When Robert Calcavechia was hired to drive a school bus in
New York eight years ago, he was handed the keys and told simply to
drive to the nearest police station if the kids gave him trouble.
Today, he's getting a little more help. His school in
Brodheadsville, Penn., offers yearly training in handling
discipline problems. He and fellow drivers practice suggested
techniques by acting out situations.
Mr. Calcavechia says the training represents a "180-degree
change," one which helps him deal with the fistfights and smoking
that have cropped up with his school-aged clients.
Ask many administrators and drivers across the United States
to name the key challenge in the $10-billion-a-year job of
transporting children to school, and they'll agree: law and order.
The issue can be the make-or-break point in keeping drivers on the
job. It can also determine a child's attitude toward school. As a
result, more districts are trying a variety of techniques to help
drivers clamp down on everything from arms out the window to
* "Passenger management." Bus drivers for Durham Student
Transportation, which operates in Texas, California, Oregon, and
Washington, learn how to build rapport with students and defuse
anger. Drivers refresh their skills with a 10-hour session each
* Electronic monitors. By 1996, more than 79 percent of
school districts nationwide were using video surveillance on at
least some buses, according to School Bus Fleet, an industry
* Clear-cut explanations of the consequences for offenses. In
Boston, a new program resulted in banning 86 children from the bus
last year. In Jefferson County, Ala., a similar program has greatly
improved bus behavior over five years, says Kevin Walsh, a
To Mr. Walsh, also an associate professor at the University
of Alabama at Birmingham, it pays to train drivers and communicate
more clearly with students.
Driving a bus is "the most difficult job you can have," he
says. "Most drivers have little education and training other than
how to drive a bus. They are driving 60 kids with their backs
turned to them. We train teachers. They face 25 kids and still have
According to a 1996 survey by School Bus Fleet, student
misbehavior was the main stumbling block to driver retention. Low
wages ranked second.
Many bus drivers welcome the move toward stricter discipline.
"Kids aren't as nice as they used to be," complains Wayne Barnes,
who has driven in Wilks County, N.C., for 13 years. Parents and
administrators should take bus behavior seriously, he says. …