For most school principals, buses are an area of concern.
Once children are on the bus, explains High School Principal Scott Jeffrey, they are outside the supervision of teachers and administrators, making discipline harder to enforce at times.
“Sometimes, it can be hard to manage all the kids (on the bus),” he admitted. “Sometimes it’s harder to deal with the ramifications of misbehavior.”
That’s why Jeffrey is so proud of a school initiative implemented this past year. Called #NotonMyBus, the idea is to promote a positive atmosphere on each of Highland’s 14 school buses traveling to and from school throughout the year, with prizes awarded to the buses that record the highest levels satisfaction.
The program works like this: Drivers grade students’ performance on a scale, registering their respectfulness, kindness towards each other and the driver, and adherence to safety rules. At the end of the month, school administrators take a look at the scores and award a star to the bus rated the best.
In addition, pictures of the students who ride on the winning bus are featured in the school’s display case, along with recognition of their bus as a whole.
“It’s a simple thing. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Has it made everything perfect? No. But in general, the overall mood of the kids is doing better,” Jeffrey commented.
The initiative was the brainchild of fourth grade students who brought the idea to Jeffrey in 2018. Though he admits to have considered different ways to address the climate on school buses “for years,” Jeffrey hadn’t come up with a concrete proposal until the group of girls, all members of the same Girl Scout troop, approached him with #NotonMyBus.
“I invited the girls to come in (to the office), we talked about it, and then we implemented it at the beginning of this (school) year,” explained Jeffrey. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of those girls.”
At the beginning of each year, faculty and staff gather students together to take a “kindness pledge,” where the youngsters agree to respect other students and their bus drivers throughout the year, as well as to speak up if they witness a classmate being mistreated. This past year, when the pledge was taken, the students were given a tag with the #NotonMyBus logo on the front, to wear on their bus.
“The kids have really bought in,” said Jeffrey. “That’s what has been so great about (the initiative).”
The bus-specific program fits well with the school’s overall focus on creating a positive, uplifting environment at Highland, Jeffrey explained. Faculty make it a point to promote respect amongst the student body and school leaders “really push the idea of demonstrating kindness throughout the course of the (school) day.”
“If we can help (the students) make the right choices in the moments when no one is watching, if we can
steer them in the right direction, then that’s what we want to do,” he continued. “Keeping (the program) simple is so important.”
The feedback over the course of the year was positive, from both students and bus drivers. Jeffrey stated that several drivers commented on how appreciative they were of #NotonMyBus, with one even writing a letter to express his gratitude.
The issue of school climate came to a head this past year, especially after the suicide of an 11-year-old Doolittle School student, Anjelita Estrada, in December of 2018. In March, a special forum was held by the Board of Education and numerous members of the public recounted stories of bullying within the District.
Jeffrey admitted that the death of Estrada hit the entire District hard, and that everyone in the school community was affected. However, he insisted that “all of our schools are working really hard on the issues of kindness and inclusion.”
“It is something that we have been doing and that other schools and other administrators have been doing,” said Jeffrey. “It is a part of our culture.”
As for #NotonMyBus, Jeffrey stated that the program’s effectiveness was reviewed at the end of the school year to determine what had worked and what could be done better going forward.
“I’m glad it’s been a success,” said Jeffrey, “and that everyone has really helped to make it (one).”