Embrace - Engage - Educate
Embrace, Engage, and Educate is the mission of the Egg Harbor Township School District. The first and foremost important task for any member of our school community is to create relationships prior to delivering education. Relationship building in the school district involves taking time to learn more the students, their families, and the community in which they live. Sometimes this may involve getting right in the trenches and experiencing something for yourself to get a true perspective about students and their social and emotional needs. As superintendent, wanted to learn more about our students and experience what their school day was like right from the start of their day, so decided to spend the first two days of school riding school buses. In conjunction with our transportation director, Mr. Warren Fipp, arrangements were made for me to ride a bus the first 2 days of school, for 3 morning runs which included high school, middle school, and elementary schools.
The mornings began boarding an empty bus at our 6:30 am and meeting the driver for the high school run. The ride to the first bus stop entailed sharing information on how long each of us worked in the district, the kind of bus we were riding, the timing of the run, the neighborhood, expectations of the students on the bus, and the strategies of maneuvering the bus route. Arrival at each stop involved me getting off of the bus and welcoming students back to school and meeting any parents who were there seeing their child off to school. Each run provided a different perspective and experience. The high school students were at their stops standing in their own personal spaces, with their earbuds in, and very focused on their phones. Having another adult step off the bus was an eye-opener in itself, but being met with an introduction and 'Welcome Back to School' greeting from their superintendent initiated many different reactions. Beyond the looks of surprise, smiles and polite hellos prevailed. What was found humorous was the immediate release of the earbuds and the phones shoved in pockets before the students boarded the bus. The high school rides were very quiet as these students used the time to return to their sleep mode. I was able to find my way to the middle of the bus to engage in conversation and gain insight from a student's perspective.
The middle school stops were a little more lively as students were frolicking with one another and were very social when greeted. I fielded a lot of questions and heard a lot of stories from this group of students, which shifted my focus to the responsibilities of the bus driver. It is not an easy task to drive a huge yellow rig with your back to approximately 54 lively students, maneuvering through tight streets, and navigating traffic on busy roadways.
The elementary run involved excited yet timid little ones, nervous parents, a lot of picture taking, and seat-belt fastening. Students were dressed in their new clothes and sneakers, equipped with name tags, book bags, and lunch bags. This was truly an enlightening experience as my mothering skills were put to the test as soon as the driver closed the bus doors. There was some confusion as to where to sit, how to fasten a seat belt, and of course the questions about where we were going and when we were going to get there. With a little love and care, we made it through the journey with ease.
Setting aside the memorable moments that I experienced with the students, I want to share another perspective. I was astonished to witness the relationships that the bus drivers established with students and their families. Our bus drivers are the first employee that our students see every day and I can attest to the outstanding service that they provide. Parents' questions are addressed, students are greeted with friendly hellos and smiles, a friendly reminder to fasten their seat belts is given, and a wonderful wish for a great day is shared! This makes me so happy to know our students are welcomed each day and are provided a warm, comfortable, and safe ride during their journey to school. I am very proud of our drivers as I can see they enjoy what they do, they are passionate about their students, and they care about their safety. Our transportation department is the absolute best around our bus drivers rock!! These folks make it look easy everyday and make sure our students get to and from school safe and ready to learn.
Riding a bus to school the first days of school is something I will continue to do as superintendent. As a lifelong student, these journeys will serve as not only memories, but as the most relevant learning experience any one could have! I will conclude with what I told l the kids before they disembarked from the buses, "Be respectful to your bus driver, it is not easy driving with your back to 54 students, every day! They care about your safety, care about theirs." Relationship building at its best!