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4 silver linings to school transportation providers’ challenging year

In 2020 and 2021, the coronavirus pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for all of us, including those who work in education and student transportation. Virtual learning became commonplace, and most transportation to and from school came to a screeching halt. Now, as COVID-19 vaccines are available to all American adults and in-person learning resumes, school transportation professionals are hard at work to ensure all students get to and from school safely. 

Of course, student transportation in 2021 is no walk in the park. According to our 2021 State of School Transportation Survey, many pupil transportation professionals are concerned about the bus driver shortage, CDC guidelines, unusual bell schedules are much more. Still, survey respondents reported plenty of reasons to look on the bright side. 

Here are four silver linings to a very challenging era in school transportation:

A student-first attitude

Most people don’t just stumble into a job in pupil transportation. Typically, these professionals like working with children, and understand the importance of a safe ride to and from school. So, when COVID-19 further complicated student transportation, these providers never lost sight of what matters most: access to education  for all students. 

“We have a great team who are willing to do anything and everything to support our students,” said one transportation executive. 

Another respondent agreed.

“My current staff of drivers are great! They are eager to keep transporting students,” they said. 

Finally, this student-first attitude ensures that vulnerable groups of students get the special attention they need. One transportation executive listed his staff’s support for special education students as the brightest part of his 2021. 

After all, it’s this extra support for students experiencing homelessness, foster care children, and kids with special needs that makes educational equity a reality. Without safe, reliable rides to and from school, it’s impossible for these students to access the classroom on a consistent basis. 

Better, more efficient cleaning and sanitizing 

Some respondents expressed how new and improved cleaning protocols are here to stay. While masking, social distancing and other CDC guidelines aren’t likely to stick around forever, many survey respondents believe the commitment to cleaner buses and buildings is permanent. 

“Our buses and buildings are cleaned more efficiently,” said one director of transportation. 

Other precautions that may stick with us for good? Regular hand-washing, readily-available hand sanitizer, and protection for bus drivers. 

More collaboration and teamwork

Another silver lining? Exceptional collaboration between student transportation professionals. 

“COVID-19 has afforded many transportation professionals the opportunity to collaborate more than in normal times,” said one director of transportation. “Really helping each other along with each person’s strength. This is really key in this field. We really don’t do our jobs without the support of others.”

A transportation executive agreed, noting that communication between team members has improved since the pandemic’s onset.

“Social distancing forced us to rely on drivers to communicate to other drivers in the field,” she said. “We experienced a lot of pivots this year, and a high level of communication was needed to garner trust and buy in. The lead drivers help successfully facilitate a lot of positive change.”

Recognition for a job that’s really, really challenging 

Finally, many survey respondents listed recognition as the bright spot of the last couple years. When we asked survey respondents to list any positive outcomes from COVID-19’s effect on school transportation, one executive cut right to the chase.

“An overall, greater appreciation for what we do,” she said. 

While the pandemic has been undeniably devastating in just about every way, we’re pleased to report that there are some new strides in student transportation.

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