The first week of school can feel hectic even when everything goes right in the transportation department. In cases of miscommunication or misunderstanding, the start of the school year can escalate from hectic to chaotic. Brainerd Public Schools, in Brainerd, Minnesota, had experienced a specific challenge during the start of school: clearly communicating to kindergartners which bus to board at the end of the school day.
Fran Jensvold, a bus router for Brainerd Public Schools, described the challenges: “I remember when we first started working in the office we had to make hand bracelets. We typed up all the kindergartners’ names [and bus information] and created bracelets for them, but even that didn’t help because we really didn’t have lists for drivers, or the information for them to know who the children were. We did try our best to give them a list of kindergartners but frequently children would get on the wrong bus. It’s very traumatic, for the children and for their parents.”
The district worked to find a solution because, as Jensvold stated, “Our accountability kept increasing, and still continues to increase through the years. Parents are asking for us to have more information for them and to allow them to know where their children are and that they are getting to school safely.” It was their responsibility to provide parents and districts with the assurance that their students were safe during their rides to and from school.
So the Brainerd Public Schools took steps to improve communication. They used their Versatrans software to create and print “bus cards” for each of their students. The bus cards, which are handed out at the beginning of the school year, tell each student which bus they will ride, and when and where they will be picked up and dropped off. Drivers are provided with updated lists of the same information. And the district also gave district front office staff the ability to view student bus stop data. If a student has a question, the front office does not have to call the transportation office to find the answer. They can access the information themselves, and even hand-write a new bus card if a replacement is needed.
Since implementing this program, the district has seen a huge improvement in communication with students, parents, drivers and staff. Jensvold felt that the bus cards have had a big impact: “The teacher knows, the parent knows, the bus driver, everyone knows exactly where that student is to be at any given time. This makes for a much safer ride for our children. And it really helps with the behaviors on the bus. Bus drivers know who their kids are—they get to know them much more quickly because they’re always checking those bus cards and looking at them—and I think they have much better communication with the parents because of it.”
Through improved communication, the students of Brainerd Public Schools are safer, more secure and won’t have any embarrassing stories to tell about how they never made it home after their first day of school.
Kala Henkensiefken is the Transportation Coordinator for Brainerd Public Schools.