By Joshua Winata
The Cove Herald
Staring out the rain-speckled window, the two boys at the front of the big, yellow school bus waited in hushed expectation as the bus driver raised her arm, a signal to remain silent.
Staying quiet when the school bus stops at a railroad crossing was only one of several safety precautions that Donovan Hastings, 9, and his brother Natas, 12, learned during the bus orientation for Copperas Cove students at Miss Jewell Elementary School. Even as the bus lurched forward over the tracks, the two first-time bus riders remained silent as they peered over their seats in awe and excitement.
“A little bit before we go over the railroad tracks, they’ll turn on the lights to tell us to be quiet and open the door to see and hear if there’s a train coming,” Donovan said, reciting the rules almost verbatim.
Only two families showed up for Thursday’s bus orientation, so the children were treated to a private bus ride through Copperas Cove as they learned the rules. Safety took a front seat as students learned proper passenger behavior and practiced loading and unloading from the bus.
Until this year, the two Hastings brothers lived on Fort Hood and walked to school. Coleen Hastings, the boys’ mother, said the orientation was a good introduction to bus riding, especially for Natas, who is autistic and might be agitated by the loud noises.
“I wanted him to understand how it’s going to work. It makes it easier for him to know what’s happening ahead of time,” Hastings said.
The people on the school bus are a child’s first and last point of contact for the school day, so getting comfortable riding the bus is an important part of back-to-school preparations.
The transportation department at the Copperas Cove Independent School District serves 2,200 students on 44 buses every school day.
The older children tend to get excited riding the school bus, said Trixie Henry, CCISD transportation team leader. The prekindergarten students, however, who are as young as 3 years old, are usually quiet and nervous because they have never ridden on a bus before and are leaving their parents for the first time.
“We have very little trouble out of the pre-K riders because we start them at such a young age riding a bus, and they develop those skills as they go along,” said Gary Elliot, CCISD assistant director of transportation.
CCISD has several precautions in place to ensure the safety of their youngest bus riders. All students must carry a bus pass, and prekindergarten students also receive clip-on tags that state their name, bus number, bus stop and a telephone number. Students are released from the bus only to authorized adults with photo identification.
In addition to the orientation, which was held for the first time this year, Elliot said that he hopes to implement an open house, which will allow parents and students to meet their bus drivers before the school year begins. If drivers know their passengers’ parents, they can work together to deal with any student disciplinary problems that arise, he said. The event would also build rapport with children so they feel more comfortable with their bus driver.
“It’s not only the kids who are going to be at ease — it’s the parents as well,” Elliot said. “Parents say ‘I’ve never seen this person before in my life, and they’re taking my kid off to school,’ and they’ll go home and cry.”
During Thursday’s orientation, Elliot and Henry answered parents’ questions and supplied children with coloring worksheets and bookmarks with school bus safety rules.
“The main thing is to listen to your bus driver’s instructions,” Henry told students.
Children had the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat and peered into the rearview mirrors to get full view of what the bus driver sees. After unloading from the bus, students also practiced crossing the street well outside the 10-foot radius “Danger Zone” around the bus.
“We try to train them really hard to stay away from right in front of the bus because that’s one of the biggest danger areas,” Henry said.
By the end of the morning, the orientation participants had nothing to worry about. The two brothers were more than ready to hop on the bus for their first day of school and begin the journey into another year.
“I’m excited. You know, new friends, that kind of stuff,” Natas said.
“And I get to ride on the same bus as my brother,” Donovan added.
Contact Joshua Winata at email@example.com or call (254) 547-6481