LAC LA BICHE - A very hands-on theatrical lesson is helping preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students learn about the importance of bus safety, says instructor and puppeteer Justin Anderson.
Early last week, a presentation put on by Spruce Grove-based company Safety on Board brought Anderson, his hand puppet, games, and a playful walkthrough all about bus safety to the Light of Christ Catholic School in Lac La Biche.
Anderson led the fun course — three presentations over the day — with his puppet and co-host Aaron.
The presenter and puppets demonstration in the classroom showed the kids how to understand bus safety requirements and danger zones on and around buses. Using toy props and a game of Simon Says, Aaron and Anderson walked the kids through how to get on and off the bus in daily situations and also during an emergency. While Anderson taught the kids the material, puppet Aaron popped up into each conversation to review the safety measures with the young audiences.
Following some in-class learning, Anderson and Aaron take the students onto a bus to practice their lessons. Aaron continues to call out pointers to the kids while they are on the bus.
“The kids really respond well to Aaron,” says Anderson, speaking to Lakeland Today after one of last Monday’s class presentations.
The hour-long safety session is a great way to get the message of safety to the children, while giving them a fun event, says Light of Christ preschool teacher Andrea Biollo, who was thrilled about the positive session her group of kids had.
“The program really allowed the kids to learn a lot of good information…it was really awesome to see how much fun they were having and to hear all the laughs,” she said.
About the program
Cindy House, the founder of the Safety On Board program, has been a school bus driver for 20 years. She is also an instructor with the province’s Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for bus operators. She created the program in 1999 after seeing the challenges that some students faced when it came to school bus safety, and the challenges bus drivers and schools had when it came to the time needed to teach the children.
“I noticed us drivers were well-trained, but few were teaching the kids. As a driver, I didn’t have the time to do that, I could give them the basics but I was also trying to get them from point A to B.”
She also understands the difficulties of capturing the attention of youngsters.
“Bus safety isn’t really all that exciting,” she says, but implementing interactive ways for young children to get involved, including fun puppets and engaging presenters, while simultaneously teaching them about the danger zones, and what to do during an emergency, makes the commute safer and easier to learn.”
The classroom teaching mixed with the walk-through of a real bus gives the students practical, common-sense learning.
“Seeing it in a toy is one thing, but we want to bring it into reality, so we bring the kids out to the real school bus, we show them the real danger zone and then we do a real emergency evacuation,” she said.
Her program picked up momentum in the greater Edmonton area initially. However, she says, the company now works with over 500 classrooms all around Alberta from preschool to Grade 12.
While Aaron and a few other puppet presenters offer a hands-on approach to the younger grades, the older kids receive a more detailed visual presentation.
House is always updating her program to meet provincial safety requirements, she says, bringing the added safety lessons to her MELT training courses.
“As a MELT instructor with the Alberta government, all the updates are supplied to me and if there is anything relevant to children we apply that to the program.”
The most recent data available on school bus collisions in Alberta, which was published in 2008 found that 2,316 school bus incidents occurred from 2001-2006 — the data includes six fatalities, 319 injuries and 1,993 property damage reports.
Not all of the safety training for bus safety is the responsibility of students, bus drivers and school staff, says the veteran driver and consultant. She said motorists, pedestrians and all community members play an active role in keeping school bus children safe. The way community members can help avoid bus incidents, says house, is by following the rules.
“If the red flashing lights are on it's a complete stop 20-meters behind and 20-meters in front of the bus, a complete stop! Then, wait until we extinguish the red lights, that way you can help us keep the kids safe,” said House, explaining just one rule of the many that she hopes community members remember.
The importance of a community buy-in is vital, she says, especially since young children tend to have more things on their minds than school bus safety … even if a fun puppet named Aaron did just teach them.
“As a community, the general public needs to know that even though we are teaching the kids this information, they are young and spontaneous, says House."