“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see,” says the train conductor in the 2004 animated holiday movie “Polar Express.” One school bus driver took this meaning to heart by decorating her school bus so her student passengers can experience an actual train ride.
Beverly Ketchum started driving a school bus at Silsbee Independent School District, located about 25 miles north of Beaumont, Texas, in May 2016. She said she loves to drive and loves children, so when her husband was laid off, she said she would give driving a try. “And I have loved every minute of it,” Ketchum told School Transportation News.
Silsbee ISD was transporting students to in-person classes prior to the end of the semester last week and attempts to limit the capacity of the morning and afternoon routes due to social distancing. School buses are also sanitized following morning and afternoon trips.
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the district didn’t operate field trips and students have essentially been stuck in their classrooms without parties or fun days to look forward to.
Ketchum said she was looking to spice things up and because teachers added the “Polar Express” into their curriculum, she ran with the idea. She turned her school bus into the Polar Express for the pre-kindergarten through first-grade students and used the opportunity to teach school bus safety.
Teachers either dropped their students off at the school bus or stayed on board and enjoy the fun. Though, Ketchum said many teachers appreciated the downtime to work on projects back in the classroom.
Decorations consisted of seven strands of lights, 200 feet of garland, and streamers with green, red and silver ornaments. Ketchum said there were bows and stockings throughout the bus and black wrapping paper adorned with pictures of snowflakes was placed over the windows. A Polar Express quilt and Santa hung from the bus ceiling and snowmen covered the doors.
She purchased the book on CD and played it through the bus speakers to add a reading component. “I played the [Polar Express] CD through the radio system so I could pay extra attention to the students,” she said. “I have the bell that is the exact replica of the one in the book. After the book I let each child see the bell and see if it would ring for them.”
Following storytime, she reviewed school bus safety and bus rules. For instance, she taught the children where backpacks are stored on the bus and what is and is not allowed while the bus is moving. She drove the children around the parking lot while playing Christmas music to practice the bus rules.
The bus was decorated the day after Thanksgiving, and Ketchum said she is in no hurry to take down the decorations. She plans on leaving the lights hung on the bus until mid-January, at least.
“I can’t describe the oohs and aahs and the looks on their faces as they get on the bus and see all the lights and decorations,” Ketchum said. She said when walking the school halls, students tell her how awesome the experience and was. She has also heard from parents via Facebook on how their child loved it.
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Transportation Coordinator Sharon Smith said she has known Ketchum for about four years and has witnessed her go the extra mile for the students who ride her bus. “She is a dedicated driver who rarely misses work because she doesn’t want anyone else driving her babies,” Smith said.
She added that not only has Ketchum decorated for the Polar Express theme. She has transported her students around town to see the Christmas lights, and afterward, she served them hot chocolate and cookies at her own expense. For Halloween, Ketchum dressed up as one of the witches in the 1993 movie “Hocus Pocus,” and she provides the students with special treats when they exit the bus before holidays and to reward good behavior, Smith added.
In addition to being a driver, Smith said Ketchum also conducts the district’s driver training to ensure safe and caring drivers are out on the road.
“It is truly a blessing to have such a dedicated driver for our students,” Smith said. “Beverly inspires others to be more engaged, as this is more than a job, as most people in transportation know that it is a labor of love. Several other drivers in our district decorate the inside of their bus at Christmas and those that don’t do the inside, usually hang something festive on the grill of the buses for the students. It is a pleasure to be the supervisor of such a great group of drivers.”