School's in session, and once again, mornings across America are punctuated with the sounds of moms urging kids, "Hurry up, or you'll miss the bus!" But once the doors close and the big yellow vehicle roars away, you might wonder what happens on a school bus between the time your child says goodbye to you and the moment they arrive at the school doors.
Even before the first day of school, a lot of preparation goes on. School bus drivers usually report to work a week or two before the fall semester begins, where they attend orientation meetings and classes in such topics as safety procedures and rules of the road. They're also responsible for making sure their buses are in good working order. They then get their routes for the year, and the daily drive begins.
It can be nerve-wracking to send your child on the bus alone for the first time, but drivers understand that nervousness, veteran bus driver Jerrideane Lehman tells Romper. "It gets better as they get older," explains Lehman, who is also the secretary-treasurer of the Indiana State School Bus Drivers Association. "First- and second-grade moms are more relaxed than preschool and kindergarten moms."
Here's an inside look at what goes on inside the average school bus — and what drivers want parents to know.
The Kids Are in a Safe Vehicle
As scary as it seems to have so many children in one bus, it's actually the best way to get them to school. According to the American School Bus Council, children who take the school bus are 70 times more likely to get to school safely than kids who go by car. "School buses are tanks; they're steel," says Lehman, who has been driving for 32 years without an accident. "It takes a lot to damage a bus."
The Driver Is Happy to See the Students
Bus drivers admit to getting the first-day jitters, but as the students climb aboard, they look forward to seeing familiar faces and welcoming new ones. "More of us are women drivers, which is neat," says Lehman. "I think women tend to take more of an interest in the children." Sometimes, drivers even have the privilege of driving their own grandchildren or other family members.
The Kids Are With Their Peers
No fear of shy kindergartners riding with middle- or high-schoolers; each type of school typically gets its own bus route. "[In our district] we put the little ones up front, near the driver," says Lehman. "We also tell the children to look at the school bus driver, who will signal them whether to get on or to wait."
Students Learn Bus Safety
Bus drivers reported that they introduce themselves on the first day and lay down the safety rules right away. Among them: arriving at the stop on time, staying seated (many buses have no seat belts), not eating or drinking on the ride, respecting fellow students, and not leaning out of the windows.
The Kids Socialize
Lehman notes that elementary school children spend the first days on the bus greeting old friends, comparing backpacks and lunch bags, and talking about their summer. One typical bus rule the drivers establish early on is to use "inside voices," so the noise level won't distract from the driving.
Students Are Being Watched
To help cut down on discipline problems, school districts are installing video cameras on buses, according to School Bus Fleet. This not only motivates students to behave, it also serves as evidence if there's a dispute about a child's actions. Some districts have established programs to address and prevent bullying and other incidents on school buses, such as offering incentives for good behavior or allowing bus drivers to call parents directly, instead of leaving the matter to the principal.
The Bus Is Checked
Once the bus arrives at school and the students get off, the bus driver should do a check to make sure nothing has been left behind. "We look under the seats and floor for kids who might have fallen asleep, or for lost money or lunch boxes," says Lehman. "I always count and make sure I have the same number getting off as getting on." While there have been news-making incidents of children left behind on school buses, many districts have safeguards to prevent the problem, said School Bus Fleet.
Bus Drivers Need Your Help
School bus drivers want to get your children to and from school safely as much as you do. As a parent and a driver, you can help make this year safer by following crucial rules:
- Bring your child to the bus stop at least five minutes before pickup time.
- Tell your child to stay clear of the bus wheels when waiting and when getting on and off the bus.
- If your child misses the bus, don't chase after it on foot or by car. Drive your child to school instead.
- When driving, always stop for a school bus with its stop sign out. It's illegal to pass a stopped bus in either direction.
- Remind your child to follow all safety rules while riding, and tell them never to try going back to the bus if they leave something behind. The driver may not see a child approaching.