A commitment to safety and professionalism
By Maria Red
We are the Bridgewater-Raritan Transportation Association (BRTA), and we go above and beyond. Before the pandemic shut everything down, we continued with our usual routine, driving our students to school every day and then home. It was scary and unsettling to hear that we had to close due to COVID – scary because of so much uncertainty. It was March 2020 and we still had three months of school left before the summer holidays.
I clearly remember my students asking me what was going to happen, and my only response to my students was, “I really don’t know, but don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
It has been difficult for all of us: students, staff and the community. Of course, it wasn’t just our community that was affected; COVID was global. But as a community and as a school district, we held on. We weren’t going to let this pandemic completely shut us down.
About a month after the shutdown began in March 2020, school district management asked us to deliver lunches to students eligible for the free lunch program. Some of our drivers delivered the lunches on a voluntary basis, and later we alternated who should deliver them. We all followed the guidelines: we made sure we had our masks, plenty of gloves and hand sanitizer and, of course, a box of Lysol.
It was a bit of a challenge, but at the same time it was rewarding. Despite the pandemic, we were doing a good deed and making sure our students had their lunches. We also had the opportunity to build relationships with some of the administrators in our school district.
“I have enjoyed working for Bridgewater-Raritan Schools for the past three years,” says driver Deb Loris. “There is a real bond and mutual respect between all the staff here. We strive to do our best for our students. This was especially evident during the pandemic, when drivers delivered meals to students and worked to find ways to connect with students once they were able to attend classes again.
Masking has made connections difficult, Loris noted, but getting students to school safely is only part of the job.
“As a driver, you are a big part of the school experience,” Loris added. “Some of my children tell me that taking the bus is their favorite time of day. I always like to hear that. I believe we all do important work that supports the most important part of our community, our children.
Develop communication with and between members
For the first time since the pandemic hit, BRTA members gathered in person on Nov. 24 for a reunion luncheon. The usual BRT back-to-school breakfast, postponed due to ongoing reopening issues, has been rescheduled as a pre-Thanksgiving meeting. There was a lot to celebrate and be grateful for on the day as the drivers had recently renegotiated a significant pay rise and retention bonus.
We needed this time to come together to discuss the importance of being in the union and being united in unity. It was long overdue in many ways. We had to remind our members that the BRTA is there for them. It is essential to have good communication, which is essential to establish a positive relationship with the members.
Like other school employees, bus drivers have been affected by the pandemic. Between changing routes to accommodate the change in students attending schools on hybrid days and dealing with months of uncertainty when schools were all far apart, school bus drivers are learning to adapt from a way that previously seemed unimaginable.
BRTA Vice President Alexandra Parameritis knows very well what it is like to adapt to changes in your environment and that it takes a lot of patience to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.
“I drove for Bridgewater-Raritan Schools for 20 years, and I remember I didn’t speak English very well,” said BRTA Vice President Alexandra Parameritis. “I have my students to thank for helping me build my English vocabulary as I drove them every day. I like working for Bridgewater-Raritan, it’s a good neighborhood to work for.
Kim Deon is one of the representatives of our association and is an excellent mediator. She has worked for Bridgewater-Raritan for 20 years. She loves her job and her students.
“I started with the senior drivers who have long since retired, and they are a very tough, but resilient and strong team,” Deon explains. “They taught me to be just as resilient and strong. I represent our members with the utmost respect and believe that communication is important with staff, students and parents. We are so lucky to be part of a strong union because of the many benefits it offers. We all work together and we learn to manage the pros and cons like everywhere else.
We are all facing challenges during this time, but we are maintaining a positive attitude and will continue to move forward to make the most of it.
The demand for bus drivers is very high right now, and I’m glad the district has negotiated a pay raise as well as the retention bonus, because that opens the door for future negotiations, and it opens the door for more. new drivers to join our district and swell our ranks.
I want to make sure BRTA members know they are appreciated for the important work they do. And that also applies to new drivers. We are a diverse group of different cultures and backgrounds, and we know how to work as a team. There’s so much in store for drivers in the Bridgewater-Raritan School District. We want to start new projects in the community to help our students and make sure their families know who we are and what we stand for.
Above all, we want to provide excellent service, along with a commitment to safety and professionalism. This is important to my members and, more importantly, to the school district and the community of Bridgewater-Raritan. Because… We are BRTA!
Maria Reed is president of the Bridgewater-Raritan Transportation Association. She can be contacted at [email protected]