COLUMBIA — Tina DeClue is standing behind a school bus at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School on a recent Friday morning when she hears a little voice call to her.
"Stop, stop," a brown-haired girl in a bright pink shirt says. "I need to tell you something."
DeClue turns toward the approaching girl. "What is it?" she asks.
"You always need to be 10 to 11 feet behind the bus," the girl says earnestly.
For DeClue, this is a wonderful moment. The girl caught DeClue pausing on her way back to the sidewalk in one of the bus's "danger zones," a blind spot. Minutes earlier, DeClue had told the girl and her classmates about keeping a safe distance from buses during a safety drill.
DeClue, a former teacher at New Haven Elementary School, is the new bus safety coordinator for Columbia Public Schools. The position appears to be the first of its kind in Missouri and is designed to strengthen the district's bus safety programs, said David Wilson, district transportation coordinator.
The Columbia School Board created the position after enough complaints from bus drivers about student behavior, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
"Drivers were complaining when transporting them issues came up like eating habits, volume, and people standing up," Baumstark said. "Those were concerns because drivers need to be able to follow certain safety protocols."
Wilson said the position will help with these problems by educating children about proper bus behavior and the safe and appropriate practice of loading, unloading and riding district school buses.
"We need to do as much as we can to educate kids," Wilson said. "If we don’t teach them, how are they going to learn?"
DeClue has experience with getting students to and from school safely. She volunteered as the Walking School Bus liaison for Shepard Boulevard Elementary, where she and her son led students on a short walk to school.
"The main thing we stressed for the Walking School Bus was safety while allowing students a way to decompress from school," DeClue said.
DeClue said she will apply her prior experience with both students and bus safety to her new position.
"I think all of my positions have helped me," DeClue said. "I think any work with families, making lives better for them, has a positive impact. ... I want to have good relationships with kids. They need to be able to trust me."
Wilson thinks DeClue's experience makes her the right person for the job.
"It was obvious to have her take on the task," Wilson said. "I'm very thankful to the Board of Education that they recognized the need."
DeClue already has many plans for the school year, Wilson said. Starting in late October, DeClue began visiting more than 300 classrooms with a safety presentation.
"We are going to have buses come to sites for bus loading and evacuation drills," DeClue said. "There will be 30-minute presentations, and we will be going over crossing the street as well."
DeClue will focus on the children who ride school buses. She will work with them one-on-one, in classrooms and through assemblies.
"I'll be working with kids, teaching them how to load and ride the bus safely and making sure they know what (behavior) is expected of them on the bus," DeClue said.
Kim Frazee, safety manager at First Student School Bus Transportation Services, which the district uses to provide buses, said he thinks the new position will help the drivers as well as the young passengers.
"This position was a great idea," Frazee said. "Training the children how to properly ride and teaching them the bus expectations will definitely help."
After the initial focus on children's safety, DeClue's job will likely expand to include working with drivers who exhibit bad habits.
DeClue said she hopes to start safety programs for middle schools because she thinks the younger students can learn from watching their older peers.
"We want the older students to be role models and mentors for the younger kids," she said.
DeClue will continue to build this position from the ground up.
"To make sure the child's safe. To get what they deserve," she said. "This is an opportunity directly to work more with children and bring children to school safe every day."
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