Taken for a Ride

School is not the only place our kids are getting an education—and the impact of what they're hearing elsewhere may be heftier than we think.

I’ve discovered an amazing type of time machine, right here in Wilton!

Science fiction fans should be thrilled. The machine is a matter-transmogrifier…something that can actually mutate and change matter, and make it age in a way. The most unbelievable thing? It’s our kids that get magically changed just from the sheer experience of stepping into the machine.

What is this out-of-this-world machine, you ask?

Why a run-of-the-mill school bus, for what other contraption can your baby step into as an innocent, naive child, and just hours later climb down those same steps with the vocabulary of a longshoreman and knowing things far beyond his years?

"Mom, what’s a b*tch?” 

"Dad, did you know when you raise just your middle finger, you're saying the f-word to God?"

These are just the latest pearls of inquisitiveness we’ve shucked from the oyster bus this year. There’s been so much new language and loads of not-ready-for-prime-time educational experiences since he started riding the Cider Mill bus. But truth be told it’s just not limited to Cider Mill; each bus circuit at every school level surely has its own … transformative experiences.

I know people who opt out of the town-provided transportation out of fear. Fear of their kids being bullied, fear of their children hearing things developmentally damaging or "too advanced." But we’ve weathered the public transportation storm through all the choppy waters thus far. And as of now, we’re planning on putting another one in the hands of First Student Bus Company next year too.

We’ve emerged relatively unscathed—but I say that hesitatingly. Sure, there have been a couple verbal skirmishes, and once we had to request the videos be pulled so we could see if our son had been the target of a "physical interaction" during kindergarten (verdict: squeezed arm and a punch thrown). Thankfully there are cameras on the buses, but you need to hear from your kids that something is even happening to know to ask to see the tapes.

Human-nature being what it is, especially as kids get older, they may not always tell you when something is happening. And that’s a scary idea to contemplate, each time you put your child onto the bus.

I know the drivers are handling a lot of pressure—the minute-by-minute schedules to keep, winding Wilton roads to navigate, and often noisy passengers whose safety is in their hands. Then you toss in the responsibility of making sure each child emerges unscathed from bullying and peer pressure… I’d find being a Wilton school bus driver taxing, to say the least.

For a kid, a school bus ride is the petri dish of navigating the nuances of human interaction. You kind of have to see how he grows into his own stronger person, especially with the big kids along for the ride. The first day he heard them tossing around stronger language, he really was an innocent, completely offended by what he heard. He needed to figure out how to deal with kids who were trying to get a rise out of him, and how to deflect the attention away.

As a parent, you try to figure out how and when you teach your child to ignore what’s going on, or to figure out whether it’s really so bad. It opens up the opportunity and responsibility to teach lessons about the power of words and who holds that power—is it really the kids throwing the swear words around or is it him if he shows them it’s no big deal?

Sadly, these are lessons that sort of sneak up on you before you’re ready to learn them (as a kid) or teach them (as the adult). Someone else decided when he was going to hear those words for the first time, and that choice was taken out of our hands.

At the end of the day, he’s learning so much more than just salty language. And you hope that the longshoreman he’s becoming can bear the weight of carrying those heftier lessons around.

Eustace Tilley April 14, 2011 at 11:23 AM
Diane Kuczo April 14, 2011 at 12:17 PM
While our school bus experience has been mostly good at cider mill I have heard some disturbing things about the middle/high school buses...including drug and sex related stuff. From multiple sources. We don't have experience there yet but its concerning to have 6th graders on the bus with juniors and seniors. 6 th grade is still young developmentally and should be in elementary school. Kids grow up too quickly as it is. It's laughable that our school system is more concerned about 5th graders riding the his with kindergarten and first grade (one of the main reasons the elementary schools are split the way they are vs. Having two k-5 schools) and not at all concerned about the influence the upper classes have on the 6th grade which I think is far worse. But it seems the norm these days and yet another conversation to be had with our children before they are ready for it. I look forward to a.follow up article when the authors child enters middle school.
Amy Kesselman April 14, 2011 at 05:44 PM
My daughter enters Middlebrook next year and I am so dreading the bus. Although my younger one seems to pick up the swear words and other stuff from the Miller/Driscoll bus supirsingly.
Linda April 14, 2011 at 10:12 PM
I was interested to read this article, we left Wilton when my daughter was starting 2nd grade to move to Newtown. I remember the first day of Kindergarten at Miller, my daughter came off the bus and told me that she was told there was no Santa Claus..sigh. But she did learn some colorful language and I had to explain a few things I was not happy about explaining... In Newtown, we have owner-operators and our school bus experiences have been tame. My daughter is in HS now and my younger is in 8th grade and rides the bus with high schoolers since she was in 7th grade. I was worried about it..but she tells me that the older kids keep to themselves and there is nothing crazy going on. There have not been any problems or altercations, thank goodness. It's funny how different demographics can be so varied in this area. Maybe it's because the buses are owned by the drivers that they enforce rules that maybe they wouldn't if it was just a pay check they were collecting..who knows. Anyway it was an interesting article to read!
jacquelyn bayne April 14, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Linda, Can you tell us more about owner-operators? Perhaps we should explore this for a variety of reasons. why did Newtown move to this type of operation?
the man April 15, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Tell us ,Linda why did you move from Wilton to Newtown? For schools?
Jan Andras April 15, 2011 at 12:51 PM
Jacquelyn, Newtown did not move to this system, they always had it. I work in Wilton but am a life-long resident of Newtown and my husband is an owner-operator for the schools. This system has worked well for our town but a new Superintendent feels that we could save money by bidding out next year. So, of course, a big bus company will low-ball a bid just to get in since they have been trying to take over for many years. Residents are already fighting the move because they are very happy with the system. Parents call my husband at home all the time, or talk to him in the grocery store or come to our house to pick up something left on the bus. He is now driving the children of students who once rode his bus.
Tracy Scarfi April 15, 2011 at 01:13 PM
In my opinion it is not a bus issue or a school issue and certainly not a Wilton issue. I think parents simply need to be more responsible and raise children who aren't jerks so everyone can enjoy public school transportation. When did society decide that the village should raise the kids instead of the family?
Eustace Tilley April 15, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Bravo Tracy! But it would help if teacher's lead by example too. We've seen too much of their indiscreet behavior
Heather Borden Herve April 15, 2011 at 03:12 PM
With all due respect, Ed, I think that's a charge that seems out of line. "Too much indiscreet behavior" on the part of teachers? Really? I'd love to hear the facts of that assertion, specifically as it relates to Wilton's teachers.
Eustace Tilley April 15, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Sorry to be the messenger Heather. But in this instance, the messenger is not the one 'out of line." I won't spread the details but they are there. Spend some time at the school and you'll come to learn of it.
Heather Borden Herve April 15, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Ed, I do spend time in the schools. A lot--I volunteer my private time, I report during my work hours, I have kids there now. And when you make that kind of charge in the public forum, without proof, you are making a baseless, hollow accusation. Have you spent time there recently, and seen something that people should know about? Can you back up this claim? Otherwise, it's a public accusation that shouldn't have legs, and doesn't have merit.
Eustace Tilley April 15, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Sounds like you are begging for gossip but you won't get details from me! But I do find it amazing you are venting on me
Heather Borden Herve April 15, 2011 at 03:37 PM
No, Ed, not begging for gossip at all. I'm pointing out that you've made an accusation without any fact. You've entered the conversation without furthering it at all. And I want to make sure for anyone reading my column that you've made an accusation that has no support. That's what is amazing, and unfortunate.
Eustace Tilley April 15, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Well Heather, "forewarned is forearmed."
happy April 15, 2011 at 04:25 PM
I agree with Tracy, it's not a Wilton issue, and I'm pretty sure your children won't be scarred for life if they ride the Wilton buses to/from school...have had at least one child on the bus since 1995 and have NEVER had a problem...maybe it's the nice neighborhood we live in, where children are, for the most part, incredibly well behaved and kind to their neighbors. Honestly, if this is what keeps you up at night, I very kindly suggest you buckle your seat belt and prepare for rockier roads ahead regarding raising children in Wilton. :) My guess is that the bus isn't the only place where children are exposed to some off-color language. Honestly, I think this column is a bit over-dramatic based on our 16 years of bus riding experience from M/D through WHS.
carol ball April 15, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Wouldn't it be great if we could hear candidly from children who ride the bus about what they've heard and observed, rather than simply going on what they have reported to us? I am sorry to say that the behavior on the busses goes beyond off-color language. In my children's experience, it has included daily racist remarks to minority bus drivers, inflamatory anti-gay rhetoric, bullying, taunting, and pranking of unpopular kids, details about sexual practices -- and this was between their 3rd grade and 7th grade years. My kids learned so much that had to be clarified -- I was often blindsighted by their questions about topics I wasn't ready to discuss.
Joe Burke April 15, 2011 at 06:36 PM
thanks Carol..one more thing for me to lose sleep over :)
jennifer iannuzzi April 22, 2011 at 11:32 AM
I couldn't agree more that the bus is a less than perfect environment. It is the only time in our young children's lives when they are essential unsupervised, other than the playground at school, which is a whole other topic. I remember when my first child went off to kindergarten and I was surprised that there were no aides on the buses. To this day I simply do not understand that. It is normal and natural when a group of children of mixed ages get together to want to impress each other with shocking information; however, it seems very irresponsible to have no adult other than the bus driver monitoring it.
Concerned Parent April 22, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Well that does it. If the Wilton teachers can't behave themselves, then I'm moving to Newtown.
Eustace Tilley April 22, 2011 at 11:06 PM
It would be great if the PTA organized volunteer bus monitors to ride with the kids.
highschoolstudent12 April 22, 2011 at 11:17 PM
You should all not forget the good things the bus experience does! Sure, the first day of sixth grade was intimidating, but some of my closest friends today are my neighbors, largely due to the half hour chats we would have to digest the day and relax. Also, by the time I got my license, I was almost sad to leave the bus (almost), because there was some sort of nerdy camaraderie that had developed between the diverse group of students in the back I did not want to abandon. And it made me smile to see the younger group girls just like my friends and I used to be grow up and take that special position in the back of the bus. Adults often lament the fact that neighborhood kids aren't as close today as they were when they were growing up, so they should value the bus for all it does to generate neighborhood closeness.
John April 23, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Why don't the parents hire limousines for their precious cargo?
Concerned Parents April 23, 2011 at 03:30 PM
John, that’s exactly what WE DID! And after school they would be taken directly to board our private yacht at the Lake Club.
jacquelyn bayne April 27, 2011 at 10:11 PM
@highschoolstudent12 Thanks for your comments! Makes me feel better about my choices---my kids ride the bus. They have had issues but mostly enjoy it and I think its definately part of life in the USA! That said, its too bad we can't let our kids walk or ride bikes to school. Safe bike paths would be a nice alternative to the bus and allow some kids to stay after without a car-pick up. I hear a bike trail is in the making--any news on this?


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