Safety First and Last

Dropoff video

WATERBURY – It may not be well-known, but All-Star Transportation’s school bus drivers and monitors utilize the safety skills they learned as trainees every day they are on the job. And they receive continuous safety training throughout the school year to expand their knowledge and to make sure they don’t ignore their critical responsibilities.

“The safe transportation of students is our top priority,” says Leslie Sheldon, All-Star Transportation’s operations manager. “We emphasize it daily. We provide regular safety training, and we continuously strive to improve. Fortunately, we have a highly committed staff that is dedicated to our children and to providing high-quality service.”

Critical to sustaining the safety culture that exists at All-Star Transportation is the hands-on training that the company provides to its employees from their first day on the job and continuing throughout their careers.  A key piece of that training are the videos that the company’s safety team produces in-house. The videos are shared throughout the company at safety meetings and are posted on All-Star’s website, Facebook and YouTube pages for easy access.

The two most recent videos focus on the child check and drop-off procedures . Drivers perform the child safety check procedure after they have dropped off the last student on each route. It requires a driver to walk the entire bus and check to make sure no child is left behind and that no important article has been forgotten on the bus.

Each bus is also equipped with a child check system that is activated automatically when a driver turns on the flashing lights and opens the door to pick up a student. When a driver turns off the bus or exits the bus, the child check system must be deactivated or an alarm will sound. A driver deactivates the alarm while doing the safety walkthrough. This is the final check of the vehicle that all drivers are required to do.

Child check videoThe drop-off procedure video details all the steps a driver must follow when dropping off students at their bus stops. The video explains and demonstrates the carefully considered safety reasons for each step of the drop-off process.

“These children we transport every day are someone’s babies, and we need to always remember this. Safety is not something that just happens,” says Brenda Bass, All-Star’s director of training. “It requires continuous training, continuous improvement and constant vigilance. We can never be complacent about our jobs.”

To emphasize that point, All-Star’s next training video will target driver complacency. The video will be available soon as the company prepares for its Spring into Safety! program. You will find the video and all others on All-Star’s website and YouTube channels.

 

Planning For The Future

Steve Gardner teaching students

DERBY – As Steve Gardner paced at the front of a classroom, providing information and asking questions, students responded by raising their hands and revealing what they want to do when they grow up.

“Play Major League baseball,” said one of the students in Jory Pirritino’s fifth-grade class at Irving School in Derby.

“Oh,” responded Gardner. “Do you know how many players make it to big leagues? That’s not an easy one.”

But the student was unmoved, saying confidently that he would be one of the few to make it.

Gardner, who manages All-Star Transportation’s terminal in Seymour, was in the classroom for a Junior Achievement program known as JA Our Nation. The program is designed to “introduce students to the intersection of work readiness and upper elementary grades social studies learning objectives,” according to Junior Achievement.

Steve Gardner teachingThe program requires volunteers like Gardner to engage students in hands-on activities that teach students about our country’s free-market system and how it creates jobs. Students also learn about entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. Under the program, volunteers host five 45-minute sessions spread out over five weeks.

“The program is a great opportunity for the students to learn about the business world,” says Pirritino. “I believe it was successful with Steve. He made so many real-world connections with all of the concepts that were presented.”

Gardner agreed to become a first-time volunteer after being contacted by Candace Lebel, a teacher at Irving School who coordinates Junior Achievement activities. Gardner had never met Lebel in person, but he was familiar with her because of her requests for buses for school trips. After deciding to participate, Gardner met during this past fall with Melanie Strout, the program manager for Junior Achievement of Western Connecticut, to review materials he would need for the program.

“I thought the most challenging part was getting all of the students engaged at the same time and getting their attention. There were 21 students and not all of them have the same attention span,” he says.

Irving School students“I think the kids did learn as they got to hear lessons from someone other than their teacher,” he continued. “Sometimes a change gets them engaged more because they are not hearing from the same teacher or staff member. I think that the lessons taught real world material to help them prepare for a career at some point. That is something that all students need so they are ready when they enter the workforce.”

Pirritino agreed, saying, “After the program, the kids were able to talk more knowledgeable about career readiness.”

While educational for the students, the experience also benefitted Gardner, providing him with insight as to what it takes to be an effective instructor.

“I learned how to prepare myself as an instructor,” says Gardner, who once considered becoming a music teacher. “I have always been behind the scenes or hands on, but not an instructor where I have a class in front of me presenting material. I had to review the lessons the day prior, and I would make notes on index cards so that I wouldn’t be reading the material word for word. This allowed me to understand the key ideas and terms ahead of time so that the instruction would be fluid and professional. Being able to do this will help me in the future prepare to be an instructor if called upon to do so. “

And he says if he is asked to volunteer again, he would gladly return.

“It gets me out of the office for a couple of hours once a week!” he says. “And it is also great opportunity to serve the students at Irving School.”

Videos That Matter

Nick Scalia

WATERBURY – When Nick Rocco Scalia was a young boy growing up in Waterbury, he greatly enjoyed movies and TV. And so, when it came time to pick a major in college, it was no surprise that he decided to study cinema and film production, completing his bachelor’s degree in those subject matters at the University of Hartford in 2004. But because he also harbored the idea of teaching, he returned to college to study English, earning a master’s degree from Trinity College in Hartford in 2011.

Now, he’s combined his passion for film and teaching as the media producer for All-Star Transportation and its sister company, The Next Street. To date he has created more than 20 videos for All-Star (plus dozens more educational and marketing videos, and commercials for The Next Street) that are shared company-wide during safety meetings, training sessions and on the company’s website.

“Film is my life,” he says. “I really developed a love for it at an early age. As an only child and not having to share the TV/VCR with any siblings, I was allowed to really indulge my specific tastes in film. Now, everything I do is related to film production, theory and criticism.”

In addition to his work for All-Star, Scalia works as a contributing writer and film critic for Film Threat, an online publication focused primarily on independent film. Recently, he was given the green light to begin writing a regular column for the publication. He is also an adjunct English instructor at Post University, where since 2013 he has taught both online and on-campus courses. Earlier, from 2011-2013, he was an adjunct English professor at Salter College in Chicopee, MA.

His other experience includes serving as the editor and post-production consultant for T-Town, a feature-length documentary film. He also was a multimedia produce for the New Haven Register from 2008-2010, and as an associate editor for the Connecticut Bar Association from 2006-2008

Because working as an adjunct is notoriously risky with no guarantee that today’s job will be available tomorrow, Scalia was looking for something more stable when he spotted All-Star’s ad seeking a media manager. It struck Scalia as curious that a school transportation company would hire such a person.

“It was a unique opportunity. It was posted in an educational section, and I wanted something more stable,” he explains. “When I came to All-Star, I asked, ‘Do you really need somebody? Is there a consistent need?’”

To his pleasant surprise, he has found that there is a steady need for instructional videos and that has allowed him to tap into his interests in film and teaching. He does the scripting, filming and editing for each video, striving to make each sound and look good. Until he joined All-Star, he had never done instructional videos, which he finds especially challenging because forgetting to mention any bit of information can be critical. So, he must be mindful of every detail.

“It’s been interesting,” he says, adding that he’s learned a lot about what it takes to be driver and a monitor. He credits Brenda Bass and other members of All-Star’s safety team for the success and quality of the videos he has created.

“Everyone knows their job really, really well. Everybody goes a step or two beyond what’s expected. Rather than just going by the book, they say, “Let’s really cover it and really show it well.’”

As for the future videos, Scalia says hoping to acquire a cutaway of a bus, which would make filming easier.

“It’s really tough to do a shoot in a bus,” he says.

Making A Commitment

School bus driver Ron Bernier

WOODBURY – If you’re a student from Woodbury and Bethlehem who attends Abbott Tech High School in Danbury, you know there’s one person you can always count on, and that’s bus driver Ron Bernier. Since 2010, the year he started driving a school bus, Bernier has not missed a day of work.

“I agreed that when I came to work here that I would work,” says Bernier. “It’s a work ethic. You show up all the time. You have to have some pride in your work.”

Nodding in the direction of Manager Pam Boulier’s office at the Woodbury terminal, he adds, “She depends on us. If you miss work, she has to steal someone from another route and that leads to other complications.”

Bernier first began driving for First Student in Bethlehem and then stayed with All-Star Transportation when it took over that route and others in 2014. Prior to becoming a school bus driver, he drove tractor trailers for 30 years for New Penn Motor Express.

“Ron is not only is extremely dependable, but he is always willing to do anything he is asked,” says Boulier. “He never says no. Ron always goes above and beyond.”

In fact, the only thing that has kept Bernier from work in recent years has been cancer. Three times he has been treated for colon cancer, and three times he beat it and now is cancer free.

School bus driver Ron Bernier“It didn’t want to give up and neither did I,” he says. And at age 78, he gives no indication of slowing down. At his home in Bethlehem, where he’s lived for 30 years, he keeps busy splitting wood and tending to his animals. He has a small barn where he keeps a mini donkey and a mini pony. Up until four years ago, he also had a horse, an Appaloosa that lived to be 38 years old.

Raised in Waterbury, Bernier says, “I always wanted to live on a farm.” Adding with a smile, “I like animals better than people.”

Bernier is also an accomplished musician. He plays classical piano, explaining, “I love playing, playing mostly for myself.” He is so talented that at age 17 he was targeted for an interview at Yale University. But he didn’t show up for the interview, and so missed his opportunity to continue his education. Looking back, he explains, “I was 17 and being stupid.”

Asked to list the biggest challenge he sees for drivers today, he wastes no time in citing distracted drivers. “I always see other drivers with their heads down, looking at their phones. They get preoccupied, distracted. Look at what happened in Chattanooga,” he said, referring to a school bus crash in November 2016 that killed six children. The driver was on his phone at the time of the accident.

As for his job All-Star, Bernier couldn’t be happier. “I have the best boss,” he says. “The best one I ever had, and the nicest person.”

Striving For Excellence

Shaking hands Daniel Garrett (r) and Bruce Koeber

SEYMOUR – At age 19, Daniel Garrett has achieved something that many service technicians twice his age or older have not accomplished – he’s been certified as a master school bus technician by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

Garrett is a service technician at All-Star Transportation’s terminal in Seymour. He’s one of All-Star’s youngest mechanics, joining the company full-time immediately after graduating from Emmett O’Brien Technical High School in 2016.

To achieve master technician status required Garrett to successfully complete a series of six difficult exams that tested his knowledge of several mechanical systems specific to school buses. Garrett passed his sixth test just prior to Christmas, completing all six tests in less than two years.

“Daniel has been a great addition to our staff,” says Bruce Koerber, Seymour shop manager. “He brings a lot of personality and expertise to the job, and everyone appreciates what he has to offer. Becoming a master technician is a great accomplishment, and we’re all proud of him.”

The master technician course work and tests are done online, which required Garrett to spend his free time studying and learning more about school bus mechanics.

“I studied a little after work,” he says modestly. “I passed my first test in Fall 2016, and then set out to pass at least one new test every season.” The six required tests are Body Systems & Special Equipment, Diesel Engines, Drive Train, Brakes, Suspension & Steering and Electrical/Electronic Systems.

Garrett says he decided to pursue the special certification after speaking with Steve Rosko, All-Star’s director of maintenance, who encouraged him to continue to learn and improve.

“It’s something to do for yourself. It means you are capable when you are certified,” Garrett explains.

Daniel GarrettCapable is a good word for describing Garrett. He was an A student in high school and, during his senior year, one of his teachers recommended him to All-Star. He started working at the Seymour shop part-time during the spring of his senior year, and then joined the staff full time after graduation.

“My main goal after high school was to work with diesels, and I am doing that,” he says proudly.

Next, he says he plans on taking a seventh test that’s included in the school bus master technician curriculum. The test, Air Conditioning Systems & Controls, is not required to gain certification, but Garrett is intent on learning more.

“Then I am taking heavy truck certification, and I’ll just keep on taking more of the tests,” he says with a smile.

Ensuring Safe Propane Buses

Propane bus training

NEWTOWN – In an effort to keep students and drivers safe in Newtown, All-Star Transportation recently held a special training session for local firefighters to educate them about the propane-fueled buses that were rolled out for this year for the first time in Newtown.

Steve Rosko, All-Star’s director of maintenance, led the information and training session for members of the Newtown, Sandy Hook, Dodgintown and Hawleyville fire departments that focused on the mechanical systems of propane buses. All-Star provided the training in an effort to prepare first responders for an accident or other incidents involving a propane school bus.

The town’s Public Works Department provided use of one of its truck bays, which made it possible to offer hands-on training. The bus was raised up, providing easy access for all members of the fire departments to see the fuel system lines, pumps and emergency shut-off valves. Rosko also delivered an in-depth introduction to the engine and fuel systems, as well as discussing the type of fuel used and the fueling procedure that is used.

Propane bus trainingFollowing the training session, members of the fire department expressed their thanks to Rosko and All-Star Transportation.

“Being prepared is always the best action for safety, and now the operation of the new propane fleet in Newtown is safer because of it,” Rosko said.

New And Improved

New Milford terminal

WATERBURY – Things just keep getting better and better at All-Star Transportation.

Twenty-five years after it was put into service, All-Star Transportation’s terminal in New Milford underwent renovations this summer. And in Monroe, the company constructed an entirely new facility on 12.5-acre lot in that town’s industrial park.

“Our goal is to provide our employees with the best possible facilities, and so we have embarked on an ambitious effort to renovate or build new wherever possible,” says John Dufour, All-Star Transportation president. “Our facilities reflect who we are, and that is a high-quality, top-notch school transportation company that is focused on quality and safety.”

The Monroe facility was completed just in time for the start of the new school year and features a new terminal office building and ample parking for the transportation fleet and employee parking.

Monroe terminal
All-Star Transportation’s new terminal in Monroe.
“The employees at the Monroe terminal of All-Star Transportation are ecstatic and are loving their new home,” says Mike Lawlor, manager at the Monroe location. “After years of operating out of the old, drafty and outdated Bus Barn on Purdy Hill Road and then the temporary trailer on Main Street, we have moved into our new building and lot. The newly built facility at 34 Enterprise Drive is modern and very spacious. It contains a kitchen area, conference room and plenty of storage room. Items we have not had the pleasure of in the past. This is a great new base of operations to service the school system for the town of Monroe.”

In New Milford, the building was repainted and new landscaping was planted, giving the exterior a refreshed look. The All-Star sign was repainted and new gutters also were installed.

Inside the New Milford terminal
The New Milford terminal was renovated inside and out.
Inside, even more work was done. New floors and ceiling tiles were installed, and new furniture was added as all office space was upgraded. There’s a new door and window for the dispatch office, making it easier for drivers and the dispatcher to talk. Storage space was improved, and the restrooms were redone. New, efficient lighting was installed, and a fresh coat of paint was applied throughout the interior.

In the shop, a bigger parts room and manager’s offer were created. The changing room and men’s room were also separated to create two individual spaces. And coming soon for the entire facility is a new air conditioning system.

“Everyone likes what was done,” says New Milford Manager Jeff Woods. “It’s a big improvement.”

In previous years, the terminals in Harwinton/Burlington and Washington were renovated to provide new modern work spaces. The new Harwinton/Burlington terminal opened in January 2015, while the renovated Washington terminal opened in the fall of that same year.

Looking to the future, Dufour says, “More renovations are on the way.” The next project, he says, will be a new facility to replace the current one in Prospect, and next year the terminal in Seymour will be renovated.

“We’re growing, changing and constantly improving as we enhance our workplace safety,” Dufour says.

Doing The Right Thing

Bus filled with donated items

WATERBURY – If there’s anything that can be said about school bus driver’s and others at All-Star Transportation, it’s that they care about their community and their co-workers. And they are more than willing to take lend a hand when action is required.

“As a company, we believe it’s important to give back to the communities we serve,” says Leslie Sheldon, All-Star Transportation’s operations manager. “I have no doubt that the charitable efforts of the company and our employees makes all our communities better. Whenever we can, we support our employees in their charitable and community service efforts. We don’t know of any other way of doing business.”

In September, when the extent of the devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria became known, drivers and monitors in Waterbury got busy. They reached out to their local state representative, Geraldo Reyes, and spent a Saturday raising money and collecting goods at two locations in Waterbury. They raised $4,200 in cash and filled two buses donated by All-Star with a variety of goods.

Reyes, a Democrat representing Waterbury’s 75th District, said he was first approached by Mayra Alejandro, a driver/trainer in Waterbury. The Reyes and Alejandro families have known each other for years, Reyes added.

Donated coats
Leslie Sheldon delivers coats donated to the Plymouth food kitchen to Manager Sherry Hoag.
“She said she wanted to continue the efforts started by other people,” Reyes said, explaining that fund-raising efforts had popped up all over the state and a group of Latino state legislators had banded together to raise $100,000 for hurricane relief.

“I don’t know all the drivers and others from All-Star Transportation, but they were outstanding. They really stepped up,” Reyes said. “They worked hard and a lot longer than I thought they would. They worked two shifts at two locations in the morning and afternoon.

To date, $11,000 has been raised in Waterbury, with the bulk of that resulting from the efforts of the All-Star team, Reyes said. The goods that have been collected are stored in a warehouse, waiting for a time when the items can be safely shipped to Puerto Rico.

In another recent case, staff at the Plymouth terminal collected 60 coats to help the Plymouth Community Food Pantry in its annual drive for winter coats for the needy. The staff collected 30 coats and All-Star Transportation matched that total by purchasing 30 new coats that it donated to the coat drive.

“We’re so appreciative. We collected twice as many coats as last year, mainly thanks to you guys,” said Erin Kennedy, director of the food pantry.

“It is a great thing we here at All-Star accomplished,” said Sherry Hoag, an All-Star manager. “Being a bus driver is not only driving that big yellow bus to and from school, it’s also about caring for the precious cargo we transport and reaching out to the families in our communities when there is a need. It is a wonderful feeling.”

Check presentation
Seymour Manager Steve Gardner accepting a check from Leslie Sheldon, operations manager.
Throughout the year, All-Star drivers donate their time to a variety of charitable efforts, and on many of these occasions All-Star also loans one or more buses to provide transportation support. Earlier this year, All-Star went a step farther, donating a new bus to the Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL). The bus has a unique design featuring a colorful collage of photographs taken during PAL activities. The interior is specially equipped with storage racks that make it possible for kids to safely stow their equipment while traveling. The bus also uses propane fuel, making it an environmentally friendly form of transportation.

“When everyone works together, good things happen. When good things happen, the corporate community notices and steps up,” said Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary, as he praised All-Star’s contribution.

Of course, All-Star employees are always ready to help one of their own when battling a personal illness or coping with an unexpected tragedy. Such was the case in Seymour, where the Alyssa Fitzpatrick, the seven-year-old daughter of Seymour driver, Krystle Fitzpatrick, died suddenly. The entire All-Star family came together to support the Fitzpatrick family, holding hot dog and bake sales, and launching a Gofundme page that collectively raised more than $11,000.

“When we are confronted with real tragedy or real need, we can ignore it or we can react. At All-Star Transportation, our nature is to do something to help, and we do that because it is the right thing to do,” Sheldon says.

Smarter Fuel For Buses

A propane-fueled bus

WATERBURY – Could the propane you use to cook your meals or dry your clothes also be the best fuel for school buses? The answer from All-Star Transportation, and many others, is yes.

All-Star Transportation, which provides service to more than 35,000 students daily during the school year in Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven counties, is among those forward-thinking companies nationwide that are deploying propane-fueled buses to replace diesel buses. All-Star currently has 136 propane vehicles in its fleet with plans to add more in the future.

“We have had excellent results with our propane buses and that is why we are aggressively adding more to our fleet,” says Leslie Sheldon, operations manager for All-Star and president of the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA).

“There are so many benefits to propane buses. For instance, the maintenance costs for propane buses are lower compared to diesel buses, and that’s no small consideration given today’s tight education budgets,” Sheldon adds.

Propane’s low carbon and low oil contamination also contribute to longer engine life. And compared to vehicles fueled with diesel and gasoline, propane vehicles can produce lower amounts of harmful tailpipe emissions, depending upon the age of the vehicle and other factors. Propane also performs well in cold weather climates like Connecticut because the fuel’s mixture is completely gaseous. This makes it possible for propane vehicles to avoid the cold-start issues associated with diesel and gasoline.

“Propane buses also are much quieter than diesel buses,” says Sheldon, “and that’s a great benefit to drivers. A quieter bus makes it easier for our drivers to hear what’s happening in the back of the bus.”

There are now more than 143,000 propane vehicles on the road in the United States, according to the Propane Education and Research Council. Most are used in fleets, such as shuttles, police vehicles and school buses. The U.S. Department of Energy recently studied the use of propane school bus fleets in Virginia and Texas, concluding that the fleets had no “significant technical or management hurdles associated with the deployment of propane buses, and most of them are exploring ways to expand their use of propane in the future.”

The overwhelming majority of the nation’s 480,000 school buses use diesel fuel, leading some to voice concerns over the negative environmental impact caused by the exhaust from these vehicles. Others argue that low-sulfur diesel fuel and newer engines under development will eventually ease environmental concerns and ensure diesel’s continuing domination of the school bus market.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has become engaged with propane buses through its Clean School Bus USA. It’s a public-private partnership that focuses on reducing children’s exposure to harmful diesel exhaust by limiting school bus idling, implementing pollution reduction technologies, improving route logistics and switching to clean fuels.

Propane buses
Propane buses can be identified by the green bird decal on the top side.
Those who favor propane note that it is less harmful to the environment compared to traditional fossil fuels. Burning propane reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent compared to gasoline-powered buses and 6 percent compared to diesel, according to the Propane Education & Research Council, an organization funded by the propane industry.

Propane vehicles are similar to their gasoline counterparts with regard to power, acceleration, cruising speed and driving range. A gallon of propane has 27 percent less energy than a gallon of gasoline, according to the Department of Energy. However, propane has a higher octane rating than gasoline (104-112 compared to 87-92 for gasoline), and the Energy Department notes that some manufacturers are developing engines to take advantage of this higher rating, leading to improved performance and fuel economy.

“At All-Star Transportation we are convinced that propane is the best option for the future, and it is our goal to convert our entire fleet to propane in the years ahead to lessen our impact on the environment, reduce fuel costs and make our buses safer,” Sheldon says.

Making Drivers Better And Safer

Brenda Bass

WATERBURY – If you are a driver or a monitor, or hold any other job at All-Star Transportation, then chances are you know Brenda Bass. She’s been with All-Star since its founding 14 years ago and during that time she’s trained most of the company’s drivers and monitors, served as a safety supervisor and performed a host of other critical duties, including an active role in company videos. Her current role is director of training.

“I was the company’s first safety supervisor,” she says, noting that her career in school transportation began 29 years when took a job in Wolcott as a bus driver with her then-four-month-old daughter tagging along.

“I drove in Wolcott for 11 years and during that time became a state-certified trainer,” she says. She began with Dattco and transitioned to Laidlaw after it acquired the Wolcott routes. In 1998, she was named the training center manager for Laidlaw in Bridgeport.

“I did all the classroom and new driver training. It was very busy,” she recalls. “In a summer, I would train 200 new drivers.”

From Bridgeport, she later moved to Laidlaw’s terminal in Torrington, where she was responsible for driver development and safety, investigating accidents and handling worker’s compensation. It was there she also met Richard Dufour, who was then the terminal’s manager, and who would later become one of the founders of All-Star Transportation.

“My office was in the same building as Richard’s. So, really, I was Richard’s safety person,” she says.

Her next assignment was in Hamden, where Laidlaw needed her as a dispatcher. She was there just a brief time before being reassigned to Fairfield, where she served as acting manager. It was while she was in Fairfield that she had her first contact with All-Star.

“Richard called me and asked me if I would be interested leaving Laidlaw. They (John Dufour, Richard Dufour and Leslie Sheldon) were going to start a new company, and they wanted me to be the safety person. I met with Leslie, and I decided it would be a good move for me to join a new company,” she explains. “So, I went back to Torrington, because when we started we were in Torrington.”

The company began with four locations during its first year – Torrington, Harwinton, New Milford and Washington – and then began expanding to its current level of 18 terminals. The company’s growth and success became too much for Bass to handle alone. Four other safety supervisors are now part of the team. Bass, in addition to her duties as director of training, continues to serve as the safety supervisor for Waterbury and Seymour, two of the company’s biggest terminals.

When asked what she considers to be her biggest challenge as the training director, she pauses and then carefully selects her words.

“The biggest challenge is to have drivers live up to the trust that parents put in us,” she says. “That’s someone’s baby on our bus. I try to get people right from the start to understand that. Driving the bus is a big responsibility, especially with all the distracted drivers out there and other road hazards. It’s the safety of the kids that matter.

“I talk a lot about that. How did you feel the first day when you put your baby on a bus and the doors closed and they drove off with your child? It’s a huge amount of trust that people are putting in us, and we have to focus on the job when we’re doing that job.”

Not surprisingly, school bus driver training has become much more involved to meet the public’s expectations. And in doing so, it has placed more demands on those who want to become drivers and those who train them.

Brenda Bass“It’s nothing like it was when I first started,” Bass says. “When I started, it was five days of classroom and behind-the-wheel training all in one. I went down (to the motor vehicles department) and got a public service card, there was no CDL. I went back to the bus yard and told the manager that I got my public service license, and he said, ‘OK, here’s your route sheet, there’s the bus, go drive.’ There was no intense training and no CDL testing. And the requirements to get this job have changed, and all for the good. It’s a big job. It’s a big responsibility.”

As the head of training, Bass says her number one goal is to make everyone a safe driver. She’s now a master trainer, one of just a few in Connecticut, and she’s the chairperson of the safety committee for the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA).

“Most people have no idea what it takes to become a school bus driver. They see women driving buses around town, and they think, ‘How hard can that be?’ And then they get into class and they understand the responsibility that comes with that and the training that is required to get a license. It’s a lot more than some people want to do.”

But for those who persist and complete the training to become a school bus driver, the rewards are many, Bass says, citing her own experience as an example.

“I’m not an unusual case to be around for 29 years. There are a lot of drivers who have been around as long as me. That’s why people say we ‘bleed yellow.’ Once you get in, you don’t ever leave. It’s a really good job.”