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Madawaska enlists monitors to assist school bus drivers

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Madawaska School Department has enlisted the assistance of four members of the staff from the elementary school to act as bus monitors and give drivers much needed relief from having to discipline passengers in addition to getting the students safely to and from school.

In recent years, the number of buses transporting students has been reduced from 7 to 4, thus increasing the number of students on each bus route and the potential for disciplinary issues, according to Madawaska School Department Superintendent Gisele Dionne.

Last year, the school system used monitors sporadically and had two of the four buses covered this year before a parent complained about the treatment of students by a driver on one of the uncovered buses.

The superintendent did not want to get into any specifics about that incident but indicated that monitors have since been assigned to assist all bus drivers with their afternoon routes. The monitors are either teachers or school staffers who are being paid an extra hour each day for the additional duty.

The monitors, according to Dionne, have set up assigned seats and instructed students on proper bus behavior. They also give reminders to the youngsters to stay in their seats and sit correctly. Dionne also said there are cameras on the bus and the drivers use radios to communicate with the school in the event of discipline problems or if a student is not picked up at their stop or is late getting picked up.

The school department has been searching for more bus drivers to increase the number of bus routes and lessen the load of students that need to be watched on each bus. Each bus currently transports anywhere from 40-65 students per trip. That is more than double, at times even triple, the ratio that the schools keep in the classrooms of 20 students to every one teacher, according to Madawaska Elementary School principal, Lise Pelletier.

Bus drivers are tasked with driving, knowing the routes, knowing who goes where, keeping track of it all, and coordinating with the school in the event a younger student is not where he needs to be all while making sure the students are safe in a nearly 13 ton box on wheels.

Dionne added that in the last two weeks, three people drove past the bus after the bus driver had stopped to drop off or pick up a student, even with the red lights on and stop sign extended from the bus. That was something that had happened only twice before in three years, she said.

“It makes it far more difficult for drivers to monitor students and keep them safe,” the superintendent said.

Principal Pelletier, who sometimes volunteers as a bus monitor herself, said, “[Drivers] are required to do a lot. I don’t know if I could do it.”

Buses are about to be boarded by young students at Madawaska Elementary School one recent afternoon as drivers prepare by testing their stop signs.
(Morgan Mitchell)

Safety and discipline are the main reasons for the monitors on the buses, as Dionne said the students are often times “less attentive to the rules.”

The bus drivers did try to discipline students, telling them to sit down or threatening to report them to the school principal, “but their priority is driving and safety,” Dionne said.

When the drivers would have to handle a discipline problem, they were encouraged to pull over and deal with the issue, involving the school if need be, she said. But Dionne added that if the drivers were to do that everytime, “they would never get to school.”

The monitors are used on the afternoon bus trips because students are typically less active in the morning on the way to school, according to the superintendent.

“The schools are responsible for transportation and we try to serve as best as we can with our limitations,” Dionne said.

On a recent afternoon, after the bell rang at the elementary school, teachers and staff members escorted the young students to their respective buses. As the children climbed aboard, the new monitors greeted and seated them as the bus drivers took a head count and noted who they needed to drop off where.

Passengers John Paul DeBottis, 6, and Zoey Gandolfo, 7, said they love riding the bus as well as the monitor’s presence on the bus.

“I like the bus because you can see out the window, you can read books…” DeBottis said as he pulled out a bag full of books.

“I like the bus because it takes me home to get dropped off,” Gandolfo chimed in.

DeBottis said he also likes the drivers and monitors because “they are great at driving and great at walking on the bus.”

Gandolfo expressed her happiness about the addition of an adult montor.

“The teachers are on [here] so to keep you safe,” she said.

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