Help kids ease into back-to-school with a friendly, consistent commute
Written by Aylin Cook
Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the in-person school year to come to a screeching halt in March 2020, just about everything “normal” about education has been turned upside down. And even where in-person learning has resumed, so much is different. From mask mandates to social distancing to hybrid schedules, this back-to-school season feels, well, unusual.
So how can we—caregivers, parents, educators, transportation providers—help our children get back in the groove of school? And in particular, the groove of getting to and from school? In this article, we’ll touch on a few good places to start.
Start with a smooth trip to school
All school days begin for all students in the same way: with a trip. Whether they take a car, a bus, a bike or walk, a frictionless commute helps students transition into a day of learning.
And now more than ever, that seamless commute seems harder and harder to guarantee. Bus driver shortages continue to plague school districts, making it more challenging for transportation directors to staff their fleets. And social distancing requirements are creating fewer spaces for children on buses, too.
And, according to our State of Childcare Transportation Survey, some parents are nervous about carpooling during the ongoing pandemic.
“Since COVID, carpooling is a challenge,” one parent said. “We worry about exposure.”
For our most vulnerable students, the ones who experienced the most trauma during the pandemic, the value of a comfortable, consistent ride is even more considerable. For students experiencing homelessness or students with disabilities, a reliable, friendly and consistent commute is key—whether that service is provided by a caregiver, a school bus, or an alternative transportation provider like HopSkipDrive.
And many students’ situations may have changed since the onset of the pandemic—some may have moved, or lost their homes, or be experiencing anxiety. There are all sorts of challenges our students could be facing on the very first day of school, and we can prepare to meet them at the moment with a safe, reliable trip to school.
Give students the structure they need
People crave structure—especially children. This stability helps children feel safe—and it’s something that was taken from a lot of students when the pandemic began. And for children who are especially vulnerable—perhaps experiencing homelessness or who have disabilities—the past 18 months may have been especially unpredictable and challenging.
And now, as we settle into that “new normal,” we have a responsibility to provide a little structure to our children. It may be strange for them to step onto a school bus and see seats blocked off, to see everybody wearing masks, to see their bus driver behind a piece of plexiglass.
Same goes for students who rely on alternative transportation to get to school. A reliable, safe, and friendly ride can help them get comfortable and prepare for the day ahead. This is one of the many reasons why HopSkipDrive requires its CareDrivers to have five years of caregiving experience. It really makes a difference—and kids can tell.
But know that things are going to change—fast
If there’s one thing we learned from the pandemic, it’s that information, recommendations, guidelines, and best practices are all constantly evolving. And what was right and best on Monday might be outdated by Tuesday.
The best that we can do is offer students the safest, most comfortable, most consistent experience available, every day. And it’s okay if that experience changes. What’s most important is transparency—about changing guidelines, sanitation practices, things that fall through the cracks, violations of safety protocols, COVID-19 outbreaks.
And yes, this isn’t always easy. But when we conducted our State of School Transportation Survey this spring, many respondents listed collaboration as one of the silver linings of the pandemic.
Said one direction of transportation, “COVID-19 has afforded many transportation professionals the opportunity to collaborate more than in normal times. Really helping each other along with each person’s strength. This is really key in our field. We really don’t do our jobs without the support of others.”