By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
When former school bus driver Bryan Nash retired a dozen years ago as Transportation Director for the Tuscaloosa County school system, he had two goals in mind. Nash wanted to stay active, and he wanted to help teach youngsters the safe and proper way to act around a school bus.
He accomplished the second goal, and that took care of the first.
Nash, who also worked as a bus inspector for the Alabama Department of Transportation, established Crossgate Services and came up with the idea of Buster, a talking robotic bus that teaches children in younger grades how to better insure their own safety when getting on, getting off or riding a school bus.
“I’ve been doing this 12 years,” the Warrior, Alabama-based businessman and safety advocate said after the first of four programs he presented Monday, December 10, at Rachel Patterson Elementary School. “I kind of went out on a limb, thinking this is something I wanted to do for the kids. Who would have dreamed that 12 years later I’d still be doing it? Some days, I get up and think, ‘oh, man, I’m so tired.’ But when you get up in front of these kids, you get energized.”
As far as keeping active, Nash’s “Fun With Buster the Bus” program leaves little idle time.
He said he is “booked solid, five days a week, all through the school year,” in gyms and cafeterias throughout Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.
Nash points out on his website, crossgatebussafety.com, that while the state mandates a certain level of training for all bus drivers, bus mechanics, supervisors and some clerical personnel, “students are not required to have any training on school bus safety except for emergency evacuation drills.”
He noted that recent stories of children being hit and killed while boarding or leaving a school bus made him more determined to drive home the concept of basic school bus safety.
“You have to do what you can do,” said Nash. “It’s a losing battle trying to get cars to stop at the stop signs (on the sides of buses). These kids are at the mercy of drivers, cell phones and other distractions. We could put the stop signs out all day, but it’s no guarantee that (drivers) are going to stop. I’ve been in this business for 40 years, and we’re no better now than we were 40 years ago.
“We’ve got to get (children) to understand that they’ve got to help take care of themselves when they’re around these buses, that they’ve got to look both ways.”
While Buster, who has two large cartoon-like eyes, does tricks to gain the attention of kids as he explains the rules of bus safety to them, it’s his sidekick — Nash — who puts on the demonstrations that show the proper and improper ways to cross a street, as well as proper and improper seating.
The children were well-versed in some of the lessons, answering enthusiastically and correctly in unison when Nash asked what the area around a school bus is called (“the danger zone”) and how far away from the bus itself children should stay until they start to board (“10 feet”).
He also made the program interactive, employing the assistance of third-graders Breanna Richardson and Qe’mara Taylor, as well as RPES teachers Tammy Smith and JoLynn Godwin. Smith and Godwin ignited a frenzy of laughter and shouts in the youngsters as both educators tried to navigate Buster through an obstacle course of traffic cones.
Forrest Dale Jones, Transportation Director for Escambia County Schools, was also on hand for Monday’s show. He said he can only hope that the message brought by Buster and his friends will be effective.
“I hope it communicates the rules, what’s important with regard to them getting home safely,” Jones said. “Anything we can do to try and help them and teach them, hopefully it’s going to insure their safety until they get to the house.”
Buster, Nash and friends were to continue their “tour” of Escambia County schools with a couple of shows each at Flomaton Elementary on Tuesday and W.S. Neal Elementary on Wednesday, along with presentations at both Huxford and Pollard-McCall on Thursday.