North Mason school bus drivers Jill Lowe and Lori Johnson are the new State Champions for Special Needs bus driving.
Lowe and Johnson competed in the annual Washington Association for Pupil Transportation (WAPT) State School Bus Safety Competition held in Yakima. By winning first place, these two very caring and talented bus drivers have earned the right to compete at the national level, scheduled for next March in Dallas, Texas.
North Mason has been represented by a special needs team for seven years at the state competition, but this is the first time the district has won the championship. It’s also the first time in 14 years that drivers from within the OESD 114 region have taken top honors.
Johnson and Lowe bring a combined 17 years of experience to the job.
Tom Culliton, Director of NMSD Transportation, noted that there are many benefits to participating in the competition. “It gives us the opportunity to enhance our driving skills and student procedures, because we get to see how other districts handle these same challenges.”
The event begins with drivers demonstrating their pre-trip skills where they check and double-check all the mechanical aspects of the bus. “Our drivers do this every day, at the beginning of every run,” states Culliton.
Next may come a wheelchair loading challenge followed by the installation of carseats and other gear specific to the special needs bus. Drivers must then complete a written test of 50 questions and a challenging driving course that includes maneuvers such as the winding “serpentine,” backing into a stall and parallel parking.
Finally, a group of “actors” boards the bus to enable drivers to demonstrate their skills with behavioral and physical disabilities. Drivers were also challenged by having to evacuate a bus during an accident scenario.
“It takes a certain person to drive a special needs school bus as it requires patience and careful attention to details,” said Culliton. “There is a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into competing in a Special Needs Competition, but more so, it proves the passion (Johnson and Lowe) have for the children they transport each and every day for the North Mason School District.”
Johnson is eager to give credit to her co-worker. “Jill is so precise on her driving, it’s amazing what she can make this bus do!”
Lowe responds that Johnson likes the challenging kids.
Together, they make Team North Mason proud.