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Bus of the Month Program
Drives Better Behavior

In an effort to improve school bus behavior, two elementary schools started the Bus of the Month program, honoring the bus with the most thumbs up for good behavior in one month. Included: Description of bus behavior program.

School bus behavior frequently falls into a disciplinary no mans land. Students often decide that school rules dont apply, leading to disruptive and distracting behavior. Drivers, since they are neither trained nor paid to be disciplinarians, may feel they lack the authority -- and support from parents and school officials -- to rein in unruly kids. Out of frustration, drivers refer each and every infraction to school administrators or yell until they are voiceless.


“I used to call it recess on wheels. Students would yell and wander around, unless they had a really strict bus driver. Now bus conduct reports are way down.”
 

Faced with daily referral slips for student misbehavior on two of the Milford (Massachusetts) Public Schools elementary school buses, a committee of principals, counselors, and transportation and bus company personnel decided last year students needed guidance and incentives to establish better bus-riding behavior. Now students compete for the coveted Bus of the Month award, a program that honors the bus with the best student behavior each month. Reports of infractions at the two participating elementary schools have dropped since last year and drivers are much happier, school administrators report.

"I used to call it recess on wheels," Lisa Firth, assistant principal at Memorial Elementary School, said about the daily bus runs. Students would yell and wander around, unless they had a really strict bus driver. Now bus conduct reports are way down.

TIME FOR A CHANGE

Administrators decided last year that they needed a more direct approach to address the growing number of bus discipline problems, said Firth and Kathleen Kay, principal of Brookside Elementary School, the other school participating in the Bus of the Month program. Both schools enroll students in grades k-2; bus runs are as short as five minutes and as long as 40.

My feeling was we had the biggest [discipline] problems on buses, Kay told Education World. Every time a kid did something bad, it was left to me to deal with it, even though I thought it was up to the transportation director to suspend kids. Brookside also is transitioning to the PBIS program, so rules for bus-riding fit in well with the overall PBIS philosophy and practices.

The principals wanted consistent rules and consequences for behavior so there would be no confusion for students or drivers. Every year we put 50-60 kids on a bus and just say sit down and assume they know how to act, Firth told Education World. The little kids follow the older ones. I think its important that expectations are taught and demonstrated.

School officials invited bus drivers from the Vendetti Bus Company, and Denise Morais, who manages Milfords school buses for Vendetti, to provide input. We asked the drivers what they wanted us to do to support them, Firth said. The drivers also said they wanted consistent policies for dealing with issues, such as a child in distress. Some children, for example, would leave their seats and try to get the drivers attention if they needed help, which was a dangerous distraction.

BUS OF THE MONTH GETS ROLLING

Brookside Elementary School’s December Bus of the Month.

As part of the program, at the beginning of the year students watch a video on bus behavior that features their peers. When educators were setting up the program last year, they told the students that some of the winners from the first Bus of the Month contest at each school would be able to star in the video illustrating the new rules. Students in the districts high school shot the video. During kindergarten orientation, students ride the bus with their parents one day, and the drivers discuss behavior and safety.

All buses display a list of rules for behavior and consequences for infractions, complete with illustrations. Kay and the Brookside counselor developed the rules for bus behavior that appear on all buses. They are:

  • Use inside voices
  • Keep hands in the bus
  • Keep hands and feet to yourself
  • Move over to let someone else sit down
  • No walking while bus is in motion
  • Each time a bus pulls up to the school, the driver gives a thumbs up or thumbs down rating for student behavior, which a teacher records. At the end of the month, the bus with the most thumbs up ratings is Bus of the Month. The winning bus sports a large magnet for the next month and the students receive small rewards, such as zipper pulls or bracelets.

    Kids really like to be winners, said district transportation coordinator Lenny Morcone.

    There can be other perks as well. One winning driver played the soundtrack for High School Musical every day, because the children enjoyed it. They can listen to it all they want that month, Firth said.

    Consequences also have been standardized. The first infraction of the rules earns a verbal warning; if there is a second one, students are told to change seats; if there is a third incident, the driver fills out an infraction form that is submitted to the principal. Parents are notified and they must sign a form from the school and the bus company. Students who receive an infraction form lose recess for a day.

    Under the old system, if a principal received an infraction slip, it was unclear whether this was a first offense or if the driver was finally just fed up. Now when I get a letter, I know the driver has dealt with it three times, Kay said.

    EYES ON THE PRIZE


    “Bus behavior is definitely better. And it definitely helped that there was cooperation between the schools and the drivers.”
     

    Since starting the Bus of the Month program, bus conduct reports are way down, according to Firth. Weve had a significant decrease from last year, she said. If kids misbehave, the driver can point to the rules, which are also illustrated by photos. Kay said she also has a sense that she is getting fewer phone calls from parents about bus behavior and fewer parents and students complaining about bullying on the bus. Kids know they can report bullying to principals, she said.

    Students also know they cant rest on their reputation. After Brooksides Bus of the Month for December earned thumbs down three days in a row, Kay warned the students she could rescind the honor and remove the magnet, and behavior improved.

    Drivers also like having a consistent set of rules. Before this, we had daily complaints of poor student behavior, said Morais. Some drivers at first were skeptical of the new program. But now they realize it means something to the kids. It helps with discipline; kids ask every day if they got a thumbs up or down. And drivers feel like they are getting support from the school.

    Drivers come in with all smiles if they are named Bus of the Month, she added. They get their photos in the paper -- they feel like they are getting some recognition.

    School and bus officials hope to expand the program to the districts other elementary school next year and Vendetti is considering implementing it in some of the other districts it serves.

    A large reason for the programs success is the collaboration of school and bus personnel, said Morcone. Bus behavior is definitely better, he said. And it definitely helped that there was cooperation between the schools and the drivers.

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