Makayla Strahle, 11, was fatally struck while crossing the street after exiting her bus on Dec. 20, 2011. Photo courtesy Dan Sperry

Makayla Strahle, 11, was fatally struck while crossing the street after exiting her bus on Dec. 20, 2011. Photo courtesy Dan Sperry

The most wonderful time of the year? These are the seven words expressed by many as the end of December gets closer. The lights are bright, the music plays, parties are planned, the beautiful décor brings the holiday spirit to life, and kids are getting ready for that last hour of school before their holidays begin.

Yet, people are also stressed, distracted, and are missing or don’t have loved ones to be with during “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Picture this: the excitement of a child, as they sit on their school bus having fun with their friends, as their anticipation for the holiday break grows. Our kids should have no worries on their minds at this point. They should be safe and sound on our trusted transportation system. They share a smile and say their good-byes as they take that final step off the bus to start their break. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

On December 20, 2011, Makayla Strahle of Wyoming did just that. With the innocence of a child and trust in her surroundings, she took that final step off the modified late bus, which runs for kids who stay after school for activities. She didn’t know that that would be her last step, followed by her final breath.

Makayla was hit and killed by a motorist, who stated he simply did not see any of the identifying markings on the school bus. The first to respond to the accident was Makayla’s stepfather, Dan Sperry, a juvenile detective.

On a website created to share Makayla’s story, we learn that she was one of six siblings. She had two sisters and three brothers. They shared a love for fishing, swimming, and playing on the boat. She enjoyed hunting with her three brothers and playing dolls with her two sisters. She was an athletic young lady with hopes of a bright future in volleyball.

Makayla was such a special person who left an impression on everyone she met and was loved by all.

“Makayla just had the sweetest personality. She was one of those kids that you just absolutely adored from the day you met her,” Dan Sperry, Makayla’s stepfather, says on the website.

We at First Light had the bittersweet privilege of meeting Dan as he educated us on the tragic accident that changed his family’s lives forever. Dan strongly believes that if the bus Makayla was on was equipped with First Light’s illuminated safety equipment, that bus ride might not have been her last.

Unfortunately, Makayla’s story is one of many, as these preventable accidents flood our roadways each day.

Having a driver’s license is more than a luxury; it comes with huge responsibility and is a privilege. Saying you did not see the bus, or were in a rush are not excuses. If you care about your future, protect it, and remember that our kids are your future.

Think about Makayla and her beautiful smile. The next time you are in a rush and think, ‘Just this one time it will be ok to pass the bus,’ think again, because, for innocent children like Makayla, that one time changed her life, her family’s life, and her community forever.

If you care about your future, protect it, and remember that our kids are your future.

We all know the world moves fast; we all have places to be, deadlines, work, and more. But we need to slow down and be safe.

Makayla is one of many who have tragically lost their lives, due to the distractions flooding our roadways. Our hearts are with all the friends and families who have faced this pain.

Today, we remember you, Makayla. We dedicate these words to you. You inspire our company each day as we continue to bring awareness to school bus safety.

To the Sperry family: our thoughts are with you today and always. December 20 will always be an important day in our offices, to remember the incredible young lady who is your daughter and sister. We cannot change the past, nor can we take away your pain. We can, however, share the strength of Makayla and fight for her, to bring awareness to school bus safety, to keep families safe and alive.

We would like to thank the Sperry family for sharing their story with us. If your life has been affected by a school bus-related accident, let us help your story to be heard. Together we can all make a change.

Our kids are worth it.

Michelle Macario is the marketing specialist for First Light Safety Products.