Saturday, October 5, 2013

Including Bus Drivers in our School Community

Often the importance of building community within our classrooms and schools is discussed, but sometimes we leave out some VERY important people that affect our students everyday: Our Bus Drivers.

In 2009, I was in my first year teaching at my current school and many times students would come into my classroom upset about something that occurred that morning on the bus. They would have difficulty focusing on school because their mornings started off poorly. I would spend a great deal of time trying to sort out problems on the bus rather than trying to teach content. (Just for context: I teach at building that is home to seven hundred 5th and 6th grade students.)

Therefore, in 2010 I established the Student Transportation Excellence (STEP) Program. We had many facets to the program such as:

-Weekly Bus Ticket Drawing - Students received a ticket from their driver if they behaved well on the bus for the entire week. Students would put their ticket in a drawing to win a prize. Five students were chosen each week and their names were put on a small 'bus' that lined the walls of one of our hallways.

-Weekly Bus Behavior Videos- Every week I would do a "Bus Spotlight" video where I would highlight good and poor bus behavior (standing up on the bus, throwing objects, sticking head/arms out windows, etc.)  Sometimes I would interview drivers so the students could connect with them more.

-Bus Riders of the Month- Each month, the bus drivers would choose a student who showed exemplary bus behavior. Winners were announced on the bus and given a certificate.

-Quarterly Whisper Weeks- This was a team competition between the buses. They competed against one another to received the highest "Whisper Week Score" The quieter the noise level on the bus, the higher score the students received from the driver. The Whisper Week celebration occurred during recess the next week and winners were treated to different games at recess (cornhole, ladderball, etc.) and were awarded with popcorn, music and more!

-Perfect Score Simulation Game- I developed a game that all bus riders took part in. It was a memorization game with many levels of distractions and impossible tasks. The students wanted to focus on the screen in front of them, but couldn't because of the continuous distractions.  At the conclusion of the game, students were frustrated and claimed that it was impossible to receive a "Perfect Score" The game was meant to simulate all the distractions that bus drivers deal with every day. The extreme noise level, students moving seats, throwing objects, etc. Students then had the 'aha' moment that maybe their behavior really could distract drivers and therefore cause an accident. It's a great game and one that spurs a lot of conversation!

-End of the Year Driver/Rider Events- At the end of the year, all drivers and select students were treated to free tickets at a Columbus Crew soccer game.

-Bus Driver Meetings- Twice a year my administrators and I would meet with the bus drivers and the head of the transportation department. We brainstormed ways to make the program better and they were always very appreciative that we asked for their opinions and gave them a forum for their voice to be heard.

-Driver and Student Surveys- At the conclusion of each school year the bus drivers and riders were surveyed about he effectiveness of the program. We took information from the surveys to tweak the program each year.

In the three years that we had the program, our school's bus referrals were below the district's average and poor bus behavior declined as compared to previous years. Although I was in charge of the program, many others helped with its success:

-Local organizations donated prizes for our weekly drawings
-The head of the transportation was constantly in contact with me about the program
-PTA bought the raffle tickets and purchased food and other items for Whisper Weeks.
-The DRIVERS were actually the biggest pieces to the puzzle. Some drivers focused on the program more than others and the ones that did reported a positive impact on student bus behavior.

The reason I share this program is because this year I was unable to continue it. It unfortunately became too time consuming and I hate that it is no longer a program at my school. Therefore, I share this idea with anyone who happens to read this blog.  Maybe you can see an idea that you can implement at your school.

It's important to remember that our bus drivers play a very important part of our students' day. We must support them and encourage the students to build a relationship with them!

Actually, I took this concept a step farther as I conceptualized Choices Day-  a one day whole school event that took place at my school two years in a row. I hope to blog about Choices Day in a future post soon. This post will include many of the ways that we included the bus drivers in our school community on one special day!

If you would like more information on the STEP bus program or if you are thinking about instituting a similar program, please contact me on Twitter @ArinKress

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