The First Rider program introduces the smallest learners to bus safety
Riding the school bus for the first time can be both a scary and exciting experience for the youngest learners in the Near North District School Board (NNDSB). That’s why, since 2012, Nipissing-Parry Sound Student Transportation Services (NPSSTS) has operated the First Riders program.
NPSSTS Safety Officer Anna Leppinen said the First Riders program introduces students and families to the process of riding the school bus and what is expected of everyone involved. The roles of the bus driver, bus company, consortium, families and students are all discussed.
The program is a wonderful introduction to how to ride the school bus safely, Leppinen said. Students watch a school bus safety video, receive a lesson in school bus rules, and have the opportunity to ride a school bus for the first time. Students learn safety tips, rules and expectations for their behavior while riding the school bus and while waiting for the school bus to arrive at their stop.
After the bus rules video and discussion, students line up at several mock bus stops and safely board the bus as it circles. First Riders then set off on their first school bus ride on their own while families receive their own lessons in school bus procedures.
First Rider hosts review key student transportation policies and procedures with families. These include procedures regarding inclement weather days, arranging pick-up and drop-off locations, the process of locating a lost student, and managing student behavior.
Parent Logane White said her daughter, Hali, had never been on a school bus and was nervous about getting on for the first time. “We thought it was a great opportunity for her,” White said.
“She was very excited about participating in the First Rider program. She loved learning and asking questions, the bus ride and playing with the little show buses. The NPSSTS package with the coloring page and magnet was also a hit,” White said.
“I was happy with the safety video shown to the kids and that my daughter was able to get on the bus on her own. It really gave her a full experience,” White said. she did it once before school started.”
White feels it is very important for students and families to participate in the program for many reasons. One being that little riders are used to riding in car seats in personal vehicles.
“If we hadn’t been on this program, day one would have been very confusing for Hali to get on a giant bus with no seatbelt or car seat,” White said. “It eases the minds of parents and children on the first day of school. It’s a big transition for toddlers and this program helps with that transition,” she added.
Leppinen said bus drivers say they are generally happy with how young learners feel safe and comfortable when they first board the school bus. Families also seem to have a better sense of direction in terms of who to contact for different transportation change requests, she said.
The program has been popular and successful since its inception, with the number of participants increasing steadily each year until the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person sessions had been on hiatus for the past two years, but all areas of the program saw stable attendance numbers for its return in 2022.
The sessions took place in all regions served by NPSSTS and were offered in French and English. SNPSST manages and coordinates all school transportation services for the NNDSB and its four coterminus school boards.