LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A session at the TSD Conference explored how young children exposed to violence at home can act out on school buses, and how student transporters can recognize and understand behaviors in order to safely curb them.
Presenter Kathleen Furneaux, executive director of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute and a member of the TSD Conference National Board of Advisors, described to roughly 75 attendees on Tuesday at the Galt House Hotel how a student witnessing violence or experiencing abuse themselves can result in outbursts ranging from bullying to inappropriate language to weapons on the bus.
Furneaux said school districts, Head Start agencies and preschools should train their drivers and attendants to look beyond the behavior and to empathize with what the students are dealing with, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, numbed emotional responses, hyper-arousal, increased fears and aggression and thematic play, or repetitive accounts of violent experiences.
“We all have a melting point, but imagine being 3 years old,” said Furneaux. “They don’t know any different. That’s how they’ve learned to cope, and that’s by being violent. We have to show them there’s another way.”
This entails disciplining students consistently, maintaining eye contact with the child and finding ways to help him or her verbalize their anger using words rather than getting physical. As riding the bus can compress excess energy, Furneaux advised that drivers and attendants look for ways to keep the child distracted and from exploding. She also recommended showing compassion to the student, using positive reinforcement and praising liberally when appropriate
“Simple gestures go a long way,” she said. “You can say, ‘I understand you’re angry but I expect you to stay seated and keep you hands to yourself on the school bus...we have to keep them safe.”
Furneaux recounted how she used these same approaches in response to several incidents she encountered as a school bus driver.
“If there’s no one there to set the bar, to say, 'No, that’s not acceptable,' the behavior will continue,” she said of need for bus drivers and attendants to enforce rules.