Last fall, a conversation was started by a concerned parent. One that I’m sure many of you have experienced within your own family. How much technology is too much? And while devices and access to technology can be good (you’re probably reading this on a pocket sized device right now), how do we protect our younger students from dangerous activities and content, and promote positive alternatives to screen time? And as an administrator, how can we support best practices while our students are in our care?
After months of research and conversations, I am happy to support our Jenison transportation team as they have introduced a “No Electronics” rule for our elementary school buses. Our district decided to allow the students to keep their devices in their backpacks (eliminating the potential for lost/stolen items or inappropriate use); and saw this as the perfect opportunity to go one step further to give the students something different to occupy their time.
I’m excited that a simple yet impactful solution was born. Working with the Transportation team on this idea, Kristy Rogalla, JPS Director of Curriculum followed the ‘Classroom Library’ strategy and worked with Scholastic to provide 25 buses with bins of books for the students to read while on the road.
The bin contains books from a wide range of reading selections, appropriate for Kindergarten through 6th grade. Accomodating all readers including comics/short stories, nonfiction and more for even the shortest bus rides. It is exciting to continue to encourage a passion for reading and life long learning; we’re already seeing very positive reactions and an outpouring of parent support.
Providing books for all students has encouraged them to read to themselves or with their seat partner and teachers in the classrooms have been hearing about which books they are choosing while on the bus. Bus drivers report that students have been excited to board the bus and get the books they want! The book bins are available during the traditional before and after school bus routes as well as field trips and any other times the buses are in action.
After implementing this program, one driver shared that it was the first time since the beginning of this year that the older grade students were engaging in conversation and actually getting to know each other rather than being glued to their screens. Overall, this change has created a calmer atmosphere as students are not clamoring over the seats to see what other students are watching, listening to or playing on their gadgets.
Jill Brower, Jenison mom and driver of the Penguin bus for El Puente and Kids First, considers herself a concerned parent when it comes to technology and is grateful for the book bins. She loves to see the excitement on the kids’ faces when they get on to see which book they can get next – as they are swapped out weekly. Older students on her bus are embracing the concept as well – often bringing their own books from home and sharing with friends. She has had a great year with her students and she loves getting to know them and creating a respectful riding environment. She has introduced “Whisper Wednesdays” – so students can read aloud but only by whispering. “It sometimes lasts just a few minutes but the kids all get a kick out of it and some students ask if we can do Whisper Wednesdays on other days too! I love my students, we have so much fun and I’m happy to see them engaging each other more and diving into the books!”
One of my favorite outcomes of this change comes from the Penguin and the Dino busses who are reporting a grassroots ‘book buddy’ program starting to form. Older students showing interest in sitting up front with the younger kids to interact with them and read to them. Readers are leaders and readers are who we are in Jenison – whether we’re in the classroom or on the road!!
It is our fundamental belief that the successful education of our students is dependent on a positive partnership between parents, teachers, and administrators. When you think of all the obvious school partners and resources, please don’t forget the support teams and your child’s bus driver! I am proud that our transportation team and our 30+ daily drivers are every bit of an extension of the commitment I feel for our students in regards to their academics and mental health and wellness.
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