(Photo by Kate Padilla) [Order this photo]
Following the tragic death of their son, Justin's parents helped to start the SmileBIG Foundation, to remember and honor Justin.
The biggest goal of the foundation is to retrofit school buses with student detection systems: a series of motion sensors that surround the outside of the bus. The driver is notified whenever the sensors detect anything.
Before they can require buses to carry the SDS, however, the systems need to be tested. Three schools across the state were chosen to participate in a pilot program for the detection systems, located in Janesville, Mason City and Spencer.
When Spencer Transportation Director Julie Nemmers heard about the pilot program, she approached Department of Education representative Max Christiansen with her interest.
"I told him I wanted to be a part of it," she said. "It's horrible to lose a child."
The detection systems are a new technology from Rostra Precision Controls, Inc., a leading manufacturer of automotive parts and accessories, according to their website. The cost for installing the SDS in the pilot program is covered by the manufacturer, as per the criteria required for a pilot program under the Department of Education.
The SmileBIG Foundation is raising funds to equip all of the buses in the Janesville Community School District with the SDS.
Spencer school buses will be outfitted with the SDS within the next month at no cost to the district, and the data gathered will be monitored by the Dept of Education through the rest of the year.
"Upon completion of a pilot project, assuming we have favorable findings, we would then approve it for use in the state of Iowa for school buses," Christensen wrote in an email to Rostra Sales and Marketing Vice President Pete Kallgren.
"It's such a cool program," Nemmers said. "And it's a big deal to be chosen."
Nemmers serves on the board of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, and was excited to be able to use her contacts there to help Spencer earn this "great opportunity."
"Our focus needs to be on increasing safety," Nemmers said, "But they have to do a trial run. I think it's great."