Every year there’s excitement when school starts. The last few weeks of summer, especially the days following Open Houses, are extremely busy at any bus company and are especially busy because of the extra things that are done for students.
Over the years, I’ve observed problems specific to school transportation. The biggest obstacle to any transportation program involving students is the youth and the inexperience of our youngest riders. These five-year old first-time commuters face a daunting challenge the moment they approach the bus for their first bus ride: the huge stairs lead them on board a vehicle driven by a Stranger. They’re brave little souls; not many of them hesitate very long when it’s time to take those huge steps. Of course it helps that many of them participate in pre-school year Kindergarten round up programs during which they may get an opportunity to take a first ride with their parents and teachers.
An even bigger challenge: efficiently transporting these young students to and from home without flaw when not yet knowing their names and haven’t yet mastered which one belongs where. It would be enough of a challenge if every student went to the same stop every day, but they don’t. Many of them have home and daycare options and others have Mom’s home and Dad’s home options.
There was a breaking moment for me. I was in the loading zone at an elementary school one afternoon and a young man didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure which bus to ride, we didn’t yet know his name, and he looked scared. I asked him his name and he started to cry. It was all I could do not to sit down next to him and cry too. We found out who he was and got him on the correct bus and he made it home safely – as is usually the case. But I left the loading zone determined to find a better solution, and we did.
Each of the Kindergarten students receive a tag in their Kindergarten classroom. On the tag is a picture of the student requested the last spring at Kindergarten Round-Up and again at Kindergarten Count-Down. The student’s first and last name, teacher’s name, drop-off location, and bus number also appear on the tag.
Since we’ve been using the tags, we’ve increased our success with Kindergarten students a hundred fold. Now when a need to communicate with one of these small people, just need to take a quick peek at the tag. Addressing them by name immediately calms their fears. After all, they must think, “If she knows my name, she probably knows where I go.” We haven’t had anymore tears in the loading zones!
Subsequently, we extended our tag system to older elementary students. For the first week of school, students are required to wear a tag with their pm bus number on it. The bus drivers check the tags as they enter the buses. Any student without a tag will be sent to an adult for bus number verification before entering the bus.
And if the tag is incorrect? Well, at least when we look up the student’s name in the database, we all know the student is on the listed bus or no bus at all. It makes things far more organized and simple at the end of those first days of school.
Our middle school students are each assigned a teacher, and that teacher will have a list of their bus numbers and a map of the parking order. They’re too old for labels, but still confused at the end of the day when they walk out to the loading zone and see 18 buses, all yellow and black. It’s enough to make anyone forget a number!
Our high school students don’t really think about the bus until it’s time to board it the first afternoon. We tried a new process; we emailed the school principals a list that can be forwarded to their teachers to check bus numbers near the end of the day – and included a copy of the parking map.
We hope we’ve covered the bases.
One final note: buses may run late the first couple days of school. There are lots of reasons for it – in the morning parents want to take pictures and give lingering hugs; in the afternoon we spend a little extra time in loading zones making sure everyone gets on the right bus and at bus stops making sure everyone gets off at the right stops.