The Niagara Falls Review - - Front Page - KRIS DUBÉ

School bus driver Sherri Wake is get­ting ready to hit the road next week when Ni­a­gara stu­dents head back to the class­room.

Bus driv­ers are of­ten the first and last point of con­tact for stu­dents on a school day.

And with classes start­ing next week, hun­dreds of them are get­ting ready to play a role in the lives of young learn­ers across Ni­a­gara.

Sherri Wake is one of more than 500 driv­ers who will de­liver 31,000 pupils to their re­spec­tive fa­cil­i­ties within the pub­lic and Catholic boards through­out the 2018-19 aca­demic year.

She has been be­hind the wheel for the past 15 years de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with stu­dents and their par­ents, mak­ing sure they are de­liv­ered on time and safely.

She says one of the most re­ward­ing parts of her job is watch­ing the young rid­ers grow from the kinder­garten age to young adults when they get ready for high school.

“It makes a huge dif­fer­ence and you end up hav­ing a rap­port with the fam­ily,” she says.

She says se­lect stu­dents can be more “chal­leng­ing” than oth­ers and that some of the younger ones must be mon­i­tored closely through the rearview mir­ror, es­pe­cially in Septem­ber when many are still adapt­ing to rid­ing on a bus.

“This is prob­a­bly the first time they’ve been in a ve­hi­cle when they haven’t had to be in a booster or car seat,” says Wake.

Bul­ly­ing is an is­sue on school prop­erty, but also on the way there, says the veteran bus driver.

“If some­thing piques our in­ter­est, we’re def­i­nitely go­ing to make sure we take care of it,” she says.

Lori Pow­ell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ni­a­gara Stu­dent Trans­porta­tion Ser­vices, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that works with both English school boards to co-or­di­nate bus­ing, says routes have been mapped out and tested ahead of the “com­mu­ni­ca­tion mode” that’s un­der­way to work with par­ents and schools about any changes that may ap­ply to stu­dents.

Stu­dents in kinder­garten who live 800 me­tres or less from a school are in­el­i­gi­ble for ar­ranged trans­porta­tion.

Those in grades 1 to 8 in­side a 1.6-kilo­me­tre ra­dius are re­quired to find their own way to class and stu­dents who are in high school can catch a bus if they live more than 2.5 kilo­me­tres from their home school.

There are also “home school” des­ig­na­tions in place, mean­ing stu­dents can only be bussed to the fa­cil­ity that is clos­est to home and not one on the op­po­site side of their town or city.

“Ap­prox­i­mately 50 per cent of the stu­dents be­tween the pub­lic and Catholic boards are el­i­gi­ble for trans­porta­tion,” says Pow­ell.

Mea­sures are es­tab­lished to en­sure that some of the longer routes, such as the ones stu­dents in Fort Erie take to get to Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Col­borne, don’t ex­ceed an hour.

“We try very hard to keep the ride times un­der 60 min­utes each way,” says Pow­ell.

It is ex­pected that po­lice will be out in full force on the first day of school next week, and Pow­ell says the lo­cal trans­porta­tion com­pany hopes peo­ple will be aware and cau­tious of an in­flux of chil­dren out and about near schools.

“We want to start the school year safe, and that re­quires all of us to pay at­ten­tion to school buses and pedes­tri­ans,” she says.

There is not a short­age of driv­ers, but new re­cruits are al­ways wel­come to cover for ill­nesses and va­ca­tion time.

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