For school bus driver Deb Paulin, it was business as usual along her morning route recently — with one major caveat.
Instead of dropping off students at school, she and her fellow drivers dropped off student book bags and other supplies at their homes.
In the wake of the Alden Central School District’s emergency closing last week, district officials needed to connect their nearly 1,700 students with the school supplies they needed for at-home study. They devised a unique solution.
Teacher aides and administrative support staff, represented by the Alden Central School Related Personnel Association, emptied out and bagged up the contents of student’s lockers, desks and cubbies. And drivers loaded the bags onto their buses and hand delivered them to student homes along their regular morning pick up routes.
“It was very well thought out,” said Paulin, a NYSUT SRP at-large director and Alden Central School Employees Association member. She noted that the drivers and delivery helpers were instructed to physically hand the backpacks to someone at the home to ensure the students received their materials.
Before starting their routes, drivers deep-cleaned the buses, spraying down the seats, handrails and other surfaces with a sanitizing formula. The routine was familiar since drivers had been sanitizing their buses after every run, to reduce infection risks, in the weeks prior to the district’s closure. “We took as many precautions as we could during our routes, including wearing gloves,” said Paulin.
Drivers are also on tap to deliver meals to student homes twice weekly for families unable to travel to the school to pick them up. Knowing that hourly employees like bus drivers and building and grounds workers will continue to be paid during the closure is a big relief, said Paulin. “There was a lot of anxiety about paying bills, rent, mortgages, and people were unsure if they should apply for unemployment,” she said.
While drivers like Paulin dropped off supplies, educators like Carrie McMullen, Alden Teachers Association president, developed materials to help students get back to work. “We’re supposed to have daily assignments, available through links on the district website, for students through the closure,” she said.
Although students in grades 5–6 and 9–12 have school-supplied tablets, none of the K–3 and only some of the 7th and 8th grade students do. “Students who don’t have devices can pick up materials in the office, but we still don’t know how many that will be,” said McMullen, an English teacher at Alden Middle School.
Asked if she’s ready, McMullen voices what many other teachers likely feel. “We’ve never really done this before, so it’s lots of trial and error — but we’ll do the best we can,” she said. “I’m preparing an email right now to let my students know I’m here.”