Train students on bus safety; convey behavior expectations
Vail (Ariz.) School District’s transportation department has had railing installed at the district’s
bus loading zones to stop students from stepping into the zones prior to boarding or after disembarking
School bus drivers are not the only individuals who need to follow rules to maximize safety in loading zones. The students themselves must understand how they should behave in and around this area to prevent injuries and fatalities.
Buster the School Bus and Barney the School Bus are popular tools for teaching students about school bus safety. Lewistown Public Schools' transportation staff uses the latter robotic bus, while the Oregon DOE and the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) use Buster. Larry Bluthardt, director of the KSDE's School Bus Safety Education Unit, says that an instructor travels to elementary schools and Head Start programs in the state from September to May to educate students.
Operations have also implemented a number of practices and programs to help students remember to use caution around loading zones.
Klippenes says that when students need to cross the street after leaving their buses, the drivers secure the buses and then walk the students across the street, reminding them to look both ways before crossing.
Huillet asks schools in Oregon to employ a similar practice. "If there are any crosswalks that go through a loading loop, I ask the schools to get a crossing guard out there so that kids can get across safely," he says.
In addition to visiting Columbia County Schools' elementary schools with Buster, Porter says a team of drivers use puppets to convey bus safety measures. Each year, the district also hosts a back-to-school safety festival. The transportation department has a bus onsite, and bus drivers give a safety presentation. Students and parents are allowed to board so that students can become familiar with proper loading and unloading procedures.
Dallessandro says his department has established a driver-in-the-classroom program wherein one of Lake Shore's drivers visits each elementary school classroom once a year to discuss bus safety.
"For the last three years, one of our driver trainers has gone to our high school in the summer, and she speaks to the driver's ed class about the school bus environment and what young motorists need to be aware of in the school lots and elsewhere," he adds. "She also has the students sit in the driver's seat of the bus and look in all of the mirrors so that they can see the difference between what our drivers see versus what they, as 16- or 17-year-old motorists, see in their cars."
Transportation Supervisor John Nunes says that Vail School District's transportation staff uses its annual bus evacuation drill sessions to relay its expectations about student behavior. The bus rules and loading and unloading procedures are also posted on the transportation page of the district's Website.
"Each student gets an agenda with a calendar, places for notes, etc., at the beginning of the school year and we put all of our bus rules in the agenda," Flores adds.
Partnering with school staff is crucial
For as much as pupil transportation professionals do to teach students about bus safety and proper behavior around loading zones, Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, says school staff members should play a large role in educating students as well.
"It falls on the folks at the schools to help students learn what they need to do to be safe in the loading zones," he says. This includes looking both ways prior to crossing a street and staying orderly on sidewalks because there are vehicle travel lanes beside them.
In order for school administrators and staff to work with students on this issue, it is essential for pupil transporters to share their knowledge and expertise.
"Oftentimes we assume that teachers and administrative types understand what the dangers are in and around the buses in the loading and unloading zones," Furneaux says. "The truth is that teachers and administrators oftentimes know very little about what the safety issues are."
Furneaux emphasizes the importance of having school staff onsite at bus loading zones to supervise students while they board and disembark, and she therefore encourages industry officials to discuss with school staff members what constitutes dangerous behavior around school buses.
Things school staff should be instructed to look for include kids who are running or rough-housing around the loading zone, bullying and harassment prior to loading, students who drop things and try to go under the bus to retrieve the items, and students who try to walk between buses.
Many operations have formed a strong line of communication with school staff and require monitors at loading zones.
Nunes says he and Flores provide school staff members with information at the beginning of the school year to help them supervise the students.
"We outline what routes will be coming into and out of their schools, how many buses we will be bringing into their schools, how many children we expect to be transporting, and we discuss the process necessary to walk the students out of the classrooms and onto the buses safely," Nunes says.
The transportation department also makes a point to have at least one of its own staff members at one of the school's loading zones every day to monitor students and traffic flow, and to work with school personnel to ensure that the students stay behind the safety railing.
Rolling V Transportation Services has implemented a similar effort. Vallone says bus drivers share duties with school staff on the school grounds, and the company's safety team is in constant communication with the administration staff for the schools they serve.
In addition to instructing Fayette County school staff to watch for bullying and students playing around loading zones, Oakley says the staff must make certain that the students stand at least 6 feet back from the curb when buses arrive.
"The kindergarten teachers have learned to tell parents to make sure that their children's backpacks aren't too large and cumbersome," Oakley adds. "Teachers should also make
sure that papers are kept inside backpacks, and loading zone monitors should watch for students carrying loose objects."
John Benish Jr., chief operating officer for Oak Forest, Ill.-based Cook-Illinois Corp., believes that his company and its subsidiaries have a responsibility to work closely with the school districts they serve. "The important thing is to make sure that there's a partnership between the contractor and the school district," he says. "If an issue arises, it's our responsibility to make sure that they understand what the issue is and then work together on a solution."
The subsidiaries' managers must notify school officials and take immediate corrective action if the bus drivers notice problems at the schools. "Being proactive rather than reactive is key," Benish says.
Inform parents of loading zone and parking policies
Given the dangers motorists can present around school sites, pupil transporters and school officials also share a responsibility to communicate loading zone and parking policies with parents who transport their children to school.
Graham says that in many cases, school principals will share information with parents, whether it is through a newsletter at the beginning of the school that indicates where parents are allowed to park to pick up or drop off their kids, or through some other means.
Huillet encourages this at Oregon's schools. "If they have a map that they can include in the newsletter that shows the parent pick-up and drop-off area, that's a good thing, too," he says.
Baxter says that schools have a range of options at their disposal to communicate with parents, from connecting with them through their PTA involvement to sending memos home with kids, e-mailing information to them or posting information on the district Website. "Facebook and Twitter may be a couple of other avenues," he adds.