WATERBURY – When 9-year-old Joseph boarded a school bus this fall, he presented an immediate challenge for his driver and monitor. Joseph is deaf, and after years of being home schooled, he was riding a school bus for the first time in his life.
“We didn’t know he was starting school,” recalled Anna Serrano, the monitor for All-Star Transportation’s Bus 52 in Waterbury. “When we got to his stop, his mother told me that he doesn’t speak and is completely deaf. I said, ‘How do I communicate with him?’ And his mother said, ‘It’s going to be hard, but he has to start school.’
“The next day I tried to get his attention, but I wasn’t able to. And so I said (to myself), ‘Ok, something has to be done. I need to learn to at least say ‘Hello’ and ‘Come with me’ so he can feel confident,” said Serrano, who has been a monitor with All-Star for six years and prior to that drove a school bus for 16 years.
To make a connection with Joseph, Serrano reached out to a friend who is a social worker and knows sign language. “I told her my student is signaling something to me and I don’t know what he is trying to say, and it seems like it’s important,” Serrano remembered. Joseph was constantly pointing down toward his head, which she later learned was that he wanted to watch his favorite TV show, Spiderman.
Serraano’s friend asked to meet with Joseph so that she could interpret, but since that wasn’t possible, she instead provided Serrano with a sign language instruction video. Serrano took the video home and started to teach herself sign language.
“I know a few words – not a lot – but enough to be able communicate with him so that he feels confident and safe on the bus,” she said. Serrano also talked to Joseph’s mother and his teacher about her desire to learn more sign language. The teacher invited her to class where she could learn more, and Waterbury terminal Manager Ed Costa gave his approval. Serrano’s work schedule has prevented her from attending class, but she intends to do so in the near future. In the meantime, she’s continuing to learn sign language at home and Joseph’s teacher recently gave her a sign language instruction book so that she could learn more.
Serrano and Joseph now interact on a daily basis, and the driver, John Trent, has also learned enough sign language to greet Joseph each morning. Now when he sees the bus approaching each morning, Joseph jumps up and down with excitement. His mother is so pleased that she contacted the school to express her appreciation, saying that for the first time someone was caring enough to connect with her son and make him feel comfortable.
“What she’s done is really special. It demonstrates the dedication our staff has for students with special needs,” says Costa.
When asked why she has gone through so much effort for one student, Serrano said without hesitation, “I wanted him to feel safe on the bus. I wanted his commute to be friendly, and I really wanted him to feel that it was an easy transition for him – that between home and school he could feel confident that he would be taken care of and feel secure.”
And it seems that’s just what she has done.