SCHOOLCRAFT, Mich. — Bus drivers at a school district here are going the extra mile by learning how to use technology that will help them assist students with their schoolwork and social-emotional needs arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Schoolcraft Community Schools transportation department has trained eight school bus drivers on the video conferencing platform Zoom and online learning web service Google Classroom.
The drivers will act as coaches for the district’s most vulnerable students, but they won’t only be helping them with homework. The week-long training also covered the best ways to communicate with students about their social-emotional needs, Dr. Rusty Stitt, the district’s superintendent, told School Bus Fleet.
“The drivers will act as a positive influence on our young people during these challenging times prompted by the pandemic,” he added.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order on April 2 to close all K-12 schools for the remainder of the school year, according to a news release from Whitmer’s office. Whitmer also stated, according to Stitt, that school staff would get paid during the school closures as long as they did "meaningful work," and Schoolcraft Community Schools met that call.
“We were tasked by our governor to come up with a plan to reinvent education from afar. What better way to aid this new way of teaching and learning than by putting additional supports in [place] to help our staff, and most importantly, our students?” Stitt said.
The district’s administrative team came up with the coaching idea based on feedback from support staff, he added.
Marc Fox, the district’s transportation director, told SBF that he is proud of how the transportation department’s drivers jumped in to help in any way they could during the pandemic, which changed lives so quickly.
“We are very fortunate here at Schoolcraft Community Schools to have such a great talent pool in our transportation department,” Fox said. “I want to personally thank all our drivers for all they do for our kids.”
“We all need to come together to not only support each other but [to give] our kiddos all the support they can get,” he added.
Drivers stepping up to be educational coaches is not only important to the students, but also to the drivers themselves, Bobbie Jo McMillan, one of the school bus drivers who received the training and is coaching students, told SBF.
“I think this is very important to the kids and all of us that work with them in some capacity,” she added. “We all have our special bonds with the kids we interact with every day and if we can help them get through this as they are at home, then that is what we will do as a community.”
Even if the drivers just video chat with students about everyday topics instead of going over homework and studying for tests, having that conversation and seeing a familiar face could help ease stress for the kids and their parents, McMillan said.
“I know that we will get through this,” she added. “Maybe doing this will make it easier for [everyone].”