Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mother Supports School Bus Monitors

Sophia Pendergast is a woman on a mission. She wants to educate people, especially those with school-aged child, of the "risks and safety factors" involved in riding school buses. Sophia wants everyone to understand the role of bus monitors in promoting safety and the risk when non are provided.

She, along with daughter Julie Mott, realize far more than the rest of us and on an extremely personal note, the consequences of no bus monitors. In 1985 Sophia's daughter and Julie's sister, Vanessa, a Middletown first-grader, was killed by her school bus after disembarking for the short walk home. The bus driver, quite simply, didn't see the little girl who got trapped underneath.

In 1985, the year of her daughter's death, two other Rhode Island students were killed by a school bus. Prior to that, an average of one student each year lost their life. In 1986 the State Legislature passed a law requiring all buses for K-5 to have monitors on board to assist students, the drivers, and alert the public to students getting or leaving buses, and crossing the street. Since then, no students in our State have been killed. Not one.

Currently, the town of Middletown places monitors not only on buses for young students, but for all students, costing the town $117,000 this current school year. Mike Crowley, School Committee Chair, is determined to keep this program going. Like myself who was a teacher in the system at the town, he recalls all too well this shocking and avoidable incident. The next school year we remembered the little girl by planting a cherry tree in front of Aquidneck School in her memory. I also had her sister, Julie, in grade school and later in middle school. How much is a child's life worth in your town or your State?

Mike has made his opposition to this item in the Governor's supplementary budget proposal requesting the State Legislature's repeal of this law thereby eliminating the cost for local schools for these monitors. "This is a decision that most all school committees weigh in on. The decision will be made by our legislators."

Sophia knows this all too well as in recent years this has been previously proposed by legislators at the bequest of some towns and school committees. Knowing the severity of this year's financial crisis and the rapidity with which this budget will be adopted, she and her daughter have launched an e-mail campaign to call attention to the consequences of repealing this school mandate. In contact with parents from other states, she has heard horror stories of students assaulted and robbed; especially those with older students. In between her work as a bookkeeper, supported by her husband William, a former Newport police officer now working as the computer manager at the stationhouse, and with Julie doing some of the crunchwork, a web site is being worked on.

Sophia is determined to get out more information for parnets and guardians of students riding school buses. She urges voters to get in contact with their Senators and Representatives to let them know about the importance of this issue to them. Newporter Sophia's Senator is Paiva-Weed and Rep. Martin. She has not yet reached them yet personally, but won't give up trying.

Sophia and her family are on a mission because they know more than most what is at stake. Expect to hear a lot more from them. And when your child, niece, grandson, returns home safely on their bus today, send a little note of thanks to Sophie and remind yourself to contact your newly elected politicans. Now, not later. Time is of the essence with House Finance hearing on this budget being scheduled. See my previous posting for a sample letter & local legislative addresses.

Check Projo & NDN for more stories. I'll also be doing more follow-up on the specifics of what Middletown does to promote bus safety for students and Sophia's tips.
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