The “Vest Fairy” arrived recently at Brewster Central School District in New York. Today, her fashion efforts are not only improving transportation department morale, but also encouraging more positive interactions with the students who ride the school buses.
Five years ago, the district made the decision for all drivers or any transportation staff members in the school bus yard to wear yellow reflective vests. Mary Smith, supervisor of transportation for the district, said the vests help the staff be easily visible to motorists, especially in the early morning, late afternoon or evening.
However, the vests quickly became considered a “fashion faux pas” among drivers. Smith explained that when she became a supervisor in 2017, the drivers felt more comfortable approaching her to complain about the vest situation.
“I came from the driving population and moved up in my role here,” Smith explained. “So, I guess they thought I would have a more sympathetic ear. They started asking, ‘Do we really have to wear it?’ I certainly didn’t want to bypass safety for them, even though they felt uncomfortable wearing it.”
Smith continued, “They started asking, ‘Do we have to wear them while driving? Do we have to wear them when we go into the schools to use the restrooms?’ Because they felt like it was a fashion faux pas. It didn’t match their outfits, and they are walking into that building with all the educators all dressed so nice, and as [school bus driver Irene Farias] said, they felt like a flag around the side of a highway.”
Farias was also tired of her hearing coworkers complaining about the vests and decided to do something about them. She used a fabric die-cutting machine to make items for her daughter’s wedding, and it soon became a hobby for her.
[Editor’s Note: The Cricut brand machine Farias uses allows an image or design to be created on a computer before sending it to the machine and printing the image on various materials.]
Farias said she was using the machine so much that the idea came to her to Cricut her vest.
“I was listening to everyone complain about their vests, that they are ugly, they are annoying,” Farias said. “I went the opposite [way], because I am positive. I said I am going to embrace my vest. I am going to love my vest and make it my own.”
Farias made decorations for her vest first and the concept snowballed from there. Her coworkers started asking her to also decorate their vests. Now, Farias has a line of people waiting to be visited by the “Vest Fairy.”
The vests range in style and decoration, based on each person’s interests. She said people have asked for sports logos, Harry Potter themes, Disney characters and more.
“One of the women, she would rather be on the beach, because she talks about the beach all the time,” Smith relayed. “[Farias] actually made me a shirt, not a vest, that says, ‘I Made the Yard Great Again,’ because I am the new supervisor. The old supervisor is gone, and morale has been lifted. [Farias] contributed to the boosting of the morale.”
Farias noted that sometimes people would tell her what they want on their vests, while other times, she chooses the design based on their personalities and what they talk about.
“She’s surprised a few people with some vests. Someone retired and she made a retired Superman vest for them,” Smith explained. “I think a few birthdays she gave out a vest.”
Farias continued, “One dispatcher is a Happy Potter [enthusiast], so she got the ‘Muggle Struggle is Real,’ because she doesn’t like to go out and drive when we’re short-staffed.”
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Farias has designed about 20 vests so far, but entering this year, she is going to implement a raffle.
“I decided that everybody should like their vests,” Farias said. “I am going to have everybody that wants their vests done [to] put their name in, and twice a month I am going to pick a name out and decorate their vests.”
While also boosting the department morale, Smith said the idea is giving the student riders another opportunity to positively interact with their drivers. Smith explained that the students often only see the drivers as a disciplinarian, and many young students think the drivers never actually leave the bus.
“It’s fun, but most importantly, it inspires the kids,” Smith said. “[This idea] kind of personalizes the drivers a little bit and invites a nice friendly conversation about ‘Hey, you like Micky [Mouse].’ It makes the driver less intimidating, and the monitors as well, they wear the vests also. And a lot of the monitors have been hit with the fairy.”
Farias said the idea is spreading, and other surrounding districts have reached out to her about decorating their vests. She said she is hoping her idea spreads even farther, and expressed the hope that it could even be used as a safety campaign for the community.
“I want mine to say, ‘Red Means Stop,’” Smith added.