HomeDriversIndiana School Bus Drivers Read to Students During COVID-19 School Closures

Indiana School Bus Drivers Read to Students During COVID-19 School Closures

An Indiana school district has gotten creative in finding ways to continue to foster the relationship between school bus drivers and student riders.

While many school bus drivers nationwide are delivering meals to students, West Clark Community Schools Superintendent Clemen Perez-Lloyd took a different approach last month to keep staff employed. The district located across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, implemented an online school bus driver and aide reading program during the first week of April.

Editor’s Note: The district is still providing meals to students twice a week, but parents must come to the school to pick them up.

Director of Transportation Karie Kahafer said once she obtained the list of students for the one-on-one reading program from the school principals, she attempted to pair them with the drivers or aides that are a part of their normal daily route, in an effort to foster existing relationships.

Kahafer said that while the method of assigning students was her first priority, it wasn’t possible in every circumstance, such as when students are twins and want to read together, or if a younger sibling wants to participate in the virtual meeting.

She said about 10 to 15 students are therefore forming new bonds with transportation employees.

Kahafer explained that she has about 50 staff members participating in the program, and the reading lessons are based on each parent’s schedule. The parents choose the number of days a week and the time of the lessons, which usually last about 20 minutes. She said some drivers could be reading as often as five days a week, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“This is how the drivers are doing their work for the district, this is what they have converted to doing,” Kahafer explained. “Whatever [salary] they were making before [the pandemic], they are currently making. They basically got an option, to do the reading program, or they were able to take their personal time off days. We asked them what they wanted to do.”

Jane Sierota and student Landon participating in the online reading program. Photo courtesy of Karie Kahafer.

Jane Sierota, a five-year veteran school bus driver for the district, said the reading program is the highlight of her day. She used to call her student five days a week, but it became too much for the family, so the schedule changed to three days a week.

“My particular student rode my bus, so we already had a relationship built, which made it nice. And he knows me, I know him. He trusts me,” Sierota explained. “Even though I am not talking to all my kids, to be able to stay in contact with some of them helps a lot. Because you do miss them, you form a bond with them, they kind of become your kids.”

She added that she believes the program also helps the students. She said the child she is reading to is excited every time she calls.

“I think it gives them a little bit of normalcy, that they have been — their whole life has been disrupted and he’s used to seeing me every day, so I do think it’s helped [having this program,]” Sierota said.

Related: Coronavirus Pandemic Alters Missions, Routines for Student Transportation Professionals
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Kahafer said on the days that the school bus drivers are not reading to the students, they are prepping for the next day’s lesson and getting the new material ready for the students to read.

A text message from a parent whose student is a part of the reading program at West Clark Community Schools. Image courtesy of Karie Kahafer.

Sierota noted that sometimes she reads to the student or the student reads to her. But the online program doesn’t just entail reading. She said they play charades, “Simon Says,” or even impart on a virtual scavenger hunt. She said she recently sent him one piece of a stop sign image, for the student to figure out what the entire image is.

While the district remains unsure of an exact start date for the 2020-2021 school year, officials said they anticipate it will be around the original scheduled date of July 29. Kahafer said the parents have really loved the reading program and the school bus drivers have molded to their new roles perfectly.

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