The transportation department at Garfield School District Re-2 makes safety its No. 1 priority but also focuses on creating learning opportunities for bus passengers.
Garfield School District Re-2
Protecting and educating their passengers
The transportation department at Colorado’s Garfield School District Re-2 has always been committed to getting students to school safely. But they wanted to do more than that.
“Several years ago, as a department, we drew up our own mission statement and made a vow to be a bigger part of these kids’ education,” says Sanja Morgan, director of transportation.
The main manifestation of that goal was the development of an innovative reading program for school bus passengers. The transportation department began collecting used books from libraries and other sources, and book bags were placed on each bus.
Students can choose from those selections or bring their own books, or they can opt to do their own homework or help other children in their studies. Whichever option they go with, they get a punch on a special bookmark for that ride (or sometimes two if they’re on the bus a long time). At 25 punches, they can turn in their bookmark for a prize, or they can save up more punches for bigger prizes.
Beyond contributing to the children’s learning, Morgan said that the program reduces noise and disciplinary issues on the buses — which, in turn, enhances safety.
Of course, safety is still the transportation department’s No. 1 priority, and teaching students about school bus safety is a vital part of that mission.
The department has a miniature bus, called Little Bear, that staff members take to the schools to bring safety lessons to life. “It makes it easier to get the point across about school bus safety with the younger kids,” Morgan says.
As an additional training opportunity for staff, the transportation department held a mock school bus accident last summer. The local fire department, EMS and AirLife participated, and children in 4-H portrayed the crash victims.
Morgan says that the event was “very enlightening,” showing how emergency response works and what role transportation staff plays in it.
“We’re hoping to make a video out of it and offer it to all Colorado school districts as a training program,” Morgan says.
Garfield School District Re-2 covers three small towns in a mostly rural, mountainous area in the western side of the state.
Because of the terrain and the substantial snowfall in the winter, the district has automatic snow chains and engine retarders on all of its buses. Newer buses have been spec’ed with heated mirrors and heated stepwells. Two years ago, the video surveillance system was upgraded, and all buses were equipped with cameras.
To bolster safety and aide drivers on the many rural routes, reflective school bus signs are posted at stops. The signs are particularly helpful for substitute bus drivers as well as during inclement weather and low-light conditions.
As with many other school bus operations these days, budget cutbacks are a key challenge for the Garfield transportation department. “We’re being asked all the time to do more with less, and somehow, God willing, we’re getting that done,” Morgan says.
But she notes that the school board is very supportive of transportation and has stayed committed to bus replacement, and although salaries have been frozen for the past two years, they remain competitive.
Also, the district recently secured funding to install engine preheaters and diesel oxidation catalysts on its buses to reduce emissions.
— THOMAS MCMAHON
School buses: 43
Students transported daily: 2,000
Schools served: 11
Transportation staff: 44
Area of service: n/a