Listen to the National School Transportation Association podcast The Bus Stop with 4Seasons CEO Brooke Garcia. Find out why school transportation for students with disabilities matters and how we provide superior care for students, or read select questions and answers from the interview below.
Brooke: My story could be like some people, but opposite to others. About 11 years ago, I had my six-month-old daughter in tow and looking for work. I happened to stumble upon a company transporting students with disabilities. I was one of four drivers at the time. I went with my little six-month-old and hopped in the vehicle. We were off and driving, and I started driving kids. I did that for a bit and fell in love with the business. It was something that I was very passionate about, having a sibling with a disability. I ended up learning everything about the business – I worked in accounting and operations departments. I did everything and learned from the then smaller-sized business. I then moved on to buying in as 50/ 50 partner, then buying the founder out completely. It’s been an exciting journey. I’ve been able to grow the company to almost 500 employees today!
Brooke: As an exclusive provider of special needs transportation, we provide transportation to children living with disabilities. We started that way, being able to stay focused on our niche. We saw that as an underserved market. We have parents that otherwise couldn’t go to work if these kids can’t get to school. These are high-needs kiddos with different degrees of disabilities. They’re too high needs to be transported in a typical environment. They come to us and we make the impossible possible with these kids who otherwise wouldn’t even sit still. We’ve always had a very people-focused approach. We’ve honed in on the compassionate side of transportation by focusing on the special needs area. That’s what we do and that’s why we stay there. It’s what we do well, and we want to keep serving this community.
Brooke: People. We’ve put a lot of intentional work into hiring the right person. I say to the staff we’re training “you can train anyone to drive a bus, but you can’t train compassion with children.” We focus on hiring the right person and providing the skills. Being in transportation, we keep it focused on the person first. Having the right team in place is important for children. Especially for disabilities, having that consistent person showing up every day. They have a bond and a relationship. That family trusts them. We’ve also been able to focus on not getting too big, too fast. We’ve been maintaining one-on-one service with lots of lines of communication. The student is our number one priority, and we have not lost sight of that. I do think that’s a lot to do with our successes. The long-term goal is keeping kids transported in a safe, calm environment so that they can be set up for success in school every day. That makes a difference.
Brooke: We have fantastic experienced drivers who come to us. For working children with disabilities, it’s about passion for supporting children, or serving their community or city as a way of giving back. People from all walks of life come to us. More likely than not they don’t know about what we do when it comes to driving a bus or managing challenging behavior. So, we invest a lot of energy in our training programs.
We have an online training program and an in-house training program. Employees are behind the wheel, in the field an in a lab to learn the securement of wheelchairs, harnesses and car seats. We partnered up with a few different professionals here in our local area to develop a comprehensive training program that went well beyond driving a bus. We focus on the disability aspect in education, customer service and the best in driving.
I always joke that there are two kinds of drivers. You have the kind that’s sitting there and they get a shoe thrown at their head and they get freaked out. Then the other kind of driver that’s thinking “okay, there’s only one left, right?” We train how to manage those kinds of challenging behaviors. We’ve created quite a program. Eighty hours per driver that attended would go into workshops with an annual renewal of all skills keeping the best in class and updates on any new trends. Training is an ongoing thing and continuous. One of the things that keep our drivers around is our training program. Our people have a certificate because it’s a certified training program. 4Seasons Transportation is proud that we’ve developed recognition in the industry.
Brooke: We’re huge on the empowerment model! From within our organization, we promote the idea that leadership is actually at the bottom of the pyramid. Students are at the top right, right with the driver and attendant. If you can teach your team as we have – we have programs, workshops, and training – on leadership skills, working on that it’s not always natural to be confident in what you’re doing and feel empowered to make a decision, or know that your company or your employer is going to give you grace if you make a mistake. They’re gonna forgive you and see that as a learning opportunity.
Brooke: It’s an underserved market industry. Without our specialized transportation, kids wouldn’t be able to get to school.
You don’t pay attention to school buses until you are in the industry. It’s a behind-the-scenes thing, but a critical component of society. I always find it peculiar because people don’t notice until you’re talking about it. There are contractors and many people in transportation dealing with a lot that goes into making it a successful day. It’s no small feat to ensure buses are on time, and children are safe. A lot of what we do is with kiddos have unseen disabilities or the less noticeable ones.
For instance, we use tinted bus windows so that when we drive by at a time of day it doesn’t trigger a child with autism. We’ve had to make sure when buying the units they have a sound dampened engine to not trigger sensory issues. When we buy, we’re buying best-in-class units and equipment. We install TVs. We have to make sure that the music is perfect for kids. We have some kiddos that will only listen to certain stations – some kids like rock music, and others like techno. Buying units, we make sure they’re equipped with the ability to hook up different music. Another one for us is temperature. It’s amazing how students with disabilities are sensitive to temperature regulation. In Canada, it’s cold, super cold! There’s a lot that goes into ensuring that the bus is a safe space for kids, and a calm environment. It’s lots of things people don’t even realize.
Brooke: It’s nice seeing people are still recognized for working hard. When I fell in love with the 4Seasons Transportation, I felt like it was because it was a place where I fit.
I wanted to create a workplace where I wake up every day and feel excited to come in. I knew if I didn’t develop a culture like that, I’d be miserable. I wanted a place where people were proud to work and show up every day. And for me, that’s all our culture. I’ve been laser-focused on creating a culture where no matter where people are from or their walk of life, they fit and belong here. This company will accept them and invest and give back to them. Because of that, we have this strong corporate culture. We have a strong environment where we have fantastic retention. We have a very people-focused company. I’m very passionate about offering equal access to education to children, regardless of ability. Because of that, no one is more important than our frontline workers. It’s awesome that now the company is being recognized as a leader in the industry. It’s something I’m proud of.
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