WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Westerville City Schools students can board their buses with confidence on the first day of school later this year thanks to a program developed by Transportation Manager Bob Lynde.
Lynde piloted the First Time Riders program last year after numerous parents whose children were nervous about riding a school bus requested to bring them to the district’s bus compound so that they could familiarize themselves with the vehicle.
“We realized that this wasn’t a one-kid situation, so our goal was to offer a program that would reduce the amount of fear and anxiety that students were experiencing,” Lynde said.
Lynde and his colleagues in the transportation department staged buses at one of the district’s high schools and posted “Did You Know?” facts in each of them.
After touring the buses with a driver, kids and their parents were taken on a 15-minute bus ride. “We wanted to give the students an opportunity to ride with people that they’re comfortable with so that their first experience on a yellow bus is a positive one,” Lynde explained.
The staff then discussed basic school bus safety measures, and stickers and coloring books that reinforced those measures were available for students to take home.
Based on the pilot’s success, the department will run the program annually. A flier is being posted and distributed at schools to publicize this year’s event, which will take place at Westerville North High School and Hawthorne Elementary on Aug. 16. (Lynde expanded the program in an effort to draw more attendees.)
The department has also partnered with the Westerville Public Library to incorporate a 15-minute story time focused on bus safety and the first day of school into the program. “Booker the Rabbit,” a 6-foot-tall library mascot, will help read the stories.
Buster the Bus will participate as well. The smiling, remote controlled school bus robot will be on loan from South-Western City Schools in Grove City, Ohio, whose transportation staff hopes to develop its own First Time Riders program this year.
Lynde is enthusiastic about that prospect, and the future of his program. “It was exciting to see the kids interact with the buses last year in a way that was the opposite of why we created the program,” he said. “We realized it was working and we saw the fruits of our labor, so we want to improve it every year.”