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Lake Orion school bus drivers receive national award for program to help kids read

July 17, 2013 - By Katelyn Winkler

Review Staff Writer

The Lake Orion Department of Transportation has garnered some national attention and recognition with an innovative program by school bus drivers to help provide instructional support to students on a volunteer basis.

The prestigious 2013 "Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) Pinnacle of Achievement Award" has been awarded to Lake Orion for its program known as BusSTAR (Supporting Teaching by Assisting in Reading).

The program is designed to "support employees (bus drivers) assisting in the primary function of the school district; reading and learning. This program utilizes the available time that bus drivers have between their AM and PM routes to support teachers and students. It takes all school employees working together to provide the best possible education for students."

"BusSTAR' started out as mostly going into the classroom, but what it's evolved into is much more than that," Dale Goby, director of transportation, said.

This is the second year the department of transportation has used "BusSTAR", but for Dawn Lemaster, bus driver of the year, she created programs and games to utilize the students time on the bus and has been using these activities for years before "BusSTAR" started.

Lemaster plays "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader," "Bus Cab," and "American Idol: School Bus Edition." When the bus is stopped at the schools during lay over times, Lemaster plays these games with the children on her bus to make the time pass and make sure they have a good start and a good end to their school day.

On top of playing game shows on the bus, Lemaster also came up with the idea of "Bus Book Library," which is where bus drivers have books available for their students to read on their way to and from school.

"It helps. It beats doing the 'write ups' (of children who have misbehaved). They're pointless. It's not accomplishing anything. That's how the books started. I had a kid hitting another over the head with his backpack and I said 'you need to do something nice. You need to sit in your seat, get out a book and read it.'

"He said he didn't have one. The next day he had one and he sat up front reading to the kindergartners for a couple days. I never had an issue with him after that, and I didn't have to write him up. So this works," Lemaster said.

Inside the transportation building, Lemaster has developed a library of pre-grouped sets of books that bus drivers can take with them before leaving for their routes. The department of transportation has worked together with Mannies Bagels to raise money to help better the "Book Bus Library."

They have created a "Bus Stop" sandwich and one dollar from each sandwich sold is donated to the "Book Bus Library" program.

"Sometimes the parents try and give me back the book and I tell them no, the kids know they can keep them until they're done with them. And if they don't it's not a big deal. If they love that book and want it, I'm not going to tell them they can't have it," Lemaster said.

Once the "BusSTAR" program began, Goby began receiving emails from teachers and principals at all schools in the Lake Orion district with positive feedback with this program.

Bus drivers volunteer their time to do any types of tasks from sorting books in LOHS' media center to painting the girls' nails in the special education program every Friday.

"What typically happens in school districts is the bus drivers are considered 'unskilled' or 'uncertified employees.' Well what we've done is we are bringing all of this together. The big picture is that if your focus is on teaching and learning, then that's everybody's focus. I have tried to convey to all the drivers too. Everybody doesn't agree with that, but we have 25 out of 75 that participate at any given time. All I ask is that they volunteer their time and that on their layover times they engage in meaningful conversations and activities with the children"

On top of dedicating her time to go to elementary and middle schools to work with teachers and administrators, Lemaster felt that she should create a way for students to tell adults about bullying situations and solutions to these problems.

"I designed a newsletter for the kids that have problems reading; I wanted to touch on the bullying stuff too. If they felt that they needed to tell someone that someone was picking on them they could write to 'Buster' which is kind of a safety net for them. I worked with teachers on that."

One of the bus drivers had been involved with a behavioral plan for one Stadium Elementary student and made a difference while volunteering her time.

"We had trouble with him refusing to get on and off the bus. Each day (the bus driver) would give him a die cut to bring to me," Karen Greening, family school coordinator at Stadium said. "I hung it up in my office and he earned time with staff members. The bus driver wrote a note on one of his die cuts, framed it and sent it to us. This was one of the only smiles I have ever seen him have this year."

As explained in Lake Orion's Pinnacle application, "'BusSTAR' seeks to utilize available school district human resources not normally used in the curriculum/instruction function, in a different and unique way to better achieve the district mission: Educating our students for the challenges of tomorrow.

"In addition, if provides an opportunity for bus drivers to view students in a different setting. It also connects the bus drivers to instruction, increasing their value to the school district, (which) increased student learning."

Sometimes the drivers can use downtimes and even periods when the buses are loading and unloading to spend some time helping the children to learn.

With the amount of positive feedback Goby and the department of transportation have been receiving, the driver's time and efforts have paid off significantly.

"I think I have this broad base in education, this big picture of how it could work. I bring that here and what I find is this wonderfully receptive group of people who are willing to do those kinds of things, and many were already doing them. Now we're just being recognized for it," Goby said.

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