SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Building relationships for special-needs transportation, effective radio communication, and stress management in the workplace were some of the key topics covered during the California Association of School Transportation Officials' (CASTO’s) annual conference.
Tony Peregrina, president of CASTO, kicked off the event on Saturday acknowledging the state’s dedication and commitment to safe pupil transportation, while also recognizing one of the longest-standing school bus drivers in the audience, who has been driving a bus for 46 years.
“You transport our future every day, and without you we cannot make it happen,” Peregrina added. “[California] has gone 38 years without a fatality on a school bus. We need to advocate for safety so that number can continue to grow.”
Keynote speaker Lisette Estrella-Henderson, superintendent for Solano County Schools, fueled the audience with a powerful and inspiring message — “what you do matters.” Specifically, she shared the role school transportation has had on her family in ensuring an education for her younger brother who has special needs.
Estrella-Henderson asked attendees to think about home-to-school transportation as a civil rights issue, noting the challenge many students in the 1960s, including those with special needs, had in being able to ride the school bus.
“You matter to your transportation team, families, and the children you transport each and every day,” she added. “Having access to school involvement and relationship building is critical for students and their growth in the world.”
The importance of relationship building and support for special-needs transportation staff was highlighted by Ilah Feeney, a program administrator for the Solano County Office of Education.
Feeney outlined several key relationships drivers should establish, including those with special-education administrators, parents, school site staff, and teachers. She also stressed the need for confidentiality when discussing student information and having consistent documentation (in writing) of any incidents that may take place on the bus.
In another session, Yvonne Dennings and Tina Meuser, dispatchers from Elk Grove Unified School District, shared effective strategies for radio communication and training.
Meuser said drivers and dispatchers should be brief, concise, and impersonal, while Dennings noted the significance of voice perception.
“It’s just like sending a text message,” Dennings explained. “You never know how a person may be feeling when they’re sending a [text] message. Over the radio, you want to keep it the same way; it’s important to level your tone and have no inflection in your voice.”
Matt Sanchez, the district’s transportation director, also encouraged drivers to be mindful of the language they use when there is an emergency on or off the school bus.
For example, he said, “You never want to say a student is lost prematurely; that evokes panic for the school and parents involved. You simply want to say a student is ‘misplaced.’”
Rick Weaver, who had been with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) for 27 years, talked to attendees about what to do after an emergency, specifically in dealing with stress management.
He pointed out three types of stressors: daily stressors, which consist of those in the workplace; mounting stressors, which include mental manifestations and goals; and personal stressors, which can stem from family and financial matters.
Weaver said once attendees can identify each of these stressors in their life, then they can assess healthy solutions to combat them. Some of those solutions may include practicing breathing techniques in between routes or taking daily walks around the bus yard.
On Sunday, CASTO held its presentation of colors ceremony, in which the association honored some of its longtime members. The association also recognized the winner of its 2019 safety poster contest — Eden Choi, a sixth grade student from Fairmont Private Schools.
Following the ceremony, CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley gave the second keynote speech. He applauded the state’s school transportation sector for having a 97% compliance rate and over 1,000 certified school bus driver instructors each year.
“We’re here to learn, communicate, share, and grow in this industry all while keeping children safe,” he added.
Electric buses was also a hot topic during the conference. Peter Tuckerman, a sales manager for The Lion Electric Co., informed attendees about the benefits of adopting the alternative fuel, from having reduced emissions to decreased maintenance costs.