Wednesday, October 24, 2012
- by Lindsey Derrick, Dalton Public Schools Contributor
Hanging on the wall of the First Student building on Hamilton Street are statistics that show just how safe transportation is for Dalton Public Schools students—large numbers indicating how long it has been since the last injury and accident are displayed proudly.
“First Student sets a goal to reduce accidents,” said First Student location manager Anita Brown. “We only hit a basketball goal last year, so it’s hard to reach the next goal when you were pretty much perfect.”
With National School Bus Safety Week beginning Oct. 22, Ms. Brown and DPS Transportation Coordinator BeLinda Parrish hope that citizens take this week to fully realize just how safe these First Student buses are.
“Our safety record is impeccable,” Ms. Parrish said. “Every kid is on a bus at some point. Whether it’s for a sporting event or field trip, they need to know bus safety.”
The Georgia curriculum for kindergarten through 5th grade now includes lessons for Bus Safety Week that go over issues with what to do and not to do on a school bus. To get children to connect more with the topic of bus safety, a mascot named Safety Bear will visit the elementary schools.
“Kids aren’t afraid of Safety Bear,” Ms. Brown said, “so it brings attention to being safe. Safety Bear will greet the kids when they get on or off the bus, and they’ll want to give him a hug or a high five.”
First Student drivers receive more training than is required by national standards—12 hours is the norm and First Student drivers go through 48 hours of training. They also have five or six safety meetings per year. Drivers and monitors receive monthly information on points of emphasis and awareness through company-wide communication. The focus for October is how to detect and prevent problems such as bullying.
First Student also takes another step to make sure students are safe, Ms. Brown said, by taking several precautions to make sure that no student is left on a bus. Each bus utilizes a Child Check Mate system—if a button is not pushed by the driver saying they have checked the bus for students, the horn sounds as an alarm. When a bus returns to the First Student lot, drivers must place a sign in the bus window showing they have checked the bus for children. Employees also check every bus at night again to ensure no child has been left.
Ms. Brown has the ability to track where each bus is, how long it stayed at each stop, if the door was opened, and how fast the bus is going. If the bus goes over 55 MPH (the speed limit for a bus on the interstate), Ms. Brown will immediately get an email.
“We are committed to safety,” Ms. Parrish said.
Forty-five drivers and six monitors drive a total of 37 routes for DPS. The average number of children under their care is 2,961 in the morning and 3,414 in the afternoon. To care for these thousands of children, First Student must find remarkable drivers and monitors to take care of the students. Examples of the dedicated and safety-conscious staff are Brenda Taylor and monitors Pat Cape and Helen Walls.
Ms. Cape began working with Dalton Public Schools in 2000, but made the move to First Student in 2004. “I love my job,” she said. “I love the kids. I get attached to them.”
To be a bus driver or monitor, it is clear that one cannot be a night owl very often—Ms. Cape is in bed by 9 p.m. and up by 3 a.m. She does household chores before coming to work. The buses leave the lot by 6 a.m. and are done with afternoon routes between 5-5:15 p.m. Between her routes, Ms. Cape cleans houses as a second job. “I’m glad I’m able to work,” Ms. Cape said of her two jobs.
“She’s never absent,” Ms. Brown said. “She’s worked many days that I would not have come in.”
“She loves the kids,” Ms. Parrish said of Ms. Cape. “She knows the route and she knows each child personally and what their needs are."
Ms. Taylor is a driver that helps First Student and DPS keep their amazing safety records—she won the Safe Driver Award from the National Safety Council in 2010. She has only had two accidents in 35 years. Both accidents were not Ms. Taylor’s fault, and both drivers fled the scenes after they hit her bus. She has gone 30 years without missing a day of work—she has had five absences in her career and two were due to deaths.
“To Brenda, it’s better to crawl in than call in,” Ms. Brown said. “She is very loyal to her job.”
“There were mornings when I wanted to stay under the covers,” Ms. Taylor said, “but I came on in. They depend on me.”
“I wish I had more Brenda’s,” Ms. Brown said. “She’s never in a bad mood, and I know her route’s taken care of and it’s done right.”
As for Ms. Walls, she is quite an inspiration around First Student. Even after being diagnosed with cancer last year, she hardly misses work. Ms. Walls will miss days after she undergoes chemo, but other than that, she will be on her bus.
“She won’t let cancer get her,” Ms. Brown said.
“She’s always happy,” Ms. Parrish said of Ms. Walls. “She always comes in at 6 in the morning with her hair and make-up done. She always looks pretty.”
“I haven’t been sick with it,” Ms. Walls said of her chemo treatment. “It’s all thanks to the Lord above.”
“We had a Go Pink Day for Helen last November,” Ms. Brown said. “We all wore pink and had pink cupcakes and roses. I wanted her to know we’re here. We’re a family.”
“Everyone here has been great,” Ms. Walls said of her support.
Ms. Parrish said that these three women are some of her favorite people. It’s people like Ms. Wells, Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cape that help First Student be an exemplary company of service.
“I really love my job,” Ms. Taylor said. “I always greet my kids with a smile and say ‘hello’. We do our best to take care of the kids. They’re with us every day, and they’re our family.”
Said M.s Wells of her job: “I’m going to do this as long as I can take a breath.”
For more information about National Bus Safety Week, visit http://www.gadoe.org/Finance-and-Business-Operations/Pupil-Transportation/Pages/School-Bus-Safety.aspx
Safety Bear stands outside the former Morris Street School.