Thousands of students in Seminole and Sumter counties have already started the school year, and in less than a week, thousands more across the rest of Central Florida will join them.
The return to school means hundreds of school buses will be back on the roads. And this week, drivers are training to make sure kids stay safe. The district has its drivers focus on more than getting behind the wheel of their bus and driving their routes every day. Their training this week took a special emphasis on customer service and anti-bullying.
“I've had students I've taken to elementary, middle and high school and I know their parents, I know their children now. Yeah, it's exciting,” said driver Debra Karkovici.
Karkovici is about to enter her 28th school year as a bus driver for Orange County schools. The connection she says she's formed with her students is one example of the type of customer service the district wants to focus on this year.
“It's a huge job, huge responsibility. We got a great group of people that's willing to step up and do that,” said Jim Beekman, head of the district's transportation department.
The department's 1,600 employees got together at the convention center this week. They had some fun and got creative with skits and produced videos while going over new laws and procedures and how to identify bullying.
“We tell them whatever it is, no matter how minute it appears to be, let's report it, let's get it investigated because we want to assure it's not happening,” said Beekman.
A special guest speaker was brought in to help bus drivers learn how to recognize the signs of a student being bullied and also how to handle discipline aboard the bus.
“You've got to really pay attention to all your students, really listen to what they're talking about and try to help as much as you can,” said Karkovici.
The drivers also reviewed a technology that is on the newer buses. It's a button at the back of the back of the bus that helps prevent any student from being left on board. Drivers must walk to the back and press the button, so also taking a look through all rows for any sleeping children, before exiting and locking up. If that button isn't pressed before the front door opens and the bus is locked, lights and an alarm will go off.
Orange County Public Schools transports 72,000 students every day.