by Ryan Labadens, US Navy Public Affairs

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged people to find innovative solutions to overcome different circumstance they may encounter in everyday life. The staff and leadership at the Naval Construction Battalion Center and Long Beach School District have recently come together to work out a combined solution for providing transportation to Long Beach schools for elementary and secondary education children living onboard the Navy base.

Because of COVID-19, the school district set new guidelines regarding the number of children that can be placed on a school bus at any one time, and the district only had a certain window of time in which its buses were allowed to pick up and drop off students on their way to and from school. As such, this presented a challenge as to how the school district could meet those guidelines so that students living onboard NCBC could still ride on the buses while still maintaining social distancing, and without going outside the timeframe for dropping off and picking up students.

“It was a resources problem that involved how many buses they have and how much travel time is involved in any particular bus route,” said Capt. William Whitmire, NCBC Gulfport commanding officer. “We asked the school district if there was any way we could get our staffs together and look at the problem and see if there were any other options, to include the sharing of resources between the base and the school district, that would help us to solve that problem without canceling the bus services to the base.”

Working together to solve the dilemma, school district staff and base staff came up with a solution that still allowed the schools to be able to pick up and drop off students at a central location on base, as opposed to several individual bus stops, thus reducing the amount of time needed for bus drivers to pick up and drop off students.

In addition, children who are normally picked up by the district’s school buses at the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Youth Center would now be transported to school and then back to the Youth Center by buses provided by MWR Gulfport.

With MWR stepping up to provide these extra resources, and with the school district picking up the students at a central point on base, this combined would allow for the base’s students to be bused to and from Long Beach schools without violating the distancing guidelines set up for the school district, or going outside the timeframe for busing the students.

Both Shane Rutledge, Long Beach School District transportation director, and Mona Odom, NCBC Gulfport school liaison officer, were instrumental in working toward this compromise that would both allow the bus service to continue for the base’s student population, as well as take measures to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the drivers and students.

“This just goes to show the partnership between the military and our civilian community and how the wellbeing of our students and families is the number one concern of both parties, and if we can work together to combine our resources, we can do anything,” said Odom. “We are very grateful for the partnership that we have with not only Long Beach, but with all of our local school communities.”

Whitmire echoed Odom’s comments, highlighting the partnership and cooperation between the base and the Long Beach School District.

“I’d like to thank both Jay Smith [Long Beach School District superintendent] and Shane Rutledge for all they’ve done to work with us on finding a solution,” said Whitmire. “This is a perfect example of how if the military bases are good partners and have good relationship with the community, they can solve problems together.”