SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Howe International Magnet School recently held a program for students aimed at creating a respectful and orderly environment on board the school bus.
The Peaceful School Bus Drill includes activities and materials instructing students on appropriate school bus behavior. Originally developed by Jim Dillon, principal of Lynwood Elementary School in Guilderland, N.Y., the drill encourages students and bus drivers to improve their relationships with each other.
Howe International Principal Barbara Coffey learned about the program from her district’s school safety office, which had received grant money from the U.S. Department of Education for programs that reduce violence at school.
“We have some bullying, but more of the complaints we get are on safety issues: jumping seats, standing up, not wearing a seat belt or being in the aisle,” Coffey said.
Brenda Morrow, an instructional coach at the school, explained that during the drill, children lined up in the gymnasium as if they were preparing to board their school buses at the end of the day. Each bus group was sent to a separate station for activities.
First, staff members led students at each station in a group discussion. Because school buses carry a mix of grade levels, from kindergarten through sixth grade, the children were then paired off, a younger student with an older one, to brainstorm ideas for appropriate school bus behavior. “The older ones really were nurturing to the younger ones — that worked out really well,” Morrow said.
After the pairs were able to share their brainstorming with the group, bus drivers returning from their runs were able to join their passengers and interact in a setting outside the school bus. “It’s an opportunity to try to build a sense of community on the bus,” Morrow said.
Children who don’t ride the bus to school were also included in the drill, with two stations set up for students who walk to school. “Even though they’re not riding the buses, the team leaders presented it to them that they’re going to use a school bus on a field trip, so it’s important for them to understand what appropriate behavior would be,” Morrow said.
After the 45-minute program was over for the day, Coffey invited the bus drivers into her office, where refreshments were served and transportation issues were discussed.
“We talk about how important it is for us to work together and about being responsible to one another as citizens of the bus community,” Coffey said. “I try every day to get on every bus and my first question to the driver is, ‘Was this a peaceful bus today?’ and the bus driver says, ‘It was very peaceful,’ or ‘It wasn’t.’ We try to use that term as much as possible.”
The school plans to hold two additional Peaceful School Bus Drills during the year in conjunction with bus evacuation drills.
For more on the Peaceful School Bus Program, visit http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/peacefulschoolbushome.page.