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Whitestone firm aims to end school bus bullying

Vallo Transportation hopes to make the yellow bus a safe environment for students traveling to and from school.
TimesLedger Newspapers

A borough transit company is participating in a national campaign to tackle bullying at one of its many sources: the school bus.

Whitestone-based Vallo Transportation is hoping to create a positive experience for students traveling to and from many of the area’s schools on the company’s school buses.

“As a bus company that interacts daily with the community and students, we have taken steps to elevate anti-bullying awareness and promote a bully-free zone on our buses,” President Linda DeSabato said in a statement. “It’s important that students feel safe when traveling with us, and this campaign ensures our drivers are equipped with extensive knowledge on recognizing bullying and how to properly report it and intervene when necessary.”

Each Vallo vehicle will become a No Bullying Zone this year, thanks to the program, which helps drivers recognize the often subtle underlying signs of bullying, along with involving students and parents.

Vallo drivers were trained through a program run by the National Association of Pupil Transportation, a nonprofit that partners with numerous federal organizations, including the U.S. Departments of Education and Transportation.

In one training module, drivers are presented with several hypothetical bullying situations and then instructed on how to properly diffuse them.

For example, a fictitious sixth-grade student named Darlene is driven to near tears after she boards the bus and another student named Amy trips her and then yells out, “Darlene is so fat she can’t fit down the aisle,” eliciting laughter from the other riders, according to a training module.

Other scenarios were more subtle, such as an example where a driver observes students throwing small objects at a boy named Felix, who is laughing, but clearly becoming more upset. Even facial expressions like rolling eyes when a particular student gets on the bus can be warning signs of bullying, which the association defines as the use of power to cause physical or emotional pain or stress on a fellow student.

That power can take many forms: physical, verbal and increasingly via the Internet.

And it can sometimes have devastating consequences.

Earlier this year, cyberbullying may have played a part in the suicide of a 12-year-old Queens Village girl named Gabrielle Molina.

In order to combat bullying on the bus, Vallo will be asking students to sign pledges indicating they will not engage in bullying behavior.

Drivers are instructed to remain calm when trying to diffuse confrontations and issue reports if necessary.

The modules gave out several dos and don’ts — for instance, staring down children through the rear-view mirror is not an effective tool.

“As a new school year kicks off, I applaud Vallo Transportation for focusing its efforts on combating bullying in our schools,” said City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who called on the city Department of Education to do more to stem bullying in the wake of Molina’s death.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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