Every day during the school year, approximately 22.5 million children hop aboard 400,000 yellow school buses to start their day of learning. Ask any bus driver their No. 1-priority and the answer is always the same.
“It’s all about safety. Student safety comes first,” said Rebecca Scheel, a bus driver with Gilroy Unified School District. “We carry the world's most precious cargo!”
Putting student safety first is a top priority for all classified employees, not just bus drivers. Campus security and police officers directly protect students from harm. Custodians and groundskeepers ensure the school environment is safe and clean. Food service workers follow safe food handling practices and make sure meals are healthy for children to eat. Meanwhile, paraeducators, office staff and other school site employees are on the front lines when it comes to student behavior and possible issues occurring at home or outside of school. In fact, no other members of the school community are more closely linked to student safety than classified employees.
Campus security workers are the watchful eyes of a school site. Campus security monitor Robert Maes is responsible for the safety of students, and has made quick decisions to diffuse potential situations. The Delta Valley 821 member said that classified employees know the ins and outs of how schools operate and are well-suited to give advice on how to make schools safer.
”We’re the ones who have relationships with students,” Maes said. “(Campus security monitors) prevent fights on campus. If we weren’t here, these schools would be out of control.”
Custodians and maintenance workers ensure that school environments are clean, safe and sanitary. Not only do they handle emergencies such as power outages and pest infestations as they occur, but they are also an extra set of eyes when trouble arises or a student is facing outside problems.
“We don’t just clean, we mentor other workers and kids—it comes with the territory,” said Gerry Chames, a custodian at Kerman Unified School District and president of Kerman Unified Chapter 279. “There are a lot of custodians who do the same thing. I’m not the only one.”
For food service workers, safety is the name of the game. These workers need to provide nutritious meals to students multiple times a day, and make sure that the food is prepared according to food safety laws. Paraeducators are on the front lines when it comes to student behavior and whether something is occurring at home or outside of school. These employees can often help if problems at home are causing learning issues.
Being safe is part of the job for bus drivers. As the most trained people on the road, school bus drivers maneuver 30-foot buses through a variety of traffic and weather conditions every day. And their commitment to safety doesn’t end there. Bus drivers are also another set of eyes to watch for student safety. Valarie Flanagan, a bus driver with the Garden Grove Unified School District, once saved a lost 4-year-old boy who had wandered onto a busy Westminster street.
“It’s not just the children that are on my bus,” the Garden Grove Chapter 121 member said. “If there’s a child outside the bus that doesn’t have anything to do with me, I’m still going to be looking out for their safety.”
Since students interact with classified employees on an almost constant basis throughout their day, it can be said that student safety is inextricably linked with the mindful watch of paraeducators, custodians, bus drivers, school secretaries and campus security officers. And, because they’re not teachers, children are often more likely to share items that are troubling them.
“The kids look at us as friends, parents, counselors and as someone they can talk to and confide in,” said Sherrell Williams, a campus supervisor with Vallejo City Unified School District. “They listen to us.”