When school bus driver John Nykiforuk took over the Blewett run outside Nelson a few years ago, the behaviour of some of his young passengers was “well, pretty bad.”
During the up to 45-minute run, boredom would result in disruptive and unruly antics. But one day, Nykiforuk read about a driver in the U.S. with a similarly lengthy route who started a reading program on her bus. After discussing it with the principal, he decided to try it himself.
He provided a box of books, encouraging students to choose one, find a buddy and read together until they reached their stop. It worked: behaviour improved markedly, with the side benefits of promoting reading and helping older and younger students build friendships.
This month Nykiforuk received a Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy community literacy award, chosen from among 16 Nelson-area nominees. The individuals, businesses, and organizations were all honoured at a ceremony that coincided with International Literacy Day. (Literacy awards are also presented annually in other communities where the alliance is active, although some do it in the spring.)
“All these simple acts of championing literacy make a huge difference in people’s lives,” says Joan Exley, Nelson’s community literacy co-ordinator. Nykiforuk, she adds, “found the seed of an idea that has grown into something wonderful.”
Blewett elementary principal Carol-Ann Leidloff says teachers appreciate that Nykiforuk brings students to school ready to learn.
“Sometimes they’re getting on the bus in the morning and they’re tired or grumpy. John’s always got a really friendly word for them,” she says. “So often the kids are off the bus and they’re happy and feeling good about the day. He takes his responsibility as a driver so seriously and does a job beyond what we would expect.”
Now in his third year of the book buddy program, Nyki-foruk goes to garage sales to buy new books and swaps them out with old ones for variety. The moving library, which started with 10 volumes, is up to 85. Students are also welcome to borrow books.
“It’s certainly helped me out as a bus driver,” Nykiforuk says, noting he no longer has to stop the bus at the side of the road to deal with problems.
But the most rewarding thing he’s witnessed wasn’t related to behaviour.
“A Grade 3 student picked up a book and a Grade 2 student sat beside her. The Grade 3 student was just flipping through the pages looking at the pictures. The Grade 2 student said ‘Why don’t you read it?’ She replied, ‘I can’t read.’ The Grade 2 student started reading the book for the Grade 3 student. And it created a bond.”
Nykiforuk has shared the idea with other bus drivers, and the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy is talking to him and the school about publishing a book on bus safety, which the kids would work on — and then deposit in their on-board book box.