transport | urbanism | adventures | pontification
This New York Times piece describes a school district in South Carolina where dedicated training for school bus drivers helped make them a productive part of the students’ education.
In Hartsville, disciplinary infractions were being issued at a much higher rate on school buses than at school. A child development expert from Yale identified two key problems: “first, there wasn’t a real relationship between the drivers and the school; and second, the drivers didn’t have any training on how to deal with children or families — the only training they’d received was how to drive a bus.”
The district’s response, a two-year training curriculum for drivers, benefits both students and drivers:
They provided basic information about the developmental pathways along which kids develop, and suggested constructive ways to interact with students and parents (for example: speak to every child every day, learn everyone’s name, and try to build relationships with the children and their parents). “The goal was to make the drivers feel like a valuable part of the whole picture, and to help them start asking for the behavior they did want, instead of talking about the behavior they didn’t.”
They also reviewed the bus referral form itself. “It listed 48 possible infractions — and no rules,” said Camille Cooper, who directs the program’s learning, teaching and development initiatives. “If you’ve got tons of referrals but no rules, the expectations for the kids were not being clearly communicated.”
So the drivers honed in on the behaviors they thought were most important. They continued to explore strategies for better communication between the children and their families. And they reduced what had been a long list of opaque infractions into a short list of five rules, which ranged from the mundane (staying seated) to the aspirational (treating one another with respect).
Cooper also worked with Hartsville’s elementary school principals to help them strengthen their bonds with the drivers. “I’d never worked with the bus drivers in any capacity before,” said Tara King, the principal at West Hartsville Elementary School. “There was never any relationship there, let alone a professional development opportunity.”
The article goes on to detail how these new professional development opportunities have helped improve education outcomes for students.
Are educational success stories like this one made less likely when cities try to force students from school buses onto public transit, districts contract out service, and labor relations break down, as has happened in Boston?
And what could public transit agencies learn from the success of this long-term, ongoing professional development example? Instead of one-time, basic customer service training, ongoing development and practice could benefit both passengers and employees — especially in Boston, where transit employees have to deal with the likes of this.