The National Association for Pupil Transportation’s (NAPT’s) conference this fall will bring new approaches to key issues in student transportation, conference organizers say.
The association will hold its 2017 conference and trade show in Columbus, Ohio, from Nov. 3 to 7. The event will offer a variety of workshops, keynote speakers, and a one-day trade show with more than 130 suppliers.
The conference will cover a wide range of topics, including hiring the right people, driver-assistive technology, state budgets, school reform, and seat belts on school buses.
This year, NAPT will debut its new NextPloratory Sessions. The 90-minute workshops are designed to give conference attendees a deep dive on specific topics. Each event features a presentation by a “thought leader,” followed by a chance for the audience to meet with each other and presenters one-on-one.
The NextPloratory Sessions will also give attendees an opportunity to learn from leaders outside of the school bus industry.
“Our goal was to bring people in that are not necessarily directly connected to student transportation, to offer a new, fresh perspective,” says Megan Geroux, marketing and communications specialist for NAPT.
The sessions target issues and challenges other industries have faced that are similar to trends in student transportation. This includes such topics as hiring, employee relations, marketing, and use of social media.
The development of the NextPloratory Sessions evolved from NAPT member feedback. Every year, members complete a post-conference survey, which helps the association determine how to best serve future attendees, including potential topics and speakers. Geroux says that NAPT also tries to build its program around industry trends.
“Our members consistently say that they want more time to really collaborate with one another and to pick the brain of any of our speakers and thought leaders that come in,” she says. “So this type of session is really geared to giving members what they’ve asked for: more time to really dig deep into certain topics that are not only current, but futuristic.”
At the conference, NAPT will also offer five redesigned courses in its Professional Development Series that focus on transporting students with disabilities.
“We think the five of those courses together comprise a solid core of knowledge for people who are interested in learning more about special-needs transportation and ultimately want to be certified by NAPT,” says Mike Martin, executive director of the association.
Each course will delve into a specific aspect of transporting students with disabilities. For example, a course called “Positioning, Seating, and Securing of Students with Disabilities and Special Needs” is geared toward informing supervisors, managers, and employees about equipment that is essential on a special-needs school bus.
Other course content covers legal parameters and best practices in transporting students with special needs and disabilities, and supporting safe behavior on school buses.
According to NAPT, the goal of the new courses is to create a solid foundation of knowledge for anyone who is interested in working with special-needs students in the realm of school transportation.
“We have the general certification category of director, supervisor, and even specialist, but these five courses will enable someone to ultimately be specifically certified in special-needs transportation,” Martin says.
The new special-needs courses are part of NAPT’s Professional Development Series (PDS), which was developed in the mid-1980s to help people within and outside of school transportation gain theoretical as well as practical, working knowledge of the industry.
The PDS program is suited for current transportation professionals as well as teachers, administrators, nurses, or others who are looking to get into a different career path. Martin says that it has long been NAPT’s goal to enable everyone working in the industry to become a certified professional.
At this year’s conference, the association will offer 15 PDS courses at no additional cost for attendees.
In all, 41 PDS courses are currently available, including the five that cover special-needs transportation. The total is at least twice as many courses as NAPT’s original certification program offered, Martin notes.
“We’ve tried to develop a program that covers the alphabet from A to Z that gives you all the options that you need in order to be a fully trained, entirely qualified school transportation professional, regardless of your district size, geography, or even your background,” Martin says.
As another highlight of the 2017 conference program, NAPT will host a demonstration of driver-assistive technology with Thomas Built Buses. Martin says that collaborating with Thomas Built Buses to put on the demonstration made sense, because the manufacturer has worked with the association in various capacities for years.
The opportunity to display driver-assistive technology will let pupil transportation professionals experience concepts that are usually only discussed.
“It’s one thing to talk about some of this technology,” Martin says. “It’s an entirely different experience when you sit behind the wheel of a car or watch it drive down the road and observe it backing into a space by itself.”
Martin emphasizes the term “driver-assistive technology,” and he maintains that regardless of how technology advances, student transportation will always need human drivers.
“We’ve been saying this for years, and the industry believes at its core that the most important safety equipment we have … [is] an intelligent, educated, trained driver who is compassionate and is dedicated to performing her or his job in the best way possible,” Martin says. “I don’t know that you’ll ever replace that.”
Geroux adds that through the development of new programs such as the NextPloratory Sessions, a greater focus on special-needs transportation, and addressing technological changes in the industry, NAPT hopes to help its members see the industry in a new way.
“Our goal really is to inspire our members to think different and creatively,” Geroux says, “and we’re trying to provide them with various thoughtful and innovative tools and a broad perspective.”