Every day, thousands of Forsyth County children ride a bus to school, but it’s not often they get to jump out of the emergency exit at the back.
Yet that’s exactly what students at five elementary schools got to do this week during the local school system’s second annual bus safety tour.
“This is step by step where they actually walk through what they’re supposed to do,” said Garry Puetz, the district’s transportation director. “We can’t always protect them ... they need to know what to do to protect themselves and that’s what this is all about.”
Over the next few weeks, the tour will visit all 20 elementary schools in the system. Students from every grade will learn about transportation safety, beginning with how to walk from the stop onto the bus, and how to carefully disembark.
“The state tells us loading and unloading is the most dangerous and vulnerable time for a student,” said Catherine Sykes, transportation department student trainer.
Tuesday at Haw Creek Elementary, students looked left, right and left again before crossing to their bus. They also learned how to exit the bus in case of emergency.
While the ultimate goal is to never need the emergency plan, driver Peggy Payne said it’s crucial to have one.
“If we get them in kindergarten, by the time they get to middle school, they’re set,” she said. “They remember a lot more than you think.”
Wednesday at Whitlow Elementary, some students were not paying attention, were goofing off, or had trouble understanding where to stop and wait for oncoming traffic.
As a result, drivers took them through the rotation again, one by one to make sure they understood the process.
For the bus drivers, this dedication is a personal commitment, but also part of learning, especially for the younger students.
“Just like kindergarten teachers have to repeat what they expect them to learn, we have to repeat this as well,” Puetz said.
That’s why the tour reaches out to all students every year, even for students who don’t regularly ride a bus to school.
“Almost 100 percent of our kids will get on a bus at some time during their careers in Forsyth County Schools. And they all need to know the basic fundamentals of helping us protect them,” Puetz said.
It’s also a learning experience for the drivers, who are required to participate in the events for each school they drive for. The drivers are part of a rotation, manning each station until the students master the skill.
“We saturate them with information,” Sykes said. “They know these procedures. They conduct these procedures every day and they teach them on their bus.
“But interacting with students ... you really learn whatever it is that you’re teaching because you’re teaching it.”
School Superintendent Buster Evans said the system transports more than 25,000 students each year.
“Making sure that runs smoothly and that people have confidence about it and feel their children are safe is really important to us,” he said.
“The No. 1 thing parents tell us they want is kids being safe at school. It’s within the culture that we want our children to be safe and that includes coming from the home to school and from school back home.”
Evans said he’s grateful the transportation department holds the safety tour, calling their efforts “above and beyond.”