Podcast: How a Special Needs School Bus Supervisor Keeps the Ride Safe

Host Note

One of the best benefits of attending a CPI Instructor Conference is the opportunity to meet and share experiences with the diversity of people who call upon our training and techniques to safely succeed in their jobs—for instance, those responsible for safety on special needs school buses.

One such attendee at CPI’s Instructor Conference this past July was Jesse Hill, the special needs driver supervisor for Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs. Jesse earned his initial CPI Instructor certification in 2013 and his enhanced certification in July of 2015 at the Conference in New Orleans.  

While at Conference, Jesse met Marvin Mason, CPI’s chief marketing officer, who in turn let me know that Jesse’s success working with and training others in the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program would make for a relevant and interesting interview. Fortunately, Jesse was not only willing but enthusiastic about sharing his successes and challenges working with and training others in CPI models and methods.  

And finding the time to do an interview could not have been easy in a district that includes 21 elementary schools, 8 middle schools, and 7 high schools; daily ridership is over 10,000 students. Included in the district are 76 general education routes and 47 special needs routes. 386 special needs students are transported daily; 44 paraprofessionals ride along on the special needs routes to help keep the ride safe and orderly.

Throughout the interview, Jesse’s commitment to safety and prevention shines through. Along the way, Jesse talks about the role that CPI's Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training and techniques play in helping to create and sustain supportive, least-restrictive environments for students, drivers, parents, and peers. 

Guest Biography 

Back in 2002, Jesse Hill moved from his home state of Oklahoma to Colorado Springs to attend Colorado Christian University. Also in that year, Jesse started work with the local school district as a bus driver. In the years that followed, Jesse worked as a relief driver, trainer, and router, as well as earning a B.A. in elementary education in 2008. Jesse became the special needs driver supervisor for ASD 20 in 2012. 

Outside of work, Jesse serves in a local church as a minister, elder, and teacher. He especially enjoys outdoor activities like camping, hunting, and fishing, as well as spending time with family.

Podcast Highlights

Here are some highlights of my conversation with Jesse:

On dealing with challenging behavioral issues that drivers experience on the job (6:15)

Jesse: We have a lot of behavioral students within our district and a lot of those drivers will come in and talk to me about "How can I manage this unique behavior?" of maybe a student with autism, or a student that is just out of control on a daily basis, mad at the world, if you will. So we kind of work through those processes and try to help them to understand a little bit more about what's really going on in the minds of these kids sometimes.

Terry: Can you give me a recent example of what kind of issue that might be?

Jesse: Sure. Just recently I've got a young man that got on a school bus, refused to be seated. The driver and the paraprofessional came to my office. They shared with me, asked me for some help. We kind of started trouble-shooting about what we could do for that. I actually went to the school that day to check on them, to see exactly what was going on, to see firsthand.

Come to find out, his medication is wearing off. He did not want to be seated. He was climbing up and over the seats, you know, just a dangerous situation.

On his initial CPI training (10:02)

Jesse: [In 2012] we got a new director, Ms. Cindy Hardin, and she felt that it was so important to have that CPI, that understanding, to help people to identify the anxiety level of students. Not only students, but of course parents and peers, to understand what that anxiety level is and how to stop it before it goes into a physical intervention.

Terry: So then you were there from 2002 to 2012 before you had the CPI training, until Cindy Hardin said, "It is imperative that everyone receive this training."

Jesse: Exactly.

Terry: Did you find it made a difference right away as you came back in? Did you find the concepts resonating with you?

Jesse: Absolutely. When I became supervisor, she said, "Jesse, I want you trained in CPI. I want you to become an Instructor, to help us to instruct everyone in our district, and everyone in our bus transportation facility."

On current CPI training in the district (11:50)

Jesse: Since I've gotten the enhanced certification I've taught four full classes. Now we have four trainers here right now and every person that comes in through our door as an employee will be trained, normally within the first six months of their employment.

Terry: I see.  

Jesse: If we can get them trained quickly, it helps alleviate some of that anxiety level that they might have when they get onto a bus and a student is starting to act out and they just don't know what to do. It kind of gives them that. So we do train, just on a constant rotation right now. We have about 230 employees in the transportation department itself. And from our bookkeeper all the way down to the mechanics, to all supervisors, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, everybody has been certified.

On effectively using a CPI restraint technique to calm a student (14:20)

Jesse: The biggest, the one time that I remember—and I had to actually do a CPI restraint on a student that was coming after me. He came after me time and time again, and after a little while I just kind of said, "Okay, enough is enough." I put him in a hold and leaned him back and just kind of talked him down. At that point in time, you know, he was very agitated. I could tell that he was agitated when he came on the bus. His anxiety level was already ramped up and he came after me to claw, to hit, to pinch, to bite.

Terry: Right.

Jesse: And after a few times of him trying to get after me, I just kind of got him in that restraint hold and held him back, and just began to talk with him. I saw the de-escalation start to happen. He began to calm down a little bit, and I finally asked him if he was ready to go to his seat and sit down, and we would get him home safely.

On how CPI training can provide a safety advantage (17:32)

If we can teach our drivers and our paraprofessionals, our mechanics, anybody that deals with people, if we can teach them to recognize the anxiety level beginning to rise, and how to verbally de-escalate the situation, we're ahead of the game.

On the effectiveness of CPI techniques on irate parents (18:20)

Well, a lot of times a parent that will approach, either come to the transportation department or they may call on the phone. We receive just hundreds of phone calls of parents who are a little bit irate, you know, and they can be out of control—from using foul language to yelling and screaming and calling us all kinds of names.

When that happens, of course our technique is "Okay. Let's use the CPI model here. Let's try to get them to calm down first and foremost." And probably 95% of the time, just by our mannerisms here on the other side, from what we've learned in CPI, just being calm and being reasonable with the individual, it will de-escalate them. Then we can have a civilized conversation.

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