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A school bus company in Lansing, Michigan, is training its bus drivers and aides to better understand and manage the behavior of general education and special-needs students during the bus ride.

Fred Doelker, the safety and training director for Dean Transportation, said that he teaches empathy skills to his drivers and aides so they can better understand a student’s experience on the school bus. These empathy skills include making connections, such as offering a kind word to students in distress or giving an extra moment of personalized care, and also being aware of how drivers are operating the bus. To experience this type of training, Doelker adds that bus drivers and aides are blindfolded on the bus as passengers and buckled into a wheelchair.

“What we’re helping drivers and attendants understand is what they can reasonably expect on this big yellow bus that’s driving down the street with all different children of all different ages and all different development,” Doelker told the local news source.

Dean Transportation currently transports about 80,000 Michigan students each day, and two-thirds of those students have special needs.  In addition to empathy training, the school bus company is also teaching self-care techniques to its drivers so they can become aware of their own emotional state, while also continuing the use of virtual reality technology to supplement training in real-life scenarios.

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