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Safety fair sets stage for school
Ariel Langen and Hailey Mallard practice riding a school bus during the SOAR Back to School Safety Fair on Saturday. - photo by Alyssa LaRenzie

For the first time, Venus Solomon’s children will be riding a bus to school this year.

Solomon had previously driven her rising first- and fifth-graders to Whitlow Elementary. Starting next week, however, they’ll be boarding the big yellow bus.

Thanks to the SOAR Back to School Safety Fair on Saturday, Justin and Katelyn Solomon got some practice on how to ride the bus.

The second annual Forsyth County Schools event at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center included lessons on bus riding, as well as information on public safety and local organizations.

Teaching safety precautions and setting up bus drills, such as an evacuation, helps children be less scared in case of an actual emergency, said Marjorie Walker, lead driver for Vickery Creek Middle School.

As she began lessons with a young rider on Saturday, Walker talked about transportation mascot Elvis the Safety Owl and his SOAR patrol, which stands for Safe Orderly and Respectful.

“The kids love Elvis,” she said. “It helps set their attention on the safety.”

Walker talked about Elvis soaring to the bus stops, and told the young students that they need to remember to SOAR too.

After a brief lesson, kids practiced some of the safety and etiquette rules about riding by walking through three stations, each with a bus parked and turned off.

Cathy Sykes, student trainer for the transportation department, said practicing on a quiet bus first prepares the kids for the “SOAR ride.”

“Then we add the sounds and the smells,” Sykes said, adding that the big, noisy bus can seem intimidating at first.

The SOAR ride took the children around the block to test what they had learned.

Driver Karen Boggs asked the students and adults to hold on to the handrail as they boarded, to raise their hands if they needed her attention and to talk only to the person sitting next to them.

She gave a little warning before hitting the brakes for the first time, as the bus lurched forward and the eyes of two rising kindergarteners widened.

Boggs used the opportunity to teach safety rules at the fair, so on the first day of school, the kids can concentrate on the new information they need to get home — their route number.

As she circled back around to the bus stop at the conference center, Boggs said she hoped to see the students again.

“I’m the first person you see in the school system every morning,” she said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”