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Bus Drivers Learn Sign Language

Oct. 21, 2022 - “She’s always smiling and full ofMary Reich, Zoey Williams, Melinda Rice and Kimberly Nash take a photo together. good spirits,” said Melinda Rice, school bus driver. She’s referring to Zoey Williams, a four-year-old student who attends Michelle Obama Early Childhood Academic Center in the Riverview Gardens School District. Williams is autistic and deaf, and in the early stages of learning modes of communication. 

“We always wave to Zoey in the morning and say hi,” said Rice. “She is always on the go.”

Rice and Kimberly Nash, school bus monitor, ride with Zoey everyday on the bus, to and from school. Bus rides with them are special because every Wednesday and Thursday they sing with the students all the way to the childhood center. After learning that Zoey was hearing impaired, they decided to take it upon themselves to learn sign language. They wanted to make sure that Zoey was engaged in the conversations and songs like the other students.

“We speak to all of our students in the morning,” said Rice. “Each and every last one we say good morning to. We smile and ask them how they’re doing. I wanted to be able to do the same thing with Zoey. So, I had to learn sign language.”

Nash and Rice reached out to Mary Reich, Zoey’s early childhood special education teacher, for assistance. She created a binder for them to keep that includes words and pictures of signs. After learning that Nash and Rice wanted to learn signs, she couldn’t help but share the news with her coworkers. 

“I was really excited,” said Reich. “I told Nash and Rice that I had some books and would make copies and pictures so they could greet Zoey. Bus drivers have a lot going on, to get from point A to point B, and I wanted to make sure that I acknowledged them. Their extra effort goes a long way.” 

The first words that Nash and Rice learned were Zoey’s name, bus driver, stand up, sit down, house, mom, and good morning. Nash says riding a school bus can be scary for young children, so her goal is to make sure that every student feels comfortable. 

“We want the students to enjoy themselves and this could be the best experience they have riding a school bus,” said Nash. “That’s why I wanted to learn sign language. When students get on the bus, we want them to know who we are, feel good about themselves, and be happy.”