Thumbs up for safety

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alton Abrams can imagine the fright a kindergartener feels, peeking his or her head into a big, yellow school bus to find an unfamiliar face sitting in the driver's seat.

&#8220It's understandable,” said Abrams, principal of Robert L. Austin Elementary School in Georgiana, on Tuesday. &#8220A kindergartener's world is their mother, father and their relatives. That's what they know. For the first couple of weeks, it's very difficult for them to get on a school bus, especially once they've become familiar with a certain driver.”

Abrams said from the first day of school, kindergarten students come to see the bus driver as a recognizable, friendly face. For them, he said, the bus driver is the person who makes sure they are returned home safely to their parents.

&#8220If you want to have some fun,” Abrams said, &#8220ask a kindergartener to tell you how to get to their house. They will tell you the bus's route home. That's how familiar they become with their bus and their bus driver.”

But bring in a substitute once a child has become accustomed to their regular bus driver and Abrams said apprehension and fear sets in quickly.

&#8220They don't want to get on the bus then because they don't think it's their bus,” he said. &#8220I've seen children move out of line to let someone else go ahead because they're scared to get on the bus.”

Abrams said he's taken steps to eliminate that fear, starting by ensuring kindergarteners can identify their buses by a parking place, instead of a driver. A new bus-only parking lot, located to the north of the school, makes that possible, said Abrams.

Before the school developed the former playground into a parking lot, Abrams said the 10 buses servicing R.L. Austin was forced to line up in front of the school's main building, creating a number of safety issues.

&#8220There were a couple of blind spots and as teachers and administrators we weren't able to see all the buses,” he said. &#8220Also, when the buses left the school they were headed onto a spot in the road where they couldn't see what was coming over a hill on their left.”

Having the buses parked in the back also clears the way for parents coming through to pick-up their children.

Abrams thanked the county, which helped with work on the parking lot project, as well as School Superintendent Mike Looney.

&#8220Mike and the Board of Education was a tremendous help in getting this accomplished,” he said. &#8220It's really taken a load of my mind.”