Wind River Schools Transportation Director Kevin Schieffer and driver Chuck Aragon talked with a class of sixth grade students before they boarded a school bus during a safety exercise this past week at Pavillion. (Ernie Over photo)
(Pavillion, Wyo.) – It was two years ago this coming December 20th when 11 year-old MaKayla Marie Strahle was struck by a pickup and killed while getting off of a school bus in front of her Crowheart home. MaKayla was a student in Fremont County School District #6 at Pavillion, and she was coming home on an activity bus after a pre-holiday dance that evening. The man accused in that incident, William Dean Barnes, was acquitted by a jury of felony aggravated homicide by vehicle, but he was found guilty of three misdemeanors. The fatal incident occurred during foggy conditions and Barnes claimed he did not see the flashing lights of the parked school bus.
Since then, local law enforcement, area school districts, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation have placed a priority on educating drivers to not pass school buses when their yellow or red flashing lights are on. Despite all the publicity, some motorists still “fly by” school buses displaying flashing lights. So far this year, there have been three such incidents reported by Wind River School buses alone.
To help highlight safety, FCSD#6 has not only emphasized, but has mandated school bus safety instruction for every student in the district, regardless of whether they ride a school bus or not. That training took place this past week in front of the Pavillion school.
Class by Class, from high school down to kindergarten, groups of students came out of their respective school building and got on a bus to have their safety knowledge tested in a realistic environment.
Kevin Schieffer, the Transportation Director for the Wind River Schools, and bus driver Chuck Aragon, did the training on Aragon’s bus.First up was a sixth grade class taught by Julie Fiebiger. Before boarding, the students were quizzed where the danger zones outside the buses are located.
“That’s correct,” Schieffer would say when the students answered, the back and sides of the bus. The safety zone is at lesat 10 feet away from the bus.
“Be sure you are early for the bus, and not late so you don’t have to hurry,” Schieffer said. “Wait till the bus stops and wait for the driver to motion you to climb on board. Look both ways and don’t ever stand in the roadway.”
Once on the bus, the students were quizzed on quite a few topics from keeping the bus clean and neat, not disrupting the driver, no hands or arms outside of the bus and keeping the aisles clear, as an example.
Students were asked to point out where the fire extinguishers were kept on the bus, and where the first aid kit was located.
Older students were reminded to look after younger kids, not to stand up while riding and treating their fellow passengers with courtesy.
“Don’t distract me when I’m load kids on the bus,” driver Aragon said. “Be quiet and wait till they are on board.” He said it was the driver’s responsibility to make sure it was okay for the students standing in their driveways to climb onboard. “And can you eat and drink on the bus?” he asked. In unison, the students shouted and emphatic “NO!”
The students then had a chance to practice leaving the bus from the rear emergency exit. Two students were chosen to get out first, and then help their fellow students. “Sit on the edge and let them guide you down, do not hop or jump out of the bus,” Schieffer said.
Schieffer also noted that each Wind River School Bus now is equipped with a high speed camera mounted on the driver’s side to capture the license plate number of any vehicle passing the bus while the lights are flashing. “The camera takes 100 frames per second and we get really good images for law enforcement to use,” he said. He said some people are using cell phones and daydreaming when driving, and not paying attention to the buses. They don’t know if we’re picking up kids or dropping them off, that’s why we want the kids to be extra cautious.”
Any student who was not in school during the day-long training activity is required to take part in the training. “We do make up days for those students who miss this first training,” he said. “We keep a roster so we know who was here and who needs a make-up. One hundred percent of the student body will do this training.”
The more extensive safety training for the students began last school year and reinforces safety messages delivered in each classroom.
Photos by Ernie Over. Click to enlarge.