Strengthening the training of school bus drivers, Student pilot service

FRISCO, Texas – STN President and Editor Tony Corpin led a panel discussion on Transportation for Students with Disabilities and Special Needs (TSD) on a new program offered by North American transportation provider First Student that puts emphasis on providing appropriate and personalized care to students with special needs.

Will McDermott, co-founder and president of Hopewell Transportation and zone general manager for First Student, said during Friday’s session that FirstServes is designed to mimic the education system, drawing on the Individualized Education Program process. (IEP) which personalizes solutions for students with a disability or special needs.

“It’s not a training program, it’s a culture change,” said Laura Greene-Halley, director of performance and safety improvement for First Student. Echoing autism specialist Patrick Mulick in a session presented on Thursday, she added that it is important to help drivers understand that they are educators as well as empower them to better serve drivers. students.

McDermott added that this has benefits for all students on the bus, even those without special needs.

Allison Blackburn, Ph.D., is a behavioral psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and also serves on the Advisory Board of FirstServes. She summarized the tools provided by FirstServes, including plans to standardize equipment and processes on the bus for students, gathering relevant information from parents, tracking drivers on the training they have received and behavior tracking to help reduce recurring behaviors.

Benefits of comprehensive training and support for drivers

A school bus driver is an important part of a student’s morning and can provide the stability and consistency many crave, Blackburn explained.

Lisa Riveros, director of transportation for public schools in Wichita, Kansas, which transports 1,800 students with special needs, stressed the importance of having the right information about the right students, so locum drivers and helpers know how to work with them.

Greene-Halley noted that training, mentoring and reinforcing drivers and helpers is essential to ensure school staff are equipped and confident to care for the students they help transport.

Driver shortages as well as stressors related to COVID-19 place an additional burden on both school staff and the students they transport, noted Corpin of STN. However, driver training is more important than ever, Riveros said. Greene-Halley added that one of the main reasons drivers and car attendants give up is a lack of support, coaching and empowerment.

Serve students individually

“We want to serve children less and make them independent and successful,” McDermott said.

A fundamental aspect of FirstServes is the “All About Me” information form developed for each student in cooperation between the student’s parents and the school bus driver and attendants, if applicable.

“We have had so many success stories from implementing FirstServes,” Riveros said. She said her drivers were able to identify triggers and try de-escalation techniques, rather than just tagging a student as “having a bad day.”

Another aspect of the program enables the district to better communicate with parents, allay their concerns and recognize their child’s positive behaviors as well as negative behaviors.

Riveros recounted an incident in which she helped a student passenger with special needs who was “in the red” or at the peak of the rage cycle, a topic covered in the FirstServes training. Noticing that there were many sounds that could have overwhelmed the student, she asked the staff to reduce as much noise as possible on board, which immediately calmed the boy. This technique was then verified by the student’s parent, who also revealed that the noise-canceling headphones helped the child stay calm.


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Plans are underway to digitize the “All About Me” forms so that substitute drivers can more easily access them, McDermott said in response to a question from a participant. While some information on the forms is needed, Blackburn noted that most parents are keen to share information about their children’s likes, dislikes, and ways to help them be successful.


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