The following article was written and submitted by members of Wilton Girl Scout Troop 50877:  Ally Gillespie, Emily Johnson, Talia Matik, Maggie Palma, and Hannah Pettibone.

At the culmination of a Girl Scout’s Cadette year, she has the option of completing a Silver Award project by herself or with a  group comprised of four people or fewer. A Silver Award project is a community service project that is sustainable, not just something that is “one and done.” Each member of the team completing the project must spend 50 or more hours in a leadership position. As outlined below, we have completed all the requirements to earn the highest honor awarded to a Girl Scout Cadette.

Our Silver Award project centered on the issue of bus safety at Wilton’s four public schools. Throughout the course of the project our troop met with community representatives, observed bus runs at Middlebrook School and Wilton High School, and planned bus safety poster contests for Cider Mill and Miller Driscoll schools.  Due to the constraints of the four person rule, we divided into smaller groups based on the particular school we were researching.

Last year as we were examining issues within our town and brainstorming ideas for our project, we heard a story about a car that had cut off a school bus while the passengers were not all wearing seatbelts. This could have been a tragic accident, and hearing this set off alarm bells within our troop and we unanimously agreed on our topic–conquering unsafe bus behavior.

Our project began with frequent meetings with the Wilton Board of Education transportation liaison, Fran Williams, and Wendy Nieman from the Wilton Bus Depot [and STA]. These ladies had wonderful insight and explained bus safety procedures to us as well as the frequent safety training provided to our town bus drivers.

After these initial meetings, our troop would debrief at Coffee Barn and figure out how to resolve some of the biggest bus safety concerns facing our Wilton school district. We determined that the best way to solve the problem was to observe bus runs for ourselves. Two members of our troop observed Wilton High School bus runs and three observed Middlebrook School. We collected lots of data watching students disembark the bus at school in the morning and board the bus at school in the afternoon.

While we gathered a lot of data from our own personal observations, we still needed more information. Our troop then sent out a 10-question survey to all Wilton bus drivers asking for their input on our schools current bus safety. The answers provided us with real data from the people who experience the bus runs every single day.

We compiled this information in a 15-plus page report, including our findings, a summary of the bus driver responses and possible solutions.  We then met with Ms. Williams and Ms. Nieman and presented our findings. We added their feedback to the report and next met with Dean [Jory] Higgins from Middlebrook School and Principal [Robert] O’Donnell from the High School.

At the elementary school level, we had a different plan for promoting bus safety. From our personal experience attending Miller Driscoll and Cider Mill School, we knew the bus runs were well-organized and efficient. Our goal though was to encourage all students to improve their safety by wearing seatbelts, behaving and being respectful to each other and our bus drivers.

We reached out to the administration and proposed a poster contest for the two schools. An amazing artist from our troop designed a flyer with rules (such as the drawing must include a portion of a yellow bus, must include bus safety rules, etc… ) that we came up with, and presented that to the Board of Education for approval. They approved our contest and our flyers were given to each student, encouraging them to participate in the contest.

Approximately 60 students submitted entries for our poster contest. A few weeks ago, the results were in and each of the winners at  Miller Driscoll and Cider Mill schools received their respective prizes courtesy of our benevolent sponsors, Bow Tie Cinema and Scoops Ice Cream. The winning posters from each school are proudly hanging at the Wilton Bus Barn and in the schools.

Our project is sustainable because, at Wilton High School and Middlebrook, changes have already been made to make the bus operations even safer while on school campus. For example, Middlebrook has enforced the safety regulations through daily morning announcements and they also informed parents of these rules to maximize the reach of their message. In the  announcements at Middlebrook School, students are reminded not to run to their buses upon exiting the building, not to walk or run between buses, and not be distracted while boarding the bus (such as not being on their phones). At the beginning of the school year, parents were all emailed a reminder of pickup locations and procedures as not all parents have followed these procedures in the past.

At Wilton High School, Dr. O’Donnell met with school resource officer Rich Ross to discuss our findings and review some of our solutions as outlined in the hard copy of our report. Some of our suggestions are related to improving traffic flow in and around the school campus, as well as increased safety for our students and pedestrians during drop off and pick up times in the areas surrounding the bus loop.

At Cider Mill and Miller Driscoll, our flyer and contest rules can be used and repeated every year, as October is Bus Safety Awareness Month. However, if the contest is not repeated on an annual basis, the posters created serve as an excellent reminder to all of our hard work and remind students of appropriate and safe bus behavior.

On top of the poster contest, the report comprised of all of our findings, research,  proposed solutions, and a hard copy of the poster design contest flyer was presented to the principals at all four Wilton Public Schools, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, the Wilton Bus Depot, Dean Higgins from Middlebrook, Fran Williams, and Officer Ross. This is sustainable because each of these people will keep these reports  and can refer to them at any time they want to reference our research and look for solutions to current bus safety issues.

As we completed the project, we learned about the importance of time-management, respecting and  utilizing each other’s talents, skills and abilities and self-reliance, but more importantly, we became closer as a troop. It was an amazing experience for all of us and we have loved helping to make Wilton a safer community.

We would especially like to thank the following businesses and people–without their help, our project would not have been completed. We are grateful for your kindness:

Cider Mill School
Diane Strickrodt, Cider Mill School
Fran Williams, Transportation Liaison
Jennifer Falcone, Principal of Cider Mill School
Jory Higgins, Middlebrook School Student Dean
Joyce Healy, Miller Driscoll School
Kathryn Coon, Principal of Miller Driscoll School
Miller Driscoll School
Paul’s Prosperous Printing
Robert O’Donnell, Principal of Wilton High School
Scoops Ice Cream
Wendy Nieman, Wilton Bus Depot
Wilton Bow Tie Cinemas
Wilton Bus Drivers
Wilton Public Schools