SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Industry veteran Ted Finlayson-Schueler, president of the nonprofit organization Safety Rules!, has written a paper called “School Bus Travel Training” that explores accommodations that can be made within school bus service to help special-needs students develop some of the skills needed to successfully transition to riding public transit buses as adults.
Finlayson-Schueler told SBF in an interview that he wrote the paper to inform the pupil transportation community about travel training and the importance and benefits of implementing a travel training program at one’s operation.
“I feel that in transportation, we have distanced ourselves too far from the educational process. We are providing an experience similar in many ways to a topic that the schools are going to be teaching children who will grow up to be transit bus riders. It doesn’t make sense to not get involved,” he said.
Finlayson-Schueler acknowledged that doing travel training on the bus is a huge undertaking. However, he believes that establishing a travel training program can enhance the value of the transportation department to a school district.
He said that by involving school bus drivers and attendants in the travel training process, it will help to “validate their belief that these children can do more and know more than most folks give them credit for. Bus teams have been goal-setting, encouraging and cajoling their passengers into more self-reliance because of their belief in their kids. If we can combine their natural creativity with the technology, training and expertise available through the school building staff, I believe the results can be astounding.”
In terms of the benefits of using the school bus environment to develop students’ travel skills, Finlayson-Schueler writes in the paper that these skills can be taught starting at an early age in developmentally appropriate ways. Moreover, it can provide generalizable independence and social skills that will prepare students for their adult life, and it will develop specific individual skills that will prepare students to learn transit riding in a real-world environment.
The paper begins with an explanation of what travel training is under the definition of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In addition, it points to the importance of including a person knowledgeable in travel or mobility training when a district’s IEP committee creates a special-needs student’s transition plan, even though this inclusion is not required. “The expansion of knowledge and expertise in travel skills within the school district is a necessary precursor to the development of travel skills in the school bus environment. The lack of travel training expertise will sharply limit the skill acquisition possible,” Finlayson-Schueler writes.
The paper also provides resources for travel training instruction. “It might initially seem that no skills could be taught without a trained travel trainer, but it must be remembered that teachers, psychologists, counselors, occupational therapists and social workers are trained in the assessment and teaching of life skills. These individuals may not have received specific travel training education, but they do have generalized skills that could be adapted to include some aspects of expanding the educational content of the school bus ride to include some travel training skills,” Finlayson-Schueler writes.
The Easter Seals Project Action's Introduction to Travel Training program is another resource that’s available to pupil transporters. The program identifies intellectual, physical, pedestrian, safety, communication and social skills as the background categories of capacity necessary for travel training. These skills are not specific to the use of school buses or transit buses — they are general life skills that a student must have in order to learn to ride in a fixed-route transit system.
Finlayson-Schueler took the Introduction to Travel Training program. He said that it gave him an opportunity to see what travel training consisted of, and it helped him to understand what parts of it could translate to the school bus environment.
Easter Seals Project Action also has a reference guide to using public transportation called “You Can Ride” that outlines the basic curricular topics for travel training. “In creating a curriculum for teaching these skills on a school bus, the same structure can be used, and the pictorial representations are appropriate for instruction of individuals with low reading skills,” Finlayson-Schueler writes in his paper.
Moreover, Easter Seals Project Action offers an assessment document to help one determine the appropriateness of travel training for people with disabilities: “Functional Assessment of Cognitive Transit Skills.”
To have a successful travel training program, Finlayson-Schueler said that several factors must be in place. Certified travel instructors, school bus providers and IEP team members must all be a part of the process, and there must be buy-in from parents, the transportation staff and the student’s classroom staff.
Finlayson-Schueler said that entering into working relationships with respect and integrity is key to achieving buy-in, especially from parents, adding that you often have to prove over a period of time that you have the best interests of the child at heart.
For those transportation operations that may not currently have a strong working relationship with their district’s special-education department and/or the IEP team, Finlayson-Schueler advises officials to be persistent.
“It’s tough to keep sticking your head in the door and say, ‘Hey, me too,’ but it’s really the only way that you’re going to get there. Keep bringing things up. The transition planning for teens is part of a federal requirement,” he said, adding that having knowledge about both busing and the IEP/placement process will demonstrate that you are a valuable component in contributing to a student’s education.
Finlayson-Schueler said that one way to initiate a relationship with the district’s special-education department personnel and IEP team is to seek information from them. For example, if an operation’s staff is dealing with a situation with a particular student, they could ask the special-education personnel and IEP team for suggestions on how to resolve it, or how their solution could be adapted to the school bus environment.
The paper also contains a discussion of risk management in relation to developing a travel training program. “In school districts where turnover is out of control and staff may be assigned to a child or to a bus at the last moment without any preparation or information about the child or children they will be transporting or supervising at the school, a program of developing transportation skills within the school bus environment would be treacherous,” Finlayson-Schueler writes.
He expanded on this portion of the paper in the interview, saying that staff consistency on the bus and a well-trained substitute staff are vitally important because learning involves stretching boundaries, which inevitably involves creating risk.
“The challenge is creating ‘baby steps’ that allow learning in planned increments. If the bus staff is well trained and knows what each baby step is, has a process to confirm when the step has been learned and receives approval to proceed to the next step, risk is minimized,” Finlayson-Schueler explained. “If untrained bus staff — substitute or regular — don’t understand the whole plan, don’t have support from transportation safety staff, don’t know what step the child is on and don’t follow established safeguards, the results could be disastrous.”
To read “School Bus Travel Training” in full, click here.