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Bus Safety Orientation for Parents and Kindergarten Students In Maine

By John Rosales

Kindergarten students confronted by a monster yellow vehicle for the first time in their young lives are either excited, horrified, or a little of both. Either way, they must step up.

“That’s why we invite parents along for the first run,” says Line Mulcahy, a bus driver with the Maine School Administrative District Number 61 (MSAD-61). “The kids have seen school buses on TV but actually stepping into one brings a mix of emotions in a five-year-old.”

Like many school districts, MSAD-61 conducts an annual Kindergarten Orientation Day so students and parents can familiarize themselves with bus safety and meet their drivers.

“These kids might be with you for the next 12 years,” Mulcahy says. “We want them to feel safe from Day One.”

The district’s “first run” is August 22 when dozens of kindergarten students and their parents or guardians will journey from their pick-up address to school for a snack and lecture, then back home.

“This way they won’t be totally lost on the first real day of school (September 2),” says Mulcahy, a 28-year veteran driver and safety trainer with the district.

Andy Madura is the director of transportation for the district. He points out that kindergarten students waiting at a bus stop on the first day of school with dozens of older students can feel tempted to turn around and head for home.

“That first day of school can be intimidating to our kindergarten students,” he says. “On orientation day we help them to get the jitters out with their mom or dad or a grandparent right there by their side.”

Madura says the day “has a lot of value” because parents can be enlisted as safety allies who will now encourage their children to follow bus safety protocol when crossing the street, entering and exiting the bus.

“It’s also a good opportunity for kids to ask the driver questions and for drivers to meet parents,” says Mulcahy.

Meeting parents is critical to drivers because once class starts schedules can become hectic for working moms and dads. It helps if drivers and parents are on a first name basis, particularly when a driver has to notify a parent of their child’s misbehavior.

“When you have to make that first call to a parent about a student horsing around, you get more cooperation if the parent knows you are calling out of genuine concern,” says Mulcahy, former president of the Lake Region Non-Teaching Association (LRNTA), which represents more than 70 local bus drivers, mechanics, custodians, food service and maintenance workers.

In some cases, parents happen to be former students who know and respect the highly-trained drivers.

“It’s a funny thing,” Mulcahy says. “Parents we drove as youngsters now have kids and they remember going to orientation with their own parents.”

Almost 20 buses and vans will transport the district’s youngest students on their maiden voyage to Sebago, Songo Locks, Stevens Brook Elementary Schools where they will discuss bus safety, learn how to enter their meal code on a key pad, and get their first school snack of juice, milk and cookies.

“It’s our biggest day because we get to meet a lot of the parents,” says Bruce Harmon, transportation dispatcher and a bus driver with the district for 35 years. “All the drivers dress up for the occasion and pose for pictures with parents and the kids.”

Nestled in the woodlands and lakes of Western Maine, MSAD-61 (also known as Lake Region School District) consists of four towns: Bridgton, Casco, Naples, and Sebago. Harmon says the kindergarten orientation brings families from each town together with drivers, some teachers and district administrators. And they bond.

“From that point on, we stay on touch,” Harmon adds. “We don’t just call parents when their kid misbehaves on a bus. We like to call them whenever a kid does something good. The kid will then tell their friends that, ‘Oh, my driver called my mom and told her I did this good thing.’”

At the school orientation, students will also meet Buster, a knee-high animated robot that moves, speaks, plays audiocassette tapes, and activates his lights and “stop arm” by remote control.

“Buster can wink, smile, and move his eyes,” says Mulcahy, who will speak about safety procedure with Buster by her side. “It’s funny to see the kid’s reactions. They think Buster is real!”

During her presentation, Mulcahy will demonstrate all bus alarms and stress the importance of the emergency windows, rear door, and roof hatch which are opened by pulling red handles.

“The little ones can’t read yet,” she says. “We have to point out the importance of the red handles.”

But it’s not only the kids on this tour who will experience new sensations.

“I ask parents to sit in the driver’s seat, grab the wheel, and look in the rearview mirror,” Mulcahy says. “I then tell them to imagine being on the road in traffic with 60-to-70 students behind you. That gets their attention.”

Toward the end of the event, children will receive a customized gift bag. Printed on the side is the saying: I see the Driver, the Driver sees Me. The bag will contain pencils, erasers, crayons, a small cardboard bus, sticker with their bus number, and wrist bands with messages like, “Danger Zone: 10 feet around the bus.” It will also contain forms for parents to fill out.

Members of LRNTA helped produce 150 gift bags, which include a coloring book featuring sketches of workers representing the National Education Association’s nine job categories of education support professionals (ESPs).

“The book is a good tool to give out to kids,” says Paul Dembowski, LRNTA president. “They will sit there with their parents coloring and the parents will see that it takes a lot of people to run a school.”

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