On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 3, school bus driver Janet O’Connell was driving her regular route with 40 students on board for Imagine Schools in West Melbourne, Florida, when she smelled smoke coming from under the hood. She immediately pulled the bus over and began evacuating the students, from kindergarten to grade 6.
Within 10 minutes, they watched as the bus was fully engulfed in flames. No students were hurt. A relieved mother said of O’Connell, “She really is a hero.”
Days later, on May 9, an unnamed school bus driver for Durham Public Schools in North Carolina took evasive action and swerved his school bus carrying 18 students into a ditch to avoid being stuck by bullets, when a gunfight broke out along his route. Again, no students were injured. The district superintendent called the driver “an absolute hero.” The mayor also praised the anonymous driver.
The very next day, parents hailed a school bus driver in Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia as a hero after she did some fancy driving to avoid gunfire being directed at her bus by a distraught woman. She yelled for her five kindergarten students on board to get down while she deftly navigated them out of harm’s way, continuing to drive to school where they would be safe. No students were injured during this incident either, although the bus driver, Patricia Rodriguez, suffered minor cuts on her hands and arms from shattered windows.
These three incidents bring into sharp focus how quickly a school bus driver’s training and presence of mind in dire circumstances can thrust them into the spotlight as a hero, often for a fleeting 15 minutes of fame.
The leadership of the American Student Transportation Partners wants to keep that spotlight shining on bus drivers, recognizing and appreciating them for the important service they perform every day caring for and contributing to the education of students, so everyone knows their names.
The HEROES Bus
On April 30, ASTP and Krise Transportation, Inc., launched their HEROES Bus Campaign as part of their new H.E.R.O.E.S. Broadcast Channel, or HBC. HEROES is an acronym for “Here. Every day. Ready. On time. Exceptional. Safe.”
AST Partners CEO David White said he sees the HEROES Bus as indicative of the company’s innovative approach to student transportation by breathing new life into an industry in danger of going stale from driver shortages, supply chain disruptions, and COVID-19. White noted it begins with valuing people and includes attracting drivers who want to be bus drivers and treating them in a way that makes them feel special.
“We want to really focus on recruitment, retention and engagement,” White began. “If we can convince people that being a school bus driver is a very important job and that it should be a mission; and if you’re going to be a driver, you want to come and work for one of our companies like Krise Transportation because you’re going to be trained properly, supervised properly and treated like the real hero that you are. And then we’ll get more engagement. If we do all of that, I think the sky is the limit.”
The Hero Bus is the centerpiece of ASTP’s alternative approach to student transportation that seeks to solve issues by adding the flexibility of matching a variety of vehicles and drivers with the various transportation situations faced by school districts for efficiency and to save money.
Read more about American Student Transportation Partners in the June edition of School Transportation News magazine.
AST Partners Communications Manager Audrey Fish is taking the bus on a month-long tour to their facilities around the state so current and prospective employees and students can get a taste of what’s to come.
“The bus travels to our terminals throughout Pennsylvania,” Fish said, adding that the Heroes Bus has an office and a studio inside where the company records video podcasts with drivers, terminal management, safety directors, school transportation managers, etc. The content is used for recruitment efforts and on the company’s Heroes Broadcast Channel, an internal communication channel.
“Recognizing our unsung heroes supports our business initiative platform for driver recruitment, retention, and engagement,” she continued, echoing White’s comments. “We also bring the Heroes Bus to local events in the communities we serve, including fairs, parades, etc.”
Fish explained the Heroes Broadcast Channel is what the company refers to as its in-terminal digital communication channel. She said the monitors broadcast the content that is gathered in the bus, such as company updates, and weather and traffic at each specific location. “Think of it as our video newsletter. We are building the ‘Heroes brand’ with social media targeted to our drivers and recruitment efforts.”
Fish said overall the bus was a hit with everyone. “The longest line was of kids waiting for the crafts and touring the bus,” she said. “One kid called it a rockstar bus. We have crafts and also recruit the local parents and grandparents who also attend the events.”
Fish said the calendar for the rest of 2022 includes a number of scheduled video podcasts and local appearances, adding the next few months are booked.
Fish noted the responses from bus drivers in Upper Perkiomen, Pennsylvania, who was interviewing for a future video podcast. “The drivers we interviewed love the bus,” she said. “They were the first to say their fellow workers are true heroes. It’s just great having a platform that recognizes our unsung heroes.”
White agreed referring to the Hero Bus as a tool that when added to recruiting the right people to deliver service, could solve the bus driver shortage and whatever else ails student transportation. He said success comes from recruitment, retention and engagement.
“If you have the right people to recruit and retain more of our driver force in the company and they do it because it’s what they want to do as opposed to it just being a job, then I think we win,” White surmised. “The only way to do that is through service and doing things like our Hero Bus.”
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