J.O. Combs Unified School District held a drill called "The Amazing Race" which required groups of drivers to work as teams to complete day-to-day practice tasks, such as student drop-offs and pickups, and pre-trip inspections, as well as bus evacuation drills.
As the planning stages of summer wind down and we prepare to welcome back our transportation team members to a new school year with a new theme of focus, it is always a challenge to prepare material that is engaging, informative, CDL-, and Department of Public Safety (DPS)-related, safety focused, refresher applicable, covers new rules and laws, and keeps it fun for seasoned and new drivers, as well as at least one pessimistic team member in the group.
While it sometimes seems impossible to please every single person every single time, getting positive participation from the majority of our team in an engaging, beneficial, team-oriented activity was a success at J.O. Combs Unified School District #44 in San Tan Valley, Arizona, this year.
Amid all of the normal requirements of our welcome-back events, where forms are updated, buses are cleaned, and paperwork is distributed, we threw in two related activities for our drivers. Each was focused on safety and attention to detail, and both inspired teamwork. These activities were held on the first day of their return and have set the tone for our year.
Our area of focus and theme for the 2014-2015 school year is “Safety by Choice, Not by Chance.” I wanted to make sure we introduced activities to emphasize avoiding complacency by engaging daily in our commitment to safe student transportation.
Our morning event was called “The Amazing Race.” This activity required our group to be split into five groups of six. Each group was assigned a judge (this person is a certified trainer). They were assigned to a bus and required to strategize on assigning different components of the requirements of the race to those with the strongest skill in the area. Their tasks included a bus evacuation drill; skills course; student stop drop-off; student stop pickup; railroad crossing, and a thorough DPS pre-trip inspection. Each task was to be performed as if there were students on board. The judge watched for accuracy, thorough performance, all components, and safety; if there were missing elements to the process or drill the team had to return to the skills course and perform a backing or turning skill and then get back on track.
The district also held a mock court trial. A neighboring school district director served as the judge in a case where a driver was held responsible for the injury of a student based on their last-second decision to pull the student back into the bus due to a wrong-way passerby driving on the sidewalk.
I observed collaboration among team members, animation from drivers as they included detail and personality in their processes and serious observation from judges. Everyone on our transportation team took the event seriously but really enjoyed it. The winning team to return within a two-hour window — a possibility only with a perfect score — won a prize.
What was better than the reward, however, was that each team missed less than 10 points for the entire drill and all came away surprised at the challenges of step by step out-loud explanations of their day to day processes. It forced them to dig deep, be thorough, and rely on themselves and their peers. The feedback received was positive and I think it brushed away the rust that summer break sometimes brings.
Our second activity was a mock court trial where a neighboring school district director served as the judge in a case where a driver was held responsible for the injury of a student based on their last-second decision to pull the student back into the bus due to a wrong-way passerby driving on the sidewalk. We broke into teams of defense, plaintiff, attorneys, parents and jury.
The case was explained, and no one at the start could believe for a second that a driver would be charged with doing the wrong thing when they were trying to protect their student. As the case unfolded and all pieces were explained and perceived it was very quickly understood that things can change in a hurry and our decisions behind the wheel have to be thoroughly thought out, intentionally compliant with safety in mind, and we must have the ability to explain our decisions based on Department of Public Safety minimum standards. My team engaged in heated debate about the case, the outcome, and the actual mock trial was intense but informative.
Adding these components to our welcome back event has inspired our team to be conscientious, positive, safety focused, and best of all, they are excited to get started. We anticipate a year filled with successes and safety-related accomplishments and have set the tone for “Safety by Choice, Not by Chance.”
Shannon Weber is the director of transportation at J.O. Combs Unified School District #44 in San Tan Valley, Arizona.