Or how I Learned to Just Say Go
By Dan Levitz
I remember driving my son, our first-born child, home from the hospital. My wife and I were a nervous parental cliché personified–hazards on the whole way, our usual five minute drive across East 86th Street took 20 instead.
Old habits die hard. Charlie was starting first grade when we moved here, and my wife and I were far more nervous than he was about taking the bus to school. My recollection of the bus at his age was something akin to Lord of the Flies; complete anarchy, survival of the strongest. Charlie was a robust little snapper but, at six, did he have the stuff to weather this oncoming daily storm?
Of course, to our extreme relief, it was obvious that my boy felt safe. And, in the rare case where there was a behavior issue on the bus, we learned that Roaring Brook School had (and has) an effective response. Bus Safety Coordinator Bill Woolard is a well-liked and respected Physical Education teacher who has been the bus safety czar at RBS for 12 years. I asked him about his training for this role and he cited his decade’s long experience with at-risk youths, special needs kids and here in Chappaqua. Bill describes himself as “large, ugly and loud” which may be needlessly self-deprecating but certainly gets the kids’ attention. Bill sits when talking to a student about RBS’s “three strike” bus safety policy so his formidable stature isn’t overly intimidating; first strike is a conversation with Bill, second a Bus Behavior Worksheet and third is a suspension for repeated disallowed behavior. Notably, three strike offenders are extremely rare.
Our bus transport nervousness only re-emerged in rare instances like the mini-rogue-tornado we had one spring. Long story short, headed home, the bus couldn’t proceed due a sudden and intense storm which brought trees down on 120. The bus driver wisely pulled over, kids exited safely and kind neighbors harbored our children until the storm, literally, passed. School was canceled the next day and Charlie was interviewed on News 12. Perhaps the greatest day of his life to that point.
As Charlie moved on to Bell, and now Greeley, it occurs to me that we rarely ever think about the details of his daily bus rides. It’s just a fact of his routine. This confidence comes from knowing that Chappaqua Transportation Company operates with our children’s safety as priority number one.
I met with longtime CTC owner Joan Corwin who emphasized, “We are doing all we can to insure the children’s safety.” She pointed out that drivers and monitors are extensively trained in bus safety, taking both required courses and physical performance tests. This passionate woman noted that, early on, her authoritative command garnered the nickname The Godmother. Now, however, she’s mostly called Mom by bus drivers, monitors and employees who have worked for her as long as 30 years. Joan told me that she’d be unable to count the number of hugs she’s given nervous Moms over the years because there’ve just been so many. The message I received from our conversation was a strong feeling of empathy with the parents and a professionalism that never strays from the bottom line of safety ahead everything else.
My daughter Bella came along five years after Charlie, and was a baby when we moved here. Bella, a Special Ed student, has generally traveled on the smaller van-type buses. I’ll never forget when, as a 2 1/2 year old, Bella got on one of those little busses, with its wonderful mix of children, and headed away from us for the first time. It was difficult for us as parents but Bella seemed happy to be leaving her nervous folks behind. Since then, she’s studied at several schools in Westchester, riding as far as Bronxville on a daily basis. The thought of this long trip, on highways, was nervous-making. However, once we met the wonderful bus driver and monitor we felt confident and relieved that she was in good hands.
I sat down at Lange’s Deli with Tiffany Thomas who has been my daughter’s Bus Monitor going back at least five years. The distinct message that came across from our conversation is that the children’s safety is the number one concern for these professionals. They are required to take two safety classes per year and, in working with Special Needs children, go out of their way to make the bus feel safe and friendly. Tiffany noted, “On the bus I treat Bella and the other kids as if they are my own.” Tiffany also described situations where her bus role requires flexibility, saying, “some kids you sit with if they need it,” which she is happy to provide.
Both of my kids have had very positive experiences taking the bus to school mostly due to the fine professionals who transport them every day. I wish I could say that all school transport nervousness has been eliminated, but I don’t see any way a bus-driver or monitor can help with the next parental anxiety filled milestone.
Charlie will be driving himself to school next year. Yikes!
Dan has lived in Chappaqua for 10 years and is an art dealer and writer with a blog on The Huffington Post.