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November 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Tackling School Bus Bullying

As bullying incidents onboard school buses reach new heights, experts on the subject discuss its scarring effects and offer strategic approaches for drivers, while school officials disclose how their districts are working to curtail this troubling problem.

by Kelly Roher, Assistant Editor

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Student awareness, behavior management
Providing awareness and/or prevention and intervention training for drivers is just one strategy that can be used to address bullying. Brown’s anti-bullying film is geared toward educating fifth- to eighth-graders at Zanesville City Schools. The founder of the Broken Toy Project, which is an effort to bring bullying awareness to students through films and workshops, Brown has a personal history with the subject.

“I was picked on severely as a kid,” he says. “As an adult, it made me angry that we’re calling it a ‘part of growing up.’ I [wanted to] change this perception, so I started making films about it.”

Tears on the Highway was shot using students who attend schools within the district. Brown says the film is rather intense, but he strove to depict the bus accident realistically in order to get his message across. “I really went for the gusto because I want to reach kids on a different level,” Brown explains. “I want them to realize that their behavior impacts others and that bullying is dangerous.”

Kevin Appleman, the district’s coordinator of operations and student services, says that the film was made as a general precaution. “It will help us convey to the younger students that it’s important to behave while riding a school bus,” he says.

Appleman says the district plans to show the film to students within the fifth- to eighth-grade range because these are the students who tend to have a propensity toward bullying. He says that the district may also show it to older students if it feels it is necessary.

In addition to the film, Appleman says the district has cameras installed on its buses to help monitor students’ behavior; it has implemented a safety program as well. In this program, drivers are trained on how to respond in the event of a bullying incident on their bus. “Our drivers are great at de-escalating problems,” Appleman says. “Darrell Lear [the district’s transportation supervisor] has told them it’s important to stay calm because yelling back will only make things worse and entice the kids to cause more problems.”

The district has also implemented the Athletes Against Bullying program. As part of this program, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has allowed district officials to put patches on the students’ uniforms. Appleman says the district is implementing this program with high school-level students. “It teaches the students about leadership because it enables them to tell kids to stop if they see something problematic occurring,” Appleman says. “The program promotes treating people with respect.”

Other districts are implementing additional strategies as well. Warren Roaf, principal at Mount Anthony Union Middle School (MAUMS) in Bennington, Vt., says that the Mount Anthony Union School Board has allotted him $15,000 to place paraprofessionals on the district’s buses. So far, Roaf has placed two paraprofessionals on the district’s buses on a rotating basis. “We weren’t, and aren’t, having bullying problems, but I wanted to be proactive and prevent anything from happening,” he says.

Parent requests also influenced Roaf’s decision to take this step. MAUMS, which was a seventh- and eighth-grade-based middle school for many years, recently began accepting sixth-grade students. In the wake of this change, parents were concerned that the younger children could run into problems while riding with the older students. “Also, younger students need a higher level of supervision,” Roaf says, “so we looked at a number of ways that we could support the parents’ request and ultimately came up with placing paraprofessionals on the buses.”

The two paraprofessionals who work on the buses were hired from within the district. Roaf and Cindy Dufour, manager of Dufour Tours Inc.’s Bennington, Vt., school bus dispatch office, selected them after they interviewed for the position. Dufour says that she chose them based on their desire to improve student safety onboard the buses. “These individuals have strong personalities, and I knew they weren’t going to put up with any misbehavior,” Dufour says. “They’re interested in student safety and are concerned about the dangerous behavior that can occur in school buses.”

The paraprofessionals, who received extensive training after initially becoming employed by the district in order to learn how to work with students, serve as “another set of eyes” for the drivers. “They’re there to make sure that something doesn’t develop in the first place,” Roaf says, “but if something were to develop, having them on the buses would allow us to get more accurate information because the driver can’t see everything that goes on behind him or her.” Dufour agrees. She also notes that they, like the bus driver, are authorized to fill out a referral form if they see or hear bullying or disruptive behavior.

Because this system is in its infancy, Roaf says the district will spend the next year evaluating its effectiveness. If, after the evaluation, Roaf feels it is necessary to place more paraprofessionals on the district’s buses, the school board has said it will provide him with additional funding.

Northwest R-I School District in High Ridge, Mo., is also facing bullying head-on. Dr. Kevin Carl, assistant superintendent of funds and facilities for the district, says it is in the process of installing full-color digital cameras (which also have the capacity to record sound) on its 110 buses. Carl anticipates having the installations complete by the end of the first semester.

“The cameras give the driver a picture of the students as they enter the bus, and then they also give the driver and students a picture of the students while they’re sitting in the bus,” he says. He adds that the cameras will function as an additional safety measure for the students and drivers; by extension, if bullying incidents occur, the cameras will provide an accurate account of what happened. The cameras are not, however, meant to be a remedy for bullying. “We believe that the cameras will be a good deterrent for bullying, but it’s just one step,” Carl says.

The district is also utilizing the Character Plus Program, a character-building program offered to schools in the St. Louis area. One of its objectives is to educate students on what bullying looks like, as well as how they should respond and whom they can report to if they are being bullied.

Lastly, BusRadio was installed in the district’s buses in September. “This addresses the bullying in a more proactive way; the cameras are a more reactive step because the bullying will have already occurred by the time we view it on the tapes,” Carl says. BusRadio is a combination of age-appropriate music and public service announcements that is played in school buses while transporting students. Carl says the public service announcements will remind students about bus safety and also remind them about the things that they are learning in the Character Plus Program.

Carl believes that BusRadio will improve student behavior and decrease bus bullying. “We’re very optimistic that this will have a positive impact on students,” he says. “BusRadio has done quite a few studies and has found that if students are engaged in activities that are of interest to them, they most likely won’t engage in undesirable behavior.”

Like Northwest R-I School District, Richland School District Two in Columbia, S.C., has digital cameras on its buses. Wendell Shelton, transportation manager at the district, says the surveillance system was installed on its 98 buses several years ago.

Used as a deterrent for bullying, Shelton says the district chose the digital video recorder (DVR) system due to its multiple features and its high sound and picture quality. “The cameras allow us to display students’ behavior to our school administrators, and if the behavior is indicative of bullying, the consequences can be more appropriate than they would be if we didn’t have a video record of the behavior,” he says.

The district’s drivers have also benefited from having the DVR system in the buses. “The most common thing we hear from drivers when they radio in is that they’ll need to review the video when they come in because they know something is going on behind them but they can’t catch it in their rearview mirrors,” Shelton says.

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