For many students, the yellow bus provides access to school not only to learn, but also to eat breakfast. A unique program in Las Vegas turns the tables: School bus drivers get to enjoy breakfast served by special-education students while learning more about their transportation team and its role in education.
Once a month, a small group from Clark County (Nev.) School District’s massive transportation department gathers at Variety School, where the goal is to prepare students with disabilities for success in working and independent living. To that end, the school offers a host of vocational education areas: a student-run kitchen, a student apartment, a graphics center, a garden, and recycling and laundry facilities.
At the kitchen, called the Bulldog Café, students learn to shop for, prepare, and serve food in accordance with health standards. The café, which serves breakfast five days a week and lunch on Fridays, is open to staff and school visitors.
Among Bulldog Café’s patrons is the Clark County transportation department. About a year ago, Shannon Evans, executive director of transportation for the district, launched monthly breakfast meetings to build camaraderie with her staff. She assembles with groups of 15 to 20 school bus drivers, aides, and clerical staff members, and they get to know each other while they dine.
“We get our breakfast, we talk about our history, why we got into [student transportation], why we’re still in it,” Evans says. “It gives me an opportunity to share my background with those who haven’t met me.”
Evans’ background is compelling: She joined Clark County School District as a bus driver 26 years ago. Gradually, she worked her way up through clerical roles and then supervisory positions. In 2014, she was named director of the Clark County transportation department, which runs the largest publicly owned school bus fleet in the U.S. — more than 1,800 buses. Now at the helm of the operation, Evans’ experience as a school bus driver helps her connect with her own drivers.
“When you’ve done the job, setting expectations for people who do the job after you is a lot easier,” she says, adding that she’s in a better position to “ask somebody to cover a specific route or do a specific task because I’ve done it myself.”
With such an enormous transportation outfit, it’s no small undertaking to get to know more than 1,600 drivers and nearly 700 other staff members. In the past, the department brought the entire team together in a large auditorium, but it wasn’t conducive to connecting on a personal level.
“You try to share experiences like that, and it gets lost — there are too many people,” Evans says.
The small-group breakfasts have proven to be a more effective way to build rapport with the transportation team members, although it will take time to cycle through the entire department.
“My intent is to continue it until we’ve gone through the whole workforce, then hold monthly meetings bringing in new personnel,” Evans says.
The breakfast gatherings have yielded some powerful stories from among the transportation ranks. For example, a six-year school bus driver with perfect attendance divulged that when she was a teenager, she endured a period of homelessness.
“The only way she got to eat was to go to school,” Evans explains, noting that this driver is now determined not to miss a day of work. “The reason she comes to work every day is she wants to make sure the students she transports get breakfast.”
The breakfast connection is a fitting tie-in for Clark County’s monthly transportation meetings. As they dine on bacon and eggs, fruit, and homemade muffins at the student-run Bulldog Café, the benefits of the experience go beyond boosting camaraderie for the district’s drivers, aides, and other school bus staff members. They also get to see firsthand how transportation supports students on the road to success in life after graduation.
“I really think it’s important that drivers see the end result of what they’re contributing to,” Evans says. “You were just served a breakfast, by students. We need to make sure we don’t lose sight of why we’re here.”
Thomas McMahon is a contributing writer who has been covering pupil transportation for more than 16 years. He previously served as an editor at School Bus Fleet.