The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) says district personnel including school bus drivers can help students nationwide feel more safe and secure at school following the mass-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
NASP said classrooms as well as school buses should be made as predictable and welcoming as possible, which can be accomplished by providing access to mental health supports. According to the Wall Street Journal, at least one of the Sandy Hook victims, James Mattioli, 6, was a school bus rider. School Transportation News asked NASP not only how Mattioli's school bus driver could eventually assist in bringing some sense of normalcy back to other students on the bus but school bus drivers nationwide.
"If they express they miss the student who was killed, validate their feelings," said Melissa Reeves, Ph.D., a nationally certified school psychologist. "Reiterate to students the importance of telling an adult if they see something of concern or they are scared."
She provided the example that school bus drivers can express that they miss a particular student, too, but that they are glad to be with other students on the bus today.
Reeves also told STN that it is important to keep the structure and routine in place for students as much as possible
"Structure leads to predictibility and predictibility helps decrease anxiety," she added. "If they ask questions about safety or are anxious about their safety, reassure them by giving specific examples of safety measures being taken."
Reeves also recommended a simple tact that many of the estimated 650,000 certified school bus drivers nationwide already employ: greeting each student by name, both on the bus and off. Reeves said the personal treatment helps students feel connected to the adult who is caring for them.
"Greet every student when they get on the bus and make a positive comment to every student as they depart," said Reeves. "This builds a rapport between a driver and students. Students will then be willing to alert a driver when there are concerns or when they need help."
She also said school bus drivers should listen to student conversations to detect if there is any voiced concern of to watch if particular students appear to be struggling with their emotions. In those instances, she advised that driver note the student's name and to contact the school, which can in turn provide specialized support for the student.
"One of the basic things NASP is doing right now is reinforcing for parents, teachers, and other school personnel their natural instincts and training about what is good for kids," said Katherine C. Cowan, director of communications at NASP. "For most children and youth, what works on a normal Wednesday works in difficult experiences but with more intentionality, including being a more intentional listener and observer."
Cowan added that welcoming, loving, engaging and listening are things adults should do every day with students.
"The crisis piece at this level is the adults being more atuned and knowing the signs of students have need extra support," she concluded. "Reinforcing this is an important aspect of crisis response and support."