Thursday, January 30, 2014

APS Transportation Supervisors are Heros!

Disclaimers:  First,  I love story format, so the names used are not actually the drivers names in order to protect their identity. With that in mind and without taking away the true heart of the driver, I may even change up a few details.  Second, There are hundreds of bus drivers that work for Atlanta Public Schools, so the stories I share are the ones that I personally witnessed or heard, but I am certain that there are many more stories to be told of drivers bravery and commitment to get these children home safe. 

Our Supervisors are Heros!

A snowstorm hit Atlanta harder than expected this past Tuesday and I could give you countless stories and adventures that we bus drivers undertook to get students home, but at the end of the day, students, teachers, and bus drivers were stranded.  Personally, I made it home that night around 2am because of back roads and my amazing 4x4 Toyota pickup whom I call "Yota." In other words, I got a little bit of rest.  When I woke up Wednesday morning I discovered from a friend that there were still students stranded at schools within the city, so I called my Supervisor Ms. Lapinski.   "Ms. Lapinski, do ya'll need any help," I asked.  She responded, "Yes, but call the other supervisor Ms. Crosby for details because I am on my way to pick up students."  It had been over 24 hours since the storm hit and APS hero, Ms. Lapinski was still at it! 

The phone conversation with Ms. Crosby was one of those weird 5 seconds or less calls. "Ms. Crosby, do ya'll need any help?"   She sweetly said what she had to say, "Jeramy, if you are close by, we would sure appreciate you to come in."  *CLICK*   I was like, "Did she just sweetly hang up on me?"  How can I get mad at that!  Ms. Crosby is a hero for her tact, because I am not going to lie to anyone, but I can be a bit difficult, but she has this gifting to connect with drivers and work with them when they and I can be a bit overbearing. 
When I arrived at work, I learned from Ms. Crosby that none of the supervisors had gone home as well as many school bus drivers and their children were stranded on the job.  The amazing thing about my supervisors that they were in good spirits, stayed cool, able to find laughter and solace even in the midst of the unfortunate circumstances that were placed in their laps.  

One of these comforting moments was when I walked into the office of Ms. Madison to ask her about stranded buses.  At one point in our conversation, I was not sure of what she said, but I remember her laughing at herself or a radio transmission and the laughter trickled down to myself and another driver.  You see, I understand that stranded students, teachers, drivers are serious matters, but we can never let circumstances dictate our joy or allow chaos to prevent us to share in the beautiful moments of teamwork and community.  In the midst of it all Ms. Madison testimony of being a cancer survivor of the worse kind and stamina of many years of wisdom and experience set in perspective that circumstantial elements of a snowstorm will be an event of the past, which we will learn from hopefully, and share many stories of tenacity, love, laughter, and commitment with a family of bus drivers. The reality that there are deeper and darker elements like cancer that threaten to snuff out the life of a person. A little snow, ice and being stranded is only an opportunity to share how God brought us through and we can smile with victory that "WE MADE IT!" 

Now, I am certain that there are other supervisors who are cancer survivors as well, I am not certain of which ones, but I do know that all of them showed us that if "chemo" or "radiation" will not slow us down, surely snowstorm of 2014 will not cripple their abilities to do the impossible, which they did gracefully!  

These supervisor stayed till every student was home and one supervisor, Ms. Lapinski waited till every bus drivers had returned safely to base (40 hours straight on the job).   How do I know that she waited? Because I was the last one to return that evening!  Props and more props. 

Lastly, I want to thank our directors for getting out there and recovering stranded bus drivers.  You are appreciated as well. 

Sgt. Thomas: Better Man & Bus Driver than I

Sgt. Thomas is a Vietnam War Vet and a good friend of mine at APS Transportation.  From my perspective of things, Sergeant has a very strong and gruff personality.  Now, there's no doubt that he is prior service and he tends to shoot things straight with no sugar-coating.  He can come off as not friendly, which is far from the truth, because he speaks to anyone in passing.  If I was a small child, I would find him tall and intimidating that ate little children for supper.  He loves to use this perspective to maintain control on the bus, because at the end of the day, it's the job of the driver to get a child home safely and not be their friend.

Anyways, Sgt. Thomas had the unlucky mishap of getting his bus stuck on ice in the snowstorm, so I was nearby and picked him and his students up. Yes, he came on the bus towering over kids and I.  He commanded the children to sit down before we departed.  It was silent on the bus! I am not sure if it was due to the fact that Sgt. Thomas presence domineering or the simple reality that the kids were freezing.  Either way, it was quiet ride.

Well, I had my students on the bus along with Sgt. Thomas's students and prior to the merger, my kids were getting on my nerves!  Kids were arguing, telling me to go down roads, which I came close to getting stuck on,  one child refused to sit down, and, I (in spirit-only) was ready tell all the kids to get off and walk home!

We arrived at this one stop with a hill that I did not want to risk going up and I told Sergeant, "I am not going down that rode, your kid going to have to walk."   I was thinking that the Vietnam Vet who probably slept months in the jungle with rain and snow would've said something like "tough love,  a little bit of snow would "man-him-up" a bit."  No, he chose to walk the young lad to his house in a quarter mile of snow and ice.  As he walked away with the child the whole militaristic persona left me and I saw the image of a father walking his son home from school.  Even the toughest of heart have compassion despite what others may believe.

Sergeant would once again step up to the plate and walk another child home, who I did not like because the student gave me "lip & attitude" and the student lived up a mountain and deserved to walk it in my opinion, but Sgt. Thomas would not have it and walked the child home to make sure the student arrived home safely.  Yes,  he is a better man than I, but yet this is the family I work with and I am glad to call them home away from away.

Disclaimers:  First,  I love story format, so the names used are not actually the drivers names in order to protect their identity. With that in mind and without taking away the true heart of the driver, I may even change up a few details.  Second, There are hundreds of bus drivers that work for Atlanta Public Schools, so the stories I share are the ones that I personally witnessed or heard, but I am certain that there are many more stories to be told of drivers bravery and commitment to get these children home safe. 

Bus Drivers in the SNOW my Family!

Disclaimers:  First,  I love story format, so the names used are not actually the drivers names in order to protect their identity. With that in mind and without taking away the true heart of the driver, I may even change up a few details.  Second, There are hundreds of bus drivers that work for Atlanta Public Schools, so the stories I share are the ones that I personally witnessed or heard, but I am certain that there are many more stories to be told of drivers bravery and commitment to get these children home safe. 

Mr. K

I will tell stories about my Atlanta Public School Family, APS Bus Drivers! I love them greatly! I start with Mr. K who got an early jump on getting kids home safely yesterday in the snow storm. Not only did he get my elementary, then my middle/high school route (because I was stuck in traffic), he also managed to pick up two more routes of other bus drivers. You would think that when you have completed about 6 routes in ice & snow, you earned the right to go home, right? No, Mr. K did not, he continued to rescue stranded bus drivers and students until he himself had gotten stuck in the ice. Mr. K with a kind humble spirit did not complain, he got out the bus and hiked to the nearest APS driver that could rescue him. What do I love about this man, he is a cancer survivor of one of the worse kind. Never once did he complain, but rather "Supervisor" do you want me to go to "such or such" school and pick up the kids! Yes, my family are survivors, and snow may slow us down, but it will not stop us from trying! Love you, Bus Drivers!

"Momma Gee"

"Momma Gee" is around the age of my mother. She has a big welcoming boisterous personality, you for sure know "Momma Gee" in the room. In addition, she is very giving, there's been several times that she has fed me and others, and I love her for that. (Yes, all my bus driving family knows that food is the way to my heart). Now, "Momma Gee" knees are not too great and she have difficulties at times getting around, but BOY this woman makes up for it on a bus. You see, "Momma Gee" sure can push a bus and stretch it to the limits. She proved these abilities on yesterday with about half-tank fuel and managed to pick a large amount of stranded students & drivers before finally having to retire for the night due low fuel. When other bus drivers tried to make it to stranded buses and did not, she made it! I imagine if she had a full-tank, every kid in Atlanta might had been home by 230am, if it was up to the giving heart of "Momma Gee."

Amazing Technicians

It's 3am in the morning and I have just gotten back from work. I am tired but happy because I am learning a valuable lesson about people. I've learned that when one works hand & hand with another person for a common cause or goal, a person starts to realize how truly human we are and if we only can get past our critical nature, then we'll start to see the beauty in everyone. 

With that said, I get to witness the value of our counterparts to driving school bus, the mechanics! Mike, Thornton, & Jermaine and a few others are mechanics for Atlanta Public School Transportation. Today, I had the opportunity to work alongside these men as they work hard to get APS school bus unstuck out of the ice, jump off buses whose batteries were dead, fix mechanical failures, and accomplish all this in 16 degree weather at night with jokes and laughter! (One of the mechanics did not even have heat in his work truck) Thank God the schools are closed another day because we have several more buses to acquire, but with these determined mechanics, we will be ready come Friday morning! Thank you APS mechanics for working overtime to help drivers recover their buses and getting ready for school on Friday!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Student: May I hide the Fact that I am Brilliant?

Truthfully,  I do not know what happened to Dexter.  One thing that I have learned about being a school bus driver in low income, impoverished communities is that students come and go. Dexter was a unique student that stood out amongst his peers. He is a brilliant young man with unlimited potential.  Not only is he a smart kid, he is also well mannered and well dressed.  There is no doubt that Dexter is going somewhere in life.  In fact, I believe that he aspires to become a lawyer or politician, because every time I saw him he carried his leather filing folder for debate team.  I had an opportunity to speak with him about the debate team and one can easily see that he is passionate about social issues and coming up with solutions.  I was impressed with Dexter and I knew that this Title I school had a precious jewel on its hands.

Backdrop:  My bus route is located in a low-income, high crime area of the city.  Many of the young men and women have little hope or aspiration of escaping their circumstances.  The defeated/conceding mindset follows the students on the bus and into the schools.  Students have learned that there is more value in their street status than education.  There are a limited amount of promising students such as Dexter.

Now, the other boys on the bus within this community looked favorably upon Dexter.  They know that he is going somewhere in life, so they never bullied the kid, but rather they edified him in a destructive way that would "sucker punch" a kid who's trying to do well in school.  You see the boys knew that he was brilliant and did well in academics,  so they called him "The Brain," "Einstein," or   "Teacher's Beloved." The kid was highly praised by the teachers, so you would hear students say "Don't mess with that one, the Principal will "bring down the bows," if you do."  In addition, they became like leeches, because they knew that he was a good resource to help them out on their classwork or homework.   Everyday, the boys that skip class would ask him for homework assignments and if they could copy his work.

As a bus driver from the outside looking in, I would have thought that Dexter was a school celebrity, because he had everything going for him!  He was smart as well as the teachers and students adored him.  Well, one day as I was doing my "bus check," I found a small girl's pink-flowered book bag. When I discovered the bag I was like, "Ah, of my children left their bag and now I have to go back and return it to the primary school," so I looked in the bag to see if I could find a name of whom the bag belonged to.  What I found instead was Dexter's leather filing case for debate team. I was rather perplex to why a boy would want to carry a girls pink bookbag to school?

Disclaimer: I have been medically diagnosed with pink-o-phobia, so therefore you could not pay me $200 to carry a pink bookbag back to an all male middle and high school, and the school have cameras too!  Oh, no, my "MAN pride" was not about to get busted that Dexter would have to retrieve his bag himself that afternoon.

I was still perplexed about the pink bookbag, when I remembered a youtube video of Bill Cosby talking about education.  Bill Cosby referenced a conversation that he had with a young boy (also from a poor community) not doing his homework.  The kid told him he did not want to do his homework, because the other kids told him that he was trying "To be White."  Of course, Bill Cosby went on a rant on the jeopardy of this upcoming generation  who identifies a good education as a course for "white people" and other races who want to be like "white people."  Cosby pointed out that education is for everyone and if we escape our circumstances, then we can't place racial colors on education.

It dawned on me that Dexter was hiding the fact that he was brilliant by placing his debate brief in a child's bag.  Being identified as "The Brain" was taking it toll on him.  My opinion is that Dexter wanted to be a normal student with a normal life. He no longer saw his identification as "The Brain" as a place of entitlement, but rather a place of ridicule and unwanted privilege. I have learned that there are people who desire to be treated normal though they are special.  He felt that as long as he carry this lawyer's brief, he would not be able to escape the glorified special treatment, so he hid his brilliance in a childish place, a book bag. I can honestly say that being brilliant in a Title I community can be just as terrorizing as a student being bullied.  I have discovered that hateful students can "turn their nose up" toward those who exhibits great promise in academia.  Though they may label them as "nerds" or "teacher's pets" in a positive light, there is an underlying attitude of spite projected towards these high achieving students due the defeated mindset deep within the attitude of these communities.  

I have chosen to share this story with the Atlanta Public Schools’ community because this defeated mindset within our students needs to be combatted. There needs to be saturated prayer for our students that they begin to believe in themselves and that they can either escape the poverty mindset or bring prosperity to the minds and hearts of their community.  If your child is a promising high performing academic student, then  tell the young man or young woman to hold his or her head up high.  It is important for one to keep shining his or her light, be strong, and encourage others that liberty begins with a new mindset. Lastly, Parents communicate with your child!  Find out if your child is being ridicule or placed under a lot of social pressure for being smart.  

Shortly after discovering the school bag, Dexter no longer rode my bus.  I am not sure if he changed bus routes, changed schools, or lost sight of his goals.  It is my hope that he received an opportunity to attend a high achieving charter school. In such a school, he would be able to escape the Title I “celebrity” status of being brilliant by being in a safe place where he can be  a normal student with high academic success.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

....What Student discpline Should look Like....

...update...I had the opportunity to sit down with the administration of two schools in which I am concerned about bullying and student behavior on the school bus.  The meeting was mediated by a administrator who I admire greatly as well as her assistant administrator. The two have done wonders in turning the school's behavior around. I only wish that I could mention their names.  I am taking this opportunity to share what Pro-Active Administrative Support should look like in Atlanta Public Schools....

Ms. Soughters is a all smiles but "no play" kind of administrator.  She loves her kids, but quick to correct their actions.  She get parents involved in their child's lives and truth be told she is a fun administrator to work with day to day.  A person cannot help but appreciate Ms. Soughters because she is supportive of school bus drivers and deal with student misconduct "right there on the spot" before the child gets more than three feet off the bus.  Not that I love seeing little babies cry when they get into trouble, but it's a beautiful to see when an administrator put the fear of God in a child when he or she tells them that "you're coming with me to call your momma." Proverbs 22:5 states "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him."  Of course,  Ms. Soughters does not engage in any kind of corporate punishment, but she effectively use parent intervention, time-outs, silent lunch, suspension in away that drives folly far away from the hearts of children. In fact, I have only had to "write-up" two students this year, compared to the twenty-something at another school.  The "on-the-spot" discipline is very effective and beneficial to school bus drivers.  

In addition to the "on-the-spot" discipline, Ms. Soughters is a proactive administrator, who is not afraid to ride a school bus.  I remember the time that APS Transportation had combined two schools on my bus route and the students from the other school were bothering her babies, so she rode my bus! (Very rare from an Administrator) She got all the students to sit down, but one.  When the child who wouldn't sit down exited the bus to go home, I pointed out to Ms. Soughters that the child engaged in this deviant behavior every morning and afternoon and get all the other children stirred up.  "Oh, really," she said. "I believe that I need to talk to this child's momma."  "Hey, kid get back here!"   The child turns and with a few choice words the kid expressed to her "get some where."    I am certain that being cussed out by a child did not sit well with Ms. Soughters, because her next response was to ask me for my phone number, which I gave her. Then she did something that I haven't ever seen an administrator do before or since, she RAN after the child!  "What are you doing," I screamed.   She replied, "I am going to find the child's parents, come find me when you finish your route."   At that moment, the child so happened turned around and saw her coming and the child took off  I thought that Ms. Soughters would've given up on the pursuit, but she picked up the pace......pause..... I am pausing now because I have to explain something to everyone that my bus route is in the HOOD of Atlanta...not just any hood, but The Hood. A place where there are more people in prison than any other area code in Georgia. It's in a place where twice last week I had windows busted out my school bus,  gangs, drug dealers and prostitute hangout on all the corners, and less than a 100 yards from where I dropped off this child, a gun was pulled on my kids, while I was stopped at a stop sign...smh (shaking-my-heading) to have a female administrator jump off my bus to chase down a kid from the hood was something very new to me.  Believe it or not, she tracked down the child and spoke to the parent, because the next morning the mother was at my school bus door stating that "If her child ever cause me anymore problem to give her a call." Yes, the mother gave me her number. Go Ms. Soughters! 

What trips me out that she chased down a child from the other school whose kids were picking on her babies.  True Pro-Active Administrative support!  

I share this story because there are several schools in the Atlanta Public School system who are failing to do what they need to get student misconduct on the bus and within the schools under control.  But there are also schools and administrators who are fighting to win our children back from the street/hood mentality that encourages them to not amount to anything and become deviant individuals. Ms. Soughters style of administration gives me hope that our Atlanta Schools will soon become safe havens where a child can come and learn without fearing what might happen to him or her on the bus.  Hats off to the Ms. Soughters out there!  

What's the key to Pro-Active Discipline: 

1.  On-the-spot discipline.  Do not let the child get two feet from you without them knowing what's going to happen to them. 

2.  Being Pro-Active by Innovative means. Yes, up and to the point of riding a school bus or chasing a child down on foot to find his parent so they can get involved. 

3. Getting, Encouraging, and Forcing Parent Involvement.  There are times when you have to go that extra mile to get that parent involved.  Here's the reality.  Many parents want to be involved in his or her child's life, but just don't know how. 

4. Love your kids as if they your Own.  What drives us to love and protect our babies is when we accept and adopt them into our lives. Children will see this love and will do right in order to please us.  This form of bus management is the most enjoyable =)

5. Make sure that administrators, teachers, and school bus drivers are on the same page with student management.  

6. Provide monitors for school bus drivers who find it difficult to control student behavior and safely drive. 

" Laugh often, love continually, and correct diligently."


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

....Written Up for Placing Safety First it begins with APS Transportation now. The elementary school that I had concerns about lack of administrator support with students is making efforts to curtail student's behavior. It seems that the school and I are heading in the right direction.

On another note, my supervisors pulled me into the office to  "write me up"  concerning insubordination and failing to follow directions.  They continued to insist that I drive in unsafe conditions with the students bad behavior.  FOUR TIMES, I went to my supervisors and requested that a monitor be provide to assist me on  my route.  All four times they denied me the privilege to have a monitor and the students' behavior escalated.  If monitors were to have been provided, then these issues would not have occurred.   If I don't split my routes, I have to deal with fights, chaos, and unsafe driving conditions.  If I do split the route where there are smaller number of students to manage efficiently, then I am written up for insubordination.

  • My bus was overcrowded,  I sat for 35 minutes each day with wild elementary students (3 to 5th grade) at the primary (k-2nd grade) school waiting for students to load. 
  • For two days as I ran the route as the route sheet requested, I broke up six fights, prevented a disgruntle parent from getting on the bus to strike a child, and had to deal with a number of bullying picking, blew a rear tear out, countless students horse-playing and had students to shatter my window, Friday October 25th.  
  • My supervisor wanted me to run a route with 80 students unsafely.  I took the initiative to return to my original plan of splitting the route because the big kids were name calling, bullying, and wrestling over my little kids.
  • I did not have any major trouble concerning operating an A & B route and the older kids stopped picking on my little kids, stealing their food and seating arraignments. '
  • If the camera worked on my school bus, they would recognize the benefits of splitting the routes. 
  • The reason why they do not want me to do A&B routes is because students are arriving later than others for breakfast.  If I was provided a monitor, I could get them to school on time or split my route up with another driver. 

Below is a copy of the first letter:

Concerning the 2nd Letter:

  • The main point,  I requested a monitor that afternoon but was denied.  If a monitor was provided, I would not be writing on my blog on how school bus drivers continually get the bad end of the stick no matter what they do.  There would not have been an insubordinate issues.
  • The reason I needed a monitor because students were non-complaint, throwing items at myself and others, and in addition jumping over seats and horse-playing.  
  • I did try to contact dispatch and both supervisors via radio and cell phone (I have the phone bill to prove it). Heck, I told them over the radio that kids are throwing glass and that I had a student with a stick on the bus waving it at students and there was no response. 
  • Drivers were playing on the radio and walking over other people's traffic and for whatever reason APS Transportation does not have the mean to track down drivers who play on the radio. 
  • I have been written up for policy and procedure that does not exist.
    • There is no APS Transportation policy stating that I need to stay and wait on a mechanic to bring me a school bus, especially when the bus operable. 
    • There is no APS Transportation policy and procedure that states what a school bus driver needs to do in emergency of broken or shatter windows.. 
    • Truthfully,  THERE IS NO APS TRANSPORTATION POLICY AND then can you say that I was insubordinate when APS Transportation do not have policies and procedures to guide drivers in making sound decision.  Basically, I made a decision to meet the mechanic half-way to cut down on time.  I was under impression that I could not finish my route due to broken window and needed to return to Metropolitian.
  • I was instructed to contact the technician via radio and keep supervisor posted on progress, she did not specify how often I should report in, so I stayed on the mechanic channel til assistance arrived.

The bottom line I got written up for putting the students' safety first.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Protect your children from Bullying on the School Bus?

It is my concern that bullying goes overlooked or it is redefined as teasing, a disagreement, or "acting out" within the Atlanta Public School System, especially at certain here are my thoughts on how to best to protect one's child from bullying on schools buses.

1. Parents teach your child to get on the bus, sit down, put his or her book-bag in their lap, and only speak with those in their seat.  Talking softly is a must.   Thus, If a bully gets up and confront them, then the bus driver can visible address the bully and the taunting is caught on tape.

2.Parents teach your child not to take matters into their own hand.  If your child gets into a fight with a bully, it makes it more difficult for the bus driver to build a bullying case.

3. Parents encourage your child to inform the school bus driver, administrator or teacher that he or she is being bullied by someone. A bus driver cannot help your child if he or she does not know if the bullying happening.

4. Parents know your schools policy and procedures concerning acts of bullying, also make sure your administrator know the policy, procedure and definition of bullying.  Remember there is an APS Student Bullying Incident Form online that a parent can fill out and turn into an administrator for investigation.


5. How can the community become more involved?  If a member of the community sees a school bus with students misbehaving wildly, hanging out the window, or throwing object out the window, then report that bus to APS Transportation, because a chaotic bus is breeding ground for bullying.  Either bus driver is not doing his or her job or the driver is doing her job and not receiving administrators support or requested monitor.   Thus, APS Transportation at 404-802-5500, so that our directors and supervisors may address the concerns.

Channel 2 Interview: