Little Shy Felipe


Driving a school bus in a growing community presents some unique opportunities, especially when one of your routes involves an ethnically diverse mix of four and five-year olds. When the school year begins, many of these kids don’t speak any English. They bravely get on the bus and ride in a deafening silence for the first few days, sometimes weeks. The greatest satisfaction of the job is breaking through the language barriers and establishing a friendly and trusting relationship. They are remarkably smart and within a few weeks, they begin to develop a functional understanding of English. Some kids take longer than others.

Felipe was one of these kids. I realized on the first day that language would not be our only obstacle. He had an incredible shyness that, after several weeks, seemed almost impenetrable. I tried to spark conversations using what little Spanish I know. “Como estas?” (How are you?) or “Te gusta esquela?” (Do you like school?). I have learned in previous undertakings to tread lightly as it can quickly turn around and I suddenly find myself trying to explain to a bus full of exuberant preschoolers telling me their detailed and fast-paced stories, that I don’t understand Spanish. The “you started it” look they give me is priceless.

The only expression I could extract from Felipe was the occasional nod or a timid smile. This lasted well into the school year and by Christmas, I had nearly given up. On the last day before the break, I wished Felipe “Feliz Navidad!” He gave me a big smile and eagerly repeated the words. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I asked if he could say it in English too. He promptly responded, “Merry Christmas!” I said, “Wow, Felipe…now you can speak Spanish AND English!” He replied in a very clear and articulate voice, “I don’t know any other Spanish words.”

(photo courtesy of Igor Aranov/