‘Rolling Classrooms’

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WINTON — First-class…it’s the only way to travel. That’s exactly what students and staff of the Hertford County Public School system will experience with the addition of two new activity buses to its fleet of vehicles. On Dec. 19, the school system took ownership of the first of those new vehicles. The 40-foot bus arrived by mid-morning and at lunchtime it was parked in front of Hertford County High School. There, the “oohs” and “aahs” heard from students and staff boarding the bus was enough to send a signal to HCPS administrators that a nice choice was made. “We want the best for our students in all phases of education,” Hertford County High School Principal Jerry Simmons said. “You may not think of a bus as an educational asset, but these new buses are exactly that. Having a first-class vehicle, complete with DVD players that serve as learning tools, enhances our academic program through the use of educational field trips.” The new vehicles, manufactured by Thomas Bus Company of High Point, are longer than what HCPS currently has in its fleet, meaning more room for more students. According to Thomas Jernigan, HCPS Transportation Director, the new buses (40’ long) are capable of seating 72, Pre-K through 3rd grade students; 60 pupils in grades 4-8; and 48 high schoolers. Due to a more compact style in the driver’s area, the second of the two new buses, scheduled to arrive prior to Jan. 1, has additional seating (room for 78, Pre-K through 3rd grade passengers; can carry 66 students in grades 4-8 and 52 high schoolers). The current HCPS activity buses are 36’ in length. From front to back, all passengers have clear view of six DVD players, complete with a sound system. “These are the nicest buses built in North Carolina today,” Jernigan said. “Plus, they are loaded with all the latest safety features.” For his part, HCPS Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael G. Basham said he believes the new buses are exactly what the school district needs to make the most use of time. “We need to expose our kids to as much education as we can,” Dr. Basham stressed. “If we take field trips, the teachers will be able to use the travel time for instruction.” Dr. Basham said if the students were, for example, going to NASA in Hampton, Virginia, they could be shown a video on what to expect once they arrived and then could discuss what they actually saw on the return trip. “We need to be focused on learning,” he said. “It is, as someone said at the board meeting, a rolling classroom. We are taking advantage of every instructional moment.” The superintendent said he was happy about the environment the buses would provide for students and about the enhanced safety features that were part of the construction process. “Mr. Jernigan did a good job of keeping in touch with the builders,” Dr. Basham said. “He made several trips to make sure they were being built according to our specifications.” Dr. Basham also said though the idea was a relatively new one, he thought it was the right thing to do. “Have I seen this before? No,” he said. “I know what we’re doing is educationally sound and that is the most important thing.” The buses feature front and rear “air ride” suspension, reflective striping (blue and gold, the colors of HCPS) and a 260 horsepower Cummings Diesel engine. Each bus also has plenty of storage room in an underneath cargo area. “This is great,” said Hertford County High School Athletic Director Charles Simmons as he stretched out in one of the comfortable seats. “It’s big, it’s roomy and it sends a message that Hertford County Schools is a first-class operation.” Even though the buses carry a hefty price tag ($120,000 each), the school system will actually save on transportation costs. Charles Simmons noted that the HCHS athletic department spent $8,000 last year in leasing charter buses to transport just the football team to away games. With a life expectancy of 20 years, if the new buses were only used to transport the high school football team, that works out to $6,000 per year. “But they’ll be used for much, much more than just athletics,” Jernigan stressed. “Plus, because they can carry more students than what we have in our fleet now, we will not have to use as many buses, which lowers our overall costs.” No special license is needed to drive the new buses, but because they are longer than what those drivers within the HCPS system are accustomed to, specialized training is offered.. (Staff Writer Thadd White contributed to this story.)