Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Years 13 to 22: The Reid Years: Transportation; the Good and the Not so Good

My bus driving friend, Jerri!
Happy New Year to all of you! Today I'm going to talk about my years at Reid as they relate to the Cheney School District transportation system. I'm going to tell you the "good" and the "not so good" about my experiences with this system. First, the "good".

Field trip to Kay's farm.
The best part of the transportation system is my friend Jerri. She is a long time bus driver for Cheney and when she is not driving bus, she is a wheat farmer and rancher. She has the most impressive driving skills of anyone I've ever known or probably ever will  know! She can actually park a combine in her barn! Whenever we went on a field trip, we requested Jerri. One time we wanted to do a field trip of nearby farms. Kay, my instructional assistant, was also a rancher and had some cattle on her farm. Between Jerri and Kay, they knew nearby farmers who had goats, sheep, horses, cows and pigs. This was going to be fun! Jerri drove the bus and we sang songs including her favorite, Mr. Sun! Now at one point, we had to go over a small drainage ditch to get to the pasture where the cattle were. Over the ditch were two planks of wood. I would not have the nerve to drive over these planks with a bicycle, but Jerri sized them up and said, "No problem. We can get over those with the bus!" Yikes! I crossed my fingers and like the expert she is, she drove straight across those blanks with her big yellow bus! Amazing! The other impressive thing that Jerri does every year is what she calls the "one great day of sharing," or something like that. Here's how it works. During the school year, she collects things from friends and relatives. Anything really; knick knacks, toys, clothing, household items, etc. The students on her bus know that she is collecting things to give away. In a sense, Jerri has set up a token reinforcement system for her riders. Their good behavior ensures that they will get to have a chance at what she has collected. Genius! Jerri is such a great person and she takes the time to develop and keep rapport with the students she buses. There are not many like her!

And now the "not so good". What some of you might not know is that the Cheney School District has the largest busing area in the state. I'm including a map to show how extensive the district's boundaries are, but the real reason I'm mentioning it is because of how it affected programming and busing for my preschool students.

The extensive size of the district meant that all students, preschool through high school, were bused together. It also meant that preschool and kindergarten sessions were split into two full days and one half. So you would have a M/W session for 6.5 hours, a T/TH session for 6.5 hours, and Friday would be split between the two. Later, preschool would not come on Fridays at all, leaving us time to do assessments for new children qualifying for the program. This was a big shock for me having only taught in half day sessions before, and having each session daily for the entire week. What I noticed right away was that children with behavior problems did not make much progress in changing their patterns of behavior. Think about this: you come on Tuesday and Thursday, then you are off Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Old patterns of behavior are very hard to change on a schedule like that. And then there was the all day part. Newly qualified three year olds would fall asleep at lunch, and sometimes sleep for the entire afternoon. So the youngest session really only had a two half day program. I fought this for ten years, but never saw it change. But that wasn't the part that bothered me the most.

The other part that really bothered me was that all of the children were bused together on one bus. Worst of all, when I asked if the preschool children could at least sit in the front of the buses, near the drivers, I was told that it would be against their "personal rights" to dictate where they should sit. Now I don't know about you, but I believe that young children with disabilities probably need someone to look after their "personal rights"! But again, I didn't win that battle. So here is a something that happened my second year.

It was November and time for conferences. This meant shorter days. It was a very cold and snowy November that fall of 1990. At the end of one day, I received a call from a very worried parent. Her little boy had not yet returned home. I said, "But he didn't come to school today." The worried  mom replied, "Yes he did. We put him on the bus this morning. And today is his birthday. Where is he?"  Now I too was worried. I said, "Don't worry. I'll look into this and call you back." I called transportation. I said, "I have a little boy who didn't come to school today, but his mom says she put him on the bus. Could he still be on the bus?" The head of transportation assured me that all of the drivers check their buses before departing them. Therefore, the child could not be on the bus. I insisted that he go and look. He wasn't happy, but did it. What he found was a cold and frightened crying child, banging on the doors of the bus. He had been there for four hours! This little boy lived at one of the edges of the district, near Liberty. He had been sitting in the back of the bus and had fallen asleep. A quick glance around the bus didn't alert the driver to his presence.

I was livid! The parents came and picked him up and I encouraged them to go and talk to the superintendent. They called him and told him what happened. The superintendent blew them off and told them things like that happen sometimes. He was sorry, but that was all. I couldn't believe this! In retrospect, I am thinking someone should have called the newspapers or television stations, but that did not happen. Instead, the parents pulled their child out of our preschool and enrolled him in one in Liberty. They didn't want to take a chance on something like this happening again.

Several years later, I had a family move into the district with a little boy who qualified for preschool. He was a cute little guy, full of smiles and extremely chubby! Mom and dad came for the IEP and during the course of the meeting, the mom used foul language and seemed to have some tics she couldn't control. She told me later that she had Tourettes, a syndrome that can manifest itself with both abusive language and tics. At the time of the IEP, I asked the family if they would be interested in having the child bused to school. They told me they only lived a few blocks away and that they would be happy to walk him to school.  I told them that if they changed their minds to let me know, and I would give them the number to call to set up transportation.

About three weeks into the child's coming to preschool, mom called and said they would like to have a bus transport him. I said that would not be a problem and told her to call transportation and get it set up. I told her that she could give them the pertinent information and they could tell her when the bus would pick up, drop off, etc. So she gave them a call. . .

Well you might guess how that went! The mom, being nervous like she was during the IEP meeting, let a barrage of colorful language loose on the head of transportation! He was shocked and angry and called my principal to complain, claiming I had done this on purpose! Yeah, right. I explained to the principal (and later to the assistant superintendent), that this mother had a disability and could not help or control the language. This did not seem to matter to the man in charge of transportation. I thought to myself, seriously? You can get all worked up over something this minor, but a four year old child with disabilities being left on a bus for four hours in extremely cold weather isn't a problem? Somehow I thought it was poetic justice.