Maureen Moore, a school bus driver at West Point Tours in Cornwall, N.Y., has driven a school bus for about 10 years. West Point Tours is a private operator with about 200 buses. The contractor serves three school districts. Every year, Moore conducts safety drills at the two schools where she drives; every year she says it’s a repeat of the same.
“I’ve done a lot of drills,” Moore says. “I started to realize that by the time a child hits the second or third grade, a lot of it is repetitive.”
Moore, mother of three grown children, wanted to do something else but scarcely had an idea of what. Then an idea peeked its nose out at her and triggered her creative talents.
Groundhogs spur safety strategy
Moore and a small group of her driving buddies sometimes began their routes early and met at the middle school to wait for students to board the buses. One day while they sat around, a family of groundhogs came out for some sun. Moore, an amateur photographer, began to shoot photos of the groundhogs.
“The pictures came out so fabulous. I thought the kids on my bus would really love this,” she says.
But Moore didn’t stop there. She created a story about the groundhogs to accompany the images.
“To take an animal that some kids see every day and make it something they can associate with being safe on the bus — I thought this would be an interesting way to approach school bus safety.”
In a matter of months, Moore had penned and published a booklet titled “Gerry the Groundhog Learns About School Bus Safety.”
The 11-page booklet follows the adventures of Gerry, a groundhog who lives under a rock with his mom and dad in front of an elementary school. Gerry sees the excitement of the children as they embark and disembark from the school bus each day. He yearns to do the same. Gerry watches and learns as a school bus driver teaches her passengers about school bus safety, then takes his chance to ride the school bus as well. The children scream at his presence on the bus and Gerry learns another rule: groundhogs are not allowed on the school bus.
Moore wanted her main character’s name to start with a G because it would go well with groundhog. She also thought it important that the name fit both genders. She wanted children with names like Geraldine or Gerald to be able to relate.
The beautifully rendered booklet features five images of Gerry and his family and six pages of easy-to-read text. Graphic designer Pat Brodesky, a friend of Moore’s, designed the booklet and its earth-tones color scheme. The first edition of the booklet was printed at a company called Beard Printing.
One for all
Originally, Moore planned to make the booklet available for her passengers only, but the response from the students was so positive that she felt compelled to take things a step further.
“I realized I’d found a way to really get kids interested in bus safety and a way to keep it in their minds,” she says. “Every time they saw a groundhog, right away they would think of school bus safety.”
Moore considered publishing the story of Gerry the Groundhog as a children’s book, but the cost of printing each book, about $5, discouraged her. She wanted the books to be affordable so that everyone had an opportunity to read and enjoy them. With regard to cost control, producing a booklet, she decided, was the better option.
“By making it a booklet, I keep the cost so low I can sell it to school districts for no more than 55 cents each,” Moore explains. “I can share the story with more people that way.” Unit cost to produce the booklet is about 33 cents each. With larger orders, she can get the unit price down to 18 cents.
A new book with a squirrel as the main character is currently in the works. The idea for this story, which will continue the school bus safety theme, focuses on the dangers of throwing objects like snowballs or rocks at a school bus. In the story, the squirrel drops acorns on a bus.
Getting the word out
Moore has sold copies of “Gerry the Groundhog” to the Massapequa-Long Island School District. She has also mailed out sample booklets, envelopes and order forms, about 400 of them, to various operations, but hasn’t heard anything yet. The process of marketing the booklet has been a learning experience for Moore.
“I originally targeted the PTAs,” she says. “But I realized I should target the principals because it’s really more of a curriculum thing.”
To assist her in getting the word out, Moore commissioned her daughter to create a Website, http://gerrythegroundhog.tripod.com. The single-page Website, which has a dedicated link for ordering the booklet, is mostly for marketing purposes, but there are pictures on the site that children can view as well.
The booklet may receive some press from another project Moore is working on with a New York state senator, William Larkin. The two are working diligently at getting a resolution passed to have May 2 recognized as School Bus Driver Appreciation Day. Moore says there’s a good chance that the resolution will pass, but, at press time, there has been no official approval of the resolution.
Moore’s drive to create the safety training booklet, and to contribute to the driver appreciation day program, comes from her love for children and driving school buses.
“It really had to do with writing things I feel strongly about,” says Moore about the process of creating Gerry’s story. “I really loved the pictures I had taken and felt the kids on my bus would really enjoy them too.”
Moore encourages others interested in creating similar projects to do it from the heart. She says it really isn’t about making money. I’m not going to become a millionaire from this,” she says. “But it’s a valuable tool that kids can enjoy.”