RENO, Nev. — STN EXPO keynote Dr. Stephen Sroka discussed his concept of the power of one, through the support of many, its effect on school bus transportation operations and student-driver relationships.
Dr. Sroka, both an adjunct professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a nationally recognized health and physical education teacher, opened a general session in front of several hundred attendees at STN EXPO on July 9 that building positive relationships with others enhances any environment, especially that on the school bus.
He referenced the dynamic of school bus drivers being positive role models for students as the “power of one” and its inverse effect of students having “the power of many” in terms of the impact on school bus drivers.
Sroka underlined throughout his presentation that discrimination negates relationships. “Nothing else matters if you can’t relate with kids, teachers and staff,” Sroka said.
No one, especially students, should ever be discriminated based on skin color, gender or condition. A productive attitude that voids discrimination induces success, said Sroka. Positive relationships result in a greater appreciation of each other.
Sroka’s initial motivation to pursue a medical career came from being teased and disrespected at school based on his personal challenges. His third-grade teacher misspelled “retarded” on his report card in her description of his performance. He was eventually diagnosed as dyslexic with ADHD—all the while enduring bullying from his classmates. Later, Sroka’s high school counselor advised him that his IQ was too low for college.
But he noted during his keynote that his childhood made him who he is today: A survivor. Amid the continuous put-downs, Sroka used ridicule from others to drive his ambition to become a doctor, National Teacher of the Year and an international speaker. Then, two years ago, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack onstage during a school district in-service. Two policemen in the audience rushed to his aid and performed CPR, while the school principal administered a defibrillator.
Sroka’s life and death experience reformed his previous keynote address “The Power of One.” He learned that the factor of “one” no longer stood as an independent variable, but meant that power channeled through one person can influence the reciprocity from others (i.e. “the power of many).
School bus drivers, per Sroka, must never think of themselves before their children on their bus. He advised all drivers to remove any hierarchical mentality on board. Children are not just simply passengers obliged to their school bus driver; many students look to their school bus drivers for reassurance. Sroka explained that 90 percent of the time students on a school bus look to their school bus driver as their confidant, even if it is an unsaid sentiment.
“When you know student names, it makes them feel good,” Sroka noted. “It all starts with, ‘hi.’”
He also said school bus drivers are the unsung heroes for students. Sroka cited the real-life examples of Teresa Strobell, the South Carolina school bus driver who saved her students this past spring from a bus fire, as well as Charles Poland, murdered by a gunman in February 2013 after refusing to allow the man to take his students off the bus.
As social media and mobile devices continue to influence student behavior by disengaging them from their environments, Sroka encouraged school bus drivers to be vigilant observers of students while in their care.
Recalling a pivotal moment during a presentation he gave at a middle school, Sroka detailed a note a little girl handed him after his presentation: “You must be the voice for kids, like me, who do not have the strength to tell their problems,” she wrote.
He said pumped up egos, deflated souls, over-saturation of media, absent parents and school struggles are negative factors affecting today’s youth. Conversations with students are productive when a bus driver takes the time to interact and listen carefully. Sroka said. School bus drivers who practice honest acknowledgment and respect for their kids help foster problem-solving skills.