Special-needs students from The School District of Palm Beach County (Fla.) received a new school bus following a multi-month donation drive and a significant contribution from a local community member.
Helene McAfee, a special-education teacher for Jupiter Community High School, told School Bus Fleet that she put out a call to the community last September asking for donations to replace one of the district’s aging school buses that was used to transport students enrolled in Jupiter’s Exceptional Student Education program.
As part of the program, McAfee told SBF that she uses a school bus to transport students to local businesses to learn about jobs, careers, and training. However, the bus she drove was nearly 22 years old and had no wheelchair lift or air conditioning, making trips especially challenging during the warmer months.
“I have some students who are nonverbal, and I have one, who because of some medical issues, is sometimes in a wheelchair so they can’t do as much job training as the other students,” McAfee explained. “Even though the bus was easy and safe for me to drive, it just wasn’t ideal.”
Local realtor Rob Thomson of Waterfront Properties and Club Communities came across McAfee’s story and agreed to match all community donations that were made to purchase the new bus. By March, Thomson donated a total of $53,500 through his Waterfront Way Foundation, approximately half of the total $107,000 raised for the new bus — a 2021 model from Thomas Built Buses equipped with a wheelchair lift and air conditioning, he told SBF.
McAfee, who has been with the district for nearly 18 years, said the bus was delivered to the district on Nov. 19, and is expected to be in service before the upcoming holiday break once the vehicle is equipped with GPS and video camera systems. (Watch a video of the bus delivery.)
“The new bus is just an all-around safer thing for the kids, and it creates more opportunities for them to gain work experience,” Thomson said. “The community was so excited about the initiative, and even with COVID, people still managed to give back.”
McAfee added that while the pandemic has hindered the students' ability to participate in their usual job training, they can still use the bus to go out for trips to local parks and eat lunch.
“The kids are just so excited, and I can't wait until we can really use [the bus] the way we want to,” McAfee said.