As the 2014-15 school year begins today and tomorrow for many in central Maine, we take a look at some of the people – familiar and new — who will be going back to school.

STUDENT: ‘LEARNING HOW TO GROW’

FAIRFIELD— Living on a farm, 15-year-old Peter Rotondi, of Athens, has grown up raising chickens, cows and miniature horses and helping his family make its own maple syrup.

Being able to do those things at school is part of the reason he is looking forward to a new year at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley.

Rotondi, who will be a sophomore this year, said the hands-on learning environment at the charter school, which opened as the first charter high school in the state in 2012, is better than sitting in a classroom all day.

“It helps me learn better when I am outside working,” said Rotondi, a quiet but active boy who enjoys dirt biking in his spare time.

In this school year, Rotondi said he is looking forward to continuing to work in the school’s greenhouses, where last year they launched an aquaponics program, a method of farming that combines fish tanks with vegetable gardens to recycle fish waste and use it as fertilizer for the plants.

“The garden has gotten better, and we just got tilapia to add into the greenhouses,” said Rotondi. “We’re learning how to grow and maintain our own vegetables.”

— Rachel Ohm

BUS DRIVER: ‘I LOVE MY KIDS’

OAKLAND — When Donna Pullen was asked to help the town out and drive a bus back in 1966, she said she’d help out for a couple weeks.

Forty-eight years later, she’s still at it, looking forward to the first day of school this week.

“I love my job. I love my kids,” Pullen said. “Tuesday I’ll bring my bus home and we’ll wash it down and clean it. The kids are always excited to come back.”

Pullen, 69, was recognized by the Maine Association for Pupil Transportation and the Department of Education as the Above and Beyond Maine Bus Driver of the Year.

In her 47 years as a bus driver in town, Donna Pullen estimates that she’s driven about 10,000 kids.

“There’s one family; I’m in the third generation of driving that family,” Pullen said Monday. “I know all my kids’ first and last names. I know if they’re in band or on a sports team. I know what’s going on at home. I see them as my grandkids.”

It’s that type of personal connection that Pullen forges with the students on her bus and the rest of the community, whether she’s driving the town’s recreation programs bus or working as the town ballot clerk or showing up at fires — no matter what time of day — with her bus full of food and beverages and a warm place to recuperate, that earned her the annual recognition, the highest award a state bus driver can receive.

I was speechless,” Pullen said when she found out she had won from a pool of about 2,700 applicants.

Entering her 48th year as a town bus driver, Pullen has the same enthusiasm and excitement to begin the coming school year as the students she drives.

In the eyes of Regional School Unit 18 administration, Pullen is the one constant among the changes that happen every year in every school.

“She’s recognized as a matriarch of the district,” said Gary Smith, superintendent of RSU 18, which includes Oakland, Belgrade, China, Rome and Sidney.

To Lennie Goff, transportation director in Oakland for 25 years, Pullen wasn’t just his bus driver or just his peer when he drove for the district. She’s been a protector and proponent for him.

“When I came on as director in 1989, I had five drivers, Donna being one, that had drove me in high school,” Goff said. “It was a challenge being that young and having to be authority over them. She took me under her wing and basically deflected a lot of what could have been criticism.”

Pullen and her husband, Charles Pullen, a longtime Oakland fire chief, raised six children in the town and she has grandchildren in the district.

“Ninety-nine percent of the children are wonderful, and you just have to make some sort of connection with that other one percent,” Pullen said. “If a kid gets on the bus in the morning and asks ‘Do you know if we’re having breakfast?’ — you have to put your heart out a little bit to those kids.”

— Jesse Scardina

TEACHER: ‘I CAN’T WAIT’

WATERVILLE — Fifth-grade teacher Laurie Bushey likes to tell her students that their grandparents are watching them.

That’s because the walls of her classroom at Albert S. Hall School bear photographs of every class she has taught in her 39-year career, and some of the students in those pictures are now grandparents of her current students.

“I love teaching — always have,” she said. “I can’t imagine not loving it. I really, really can’t wait to see the kids every year. I don’t have any of my own kids — these are mine and I knew it from day one.”

Now entering her fortieth year teaching fifth grade, Bushey reflects on the changes that have occurred — both in students and in teaching.

“Kids come with different knowledge. They know more about the world than they used to. They used to know a lot about their neighborhoods and going out and playing in their neighborhoods. The neighborhoods were important. It’s not the same now. They come to school knowing way more than they used to about the world, about games, about pedophiles, gaming and clothing. It’s just crazy what they know. The technology change has been unbelievable. Technology has changed the world, and I see it my own little world.”

Being a teacher means wearing a lot of hats, she said.

“I’ve become a psychiatrist, too, I think. You don’t learn that in college. It’s an on-the-job training kind of thing when you teach.”

Bushey started teaching at Brookside Elementary School, now the George J. Mitchell School. She taught 11 years there before going to the Hall School, which at the time was called Pleasant Street School. She has been there 29 years. Throughout her career, she has taught in only three rooms.

“Am I lucky or what?” she said. “I’m so lucky that they didn’t move me around.”

The room she teaches in is the same room her father was a student in many years ago, when the school was Waterville Junior High School.

So many memories, and Bushey keeps on making them.

“I’m happy,” she said. “I love what I do. It’s the least boring job in the universe. Every day’s different. Every month’s different. Every year’s different. It’s a great job. It’s more than a job — it’s just a super, super fun place to be.”

—Amy Calder

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.