IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Bonneville County Joint School District (JSD) 93 is taking a comprehensive approach to reducing instances of bullying and other unwanted behavior on its school buses by implementing an effort where students are monitored by adult volunteers riding the buses and rewarded for good behavior.
The district has been working on anti-bullying initiatives for the past several years, first installing digital surveillance cameras inside the school buses five years ago.
Guy Bliesner, health, safety and security coordinator for Bonneville County JSD 93, told SBF in an interview that bullying decreased somewhat once cameras were inside the buses, and the video is helpful in making disciplinary determinations and acting on bad behavior, but it hasn’t deterred bullying as much as district officials hoped it would.
He added that many of the district’s middle school bus riders use extremely offensive language that’s generally sexually charged.
To address these issues, Bliesner and Transportation Manager Karen Judy met with the district’s superintendent and parent teacher organization presidents to discuss their idea of having adult volunteers ride on some of the district’s buses.
“I’d been riding our buses and we’d been using video to review the buses — there’s a marked difference between student behavior when there’s another set of eyes and ears on the bus — not just me, but any other adult on these buses,” Bliesner said. “If we can couple that with positive behavioral reinforcement, we think we can have a marked effect on the incident level that we’re experiencing.”
Officials have been working through the district’s parent teacher organizations, soliciting volunteers in the same way that classroom volunteers are solicited. Bliesner noted that they are also looking at some retirement organizations within the community to widen their volunteer scope.
So far, the program has been well received, with 35 to 40 people expressing interest in serving as monitors. Those who are selected will undergo a standard screening process, which involves a background check per Idaho’s statutory requirement for school-based volunteers; Bliesner said Bonneville County JSD 93’s human resources department will oversee the screening process.
The district’s transportation department will be responsible for deciding what volunteers ride on routes.
“There won’t be a volunteer on every bus on every route — that’s not a realistic expectation,” Bliesner said. “A lot will depend on the volunteers’ availability. We want to spread them as evenly as possible so that we get a good snapshot of what’s taking place in the morning and in the afternoon.”
He added that the volunteers will not be expected to intervene if problems occur, and they won’t be expected to discipline students. They will have a clipboard so that they can take note of inappropriate behavior, which will be shared with transportation personnel.
The volunteers will also have “bus bucks” that they can give to students who are behaving well during the bus ride. Bus bucks are a coupon that looks like money, and they are part of the positive behavior reinforcement component of the adult bus rider volunteer effort.
Students who receive bus bucks can redeem them for prizes, such as T-shirts and water bottles. Older kids can put their bus bucks in a once-a-month drawing for iPods, iPads, etc. (Bliesner said district officials approached the school board to obtain funding for the higher-end bus bucks prizes.)
“We’re going to reward the behaviors we want, which will encourage those behaviors, and we’re trying as much as possible to put a very consistent approach toward disciplinary actions based on video evidence,” he said.
Bliesner hopes to launch a pilot program within the next few weeks with adult volunteers on several routes.
“I’d like to pilot it on routes that we’ve looked at before,” he said. “If things go well, we’d like to fully implement the program for the next school year.”