one of two in Starkville who began carpooling to take their children to ACS five years ago. A year after that, she said, Starkville ACS families collectively hired a single Bulldog Cab Company van to carry 11 children.
â€śThen it grew to two buses the next year, and then three the next,â€ť Beltran said. â€śIt was all organized and managed by parents volunteering. Now, everyone just hops on the bus, and we leave. I am now officially the bus lady. I ride three of the days back and forth. Itâ€™s much easier, because we only have to deal with one vehicle.â€ť
Waters Transportation Services (WTS) buses include video and audio surveillance systems, GPS tracking, pre- and post-trip inspections and more. William Ricketson, Waters Transportation sales manager, said seeing parents hug their children and tell them they loved them was a reminder of the companyâ€™s mission.
â€śWe are are ever mindful that we are transporting precious cargo,â€ť Ricketson said. â€śWTS is fortunate to be chosen by Annunciation to provide student transportation services. It is a win-win partnership.â€ť
Beltran said having just one bus had reduced gas expenses for ACS. Parents also paid a bus fee for their childrenâ€™s transportation, she said, and St. Josephâ€™s Catholic Church had also done much to make the bus financially feasible for them.
â€śMembers of the parish of St. Josephâ€™s receive a stipend to help offset the cost of the transportation, so thatâ€™s a critical part in the whole operation,â€ť Beltran said.
Other Catholic schools across America had been shrinking, Beltran said, and ACSâ€™s Starkville students had played a key role in reversing that trend at ACS. Joni House, ACS principal, said she hoped to extend ACSâ€™s reach even further.
â€śWe do have a couple of students that actually come from the Alabama line, and we have a few students that come from Macon,â€ť House said. â€śWe have some people interested in ACS from the West Point area, but transportation is an issue for them. Weâ€™re just trying to figure out the logistics of it.â€ť
House said ACS had no athletics program, but that did not stop ACS from creating a mascot and naming the bus â€śEagle Oneâ€ť after it.
â€śEach class actually nominated a mascot. They had to tell us why that mascot fit the mission statement of our school,â€ť House said. â€śThe top three were chosen, and then a committee was chosen, and that committee chose the mascot based on not just our mascot but how it related to our mission statement.â€ť