BY PAUL BICKLEY
While it isn’t exactly wrangling cattle, anyone who has been on a bus full of school kids knows being a bus driver offers a similar challenge. In June, a “roadeo,” officially known as the School Transportation Association of Indiana’s (STAI’s) School Bus Safety Competition, challenged drivers to prove their mettle. Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) bus drivers Joseph Newlin and Misty Patton won first place in the Special Needs Division.
Held in Brownsburg, Indiana, the competition pairs a driver with a monitor, who tends to passengers’ needs. “Joe and I make a good team,” Patton says.
Teams are scored in three areas. Driving skill tests include pre-checking to make sure the bus is fully functional, weaving through a pylon course, and stopping for railroad tracks. A written exam tests knowledge of laws about seating and securing passengers and ways to communicate with and assist disabled students. A passenger-care component tests evacuating the bus in an emergency and responding to different needs as they arise in transit. Volunteers play the roles of student passengers, acting out scenarios.
“The point is to promote serving the kids,” Newlin says. “It’s all about the kids.”
Newlin found the evacuation the most challenging. “You have to complete it right and in a certain amount of time,” he says. “You get five minutes to learn passengers’ disabilities before the evacuation. That’s a lot of information to take in quickly.”
For their efforts, Newlin and Patton won a 2-foot trophy, plaques and certificates, and $50 each. Both were honored at this summer’s STAI conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Newlin, 40, has driven a special-needs bus for 19 years for Bloomington High School North and Highland Park and Grandview elementary schools. Patton, 42, has driven all MCCSC buses and is currently the corporation’s special-needs coordinator. Both have been MCCSC bus monitors. Newlin and a different partner won third place in the competition last year. “This year,” Newlin says, “Misty and I beat last year’s winners on their home court.”
In March, Newlin and Patton will compete in the national roadeo, held in Dallas/Frisco, Texas, as part of the annual Transporting Disabled Students Conference.
“We have a chance. We have the team,” Newlin says. “And we’re going to have fun.”
The trip to Texas is all-expenses-paid, and for Newlin, it will be his first time in an airplane.