They were starting kindergarten, 6 years old and equal parts scared and excited to go to school. We took the obligatory pictures, made sure they remembered their teacher’s names and watched the bus chug up the road on its way to our house. The big yellow box lurched to a stop, doors opened, and we were greeted with a big smile from a welcoming bus driver. The kids, seeming too small to be climbing on the big bus, hopped aboard and, with a smile and a wave, were off. As the bus turned the corner out of sight my waving hand lingered and the tears streamed down my face.

That was nine years ago. This fall they will start their freshman year of high school. Last year was the first year I didn’t have the stream of tears when the bus carried them away on the first day of school. In the early years there were so many emotions that came with handing my children over to someone I’ve never even had a conversation with. In middle school I think the bus on the first day of school represented them growing up, not needing Mommy so much anymore.

And in eighth grade, no mommy tears. But I certainly have developed an intense gratitude for the bus driver(s). My enthusiastic appreciation for the unsung heroes of the school system — bus drivers, teacher assistants, lunchroom attendants, maintenance personnel to name a few — remains strong.

The unsung heroes are the infrastructure that allows our amazing teachers, counselors and administrators to do their jobs. I’m not sure how Ms. Carol kept her sanity intact — every day managing youngsters to teens, morning and afternoon, through heat, rain or snow, and always with a smile and a nod when throwing that bus door open.

It won’t be too long before my kids will be driving themselves to school. I suspect that will come with a whole new cascade of tears. But in the meantime, here’s to the unsung heroes helping our kids (and parents and teachers and administrators) get through the day.

I hope there are very few tears and many smiles this school year, for parents and students alike. This is our back-to-school issue, with content focused on youths and education. Best wishes to all the kids heading back to school this fall, whether it’s public, private or home school. And good luck to the moms and dads who are greeting the bus on the first day.