When Marco De las Casas reflects upon his retirement from 27 years as a City of Falls Church school bus driver, he speaks sweetly about “my kids.” He’s quick to correct himself, though. They aren’t his kids, he says; they are “our kids,” crediting the City school system and the City itself taking a hand in the important role of shaping the young minds who call Falls Church home. In that system, Mr. Marco, as he is known to the innumerable students he ferried to and from school each day on his bus, was more than a bus driver. He was an educator.
He’d encourage his students to name the composer when he had the classical music radio station on, or he’d call out simple math problems for his younger passengers to answer, ensuring his students were learning before they even set foot in the classroom.
“Driving kids was amazing,” De las Casas said, “everyday, teaching them and guiding them.”
But his educational bus rides involved more than facts and figures. He wanted his students to be good citizens.
Insisting upon a “good morning, Mr. Marco” from his charges to engrain politeness into their conversations, extolling the virtues of mutual respect when settling disputes, and offering his microphone to let students practice their public speaking skills were just some of the ways that De las Casas promoted good character in his students.
“For many students, Marco was the first and last person seen each school day; greeting each personally as they boarded his bus, teaching them to smile, and to respond with a ‘good afternoon’ as he dropped them off safely back home,” said Dr. Toni Jones, superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools.
De las Casas drove students from Mt. Daniel School up through George Mason High School, and FCCPS Transportation Supervisor Nancy Hendrickson says his passengers were delighted to have Mr. Marco as their driver.
Jonathan Thompson, whose children Ivan and Ginka have been riding De las Casas’ bus for the past five years, said that the atmosphere on De las Casas’ bus was “fun, but controlled, and informative.”
Thompson and other parents on a Broadmont stop organized a farewell fête for the bus driver on one of his last morning routes of the school year, to offer De las Casas a card, gifts, and best wishes for his retirement, one of many celebrations and fond farewells that honored him for his service.
“I think he relates to the kids, both as an adult and on their level,” Thompson said. “I think the school is losing a committed and dedicated person. … I think the kids will miss him – many of the parents do already.”
While driving the City’s children to and from school is the task the beloved bus driver is most known for, that was only part of his duties. While class was in session, he could be found transporting testing packets, payroll information, and other departmental mail between the schools, earning his services the nickname “Marco Mail.”
“His ‘Marco Mail’ courier service, considered legendary by all FCCPS staff, was as dependable as the Postal Service,” Jones said. “But it is his unending smile and insatiable positive attitude that will be missed most by the Division.”
“His positive attitude and smiling face will be greatly missed here at FCCPS,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson added that De las Casas was “willing to go above and beyond” in the performance of his interoffice courier duties. Sometimes he’d spend 15-hour days behind the wheel, carrying out tasks that took him all across The Little City. The days went by fast, De las Casas said. And the work kept him physically active; he’ll be retiring with his health, and he’s glad for that.
In his interview with the News-Press on his final day of work, De las Casas said he sees handing off his keys as passing the torch. To his replacement, he warns the job won’t be easy, but it will be fulfilling. De las Casas said he was sad to leave but looking forward to retired life.
Relaxation is high on his list of retirement priorities, as is staying active and maintaining his youthful spirit. De las Casas also has plans to travel. A native of Peru and the eighth of 15 kids, he has kept in touch with his family across the world through technology and looks forward to seeing them face-to-face, in addition to other travel plans with his wife.
While globetrotting may be in his future, De las Casas doesn’t think he’ll be too far from his students. He sometimes finds himself miles away from home, only to hear a “Mr. Marco” shouted out, and trusts that he’ll see “our kids” whether he’s out in the world or back in the City.
“That’s what I always tell everyone,” De las Casas said. “‘I’m going to be around. I’m going to be seeing you guys.’”