By Curt Yeomans
Thirty-one, special-needs, bus-driving teams -- from 17 school systems across Georgia -- will converge on Jonesboro this weekend to see who is the best when it comes to transporting students with disabilities.
The Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation's fifth annual "State Special Needs Roadeo" will take place Saturday, from 8:30 a.m., to 1:30 p.m., at Tara Stadium, located at 1055 Battle Creek Road. The roadeo is a team competition, in which bus drivers, and the bus monitors they work with on a daily basis, face challenges that test their abilities to transport students with disabilities.
This is the first time Clayton County Public Schools has hosted the roadeo, said School System Director of Transportation John Lyles. Clayton will have two teams competing in the event, he said.
"We're very excited to be hosting this competition," Lyles said. "We've put in a lot of long hours to make sure this is a successful event, and to make sure the visiting school systems have a hospitable experience while they're here."
Charlene Majors, the chairperson for the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation's Special Needs Committee, said the roadeo is actually as much of a learning opportunity for bus drivers, as it is a competition.
"It's more about the education aspect, and learning more and more, about how to deal with special-needs children," Majors said. "All of the events in the roadeo represent maneuvers and situations that special-needs drivers have to deal with in real life."
Rella Smith, the special-needs manager for Clayton County Public Schools' transportation department, as well as a member of the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation's Special Needs Committee, added that the roadeo helps the bus drivers and monitors, because it "makes them more aware of situations that they could be hosting on their bus someday."
Majors said bus driver and monitor teams will be judged in a variety of areas, ranging from how to load students with disabilities onto a school bus, to how to evacuate them in an emergency situation. Another area she said the teams will be judged on is how successful they are at keeping the adults acting as students with disabilities calm while driving.
"A lot of them [monitors] will bring these brown canvas bags, which they call their bag of tricks," Majors said. "If the 'students' begin making a fuss while the bus is in motion, the monitor will begin pulling things out of the bag that can distract the 'students' from whatever is upsetting them. That way, they won't be distracting the bus drivers."
Majors said the first-and second-place teams in the state roadeo will advance to the National Association for Pupil Transportation's National Special Needs Team Safety Roadeo, which will be held in March, in Orlando, Fla.