CINCINNATI — Attendees of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit heard from officials and experts on a variety of topics during general sessions, keynote presentations and workshops on Sunday and Monday.
During Sunday’s keynote presentation, Mark Aesch, CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transit Authority, offered industry professionals management tips on how to generate data-driven information to help them better make decisions.
Workshops topics on Sunday addressed such issues as providing student transportation services in-house versus contracting them out, managing student behavior and maintaining integrity under tough fiscal restraints.
Monday’s general session and keynote presentation focused on bullying among kids, and ways to intervene and prevent it. Author Jodee Blanco gave a passionate presentation on the subject during the general session. Blanco has penned two books, including Please Stop Laughing At Me . . . One Woman’s Inspirational Story, and she has created a bullying prevention program called “It’s NOT Just Joking Around!”
Blanco drew from her own experiences being bullied as a child and teen in developing the program. She said that bullying does not just comprise mean things that students do to one another; it’s also the nice things that they don’t do for other students. She also encouraged attendees and their school bus drivers, in particular, to be aware of two types of students: the “invisible” student and the “elite tormentor.” The invisible student, she said, is one who feels like a ghost in his or her own life and is at risk of performing a desperate action. The elite tormentor is a student who is well liked among adults and his or her peers but who ruthlessly bullies other students.
Because many bullied students often confide in their school bus drivers, Blanco emphasized that transportation managers should make sure to tell their bus drivers how important they are.
Blanco also outlined things that adults should and should not say to children who are bullied. Among the things adults should not say are “ignore the bully and walk away” and “the bullies are just jealous of you.”
“Kids can’t think like adults,” Blanco said. “Ninety-five percent of bullied students have an ‘old soul,’ but inside, these students are desperately driven to fit in and they don’t care why the other kids don’t like them.”
She also urged attendees to avoid telling bullied students that things will improve in the future because that doesn’t help them in the present, and she said that adults should not assume that information from their own childhood about being bullied will provide comfort to their child or student.
In terms of what pupil transporters, particularly school bus drivers, can do to help bullied students, Blanco suggested that if they see an incident taking place, they pull over, stop the bus and deal with it immediately. However, Blanco cautioned against chastising the bully in front of his or her peers because the student could retaliate against the victim later. Instead, she suggested using a diversion to “extricate the victim out of that limelight.”
“It could be something as simple as asking the student who’s being bullied to come to the front of the bus and make a list for you — anything to get them out of that environment,” she said, adding that it’s important for adults to listen to students who are being bullied without judgment and talk with them about an action that they, as adults, can take right away to work on the problem.
Following Blanco, Jessica Brookshire discussed K.A.R.M.A., a nonprofit organization that she founded. (K.A.R.M.A. stands for Kids Against Ridicule, Meanness and Aggression.)
Like Blanco, Brookshire was a victim of bullying while she was in grade school, but she noted that today’s bullying is much worse, as kids usually have no reprieve from it due to cyber bullying.
Brookshire believes that empathy is a key component to reducing incidents of bullying and preventing it, and she is also an advocate of positive energy.
“I started K.A.R.M.A. because there was no national organization to help support bullying prevention,” Brookshire said. “Kids need to have positive energy to push them toward positive behavior, and that’s what K.A.R.M.A. is based on — the goal is to rekindle kindness in our youth.”
When speaking to students at schools, Brookshire tells them that bullying can manifest itself in many forms and that anything can be bullying depending on how it’s perceived by the intended recipient. Moreover, she believes that communication is another integral component to bullying prevention, so she recommends to students that they tell at least five adults if they witness a bullying incident or are a victim of bullying.
Adults, in turn, should listen to the students and focus on the victim and how he or she is feeling.
“Kids crave someone they can relate to,” Brookshire said. “They need to know that it will be OK.”
To conclude her presentation, Brookshire encouraged attendees to “stand up to bullying” and ask themselves what they can do to help students in need, as well as what they can do to help end bullying altogether.
Also on Monday, workshops covered how school bus drivers can help prevent students from being abducted at bus stops, as well as special-needs transportation-related issues, such as the rights of students under the IDEA, Section 504, ADA and FERPA.