FORT KENT, Maine — It was all about school bus safety Friday afternoon at Fort Kent Elementary School, where youngsters heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Rather, make that from the bus’s mouth — or radiator.
Buster, a small remote-control robotic school bus, was the star attraction at the safety assembly, and judging from the students’ reactions, he and his message were a hit.
“This is a form of safety training that goes out to all the schools in our district,” said Peter Saucier, SAD 27 transportation supervisor.
More than 200 students packed the elementary school gym, where Buster put on quite a show zipping from side to side and even popping a few wheelies.
Though his antics were aimed at entertaining the youngsters, they accompanied a deadly serious message.
“My ultimate goal is for all students to be safe,” Saucier said. “We have a really good group of students [and] our bus drivers do an excellent job at training the students on how to behave in and around the school bus.”
Those lessons include proper attention to crossing in front of the bus, crossing roads, behaving inside the bus and always listening to the driver.
During Friday’s show Buster was operated by Saucier by a remote-control panel. Buster’s voice was supplied by music teacher Phil Deveny who, together with vice principal Ralph Caron, worked from an established script written by members of the Maine Association of Pupil Transportation.
During the 20-minute presentation, Buster quizzed students on proper bus safety behavior and took questions from the audience.
The robot is one of only two of the $9,000 units in the state and is co-owned by several Aroostook County school districts.
“Buster is an expensive toy to play with,” Saucier said. “Purchasing him was a joint effort with other county school departments.”
Buster is available to all county schools, with those that did not take part in the purchasing initiative required to pay a small fee for his use.
“He was really cool,” fourth-grader Luke Bailey said. “I learned a lot about bus safety.”
His friend Jonathan Haley agreed.
“I thought it was good for the young kids to see this and learn how to be safe on the bus,” Jonathan said.
Saucier, who spearheaded the effort to bring Buster to Aroostook County, said the combination of a fun presentation and vigilant drivers made an impression on the students.
“We have 15 drivers out on the roads,” Saucier said. “They’ve seen the skit so they can go over the safety messages with the kids, [and] that’s our goal — keeping everyone safe.”