New classes, teachers, and friends. Maybe even a new bus or bus driver. Students and their parents may look forward to these, but they aren’t the only ones who eagerly await the upcoming school year as summer break winds down.
Our August issue includes stories focusing on preparation for this exhilarating event. In our story offering tips for a successful school start, one source expressed that feeling of anticipation of the new school year perfectly. Scott Allen, regional operations manager for North America Central School Bus in Joliet, Ill., said that even though he’s worked in school transportation for more than 30 years, he still finds it exciting to “watch the kids get off the buses, meet their teachers, and things go right.”
While many students used to return to class right after Labor Day, some now embark on a new school year as early as late July. That means getting preparation plans solidified even earlier to take the stress out of that school-start kickoff.
And to help that transition go smoothly, we offer nine tips in that story from seasoned sources and then some additional feedback from three pupil transportation leaders. Mapping the planning process and recruiting drivers well ahead of time are two pieces of advice that our group agreed upon. Additionally, bringing in extra staff members from other departments to support the transportation department those first couple weeks, for tasks such as fielding phone calls from confused parents, goes a long way.
So does making sure staff members are familiar with the routes and routing software system. That can be done in part by conducting dry runs in advance to identify safety issues such as new construction or street closings. Our sources reminded readers to communicate with parents via text, email, and voicemail to ensure they know their child’s bus stop and schedule.
We also heard from a school district transportation director who is also his state’s school transportation association president about his school start plans. Adam Mayo, the transportation director for Maine School Administrative District No. 75, emphasizes training in his department on updates in the law and combating illegal bus passing. He also plans to focus on workplace culture and respect, emergency planning, and student management.
Similarly, de-escalation training is valuable for preparation not only for student behavior management but sometimes for dealing with parents as well. In this story, author Charlotte Di Bartolomeo points out that school bus drivers are vetted before starting their career with a commercial driver’s license, background check, and drug screening, but that they are typically not bolstered with a required crisis intervention training to deal with “misconduct and potential violence.”
However, perhaps they should be, she argues, “particularly when the children causing disruptions have been exposed to traumatic life events and are suffering from the neurobiological consequences of traumatic stress.” She notes that more than two-thirds of children in the U.S. have dealt with at least one traumatic occurrence, and gives advice on calming the resulting “trauma-informed behavior,” which can take the form of, for example, an inability to concentrate and follow rules or to control anger. Being calm and assertive, asking opening questions, and using uniting language are some of the tactics that Di Bartolomeo shares.
As I have mentioned in previous columns, conflicts with students and parents, while unfortunate, do arise, and having a process in place for keeping these situations from escalating can help drivers and monitors do their jobs even better.
We hope that the school start tips in our August issue help you prepare for another exciting and productive year of student transportation.