ELPS Bus Driver Uses Goats to Advocate for Bus Safety

Kennedy Holsapple

Bus safety is preached to the students of ELPS starting in kindergarten, and becomes a repetitive cycle every year. Eventually, students start to tune out the beginning-of- the-year lecture, and bus safety is regarded as a flippant procedure. Valerie Higley, bus driver for students K-12 in EL, created her own effective way to guide teachers and parents through the bus safety conversation. “Shaman Rides the School Bus” is a childrens’ book written by Higley targeting early elementary students. The story aims to teach students the rules of the bus in an entertaining way to keep the students hooked. The book focuses on animals explaining different scenarios on the bus that students can learn bus safety from. The main character, Shaman, who is a goat, is based off of Higley’s own pet. Unfortunately, Shaman passed very suddenly during the publication of the book in 2022, so a memorial for him was included. “That was so hard,” Higley said. “When I lost him, that changed the entire plan for my farm because he was the reason I did a lot of the things.” Higley continues to show goats competitively as well as use their milk to make soap, cheese, and yogurt. While she wrote the book, she was able to get in touch with an illustrator who was able to design the pages to Higley’s vision. She wanted the characters to resemble children riding the bus, but also the personalities of her own farm animals. The illustrator, Therese Spina, isn’t local, so they typically communicated over email and on the phone.
One day, we were on the phone, and we were talking about where the kids would be standing and where the point of view would be for the picture. Spina asked, ‘Well, what would Shaman be doing?’ and I said, ‘Well, if Shaman was waiting in line, he would be doing a handstand,’” Higley recalls. Because every character in the book is based off of her farm animals, she made a point to give each one an individual personality similar to the animals’ in real life. Overall, Higley is thrilled to achieve her goal of giving parents, teachers, and guardians of the community a resource to teach children about bus safety. She requests that supporters of her book follow her Facebook page, Shaman Rides the School Bus, so she can gain enough support and funding to translate the book into Spanish and French. She urges drivers to be present while they’re in the car, and to put away distractions so that they can focus solely on the road and keep pedestrians safe.