WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — October will officially be a month to promote school bus safety in the Navajo Nation, thanks to the efforts of a group of pupil transporters.
On Aug. 23, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez signed a proclamation that designates October 2017 as “National School Bus Safety Month.”
“Parents place their kids in the hands of the bus drivers, to make sure that they get picked up safely, delivered to the school safely, and then returned home,” Begaye said. “So I know, as a parent, I would really say, ‘Let’s praise the bus drivers,’ because they are one of the most important employees at the school.”
The Navajo Nation territory covers about 27,000 square miles in northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.
School bus drivers and staff from Ganado (Ariz.) Unified School District (USD) worked with Navajo Nation Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd on the School Bus Safety Month initiative.
Freddie Yazzie, a driver for Ganado USD, told SBF that this was the first time School Bus Safety Month has been declared in the Navajo Nation. It coincides with National School Bus Safety Week, which is held annually across the U.S. in the third full week of October.
The Navajo presidential proclamation last week followed a meeting in which Shepherd and the Ganado USD transportation team discussed the importance of school bus safety with Begaye and Nez.
“When we proclaim a month for school bus safety, I think that gives other school boards across the Navajo Nation a chance to interact with their local communities, and Ganado has been doing that for several years now,” Shepherd said.
The Ganado USD school bus drivers and staff have spearheaded other efforts to advocate for safe transportation in their community. That has included taking to the airwaves.
"We've been doing bus safety messages through our Navajo Nation radio station in English and in Navajo," Yazzie told SBF.
The GUSD drivers and staff who were present for the signing of the School Bus Safety Month proclamation included Jackson Curtis, Yazzie, Frederick Shirley, Davis Begay, Lynette Looking-Back, and Norma Noble.
Yazzie, a longtime school bus driver on the Navajo reservation, has also encouraged his passengers to go further in their education with his "Legacy of Excellence Bus."
Shepherd, the Navajo Nation Council delegate, said that he would establish a similar School Bus Safety Month proclamation for Apache County, for which he serves as a supervisor. He added that he would also advocate for infrastructure improvements that would contribute to safe pupil transportation, such as road widening, paving, and maintenance.