On a bright chilly California morning, Palos Verdes Transit bus driver Juanita Navarrette drives up a steep hill and parks in front of Miraleste Intermediate School. Special Education teacher Lori Dixon and her assistants shepherd eight excited sixth, seventh, and eighth graders onto the bus for their bi-monthly Community Based Instruction (CBI) outing. Each student has a physical or mental disability that requires a specialized learning curriculum. Some of the children board the bus on their own; others require assistance or are elevated onto the bus using the wheelchair lift.
Dixon said these field trips are an important component of their practical education.
“I like to make their programs applicable to real life, so we work with the students on daily living skills and CBI’s are a big part of that,” she said. “We know they’re not going on to college, so we’re preparing them to be as independent as possible.”
Miraleste’s CBI outings are not specially arranged trips, so Dixon has to select destinations that are located off the regular bus route. On this trip students along with Dixon and her aides are dropped off near the Peninsula Center to work on class assignments such as social skills, ordering and paying for lunch, learning community safety signs, comparison shopping, and more.
Dixon has been a special education teacher for 17 years, 15 of those years at Miraleste. Navarrette, a PV Transit bus driver for 17 years, has transported Dixon’s class on CBI outings for over a decade.
The two women share a special bond based on a mutual affinity for the educating the students and making them as self-reliant as possible.
“Miss Juanita is absolutely amazing. She always goes out of her way to make my students feel respected. She doesn’t treat them as though they have a disability,” said Dixon. “I think she looks forward to seeing them as much as they look forward to seeing her.”
Navarrette said the respect is mutual. “The kids are very kind and well behaved. They always give me cards at Christmas signed by the whole class. The high-five’s, hugs and the smiles are the best. You have to see them and you’ll know what I mean.”
Over the years, Navarrette has met a lot of the parents of her young passengers. “The parents want to meet me because their child remembers my name and talks so much about me.”
Students from Miraleste Intermediate are not the only persons with disabilities that Navarrette transports to locations where they hone their social skills and exercise independence. Twice each week members of Easterseals Southern California Adult Services in San Pedro and Torrance board the bus accompanied by a life coach. They travel along the bus route to libraries, the botanical gardens, and other destinations to work or volunteer their services. Similar to Miraleste’s CBI outings, these trips help adults with disabilities learn how to navigate their environment and become active in the community.
The mother of four adult children and eight grandchildren, Navarrette said being a PV Transit driver makes her feel like she is contributing to the community. “When I see the kids from Miraleste and the people from Easterseals riding the bus, it seems like I’m driving a learning vehicle,” she said. “I feel lucky to work in such a beautiful area and provide a service that makes a difference in a lot of peoples’ lives.”