CUMMING, Ga. — The transportation staff at Forsyth County Schools has developed a training program for its elementary school students that teaches them about bus safety in a fun and engaging way, and it has had positive results.

The program is called The Elvis Way, and the transportation department’s message to students to “SOAR” to school (i.e., practice safe, orderly and respectful bus riding habits) is delivered by Elvis the Safety Owl.   

Director of Transportation Garry Puetz told SBF in an interview that in creating the training program, he not only wanted the information and the way it’s presented to students to be fun and engaging, he also wanted it to be simple for them to understand.

“Elvis the Safety Owl and SOAR makes school bus safety a positive and simple message to convey, and I think that has helped to begin to change the culture of school bus safety [in the district and community], which is important,” Puetz said.

When Elvis the Safety Owl visits the district’s elementary schools for training sessions, he is accompanied by bus drivers from the transportation department — the SOAR Patrol.

This school year, Elvis and his SOAR Patrol visited the district’s 20 elementary schools in 20 days and trained 18,000 students. The training sessions included six stations where students received instruction on everything from the danger zone to evacuating the bus to how to safely cross the street prior to boarding or after disembarking the bus.

Puetz noted that the district’s school bus drivers have been instrumental in fine-tuning the language used when teaching the students.    

“We really wanted to refine our vocabulary so that every driver was using the same kinds of words to express the same thing,” Puetz explained.

“The students are much more aware of and much more committed to following safety procedures after they’ve been to our SOAR With Elvis Day,” he added. “They understand them better and they follow them much better because they understand how important the rules are.”  

Another integral component of the Forsyth County Schools transportation department’s philosophy is that all stakeholders, including bus drivers, parents, teachers, other motorists and law enforcement officials, must do their part to maximize student safety on the school bus.

The Elvis Way program and Elvis the Safety Owl have helped to improve the transportation department’s relationship with all of the stakeholders outside of the transportation department.   

“When we went out to the schools this year, all of the teachers were very positive about what they were learning, what the students were learning, and how they were learning it,” Puetz said. “It’s really raised our credibility as a department and as individuals within the department.”

Elvis the Safety Owl also attends parades and fairs, and this has helped to increase the community’s bus safety awareness. Puetz said that the local sheriff’s office has become very involved with the transportation department staff in this effort, as has Safe Kids Forsyth, the local chapter of the non-profit organization Safe Kids Worldwide.    

“They’ve been very helpful in spreading our message and working with us to help protect students,” Puetz said. “We do a couple of events with them throughout the school year.”  

Puetz wrote a book on The Elvis Way program that discusses its origin and components, and provides safety and training resources. To read the book, click here.