Buster brings fun to serious subject: school bus safety
by Rick Wagner, Kingsport Times-News, 8/30/2009
INDIAN SPRINGS — A gym full of kindergarten through third-grade students learned about bus safety one recent afternoon straight from the source: Buster the Talking School Bus.
And as a reward for learning things like the 10-foot “danger zone” around a bus, the cheering students at Indian Springs Elementary School got to see their teachers dance with the animated bus and get a light spray of water from a hose hidden between his headlight eyes, under the guise of getting their group photograph taken.
For the record, the faculty danced the “Twist,” “Hokey Pokey,” “Bunny Hop,” “Chicken Dance” and “YMCA.”
The school was among six in the Sullivan County system that hosted Buster’s inaugural visit to Northeast Tennessee.
“I saw it at the state transportation conference in June,” said Evelyn Rafalowski, supervisor of transportation and technology for Sullivan County Schools.
All K-3 students receive instruction on bus safety the first few weeks of school, but Rafalowski said Buster — an animated bus controlled by and with the electronically altered voice of “sidekick” Bryan Nash — lets students have some fun while they get visual and verbal reinforcements of bus safety rules.
About 53 percent of all K-12 students ride yellow school buses, and the federal government considers them about nine times safer than other passenger vehicles.
However, from 1989 to 1999, national statistics showed an average of 10 passengers were killed each year in school bus crashes, and three times as many pedestrians were killed getting on or off buses, either struck by the bus or another vehicle. Of those fatalities, Nash said, more than half were children between 5 and 7.
Based on the interest of principals, Rafalowski set up the program to go to Emmett and Valley Pike elementary schools Wednesday, Blountville and Indian Spring elementary schools Thursday, and Holston and Miller Perry elementary schools Friday.
Rafalowski said the program, viewed by Director of Schools Jack Barnes for the first time at Indian Springs, likely will be continued and possibly expanded next year.
Nash, who has 30 years of experience in pupil transportation, has worked as a safety inspector for the state of Alabama and was director of transportation for the Tuscaloosa County School System.
He said his company, Warrior, Ala.-based Crossgate Services, was formed to provide some retirement income and fulfill his dream of teaching bus safety in a fun and effective way.
So far, he has given presentation in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, and has interest from Louisiana.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun today,” Nash told the group, emphasizing that bus safety is something important for all students since even car riders likely will ride a bus to field trips or on other school-related activities throughout their secondary school careers.
First-grade teacher Rebecca Jessee was Buster’s main helper Thursday, although near the end of the presentation physical education teacher Brian Winchell was the faculty group spokesman who successfully explained what the danger zone was — the 10-foot area surrounding the bus where a driver can’t see people and which is the most dangerous area around a bus.
Among the rules emphasized by Buster and Nash were:
• Never put your hands or head out of the bus windows.
“You could get hurt real bad that way,” Buster said.
• Arrive at the bus stop five minutes early, which means students should lay out their clothes and things they’re taking to school the night before they go.
• Be aware of the danger zone.
“It’s called the danger zone because the bus driver can’t see us,” Nash said.
• Cross 10 feet in front of the bus, never in the back.
In addition, Nash used some bus seats in a mockup of a bus aisle to have two students show the right and wrong ways to sit in a bus seat.
The right way is sitting down face forward, back in the seat, and not standing up, sitting sideways or facing backward, all of which can result in injuries or “kissing the windshield” in the event of a sudden stop.
Other rules include not bringing pets to the bus stop, looking both ways before crossing a road to get on a bus, and not stopping to pick up a dropped pencil, notebook, backpack or jacket. Nash said bus riders should continue on to the bus and tell the driver about the dropped items.
Nash said any strangers at bus stops should be reported to bus drivers, teachers or principals, and students should go straight to the stops and not play or stop along the way.
In addition, Nash told students not to act up, yell or talk loudly on the bus. He said those activities, as well as not sitting properly, take the driver’s attention away from the road.
Nash also urged students not to damage or abuse buses, which generally cost $80,000 or more each. Contractors own and operate 115 buses in the nearly 12,000-student county school system, not counting special education buses the county owns and operates.