JACKSON ― The Mississippi Association of School Supertintendents has received the William A. Taylor Best of Show Award from the Southern Public Relations Federation for its “30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime” school bus safety campaign.
Earning top honors in the short-term strategic programs/community relations and public service category, MASS was among a select group of organizations recognized for excellence in public relations at SPRF’s 2021 Lantern Award presentation in Panama City Beach, Florida.
“Receiving the SPRF’s top award is a tremendous honor, especially in highlighting a campaign with such a vitally important safety message,” said Phil Burchfield, MASS executive director. “We hope the attention MASS gains through our participation in the Lantern Award program helps raise awareness of school bus safety and ultimately helps save lives.”
Following a year of record school bus-related deaths in 2019, MASS sought to create a comprehensive campaign to promote safe-driving practices specifically related to school bus stops. Primary and secondary research, including interviews and surveys involving target audiences, provided key insights that served as the campaign’s foundation.
Research verified that the most serious injuries to students riding a bus to and from school tend to occur not when the bus is moving but when students are loading and off-loading.
Safety experts agree that riding a bus to and from school is still the safest option. According to the American School Bus Council, students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely on a bus. However, there is an alarming trend supported by data and statistics that drivers routinely pass stopped school buses, and that the consequences of this behavior can be fatal.
“In talking with Mississippi drivers, we learned that a shocking seven out of 10 respondents had passed a stopped school bus at least once in the past three years due to prolonged wait times,” said Burchfield. “Refuting that belief were transportation directors across the state who revealed that the average time it takes for students to get on or off their school buses at bus stops is typically no longer than 30 seconds.”
The statistic inspired the campaign theme, “30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime,” to remind drivers that the decisions they make at bus stops have real consequences because real lives are involved.
To maximize its impact, MASS launched the awareness campaign during National School Bus Safety Week in October, just as daylight hours were getting shorter and causing reduced visibility during times when children were waiting at bus stops.
Safe-driving messages were amplified via an aggressive public relations initiative and social media strategy. Social media messages featured a series of children depicted in their dream careers, with headlines such as, “He wants to be a doctor,” and “She wants to be a pilot,” followed by the statement, “Stop for school buses. 30 seconds for you. A lifetime for her/him.”
In a radio ad that ran statewide for 12 weeks, a conversation between an impatient driver and his friend helped focus attention on the individual passengers aboard the bus and the driver’s responsibility to make the right decision to protect lives and futures.
MASS also produced a video featuring Lori McJohnson, who played a lead role in advocating for stricter laws in Mississippi after her 5-year-old son was hit and killed by a motorist passing a stopped school bus.
“Ultimately, we are all responsible for school bus safety,” said Burchfield, who wrote a series of op-eds for the campaign reinforcing the power of advocacy and personal connections. “Just spending a few moments reminding others about school bus safety could help prevent tragedies. Instead of being regarded as an inconvenience, waiting for a school bus is an act of love and respect for children, their families and their futures.”
The Mississippi Association of School Superintendents and the Alliance of Educational Leaders of Mississippi is a non-profit association whose membership is made up of 139 public school superintendents and more than 2,000 public school administrators. Its mission is to provide resources, advocacy, leadership, policy information, training, support, renewal, and public relations services that improve the quality of public education.