They Have Our Hearts
Two teams of special needs school bus drivers recently earned recognition in the South Carolina Special Needs Bus Road-E-O, a rigorous competition that tests drivers’ skills in parallel parking and backing a bus, pre-trip Inspection, emergency evacuation drill, managing challenging behavior, wheelchair loading, and wheelchair securement. The team must also pass a written exam. The event is hosted by the South Carolina Association for Pupil Transportation (SCAPT).
Jeffrey Bryan and Latonya White earned second place overall, while Michelle Parham and Marjorie Morgan took third place.
“The organizers tell you how many children are on your bus, and what their disabilities are,” explained Marjorie. “The driver and the aide must discuss how they can evacuate the students in less than two minutes. We have to work together to figure out the best strategy for a safe and quick evacuation.”
“We always look at each student’s abilities, not their disabilities,” said Michelle. She explained that a child who is hard of hearing but is mobile would be a great helper during an evacuation. “The aide is able to evacuate students that are mobile, while the driver is opening the lift for the other children. It’s all about working together as a team.”
Greenville County Schools’ 240 special needs bus drivers and aides are required to practice evacuations twice a year. They conduct drills at one of their schools with the children that ride their bus. If or when a real emergency arises, the students are better prepared and less stressed about the sirens and the flurry of activity, and the driver and aide can complete the evacuation quickly and safely.
Special needs bus drivers say communication is their most powerful tool. If a child is upset when he gets on the bus, the driver and aide talk constantly to the child to distract him. “We find out what they like. I have one child that likes Dodge Challengers,” said Jeffrey. “When he gets on the bus, and while we are securing his wheelchair and ensuring all safety precautions are in place, I say, ‘Maybe we’ll get to see one today while we’re going to school.’ Using distraction is an important tool that helps boost their mood immediately.”
Teena Mitchell, Special Needs Transportation Manager, has a saying that boosts the morale of drivers and students alike. “Drive the safe bus, ride the happy bus,” she said with a smile. “We don’t want a quiet bus, we want our students to be happy and laugh. They have our hearts.”