Love of students is driving force

By Amanda C. Davis

Some district employees are receiving advanced training to better deal with special-needs students.

NORTH LIMA — Janet Freedy is one of those people who truly loves what she does for a living.

You can tell just by looking at her face that her job as a bus driver for the past 27 years in the South Range School District brings her genuine joy.

Things don’t always go smoothly on Bus No. 22 where Freedy is in charge of some of the district’s special-needs students. A December incident left her a little shaken but strengthened her belief that she’s in the right place.

On Dec. 12, a 12-year-old autistic boy on Freedy’s bus became aggressive and lashed out, hitting her in the face, breaking her glasses and scratching at her hands. At first, she thought her nose might be broken.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Freedy said of the boy, explaining with tears in her eyes that she doesn’t take it personally when things like this happen. She feels strongly for the children on her bus, calling them her own.

Freedy is one of the district’s employees who is undergoing two advanced training sessions to help them better deal with special-needs children. Among other things, the training will help Freedy and other employees understand the aggression and other behaviors of some of the kids.

Superintendent Dennis Dunham said those trained will include Freedy, other bus and van drivers, guidance counselors, student aids, the transportation director and a building principal.

“The intent is to have those individuals train other school employees at a later date,” he said.

Stephen Molchan of New Middletown runs Behavior Intervention Training Services to help organizations, companies and schools manage severe behavior concerns through proactive strategies and physical intervention procedures.

Molchan is a licensed social worker who is program director for Threshold Residential Services in East Palestine. Through BITS, he’s trained employees in many Ohio counties. Locally he’s worked and consulted with Easter Seals, Community Bus Services and the Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Molchan said the training stresses proactive strategies to help those working with special-needs kids or adults take steps to avoid disruptive or possibly dangerous situations. Keeping the students and workers safe is the main goal, he explained.

The four areas of behavior targeted by the training are physical aggression, verbal aggression, sexual inappropriateness and non-compliance.

The seven-hour training sessions include lectures, demonstrations and practice on personal safety and crisis support techniques. Participants will learn when and how to interact with students in crisis.

For example, some people might think it makes sense to put aggressive students close behind the drivers so they can keep an eye on them. But Dunham said it makes more sense for the student to be far in the back so the driver has time to pull over and safely respond.

Dunham said the district has a duty to protect the drivers, aids and other children. Although transporting special-needs students throughout the county is mandated by the state and can be expensive for districts, Dunham said “It’s the right thing to do.”

The job means a lot to Freedy and it’s easy to tell she’s in it for more than a paycheck. “It’s a rewarding job,” she said. “It’s an honor.”

Freedy has had the special-needs route for the last four years — an assignment she said she prayed to get. Her husband, Tony, also drives for South Range and formerly drove a bus for Poland Schools after he retired.

“We just pray a lot and feel this is where we’re needed,” she said.

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