Carolyn L. Higgins – Contributing Writer

Stacey Posey, program coordinator for the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles School Bus and Traffic Safety section (SBTS), didn’t pull any punches. Wanting to drive home the importance of several easily “forgettable” steps, after a brief introduction by Macon County Schools transportation director Todd Gibbs, Posey grabbed the audience’s attention by displaying several statewide bus driver accidents. Unfortunately, some were fatal. In stark contrast, seemingly small steps such as putting the bus in neutral and engaging the parking brake saved the life of every child on a school bus when it was hit by a truck hauling furniture. The Macon County Schools 2018 bus driver safety meeting stressed safety, appreciation and the value of their students. Administrators, bus drivers, assistant drivers and mechanics in attendance seemed to agree.

“I can’t say it enough,” said Gibbs. “I know it and you know it, but I have to say it anyway. You are handling the most precious cargo in the world. Each and every one of the kids that you have on your bus is your kid. Please treat them that way. Thank you to each one of you for coming back and doing the job you know. It makes it easier on the administrators, it makes it easier on parents – everybody.”

Appreciation for the ‘hardest job in the world’ 

Acknowledging the challenging job drivers face, Gibbs cited his parents who were educators as an example of how little most people understand that it is “the hardest job in the world.” Because they are not in the drivers’ shoes, there is no way for them to get the full picture of driving the bus.  

“Teachers can be at the board, but then they can turn around and look the kids in the eyeballs. You guys don’t even have that luxury. Teachers are not traveling down the road at 35 to 45 miles per hour trying to dodge all those crazies on their cell phones. It’s a hard job, and I appreciate what you guys do – each and every one of you.”

Drivers also appreciate each other as was witnessed by bus driver Sherry Brewer who bought doughnuts for her colleagues. Frankie Reynolds of Cowee Baptist Church shared another gesture of kindness. As part of their ministry led by Kaye Rickman, Reynolds delivered bright red plastic cups filled with snacks.  

“Cowee Baptist Church’s Love in Action Ministry provided treats for the county’s school bus drivers and transportation workers to show appreciation for their service to the children of Macon County,” said Rickman. “This was an extension of the church’s annual Love in Action Day community ministry which takes place in May. These acts of kindness are an effort to share the love of Jesus and serve the community.” 

In her role with SBTS, Posey covers four counties. When she attends state and district meetings, attendees are astonished when others report their problems and she states, “I ain’t got nothing for you.”

“I want to thank you for the job that you do,” said Posey. “I tell them I don’t have issues with my buses; I don’t have issues with my bus drivers; I don’t have issues with my transportation director. We’re good. I can say that because you do the job you’re supposed to be doing. Stay on top of that. Do you know how awesome it is to sit there and say, ‘I ain’t got nothing for you’?” 

Highlighting driver awareness 

Both Gibbs and Posey recognized the audience as professionals and engaged them with pointers, questions and answers. While the training was a refresher about DOT certifications, licenses, physicals, insurance, drivers’ routes, on-bus disruptions and other administrative procedures and requirements, some are negotiable at the driver’s discretion such as whether to have a seating assignment. However, the use of hand signals is a crucial safety requirement that has resulted in better communication between drivers and the students they pick up or drop off at their designated stops. 

Gibbs heightened driver awareness about the proper use of radios – only when pulled over and with discretion for student privacy. If at all possible, drivers are instructed to pull over and use the mobile phone to say a student’s name because of the public’s access to the radio broadcasts. Drivers expressed concern for both limited radio reception and sparse mobile phone signals. 

Pre-trip tips shared by Posey included a check-up to make sure the brakes and safety exits work. Drivers want to make sure they can stop and make sure everyone can get out.

Debbie Cabe was there to discuss the transportation information management system (TIMS) that tracks buses, stop locations, student assignments, driver hours, travel times, and more for local and state reporting.

Gibbs’ tips for parents to share with students

1. Students must remain seated while the bus is in motion. Students remain sitting in a car while it is moving. They should do the same thing while a bus is in motion.

2. Students must follow the directions of the bus driver while in the bus and also while boarding and leaving the bus.

3.  Respect, and be courteous to the bus driver.

4.  Respect other students and their possessions, while on the bus.

The safety meeting went well according to Gibbs and he emphasized “they are just good people doing a really tough job,” while MCS Superintendent Chris Baldwin summed up their front-line service.

“This is a very important component of Macon County School System,” said Baldwin. “This group of folks are the first people that our students see in the morning and the last group of folks that our students see in the afternoon. They notice changes in students; they counsel students; and they also transport students – the most precious cargo that we have in Macon County – to school and to home each day. We are very appreciative of them and they are a great group of people.”