Behavior that runs counter to expectation is an opportunity for learning in a way that is instructive rather than punitive and is appropriate for individuals’ social and emotional needs. For a driver faced with a student standing while the bus is in motion, this could mean asking the student to sit and explaining the safety risks, rather than demanding that he or she sit without providing any context. Or pointing out to students how bullying actions affect others’ self-esteem.
With the expectations comes specific language repeated by staff members in schools and on buses until it becomes philosophy: “Be safe, respectful, responsible and cooperative.” The words also are posted on buses. Easter often refers to them. “Remember the school rules?” she asks. “They’re the same as the bus rules.”
“I love us being on board with the schools, following what the schools are doing. We feel more a part of the same team,” Easter said.
Turning the corner
Although PBIS requires a long-term investment and results aren’t instantaneous, “things start to unfold in a positive way,” Ringold believes.
Esther Faualo, who worked as a bus driver in Hawaii before coming to the district four years ago, agrees. “When you know your kids and you work with them and tell them exactly what they need to do, they behave, be responsible, be safe,” she said.
Students start to look out for one another and address behavior among themselves. Drivers become confidants for children who are experiencing turmoil at home that can affect their performance in the classroom.
“It’s a total failure if a child doesn’t want to go to school because they feel that the adults there don’t protect them. I take that to heart,” Ringold said.
With this lane change toward self-accountability and respect come other benefits: Parent-driver relations have improved with PBIS, as parents learn about the program and ask questions.
In addition, discipline referrals have decreased. “Writing up a kid is the easy thing to do,” Ringold said. The data bears out a commitment to doing things the difficult but right way. Since PBIS was implemented on buses, referrals have dropped 45 percent.
Rather than use referrals as threats, Faualo demands both personal and academic accountability from her students. “I tell them, ‘Let’s work together,’” she said. To parents, her message is similar: “I don’t want to write up your kids. I want you to work with me.”
After all, drivers’ bonds with students and their families run deep. Said Faualo, “We are not just a bus driver. We are like a parent of these kids. We are not here just for the money. We are here to love and support these kids.”
Working together, bus drivers, school staff, students and families are creating safe, respectful, responsible and cooperative environments: in schools, at home and on the road.
Said Ringold, “We’re headed in a great direction.”
First photo above: Bus driver John Ringold and students from Harney Elementary School; second photo: Bus drivers Christine Easter, left, and Esther Faualo
This and other stories originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools.