Dozens Of Staples Students Dodge Cops

Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Tonight, they ran toward them.

And threw dodgeballs at their heads.

The cops threw them right back.

In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

Dodgeball kids 2

The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it. The English department had a group of teachers.

Every team had at least 1 police officer. Talk about someone having your back!

Each player paid $5 to participate. The money goes to Homes With Hope.

That’s a big 10-4.

Basketball players...

Basketball players…

Staples Players (the actors) ...

… Staples Players (the actors) …

teachers...

… teachers…

... and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission's annual "Dodge a Cop" event.

… and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

 

 

 

200-Unit Apartment Proposal Galvanizes Westporters

Just 24 hours after it went online, a petition opposing the proposed 200-unit apartment complex on the site of the Westport Inn gained over 300 signatures.

Residents in the Long Lots area have formed a group: Westport United for Responsible Development.

Their petition — available at Change.org and addressed to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — reads:

Ranger Properties, the current owner/developer of the Westport Inn at 1595 Post Road East, proposes to demolish the Inn and to replace it with a 200 unit multi-family apartment complex. The developer is using the Connecticut Affordable Housing Statute to bypass Westport’s zoning laws and build an apartment complex that would never be permitted under the existing local zoning laws.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

The proposed complex would contain 363,328 square feet, 5 stories (with balconies and roof amenities), and 370 parking spaces on less than 3 acres of land. This unprecedented development would rise in excess of 80 feet above an already elevated grade and tower over adjacent residential neighborhoods. The proposed project violates numerous Westport zoning laws concerning height, density, wetlands and use.

It would irreversibly alter the small town character of Westport, and would place undue burdens on schools, traffic and emergency response; resulting in significant public health and safety concerns.

The project is in the early stages of development.

And — clearly — so is opposition to it.

(To view the petition, click on change.org.) 

How To Succeed In Westport — With Really Trying

Kibberia is one of my favorite restaurants.

The Middle Eastern food is fantastic: fresh, healthful and flavorful. The prices are great. And Nick Iskandar is one of the nicest, happiest and most generally helpful restaurant owners I’ve ever met.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Kibberia recently marked its 1-year anniversary on the Westport-Norwalk town line (it’s on the site of the old John’s Best). That seemed like a good time to ask Nick what it takes to survive in this area’s cutthroat restaurant environment.

“The first few months were definitely not easy,” he says. The brutal winter weather kept many people home. The small plaza is not well lit; town regulations limit signage. Middle Eastern cuisine is unfamiliar to many diners.

Yet those were just bumps on the road to building a new business.

“When people taste it, they like it,” Nick says of his menu. He’s seen a steady increase in takeout orders. Nearly every day, he caters lunch for at least one office nearby. And — parents say — their kids love his hummus and falafels.

That’s one surprise. So is his wholesale sideline.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Unprompted, a customer suggested that Nick sell his products through stores like Mrs. Green’s.

It took a while, but he started in 4 locations. Now he’s in 15 — including items not in his restaurant.

He was surprised too when Patricia Brooks called last spring. She’d enjoyed her meal there, and planned to review it for the New York Times.

She gave it a “good” rating — in Times-speak, just a step below “phenomenal” — and that drove customers. So did a nice writeup in the Hearst papers.

Always, Nick is experimenting with what works. He began opening on Sundays. It’s his slowest day, but loyal customers want it.

He added live music on Saturdays, but BMI — the music rights firm — is coming after small businesses like his for licensing fees. So he’s cut back considerably.

KibberiaThis has been an enjoyable year for Nick. He’s learned a lot. The Westport Kibberia is different from his 1st location in Danbury: different customers, different rhythms, different expectations. Yet he’s adapted well — and is looking for a 3rd location, possibly in Mt. Kisco.

It’s not easy for any new business — particularly a restaurant — to survive here.

But — as his ever-growing customer base attests — the rewards can hit the spot.

Scores Of Santas Stumble Through Saugatuck

Saugatuck, Santa Claus and alcohol. It doesn’t get better than that.

The trifecta is our 2nd annual “Santa Cause.” The creation of Westporters Kelley and Drew Schutte, it’s an absurdly fun (and adult) afternoon. And it’s a fundraiser for a wonderful beneficiary: Adam’s Camp New England, which helps special needs children realize their full potential.

Did I mention there are drinks?

Drew and Kelley Schutte — aka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Here’s the deal. This Saturday (November 29), attendees must dress up in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits. (Full costumes, please!)

Everyone gathers at the Whelk, at 3 p.m. sharp. Every 45 minutes they drink/crawl their way from one fine Saugatuck establishment to the next. (Saugatuck Sweets provides free coffee, because man does not live by bread beer alone.)

At the last stop — the Rowing Club — awards will be presented (don’t ask). Then come (surprise!) drinks, bites, and dancing your bells off to Fry Daddy’s.

Here’s the holiday catch: The cost is a minimum of $125 per person Santa.

Of course — this being the holiday, and there’s alcohol involved — you can give more. $2,700 covers a full camp experience for one child.

Christmas drinkThis being litigious Westport, there are guidelines. Each party’s drop-off and pick-up rides must be arranged in advance (unless there’s a designated sleigh or car driver).

Cash is requested for drinks and tips. No credit cards — bartenders have enough trouble without trying to figure out which Santa bought which Christmas ale.

Ho ho ho!

(Pre-registration is requested; send a check made out to “Adam’s Camp,” with a list of the number attending and your email address, to the Schuttes, 12 Sunnyside La., Westport, CT 06880. Include the name of all your Santas, and your email address. For more info, call 917-297-1324.)

More Changes On Elm Street

While Westporters were admiring the Kemper-Gunn House’s new location in the Baldwin parking lot — where all sides of the structure are visible, after years in the Y’s shadow — a different “renovation” took place across the street.

Here’s a shot of the walkway, and the side of the building between Elm Street and Main Street.

Elm Street walkway

It must have taken the graffiti “artists” a while do that — in a very visible spot.

 

Scott Pecoriello: You Do Need This Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

In kindergarten, Scott Pecoriello was curious about rain. His parents showed him a radar map. Hooked, he checked it every day.

The next year he drew a map of the Northeast, and colored in storms. Soon, he was trying to figure out how tornadoes form. (He was completely wrong.)

Scott Pecioriello drew this map -- freehand -- when he was 10 years old.

Scott Pecioriello drew this weather map when he was 10 years old.

From there Scott advanced to the Weather Channel. Then came online forums like AWE (the Association of Weather Enthusiasts), filled with people who share his passion. He taught himself all about meteorology.

Three years ago — as a Staples High School freshman — Scott got tired of sharing his maps and forecasts with a few family members. He started a blog called Wild About Weather. It drew about 12 followers (mostly family members).

When he started a Facebook page, his audience exploded. With each storm he forecasted correctly, his followers grew. With Hurricane Irene, the numbers snowballed (so to speak). During one blizzard last winter, he had a web reach of 2.3 million people.

Sure, you can get your weather forecast anywhere. Folks flock to Scott because he makes it interesting. He breaks down every element, so people can learn. He’s enthusiastic, and his blog and Facebook page are personal.

Scott proves himself during big weather events. You or I might fear a hurricane or snowstorm. Scott revels in them. He’s gone 2 days without sleep. He studies every element, explains each one, then forecasts what’s next.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott’s biggest success was Hurricane Sandy. But, he notes, “everyone got that right.” He’s prouder of a storm last winter, when he predicted conditions in every Northeastern city with 94% accuracy.

His biggest failure? Also last winter: a dud snowstorm. On his “Know Snow” app, he apologized. And — as he does whenever he gets something wrong — he explained why.

On the app, Scott predicts school closings for each area town. Last year, he was 91% accurate. It would have been higher, he says, but Westport and Fairfield closings are extraordinarily difficult to figure.

Far more often than not though, Scott gets the closings — and his entire forecast — right. That’s why professional meteorologists follow him on Twitter. They respect him, and he in turn learns from them.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Another fan is Staples principal John Dodig. Teachers follow him too. But Scott — who in his spare time mentors an autistic boy through the Circle of Friends, and counsels elementary school students about food allergies through a group he helped start — downplays his passion with his friends. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘school weatherman,'” he says.

Okay. But how about a sneak preview of winter for “06880”?

“It will be similar to last year,” Scott says. “A lot of snow in Siberia early correlates to the polar vortex we saw before. If the southern jet stream is active, we could get some big snowstorms.”

Speaking of active, Scott is very. He’s just hired a few assistants, to help launch his new premium service on Wild About Weather.

Here’s my forecast: Scott Pecoriello’s future is very hot.

(Scott is not the only young Westport weather whiz. Jacob Meisel — a 2012 Staples graduate, now at Harvard — has just expanded his own website. He’s branched out to New York and other places from southwestern Connecticut, and is offering subscription services. Click SWCT/NY Weather to learn more.)

 

New Sign Gets In The Spirit Of Things

On Friday, driving from the Y on the sparkling new Merritt Parkway Exit 41 ramp, I saw a guy with a truck putting up a sign.

Check it out — it’s the sparkling new white one, at the bottom of all the others.

Merritt Parkway sign

Call me crazy, but I’m guessing this is not an official — or legal — Department of Transportation project.

Westport: Low Fences, Communal Spirit, Personal Pizzas

On Thursday night 9 teenagers left Westport, for a plane back to Singapore. They were different people than when they’d arrived, just 2 weeks earlier.

The group — part of the 2nd annual group to visit from the elite Hwa Chong Institute — lived with Staples students, attended classes, and visited New York City and Yale.

But — as is so often the case with programs like this — the little things meant the most.

The guests shared their impressions on a Facebook page called “Staples High Immersion 2014.” Among their observations:

In Singapore, students are “generally meek in front of their teachers.” Here, school relationships are very relaxed.  As a result, discussions are lively, resulting in “effective learning.” And without uniforms, Westport students “are free to express their personal identity.”

Staples’ electives were eye-opening. Radio, television, film-making, music, pottery, digital darkroom, drawing, painting, sculpturing, jewelry making, woodworking — plus the opportunity to choose another language, like French, Spanish or Mandarin — was intriguing.

Two Hwa Chong students enjoy Culinary class.

Two Hwa Chong students enjoy Culinary class.

But that was nothing compared to extracurricular activities. The Singapore teenagers were impressed that Inklings, the school newspaper, gives students the opportunity to write on topics that interest them, from fashion to anti-Semitism.

The visitors were wowed by Staples Players’ “Hello, Dolly!” — let’s hope they don’t think that every high school puts on shows like that — and were amazed too at the importance that Wrecker sports hold for many students.

“Such is a mark of an obviously holistic education,” one youngster wrote. “Academics, while important, do not rob students of their time to engage in something they want to do and develop.

“Crudely speaking,” he added, “Staples makes Singaporean schools look like factories.”

Staples High School principal John Dodig and world language department chair Maria Zachery welcome the Singapore students to Westport.

Staples High School principal John Dodig and world language department chair Maria Zachery welcome the Singapore students to Westport.

The strong, close bonds of families in Westport neighborhoods impressed the Singapore teens. One said that “communal spirit” was lacking in his country.

And, he added, Westport homes do not have “high fences or walls to form a barricade around their properties,” as he was used to. (Another was surprised that Americans don’t mind living near cemeteries. That would never happen back home.)

Life here, one boy said, is less hectic than in Singapore. His father works overseas; his mother gets home from work after he is asleep, and he has not had a home-cooked meal since he was 11. Both host parents here cook.

He called it “heartwarming” to see that Westport families spend “sufficient time to interact and understand each and every family member.” Singapore youngsters “crave” that, he said.

One of his classmates remarked on the ease with which “numerous visitors” dropped in at his host family’s house.

It doesn't get more Westport than a trip to Five Guys.

It doesn’t get more Westport than a trip to Five Guys.

A host family took their guest to a local restaurant. A pizza that would be a meal for 2 or 3 people back home was his alone. At a supermarket, the only Coke he could find was 4.5 liters. On field trips, he and his classmates could not finish all the food they were served.

One Facebook post called Westport “stunning.” The “serene and quiet” autumn setting was a sharp contrast to “noisy and high energy” Singapore.

New York, meanwhile, seemed “straight out of a movie.” It had a “slight fairy-tale feel to it” — despite the “innumerable homeless people.”

“I am indeed glad I was honoured with the opportunity to come here,” a student wrote. “I feel accomplished and less ignorant” for having experienced Western culture.

One of the Singapore guests loved this serene scene near his host family's house.

One of the Singapore guests loved this serene scene near his host family’s house.

And, of course, nearly everyone asked the Singaporeans — “frantically,” one said — if they are allowed to chew gum.

“That is one thing we don’t really regard as something big, but apparently in other countries it appears really strange,” he noted.

Which is why all of us should travel. And when we do, we should wander out of our comfort zones. There are many lessons to be learned. As our Singapore guests have shown us, not all take place in school.

Calling All Candlelight Connoisseurs

Next year, Staples’ Candlelight Concert celebrates its 75th anniversary. Hallelujah!

To mark the occasion, the music department — in conjunction with Class of 1961 grad John Brandt — plans a spectacular video.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old.

Candlelight originator John Ohanian was known for his meticulous attention to detail. The organizers of next year’s celebration have learned his lessons well.

Thirteen months ahead of time, they’re already searching for archival material. They need programs from before 1961 (the 1st one — 1940 — would be golden).

They’d like still photos, and of course recordings — either vinyl, old Beta videos, even reel-to-reel tapes.

Please send in jpeg or .wav format — or simply in its original form. All material will be copied and returned. Send to: Adele Valovich c/o Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. You can email her at  avalovich@westport.k12.ct.us, or call 203-341-5128. The deadline is December 12.

Now let hosannas ring…

Choir member Michael Sixsmith was part of the always-evocative "Sing We Noel" processional. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

A recent Candlelight processional. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

Bring Back Needle Park!

After the recent removal of cherry trees and ivy, Westport’s attention has been focused on the former YMCA’s former Bedford building.

Across the street, meanwhile, a sterile little plaza just sits there.

It was not always thus. Back in the day — when the Library occupied the space now filled with Freshii and Starbucks — the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an actual park. Westporters enjoyed benches, flowers, and a fountain donated by the Sheffer family.

In the 1960s it became known as Needle Park. That’s where Westport’s alleged heroin users — both of them — allegedly shot up. In reality, it was just a great hangout for high school kids smoking a little weed.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

Now — after several renovations (not “improvements”) — the place is a monument to concrete. It’s even less inviting than the “plazas” New York developers built in exchange for adding 30 more stories to their glass monuments.

Those developers did everything they could to make their public spaces unusable.

The latest incarnation of the old Needle Park does the same.

Library park

As alert “06880” reader Remy Chevalier points out, one of the benches is not level with the ground. That, he says, is “a nasty little trick developers use when they don’t actually want anybody sitting on them and loitering.”

A crooked -- and hardly welcoming -- bench. That's a level on top, showing that it's not level.

A crooked — and hardly welcoming — bench. That’s a level on top, showing that it’s not level.

Remy publishes a great blog, called Greenburbs. It shows what towns like Westport can look like if people in power really care about how human beings interact with their environment.

And make no mistake: Whoever is responsible for that grim “park” across the street from the old Y/new Bedford Square clearly abused his power.