Puppet Masters

Jeanne Stull
Posted on February 1, 1999

As safety coordinator for Ryder Student Transportation Services, one of my goals is to emphasize the importance of safety to our passengers at Millcreek Township School District in Erie, Pa. In 1995, after having seen various approaches to the teaching of safety, I discussed an idea with Greg Walter, one of Ryder's regional managers, who gave us his support in developing a puppet show for our new safety program. We felt that the Ryder puppets would be an entertaining way to display the talents of our employees and maintain a program within our budget.

Little work goes long way
John Augustine, a driver and a talented craftsman, built a wooden bus with five open windows for the puppets. He also constructed the front end of a bus complete with an operational eight-way lighting system that works off a motorcycle battery. His wife, Marge, made the curtains to fit the windows as a backdrop to hide the puppeteers. Another driver, Renee Otteni, remembered vividly the very first meeting of the fledgling puppet team. "About the only thing we knew for sure was we wanted puppets," she says. Renee researched puppet plays at the local library and was soon piecing together a script. Before she knew it, the entire play was written. "Every year I write a new play for the puppets, stressing the importance of school bus safety rules," she says. "I particularly enjoy bringing the puppets to life." Maggie Hinkle, also a driver, took on the challenge of designing and dressing up the puppets. She also designed "Leo the Lion," a life-size costume that is used in our program. Driver Linda Seifert enjoyed playing that role last year. She started off our program by singing safety songs and going over some bus safety rules with the children in the audience.

The smiles are worth it
Driver Marion Rater, another puppeteer, says, watching the children's reactions during the presentation is important. "We know that they listen because of the comments the children make to the other drivers that take them home after seeing one of our programs," she says. We are also very proud of our safety song that we sing at each performance. It is sung to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon." I had written to Peter, Paul and Mary, to ask their permission to use their music. Believe it or not, Paul Stookey called about a week later and said that as long as we did not charge any fee, or make any money from the song, we were more than welcome to use it in our safety program. Our contract manager, Gary Stephenson, outfitted the group with matching shirts and hats, and purchased crayons and coloring books for the children to reinforce the bus safety rules. The efforts these people put forth every year shows their devotion to keeping their passengers safe. I feel privileged to be considered a part of the Ryder Puppet Safety Team.

Jeanne Stull is safety coordinator for Ryder Student Transportation Services in Erie, Pa.

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