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Unsung heroes: special ed. bus drivers. Practical tips on school bus transportation.

It is a steamy summer morning, with a few light sprinkles of rain. My daughter, who loves to play in the sprinkler, is fussing about the drops of rain on her face. As 1 futilely try to explain the absurdity of her reaction, the yellow bus. pulls around the corner and stops, lights flashing. My daughter and I walk around the front to the door where she is greeted by Miss Norma.

Miss Norma helps Erica onto [he bus, saying, "Erica, cheer up. We have someone special for you to see today." Miss Vicky, the driver, pulls a stuffed animal out of her bag and asks Erica to "babysit" Silly Willy on the ride to school. Erica beams as she hugs the toy and walks to her seat.

Once again, Vicky and Norma have pulled a trick out of their creative bag to help ease our daughter's transition from home to school. Vicky and Norma are our daily links to my daughter's special education classroom. Vicky Ehmke has been a school bus driver for 13 years and Norma Allen, the bus monitor, has been doing this work for 22 years. Norma is Vicky's mother, and Vicky is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy.

While this pair is unusual because of their family connection, they are typical of the remarkable people who transport Students to special education and mainstreamed programs. Although they do not sit in on IEP meetings, transportation personnel are integral to the child's access [0 educational services. They are not only responsible for driving safely, but also for managing behavior and offering first aid, particularly with children who are medically fragile or have seizures.

Many also take a personal interest in the families they serve. One of Erica's drivers used to take leftover food to feed the dogs at one child's home. When a woman and her child had to leave town suddenly due to the threat of domestic violence, their van driver went home and got a suitcase to loan them.

Most parents with children in special education can probably tell of transportation nightmares. We have had our share, as well. However, parents can reduce the likelihood of bus difficulties and, in turn, reward the exceptional drivers and monitors. The following are suggestions learned through hard experience:

1. Always follow the procedures set out by the school's transportation department.

Call in if your child will not be on the bus. Have your child ready on time. Be there for the afternoon drop-off. When the school schedule changes, double check with the driver to see when she thinks she will be arriving.

People usually complain about late buses, but they can be early, too. The first year my daughter attended summer school, dismissal was at 11:15 a.m. and the notice said she would arrive home at 11:35 a.m. I had an appointment that morning, but was home by 11:25 a.m. Since it took 15 minutes for the bus to go from school to my house, I thought I would be home on time. An hour later, my daughter still had not arrived home. In a panic, I called the transportation office. They told me that my daughter was still on the bus, which was delivering everyone else home since they had already come by at 11:20 a.m.

When the bus came, I apologized to both the driver and my hungry, grumpy daughter. I also asked why the bus was so early. The driver explained that she had been first in line to load, so she left the school early. From then on, I always made sure I was home by school dismissal time.

2. To avoid problems on the bus, inform the driver of any medical, behavioral or equipment concerns.

My daughter's feet swell when it is hot, so we let her drivers know that she is allowed to undo the VELCROTM straps on her shoes to release the pressure. Be certain to instruct every new driver or substitute on the proper techniques to use with your child's equipment. One family was up in arms because a van driver had damaged their child's wheelchair when trying to remove the tray. Because there are so many different types of wheelchairs, no driver can be expected to know each one.

3. When there is a problem, trouble-shoot with the driver in a style that will encourage compromises.

Rather than arguing with the driver, work out mutually agreeable solutions. The other day, my daughter came home with a greasy stain across her white shirt. The monitor had fastened a second belt around Erica's chest because she was escalating into a tantrum. Rather than complain about the dirty shirt, I gave the driver an old towel to use between Erica's shirt and the seat belt. The extra seat belt keeps Erica in check and allows the driver to concentrate on the road. And the towel will keep Erica's clothes clean.

Sometimes problems can be more serious than a dirty shirt. In the past we had difficulty with other children being verbally or physically aggressive to Erica on the bus. To avoid these problems, we worked with the driver to rearrange seating and change the loading method.

4. Contact the transportation supervisor if all attempts to compromise with the driver fail, or if there is an extreme problem such as improper handling of student behavior or unsafe driving.

Even when you report these incidents, remember to concentrate on the facts rather than on vague name calling. State the problem in specific terms, and describe any attempts you have made to correct the problem. For example, "The child who sits next to my son spits on him. For three days he has returned home covered with slime. l asked the driver to move my son to another seat. He has refused." By citing the facts and your willingness to help, the problem is more likely to be resolved.

5. Finally, as my mother would say, "it is easier to attract flies with honey than with vinegar."

Praise your child's driver and monitor for the positive things they do: driving well in inclement weather; reinforcing your child's good behavior; or their personal touches such as Christmas decorations for the bus or gifts. Figure out your driver's special "weakness," be it cookies, chocolate or a drawing from your child. On a rainy day, pick some flowers from your garden and give them to your driver and monitor. Send a letter to the bus supervisor when you have gems like we do.

Since I started this article, Norma has become ill. We have been lucky to have several competent substitutes riding with Vicky. Erica periodically sends Norma a card. For you see, as Vicky and Norma told me early in the year, we have become part of each other's family. I hope you too will be blessed with your own unsung heroes of special education.

Mary C. Barbera lives in Annapolis, Md., with her husband, Andre, and their three children, Ben, 18, Tony, 13, and Erica, 9. She has a master's in special education and is an early childhood special education teacher currently teaching part-time at Anne Arundel (Community College. The Barberas are thankful not only to their current bus driver and monitor, Miss Vicky and Miss Norma (who is recovering nicely), but to Erica's bus drivers in South Bend, Ind., as well.
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Title Annotation:special education
Author:Barbera, Mary C.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:School mainstreaming contest winners, 1992.
Next Article:I'm not done yet!

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