Remember when you were a kid, and you couldn’t wait to get out of school for the summer? Back then, if someone had told you that some people can’t wait for school to start every summer, you’d have thought they were crazy.
But that’s exactly what happens every June in Florida, when the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation (FAPT) hosts its annual School Bus Technicians Summer Workshops. Held over two consecutive weeks in two different locations, each year’s Workshop attracts dozens of enthusiastic bus technicians from across the state for four days of hands-on classroom instruction, testing and certification. And the technicians can’t get enough of it.
BREAKING NEW GROUND
The Workshop started almost 20 years ago, when FAPT formed a Bus Inspector Committee and a Mechanics Qualifications Committee, according to Tom Callahan, retired supervisor of transportation maintenance for Pasco County, FL, and former FAPT board member. “The original intent was that the Bus Inspection Committee would develop standards for inspecting buses and the Mechanics Qualifications Committee would develop testing and teaching formats for inspectors and mechanics,” he explains. At the time, technician training among FAPT members was almost unheard of, and ASE had yet to offer a school bus technicians certification, so the two committees were starting out with blank sheets of paper and no place to go but up. “We had contacted ASE and they were not interested in developing such a test,” Callahan recalls. “So we said, ‘Well, we’ll have to go ahead and go forward.’”
And go forward they did. In June of 1989, with the blessing of Florida’s Department of Education, the first ever School Bus Technicians Summer Workshop was held at an Episcopal Church Conference Center in Live Oak, affectionately nicknamed “Camp Weed.” Nearly 60 technicians attended that first four-day session, which started out with a bang. “I’m pretty sure Ford and International participated that year,” Callahan says. “School bus lifts were just coming out of their infancy for handicapped students, so we had some lift manufacturers. We had somebody from Bendix brakes.
“We tried to divide the week into half-day increments, so during the course of the four days they would get eight half-days of training,” he explains. “We did not have a test at that time, so there was no exam at the end of the week.”
There may not have been an exam, but as Callahan recalls, that doesn’t mean that learning was confined to the classroom. “There were no telephones or televisions at the Episcopal camp, because it was a retreat center,” he says. “Now, very fortunately, their policy on cold drinks was very liberal. So most of the evenings were spent out on the porches on the rockers under the fans, and the guys would partake of their favorite beverage. So to this day, I still think one of the best things this program does is bring technicians together from all over the state, let them talk to each other, let them compare notes, and say, ‘Hey, you’re having that problem? We’re having that problem! Here’s how we fixed it; how did you fix it?’ And I often thought that we got as much done in the evening on those rockers as we did in the classroom.”
IF AT FIRST YOU DO SUCCEED…
The first Workshop was such a success that the Committee immediately began work on the next year’s event. In an effort to bring in more technicians from across the state, it was decided to offer the four-day program for two weeks in a row. But at the same time, class sizes had to be held to no more than 12 or 15, and the Workshop had to be held after the school year ended but before summer school sessions began—not an easy task.
“The second year we met for two weeks at Live Oak, and it went very, very well,” says Callahan. “The core classes, engine work particularly, were very important, and we scheduled that for both weeks, but we also tried to schedule some new things: brakes and alignment one week, body work and electrical the next.”