Everyone knows that school buses are a form of transportation. But are they more than that?
Yes, school buses in the U.S. safely shuttle some 24 million kids to and from school each day, but are the big, yellow vessels contributing to the education process in other ways? Lately, I've been seeing a slew of examples that show great potential in this area.
In the July 2011 issue, we report on a paper from Ted Finlayson-Schueler, president of Safety Rules!, that discusses how to help special-needs school bus passengers build skills for riding transit buses later in life. That will be critical for many of these students who won't be able to drive themselves as adults.
At the Transporting Students With Disabilities and Preschoolers conference earlier this year, Pete Meslin and Cheryl Wolf gave a likeminded presentation.
Meslin, director of transportation at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in California, and Wolf, now a consultant after having retired from her district position, spoke about identifying special-education students who can move away from curbside bus service (stopping directly in front of their home).
The speakers said that shifting these students to a neighborhood bus stop or picking them up in front of their neighbor's house can contribute to their development and teach them life skills — especially if they go on to use public transit after graduating from school.
The route to learning
There are plenty of other ways that the school bus can be integrated into the learning experience. One is by setting up reading programs.
A school bus driver for Homer (N.Y.) Central School District has implemented just such a program. As reported by WSYR-TV, OnnaJean Votra awards a prize at the end of every week to the team of students that reads the most books. They can bring their own books or pick from a bag at the front of the bus.
Votra came up with the idea when she was reading to her son and realized how quiet he was being. So in addition to the educational aspect, the program helps maintain order on board.
We've also seen reports of school districts equipping buses with wireless Internet access, encouraging students to study and do assignments online while blocking inappropriate content.
Surviving in tough times
In addition to contributing to children's education, programs like these could prove helpful when transportation departments are making a case to try to ward off budget cuts.
Meslin touched on that point in the roundtable discussion in our February 2011 issue.
"We tend to think of ourselves as the people who safely deliver students to school, and then the educators take over and educate the kids," Meslin said. But in this type of economy, "If we're not educators, then we're not going to exist, because the cuts are going to be away from the classroom, if at all possible."
Have your buses become part of the learning process in other ways? If so, we'd like to hear about it. Send me an e-mail at email@example.com.