Monday, January 20, 2020

On Monday, January 16, a mini school bus carrying approximately 14 students to Yeshivat Netivot Montessori School, an early childhood through eighth grade school in East Brunswick, collided with a NJ Transit bus on the southbound side of Route 18 in East Brunswick. Most of the children escaped relatively unscathed, with minor physical injuries, but one 4-year-old boy had more significant injuries. He was admitted to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick with a broken leg and various other injuries. He had two surgeries, with more likely to come, and will remain in the hospital for at least a week, followed by several months in a wheelchair and on crutches.

The event was frightening for all involved, but the quick actions of bus monitor Michelle Pincus started a positive chain of events that got everyone the help they needed as quickly as possible.

“It took a few seconds for me to realize what had happened. I thought maybe the driver had slammed on the brake,” said Pincus. “I got up and looked to make sure the kids were ok. One child looked more injured than the rest, so I went to him first.”

Pincus continued, “I immediately called 911 and they responded almost before I hung up the phone. The responders opened the back door of the bus and saw that I was sitting with the injured boy, so they went to tend to him.”

According to Pincus, the first responders kept the children calm and asked “important questions about their names, ages and contact information. After they took the injured boy off the bus, they started checking the others.”

Pincus immediately started a phone chain to parents of the students on the bus, and also contacted the school. As word spread, it was the outpouring of community support that became the message of the day.

Netivot Montessori Head of School Rivky Ross told The Jewish Link, “This is really a story about how wonderful a community can be. Our experience with the first responders was truly amazing. They knew just how to handle the really small children. They gently carried the toddlers and young children to help get them to the ER.”

After everyone was examined for injuries, Pincus and the first responders walked with the children to the nearby East Brunswick fire station, where they awaited transport to the hospital by an ambulance bus.

“The first responders stayed with us the entire time,” remembered Pincus. “We basically had a one to one ratio of adults to children, and that helped a lot. We all stayed together the whole time. At first we thought some of us would be going to St. Peters but, in the end, they kept us together and we all went to Robert Wood.”

When she got the call at school about the accident, Ross was in a meeting with parent volunteers. As soon as she told them what had happened, two of the parents immediately left to meet the students at the hospital. The school psychologist also went, along with a teacher who had a close relationship with the students. The president of the school board went to the hospital as well, and the presence of these familiar faces gave comfort to the injured and their families.

“When we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by so many friendly and familiar faces. I didn’t realize there would be so many people there waiting for us. That was so helpful, just the outpouring of love and support from the school. The entire situation was handled with support, grace and love,” Pincus continued.

In the aftermath of the accident, the event was addressed at the school by Ross, the school psychologist and classroom teachers. “We discussed it in measured terms at levels appropriate to each age group, since there were children of all ages on the bus,” noted Ross. “We told the students that there was an accident and that everyone would be ok, and then we gave more details to the older children and addressed questions as necessary.”

The students were told that there are different ways of being hurt, that injuries can be physical or emotional. It was explained that the children who had been on the bus might be scared. Students wanted to help, and those in fourth through eighth grades gathered and said tehillim for their friends and classmates who had been on the bus.

With the majority of students having been released from the hospital on Monday, most were back at school the following day. The school psychologist planned to meet with the children to foster discussion and shared feelings about the accident, at levels appropriate to the children’s ages. An email was sent by Ross to the parent body, explaining what had happened and asking parents to daven for the injured student. On Tuesday, the students made cards for the injured child, as well as for any of their friends or classmates with whom they wanted to share their feelings.

The support expressed from the Netivot Montessori family, combined with the outstanding work of the first responders, hospital employees and, of course, Pincus, helped make what could have been a truly tragic situation into one with a very different take-away message. That message has been spread throughout social media as one of community and love.

A webpage has been established to aid the family of the injured child as he recovers. To contribute, visit https://www.gofundme.com/help-shimshon-heal.

By Jill Kirsch