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February 01, 2002  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Driver Training Mandates Loom for Head Start Programs

Transportation operators must meet performance-based requirements for pre-service and in-service training of drivers and monitors. Here's what they need to know about basic training topics.

by Jim Ellis


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In Head Start’s early years, transportation rarely received the attention or support it deserved. But after years of discussion and debate, Head Start’s important new transportation regulations went into effect last year, codified in federal regulations as 45 CFR 1310. One of the areas most impacted by the new requirements is driver and monitor training. While some Head Starts have tried to provide good training programs for their drivers (and less frequently, for monitors) for years, the quality of training nationwide has varied enormously. The new regulations provide clear guidelines, including hard and fast deadlines, for providing training for drivers and monitors. There are three basic components to the new training requirements:
1. Existing drivers and monitors. All currently-employed Head Start drivers and monitors must receive training by April 18.
2. Pre-service for new drivers and monitors. Drivers and monitors hired after April 18 must receive training in specified topics before transporting children.
3. Annual refreshers for all drivers and monitors in these topics is required. Performance is key
Although early drafts of the Head Start transportation regulations specified the length of training that would be required, the final rule does not stipulate hours of training. The training requirements in the new regulations are based on performance. They specify what must be covered in training, but not how or when. The final rule’s training requirements shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, but it’s my experience that not all Head Starts are ready to implement them. Just like an approaching train, the April deadline has approached at a deceptive speed; to many Head Starts there’s still an air of unreality to the deadline. But it’s real. Mandated site reviews of Head Start grantees already include a section about compliance with the new transportation regulations. Anyone involved in transporting Head Start children should be well underway in meeting the training requirements. Unique training aspects
A number of us at PTSI have been lucky enough to be involved in Head Start training for many years. Although Head Start drivers and monitors share many things in common with bus drivers and monitors of school-aged children, Head Start transportation also has some distinct features. Developmentally (both physiologically and psychologically), preschoolers are in another world compared to their school-aged brothers and sisters. Transporting very young children poses many unique challenges. Teaching toddlers basic safety rules is not easy. Evacuation concerns must be taken with great seriousness when transporting toddlers and infants. One of the most horrific fire-related bus tragedies ever to take place occurred on a Head Start bus. Improving the emergency readiness of Head Start drivers and monitors must be a major part of a training program. Preparing children for kindergarten is a fundamental goal of Head Start. In transportation terms, that means preparing children to ride their kindergarten bus safely. Head Start drivers and monitors have a unique opportunity for improving school bus safety across the country. By reaching children before kindergarten, the statistically dangerous first year of riding the public school bus may become a thing of the past. The influence of Head Start upon school bus safety in general may already be showing. Larry Bluthardt, the state pupil transportation director in Kansas and one of the principals involved in the Kansas Board of Education’s annual loading and unloading school bus fatality survey, recently pointed to Head Start training of children as a key factor in last year’s wonderful historic low in loading and unloading fatalities. Parents are an integral part of Head Start. In many cases, parents ride Head Start vehicles with their children every day. Head Start drivers and monitors tend to have much closer relationships with parents than traditional school bus drivers. Most parents are a great help on a bus, but not all are. Head Start drivers and monitors must know or learn how to interact positively with parents. A final distinct characteristic worth noting is the deep hunger for information evident in Head Start drivers, monitors and supervisors. Many Head Start transportation personnel I’ve known have felt “out of the loop” when it comes to up-to-date safety procedures, and are thrilled to receive current information. I have found Head Start audiences, whether drivers, monitors or supervisors, to be amazingly receptive to new safety ideas. Of course, Head Starts are very diverse - geographically, socially/culturally, whether transportation is in-house or contracted, in the size of the operation, in the extent to which state school bus laws have been followed, and most importantly, in the extent to which transportation staff have been trained and supported. Any effective training program must be capable of adapting to specific local conditions. Helpful training topics
For the past two months I’ve had the pleasure of working with other PTSI staff to put together an in-service curriculum meeting the final rule’s training requirement for existing drivers and monitors. We have come up with what we think is a user-friendly, practical and participatory training program to make sure Head Start transportation staff are up to speed in terms of current safety procedures. The curriculum, which includes both a trainer’s guide, PowerPoint presentation and trainee workbook, addresses all topics specified in the final rule as well as a few other pressing transportation safety issues. Some of the topics addressed in the training curriculum include:

  • Safe loading and unloading procedures for Head Start children
  • Mirror use and adjustment
  • Custody of children
  • Communication skills and children’s safety
  • Evacuation tips and cautions
  • Driver/monitor responsibilities in an accident
  • First aid mini-refresher
  • Restraint use including safety seats
  • Transporting children in wheelchairs
  • Pre-trip and post-trip inspections
  • The changing traffic environment
  • Defensive driving for Head Start
  • Preventing intersection accidents
  • Backing dangers
  • Railroad crossings
  • Severe weather driving
    Our curriculum also includes an overview section for helping drivers and monitors understand and make a smooth transition to the many other new Head Start transportation requirements, such as moving to school buses or AAVs (allowable alternate vehicles), minimizing crossovers and backing and limiting route times. Bridging the gap
    The new training requirements are both an opportunity and an imperative to build a stronger bridge between Head Starts and traditional school bus operators, whether public school district or private contractor. Head Starts need the safety and training expertise found in traditional pupil transportation operations. As mentioned above, school-aged transportation can benefit immeasurably from how Head Start drivers and monitors train the young ones. Head Start transportation staff can use the new requirements as a justification for joining and becoming involved in the National Association for Pupil Transportation and their own state school bus associations. Meanwhile, state school bus associations should be actively reaching out to Head Starts. And pupil transporters who also do a little Head Start transportation “on the side,” need to be apprised of all the new requirements. Do all school districts and bus contractors who transport Head Start children realize what the new training requirements are? Are they aware of the many other significant new operational requirements for Head Start transporters, some of which are already in effect and some of which come into effect in stages between now and 2006? It’s clear that the educational process for many Head Start transportation programs is just beginning. For more information about PTSI’s Head Start transportation training programs, call (800) 836-2210, send an e-mail to [email protected] or visit www.ptsi.org. Jim Ellis is curriculum development specialist for the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute in Syracuse, N.Y. PTSI colleagues Kathy Furneaux and George Horne contributed ideas to this article.

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