Michelle Brower of Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colo., says sensitivity training is key to gain an understanding of students’ disabilities. Here, trainees are building a structure with their thumbs taped to their palms to simulate limited fine motor skills.
Look within your district for resources
There are many special-needs training resources that are available to the industry, and taking advantage of them is another way to keep sessions fresh and interesting.
Before looking elsewhere, transportation directors, therapists and special-education experts recommend requesting assistance from the personnel in a school district’s special-education department, including school nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, behavior specialists and disability experts.
This is something that Meslin does frequently. Several months ago, one of the district’s autism specialists visited the department to discuss the disability. “It’s this type of training that allows our drivers to get more information than they would get from our trainers or from me,” Meslin explains. “To hear it from people whose job is specifically to study disabilities and the associated behaviors provides them with more in-depth information.”
Meslin also encourages co-training with the special-education department. For instance, he has the drivers who are likely to serve special-needs students go to training sessions with the special-education teachers and therapists who will be working with these students so that everyone understands what one another’s challenges are and how they can help each other best serve the students.
Meslin notes that district-wide support is key to achieving co-training opportunities. “If I didn’t have a supportive climate in my district, it wouldn’t work. Co-teaching and shared training wouldn’t happen if the district didn’t recognize that it takes teamwork to work with these students.”
Continuing education classes could also be considered. Brower says that Douglas County School District often offers continuing education classes to its teachers — including its special-education teachers — and transportation personnel are allowed to attend the classes on a space-available basis.
Local and state organizations can provide disability information, instruction
Entities at local and state levels can be helpful as well. Meslin cites the Red Cross, colleges and local branches of disability-related organizations, such as the Epilepsy Association.
In the case of colleges, he says that they may offer special needs-related classes that may be useful to pupil transporters, and many times the colleges are willing to send out student teachers to instruct the personnel at a transportation operation.
In regard to the Epilepsy Association and other such organizations, Meslin says that they are usually very forthcoming when it comes to requests for training.
“They’re more than willing to help us. They realize that sharing their knowledge helps us do a better job serving their population,” he adds.
For those operations that transport students with autism, Brower suggests turning to the National Autism Association. She says that the association’s Website and its staff are helpful in providing information about this disability.
“Your local children’s hospitals are very good for information, and normally they have a Website for parents, the community and educators that can be a good resource,” Brower adds.
State pupil transportation organizations and state directors can also serve as sources of information. Gervais notes that the top officials at state associations often have contacts at organizations that provide special-needs training, while state directors generally have a wealth of knowledge on this topic because they visit operations around their states and have details on operations’ training practices.