That Sense of Belonging

In her 1990s ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ book series, author Jean Auel described early mankind as communal, with annual gatherings of the tribes to share foods, sports, medicines, religion, clothing, and social traditions. Each time I’ve attended a NAPT Annual Conference and Trade Show over the years, I felt that spirit inside me; that instinctive joy in being with others who shared a common bond. In fact, fellow New Yorker and former NAPT President Lenny Bernstein used to refer to annual conferences as ‘family reunions’ and that picture resonates deeply with me to this day. (It’s great to know that the annual conference is back in Columbus, Ohio, October 27-31, 2023!)

What is the reason for our need to join groups and associate through them with others? Is it the strength in numbers concept that draws us or the need to feel like we aren’t alone with our needs and responsibilities or the understanding that others have new ideas? Articles I’ve read on this subject refer to a range of reasons including networking opportunities, learning, advocacy, career development, and access to information and resources. 

In recent discussions about the National Association for Pupil Transportation, I have heard several people comment that they joined NAPT because they viewed it as kind of a “toolbox” where they can go to find resources to help them do their jobs more effectively. I thought that was a particularly special metaphor. So, let’s drill down just a bit further on this idea of community and professional associations.

But first, an historical note (believe it or not): We have had trade associations dating back at least to the 2200 BC era in Mesopotamia where artisans gathered to set guidelines for length, weight, colors, prices, and a variety of living standards. These expanded in the medieval period with guilds of craftsman and then in the 1800s with the advent of chambers of commerce and industry groups. Those who belonged to such entities had sizable power in shaping policy and practice and social norms, not unlike today’s associations.

One of the benefits of belonging to an association like NAPT is the fact that there is someone who can speak for all of us with one voice on issues facing our industry. That includes advocating for federal legislation or regulations that have a direct impact on our work and on the safety of our children. Over the years, NAPT has approached such advocacy with thought and caution. Our approach has been to stake out a reasoned position and do the research on it and ensure our members were attuned to the evolving policy position. It seemed important not to just react immediately but to take the time to develop a sound and attainable position. This has extended from seat belts to changes in diesel fuel emissions regulations to homeless student transportation to electric or alternately fueled vehicles and alternative school transportation. 

Another of the very important benefits to joining a group like NAPT is the opportunity to network with others in the same profession. There is something very reassuring in learning that others share headaches that are similar to your own. It’s even more reassuring to find that others have new and inventive solutions that might help us solve those problems. So, we gather to learn from one another and to learn, most importantly, that we are not alone, that others truly want to help us, and that others are seeking ideas and help from us as well. Many have offered the opinion that networking and conversations over coffee or an “adult beverage” is the most important benefit of associations. 

We all know that belonging to an association brings with it opportunities for education and for strengthening our position as an industry professional. In industries like school transportation, where child safety is paramount, there can never be enough training all up and down the line. As administrators, many of our members develop or present training for drivers and aides, as well as for dispatchers and technicians among others. But it is important for them to also receive training and professional development to allow them to grow and strengthen their capacity as leaders and managers. In this vein, NAPT offers a wide range of programs including an annual conference, periodic road shows and webinars. But the anchor for the NAPT lies in our Professional Development Series and our Certification program. There is no other program like it in our industry and hundreds of transportation professionals have completed the rigorous curriculum in the years since its inception.

As this school year begins, this writer thought it would be important to remind folks of the value of belonging and of sharing with others. School transportation has been on the knife’s edge in recent years with increased demands and fewer drivers and pandemic rigors and the usual demands of transporting 25 million children every day. And the going gets hard. We all need a chance to refresh and to realize that we are not alone. Indeed, we have hundreds of friends and colleagues out there who are dealing with the same headaches and hardships and successes and joys that we are.

So, I’d ask you to consider becoming a part of NAPT, your professional association at the national level, or at the state association level where the contacts are more local to your interests and needs. Our state associations do some amazing activities and work hard to represent you. Meet new people. Try out new ideas. Compare and contrast approaches to operations. It’s all good and it’s so important to your ability not only to do the job but also to survive and thrive as a person.

Make 2022-2023 a great school year by joining and belonging and taking good care of you!

Peter Mannella ( is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.