Inaugural bus ride-along gets kindergartners ready for school

August 14, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Issaquah School District kindergarten students and their parents line up to board a school bus Aug. 8 at Issaquah High School to become familiar with part of their new school experience. By Lillian O’Rorke

Standing in line next to a row of big yellow school buses, a flock of incoming kindergartners squirmed and jibber-jabbered as they awaited their maiden voyage.

Although Alyssa Brookshier’s first day at Briarwood Elementary School is still a couple of weeks away, she wore her “fancy” outfit and picked out a special flowered headband for her inaugural school bus ride. The 5-year-old was excited to climb aboard, but a little nervous about all the noise — a feeling shared by her mother.

“It’s exciting. I’m a little nervous though,” her mother Natalie Brookshier said. “She’s so little. It’s hard to imagine that kids this little can get on the bus and be OK.”

The mother-and-daughter duo took part in the Issaquah School District’s “Come, ride along” school bus tour. For one hour Aug. 7 and 8, incoming kindergartners from the district’s 15 elementary schools and their families rode the bus together.

The tour included a stop at Clark Elementary School to see how the buses line up, a trip through the bus-sized car wash, a ride out to Preston, and a chance to practice unloading and crossing the street in front of the bus.

“It’s very neat,” Natalie Brookshier said. “I’ve never done anything like this.”

A few rows back from the Brookshiers, Addison Tran peered out the window. Next to her sat little sister Ai-vi and her mother Khanh.

“It’s nice that they have something like this to get the kids acquainted,” said Khanh Tran, whose daughter is set to attend Newcastle Elementary School.

The tour also is a chance for parents and young riders to learn more about the district’s transportation department. With 151 buses on the road, Issaquah transports about 14,000 students a day, covering more than 1 million miles per school year. To make sure those buses are in good condition, the Washington State Patrol inspects the buses twice a year, district Director of Transportation Jo Porter said.

Drivers attend state-mandated training, and have to carry a current first aid/CPR certification and commercial driver’s license. They also must pass an FBI and state patrol criminal check and pre-employment drug test. Once hired, they are subject to random drug and alcohol tests, Porter said.

During the tour, driver Don Cook answered questions and explained the vehicle’s features. He pointed out while there are no seatbelts on buses, the high seat backs serve as protection. Also, the buses are not allowed to go more than 60 mph on the freeway, and they usually travel in the 30 mph range, he said. While chugging along, he told parents about the bus’ camera, which turns on when the bus does, and about the vehicle’s GPS unit that allows the transportation department to know where each school bus is.

Twin sisters Maya and Eva Avena were not too concerned with cameras and GPS systems. They squeezed together against their window and scanned for Volkswagen Bugs. The two will be starting at Challenger Elementary School and explained that they love to play slug-bug in the car.

“We are going to have so much fun, right Maya?” Eva Avena asked as she hugged her sister’s shoulder.

In the seat ahead of them, 5-year-old Ayda Martin was thrilled, too. Martin will soon start kindergarten at Creekside Elementary School and said her favorite part of the journey was driving on the freeway to Preston.

“Feeling the bumps on me — it was more than just riding,” she said. “I’m really excited.”

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