Vineland Public Schools serving the area about 40 miles south of Philadelphia has developed a bus safety video in response to the death of a high school student Alexa Strittmatter last October.
Then, an elementary student Edmond Bock of nearby Waterford, N.J., died Monday in the school bus danger zone in an incident that is currently under investigation. After these type of tragedy occurs, school administrators and family members wonder what could have been done to prevent it — and this is where student and driver training comes in.
Both students were crossing the road to catch their school bus when they were fatally struck. Alexa, 14, died Oct. 30 after being hit by two vehicles while crossing the street in the dark toward her bus. In the recent incident, 6-year-old Edmond reportedly walked in front of his bus while it was picking up students and was struck when the vehicle began to move forward again.
In Vineland’s school bus safety video, driver trainer Donna Nardi, who also conducts safety and evacuation drills for the district’s elementary students, shares simple but effective instructions for students on how to board their school bus safely.
During her classroom visits, she has the students watch the school-bus safety video first and then explains in more detail the proper procedures they need to follow in the “danger zone,” the 10 feet around the yellow bus.
Nardi stresses that the front of the bus and the rear tires are the most dangerous areas — and where most accidents occur. She also emphasizes the importance of bus drivers communicating with their young charges when it is safe to cross the road during loading and unloading.
“Do not approach your school bus until the bus driver pulls up, stops the bus — the wheels aren’t rolling anymore — the door opens and the red lights begin to flash. Then you can approach the bus and get on,” Nardi told Joseph Callavini, Vineland’s transportation coordinator, in a recent interview.
If students need to cross from the opposite side of the street to get on the bus, they are told to wait 10 to 15 feet away from the roadway, she continued. When the bus makes a complete stop, the doors open and the red lights are flashing, approach the roadway and look at the bus driver.
“The bus driver will give them a hand signal that it is safe to cross. And they are to come straight across the road, not at an angle, and they are to walk. If the bus driver sees them, and they see the bus driver, we’re good,” she said.
In addition, Nardi recommends that students arrive at their bus stops 10 minutes before the scheduled pickup to prevent occurrences of students running to catch the bus and forgetting to take the necessary precautions.
She went on to explain safe crossing procedures after the return ride to the bus stop after school.
“Stop, turn and make eye contact with your bus driver. The bus driver will again tell you when it is safe to cross. When you begin to cross, stop at the corner of the school bus to look down the side of the bus, left and right, and you will make sure that all traffic has stopped. Then you will continue across the street to go home,” she said.
If students drop anything near their school bus, Nardi stressed that they should not reach down and pick it up because they will fall out of the driver’s view. Instead, they need to get the driver’s attention and tell him or her they will be retrieving the item.
This communication is essential every step of the way.
District officials said the video is part of a safety strategy developed by the school district and Vineland and Cumberland County governments. The safety proposals also include finding a new way to fund sidewalk construction and fixing two dangerous intersections, including the one where Alexa was killed.