By Jill McCaughey, special needs van driver for the Weymouth Public Schools
Note: I posted this note on Facebook because I was concerned about some of the inaccurate and unfair portrayals of the van drivers. Before I started the job, I had no idea how hard the work is or what goes into doing the job. Now that I've been a driver for three years, I've gained a real appreciation for the work we do with the students, parents and teachers. It truly is a labor of love.
I realize we live in a very cynical world at a very cynical time. We also live at a time that social media is a platform for every random thought, opinion or even blatant lie. I had read some pretty negative perceptions and outright lies about my profession on social media, so I'm taking this opportunity to describe what being a special needs van school "bus" driver actually means.
The job, simply described, is to transport special needs students to school and home, whether their program is in town or out of town. We also transport to other events, such as field trips or life skills programs.
We fully understand that parents are entrusting us with their children and fully recognize what an awesome responsibility that is. We safely transport these kids in rain, hail, sleet and snow. We drop off and pick up with an extra cautious eye, as experience has taught us a majority of motorists do NOT stop for our bus stop lights. We have to calmly handle tailgating when society is late for work, as our job is going the speed limit. We recognize what a meltdown is (as opposed to a tantrum and yes, we know the difference) and how to calm that situation. We are compassionate, loving and understand that every student is different and special.
We consider our vehicles not just moving 'stuff' from point A to point B, but as an extension of the classroom. The same social skills taught in class are reinforced on the vans. We constantly communicate on a daily basis with the teachers to ensure we are meeting the student’s needs. We wipe noses and make sure surprise bathroom needs are addressed. We clean our vans frequently, sometimes as a preventative health measure and sometimes due to an unforeseen upset tummy or bathroom accident. It comes with the territory and we fully understand.
We are prepared to handle any medical emergency, any seizure, any sudden violent outburst or self-injurious behavior. We have all been punched, kicked, spit upon, scratched and/or bitten and fully and calmly accept that this is part of our responsibilities. We voluntarily take up collections when “our kids” are in need; money, food, gift cards, clothing, diapers; whatever the situation calls for. We voluntarily buy our kids end of the year gifts, Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. We voluntarily attend the annual Special Olympics on our own time, because we WANT to; not because we have to. We check your car seats to make sure they are safely installed and not expired (yes, they have expiration dates). We make sure the seats are age/weight/height appropriate. We keep an eye out for all the students, whether we transport them or not. We support each other with the ultimate goal that every student gets to where they need to be when unforeseen situations arise.
Please know this; we know your kids. We love your kids. We protect your kids as if they were our own. We take our jobs very seriously and love what we do. And we're damn good at it. While the importance and professionalism required may be lost on some people, I can assure you it is never lost on us.
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