Isabella Pieri has become very good at taking care of herself. The 11-year-old gets ready for school on her own ever since her mother died two years ago from a rare disease.

Her father, who leaves for work early in the morning, has stepped up to the challenge of parenting on his own. But there are a few aspects of having a daughter that remain baffling for him. One of them is her hair.

“I originally just gave her a crew cut because I didn’t know how, and it was all tangled and I couldn’t get it out for anything,” Philip Pieri told KSL-TV, a news station in Salt Lake City not far from where the Pieris live in Alpine, Utah.

Isabella grew her hair out and got in the habit of pulling it back in a ponytail before heading out to the school bus, according to KSL-TV.

Then one day, she noticed that her bus driver, Tracy Dean, was braiding another student’s hair into a style Isabella admired. Isabella told KSL-TV she summoned her courage and asked Dean to give her a hand, too.

Dean said she’d be more than happy to. And the braiding began.

“It makes me feel like she’s a mom pretty much to me,” Isabella told KSL. “And it makes me excited for the next day to see what she does.”

Dean now fixes Isabella’s hair every morning before Isabella gets off the bus.

“You can’t be shy; you’ve got to talk to them,” Dean told the station. “You treat them like your own kids, you know.”

Dean said she has had her own struggles, so she understands a bit of what Isabella is going through.

“Seven years ago, I found out I had breast cancer, and that’s one of the things that went through my head — who is going to take care of my little ones? Not that my husband couldn’t do it, but you know, that’s what moms do. They do their kids’ hair,” Dean told KSL.

Isabella’s teachers told the station they noticed that she has more self-confidence since she started coming to school with a hairstyle she’s proud of.

Her father said he’s appreciative of the help, but mostly he’s grateful that his daughter is happy.

“Tracy didn’t have to step up, but she stepped up to help out,” Pieri said. “I was amazed.”

This story has been updated to reflect that KSL-TV is based in Salt Lake City. 

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