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February 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

SBF profiles a handful of pupil transportation professionals recently honored at the National Association for Pupil Transportation's annual conference to learn more about their noble efforts as well as their backgrounds in the industry.

by Albert Neal, Associate Editor

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At the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s (NAPT) 2005 conference, held during the fall in Austin, Texas, the student transportation industry gave awards to several individuals whose dedication, drive and selfless acts deserved special recognition.

SCHOOL BUS FLEET interviewed these fine professionals to learn the motivation behind their commitment to service and excellence. Here are their stories.

Passionate about special-needs care
Continued education in the area of special needs is a must for school bus drivers, assistants and others who transport the medically fragile or developmentally disabled. Few have done more in special-needs care with regard to education, administration and coordination than Debbie Rike, supervisor of transportation at Shelby County Schools in Arlington, Tenn.

Rike embodies the definitive special-needs care provider. Her dedication to the field was spotlighted at the NAPT conference, where she was honored with the Sure-Lok Special Needs Transportation Award. The award recognizes outstanding individuals specifically involved in the direct delivery of service in special-needs transportation.

Rike’s transportation record speaks for itself. She has involved herself in almost every aspect of special-needs care. Her immersion into the field began as an instructor almost 26 years ago when she joined the Shelby County School system to teach special-education resource classes. She quickly rose in the ranks, becoming a special-education curriculum coordinator in 1994 and supervisor of transportation in 2000.

A major portion of her work involves assuring that drivers are properly trained to assist special-needs students with transportation to and from school each day.

“I think it’s extremely important to keep current with new trends and information regarding medically fragile and emotionally disturbed children, which is a lot of what we transfer on special-education buses,” says Rike.

Rike has trained both special-needs and regular drivers in groups as small as 75 and as large as 250. When she isn’t coordinating with an outside source, she’ll do the training herself. She saw a need for drivers and bus assistants to be trained to work with autistic children (see Q&A on pg. 54) and became a certified trainer through the Crisis Prevention Institute.

When she’s not in attendance at IEP meetings to discuss the safest methods available to assist students with transportation needs, Rike is busy performing assessments of special-needs students to determine their independence in riding a regular bus.

“I think the bus is an extension of the classroom,” she says. “If you’re wanting medically fragile and emotionally disturbed children to work in general society, then we have to make it an appropriate move so that we help the child learn how to deal with situations that aren’t always ideal, such as other kids ridiculing them.”

Rike works closely with the Memphis and Shelby County health departments, is certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in child passenger safety for school buses and is a member of several organizations, including the NAPT and the Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation. She is past president of the Tennessee Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

“The part I enjoy the most about my job is working on problems to determine solutions,” says Rike. “I also really enjoy working directly with the kids, which I don’t get to do as much. But I do participate very actively in Special Olympics activities where you actually work directly with students and athletes.”

Courage under fire
The strange things that school bus drivers see, hear and encounter while out on the road transporting America’s future would amaze many, perturb plenty and sometimes — depending on where you live or work — not surprise any.

The latter is the reason that school bus driver Heather Jeane from Columbia-Brazoria Independent School District in W. Columbia, Texas, did not panic when 18-year-old Terrence James came running toward her bus in the middle of the street, causing her to pull over to avoid hitting him. He appeared distraught and in need of help, but what occurred next took Jeane by surprise.

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