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Bus drivers unite against bullying

Posted: March 6, 2017 5:51 p.m.
Updated: March 7, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper (standing, far left) and Prevention Director Tina Griggs (center) dance with some of the other “kids” as bus driver John Clinton (front, right) tries to “drive” a “bus” to school. The “kids” were members of an anti-bullying committee of bus drivers who performed the skit during a Feb. 17 wrap-up session in the Applied Technology Education Center’s Woolard Auditorium.

Hundreds of Kershaw County School District (KCSD) school bus drivers took an oath Feb. 17 to do everything they can to combat bullying on their buses. Taking the oath was the culmination of a months-long partnership with The ALPHA Center. The ALPHA Center helped drivers to identify types of bullying, what to do if they suspect bullying is going on, how bullying affects students and tips drivers can use to intervene in or prevent bullying.

KCSD Transportation Office and Lugoff Area Bus Supervisor John Clinton, who led the program at the Applied Technology Education Campus’ Woolard Auditorium, called bullying “an epidemic in our schools.”

“A lot of times, kids -- and adults -- are bullied, but don’t say anything,” Clinton said. “For the last few months, a group of us have been meeting with (ALPHA Center Prevention Director) Tina Griggs. We formed a committee … and these folks have been working very, very hard to try to understand what bullying’s all about and also try to help you as a team to help our kids to feel safer on the bus.”

In addition to himself, that team consists of bus supervisors A.J. Cooke, Vanessa Garza and Ernestine Ross along with drivers Sandra Love, Wanda Martin, Melanie Anthony and Jennifer Naama.

Those committee members, along with Griggs and ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper, came up on stage to perform a skit. Clinton acted as a bus driver with a bunch of rowdy kids aboard, portrayed by the committee.

As they “settled in” to their roles, each committee member -- along with Napper and Griggs -- took off their jackets to reveal T-shirts adorned with a school bus sporting a red stop-sign shaped no bullying logo and the words “Kershaw County Bus Drivers Against Bullying.”

“Bullying is an unwanted, aggressive behavior among school age children that involved a real or perceived power imbalance,” Griggs said, reading from a PowerPoint presentation on what the drivers had learned during the past few months; as she did, committee members and Napper “acted up” on the bus before Clinton had even gotten into the driver’s seat.

Griggs said the idea behind the program came up while bus drivers underwent annual drug screening. Someone said they wanted to do something about bullying on school buses.

“Mr. Clinton supports everything that you ever want to do in Kershaw County with these bus drivers,” she said. “We decided that was an issue that was happening on our buses. At that point I went to Mr. Clinton and said, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ And that’s how we came up with this program.”

Griggs said the program helped her learn a lot of things she did not know about being a bus driver.

“You guys see a lot of things that happen on that bus. You have a big job that keeps sure that everybody’s safe not counting all the stuff that happens on that bus,” Griggs said.

She then noted the “kids” were being “such a distraction” acting up on the “bus” behind her. Soldiering on, Griggs talked about the different types of bullying: verbal, social, physical and cyber bullying.

Griggs then joined Napper and the committee, with Clinton “driving,” for some role playing. As Clinton drove the bus, the kids acted up -- goofing off, playing and dancing to loud music and, in several cases, bullying or otherwise threatening each other. At the end, Clinton had to tell a male “student” who was not only bullying a female “classmate,” but was acting defiantly toward Clinton that he would be reported to administrators.

“Is everybody’s bus like this?” Griggs asked afterward.

“Yes!” drivers unanimously answered.

“For the last few months, we’ve been working on ways to make it better,” Griggs said, adding that she and Clinton have made sure that KCSD Director of Operations Billy Smith and Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan back up drivers on their efforts to combat bullying, specifically when it comes to written reprimands. “Is it going to be perfect? Probably not, but with your help and this committee that we have, we’ll have better procedures for handling issues on that bus.”

Bus drivers have agreed that if they suspect bullying, to “Record It, Report It and Don’t Support It.” They have agreed to report bullying to their bus supervisor, review camera footage for proof and -- when appropriate -- use written referrals for those incidents classified as major infractions. In turn, those infractions can lead to suspects being suspended, expelled or even arrested.

Griggs said bullying affects everyone and can cause students to have feelings of low self-esteem, can create or exacerbate depression disorders, leading to thoughts of suicide and death.

“Some of you have had situations that you’ve discussed in our meetings of kids that have been very depressed from being bullied, they have felt suicidal, they have felt very, very bad about the situation they’re in and you’ve got to be very good about making sure that’s reported and taken care of,” she said.

Griggs went over about a dozen strategies for intervening in bullying situations and eight strategies to prevent bullying in the first place.

“Don’t demand respect; respect is earned. The more you demand it, they’re not going to do it. You don’t know what a lot of them go through,” she said.

She mentioned being at an elementary school two weeks earlier where she was teaching a class where some of the students were picking “Sacks of Love” -- a program for students who don’t have enough to eat. One student said that if it hadn’t been for her sack, she wouldn’t have much to eat for the weekend.

“These kids are going home -- most of these are bus riders … to situations that we, sometimes, don’t know about,” Griggs said.

She said there is a lot of bullying going on in Kershaw County and not just on buses or at school, but in kids’ neighborhoods, too. In many cases, Griggs said, this can cause kids to be too scared to get on the bus or go to school.

Bully Awareness Team Member Wanda Martin then led the drivers in taking their anti-bullying pledge:

“I agree to be identified as a caring bus driver who pledges to help bullied students. I will listen carefully to all students who seek my help and act on their behalf to put an immediate stop to the bullying. I will work with my school district team to create a safe transporting environment for all the students on my bus.”

Afterward, Napper had some words of support and encouragement and a call to action.

“You are the first people that our kids see from the school system every morning. You’re the last person they see every night,” Napper said. “You set the tone of that child’s day. In some cases, you know those children better than anybody else. You’re in a thankless job where, if you do a perfect job, the public says absolutely nothing. You have one mistake and the world comes down on you. We appreciate what you do … and we thank you for taking care of the most precious commodity this county has: our children.”

Napper then asked the drivers to give themselves a hand, which they did, and then announced that each driver was receiving a T-shirt.

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