Category Archives: Children

Another Park. Another Plan?

For many years, Luciano Park was a thriving neighborhood playground.

For 2 years during college, in fact, my summer job was supervising the small Saugatuck spot, between the railroad station and parking lot. Another counselor and I kept an eye on kids, organized a few games, and set up bus trips to amusement parks and Yankee Stadium.

Luciano Park, looking from Railroad Place and Charles Street toward the parking lot. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Luciano Park, looking from Railroad Place and Charles Street toward the parking lot. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Later, when Parks and Rec stopped funding the positions — and the area changed — Luciano Park was known mainly as the site of the annual Festival Italiano.

These days, it’s largely forgotten. And almost completely unused.

Home plate remains, but the rest of the softball diamond is gone. View is toward Railroad Place. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Home plate remains, but the rest of the softball diamond is gone. View is toward Railroad Place. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The reasons are varied. Saugatuck is no longer a place of small homes and large families.

The few kids with free time in the summer don’t play baseball in parks. They don’t swing on swings.

No one does, anywhere in Westport — except for the very creative Compo playground, which has sand, water and food nearby.

The seldom-used playground equipment in Luciano Park. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Seldom-used playground equipment in Luciano Park. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

I was reminded of all this after receiving an email and photos from alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti. Walking through Luciano Park at 12:30 last Friday afternoon, without a soul in sight, he thought: “If there is a park in Westport that needs a master plan, this is it!”

He added:

As Westport thinks about its future, let’s give this park some thought. It need not only be for kids. Hundreds, maybe more, quite literally ‘park’ nearby every day.

Could this be a quiet place to sit before or after work? Why not add a fitness station as an alternative to the gym?

Good questions, all. And as Railroad Place prepares for the next stage of Saugatuck’s redevelopment, and residents throughout town ponder both Compo Beach and downtown improvements, why not add this tiny, valuable parcel into the planning mix?

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

Todd Coleman: “Volunteering Makes You A Better Person”

One day in the mid-1980s, Stuart McCarthy — a former Staples star now coaching a Westport Soccer Association girls team — told Todd Coleman, “It’s time you gave something back to the program.” McCarthy named him coach of the WSA’s Under-17 girls squad.

Coleman was all of 19 years old.

He coached girls for 3 seasons. And McCarthy’s words have resonated ever since.

Todd Coleman

Todd Coleman

Coleman is in his 3rd decade of giving back. Now — as the new Westport Soccer Association co-president — he’s in a unique position. A former WSA player who has seen the program and sport evolve, he’s trying to balance the fun, play-with-your-buddies aspect he remembers with the realities of youth sports, 2014-style.

Coleman’s introduction to soccer came in 4th grade, at Hillspoint Elementary School. New to Westport, he had no idea what it meant when Rob Sweetnam asked at recess, “Want to kick?”

But he quickly learned. He played WSA recreation soccer, and made his 1st travel team at 13. Each year, his teammates’ bonds tightened.

Coleman went on to captain the Staples soccer and wrestling squads. He earned the Block “S” MVP award and Loeffler Scholarship, and won a state championship as a junior. At Bates College he was a 4-year starter and captain. He won another state title with Westport’s Under-23 Kixx team.

“Real life” followed. He worked in financial services in Europe and San Francisco. His brothers Scott (a soccer player) and Keith (a wrestler) were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. But soccer kept him connected. When his buddies formed a Westport Over-30 team to honor Scott, Coleman played whenever he could. That team too won a state title.

Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left his Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman's right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players were on the Over-30 team too.

Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left is Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman’s right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players include Dr. Jonathan Sollinger, Guy Claveloux, Brian Sullivan, Dan Donovan and Mike Brown.

Seven years ago — now back in Westport — Coleman volunteered at the WSA’s indoor tournament. (A portion of the profits go to the organization’s Coleman Brothers Foundation.) He liked what he saw. He got more involved. And he always remembered McCarthy’s words.

“Volunteering makes you a better person,” Coleman says. “Giving back helps you get a little bit outside yourself.”

The WSA has expanded greatly since Coleman’s playing days, when there was 1 travel team per age group, and parental involvement was limited to coaching and driving. There are now 1,500 players; 29 travel teams; a robust recreational program, and professional coaches.

But though the organization has grown, its core mission remains the same. “The WSA should be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “I want it to be fun for the kids. I want them to have the same love for soccer I had when I was young. When I was 10, I didn’t feel pressured to make travel or think about college.”

WSA logoParents are involved, he says, “almost more than the kids now.” But Coleman has nothing but praise for the WSA’s 165 volunteers. “They’re enthusiastic about soccer, and they’re focused on the benefits for everyone. There are board members whose kids did not make a travel team. No one complained.”

Youth soccer — all youth sports — are different today than when Coleman was first invited to “have a kick.” (It was a red playground ball, he laughs — not even a real soccer ball.) Travel teams begin at younger ages. Parents drive further distances. Children are “showcased” for colleges.

Coleman can’t change that. But he will do everything he can to make sure that the organization he now heads holds true to the same principle — “soccer is fun” — that powered it when he was young.

And that impelled him to give back to it, starting at the ripe old age of 19.

A Pre-School Grows In Bridgeport

Adam J. Lewis grew up poor, in the Bronx. But he seized the educational opportunities he was given — scholarships to Dalton, then Hamilton College — and made a great, successful and fulfilling life for himself.

Then, on September 11, 2001 he was killed at his World Trade Center desk.

Out of the ashes of his life, the people who loved Adam — his wife and many friends — built a superbly fitting tribute.

Adam J. Lewis

Adam J. Lewis

Patty Lewis and Westporter Julie Mombello — friends from their days working together at Greens Farms Academy — knew the importance of pre-school education.

In Westport, pre-school — where children explore the world using all their senses, and learn letters, numbers, scientific observation, music, art, language, problem-solving, cooperation, coordination and many other skills — is a given. That’s far less true in Bridgeport, where the cost of preschool can be daunting.

Patty and Julie vowed to do what they could to give little children just a few miles from Westport the same advantages their own kids had.

The Adam J. Lewis Pre-School was born. And — despite daunting obstacles including fundraising, site selection and city bureaucracy — it has thrived since opening last December.

The Bridgeport building before (left) -- and now that it's the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

The Bridgeport building before (left) — and now that it’s the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

Many folks — including Westport board members Nancy Aldrich, Lee Bollert and Trish Tweedley, and fundraisers Carolyn Cohen, Tracy Fincher and Anne Hardy — worked tirelessly to make the pre-school a resounding success. Earlier this month, they celebrated their 1st year.

There were 12 kids, all 3 and 4 years old. Everyone received need-based financial aid. (It costs $7,000 a year to educate each child. Sometimes, Julie says, parents pay what they can “literally in quarters.”)

Several boys and girls entered speaking no English. “We saturate them all in language,” explains Julie. “There is constant talking and reading. There are books and letters all over the place.”

The very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

The very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

Julie is an administrator and teacher. Westporter Saba Pina is one of the other teachers.

Earlier this month, a “graduation” ceremony was held for the youngsters moving on to kindergarten. The school worked hard to make sure each has an appropriate placement. Some are heading to charter schools; others to the Greens Farms Academy Horizons program.

The 1st graduation was quite a moment.

“When you sign up for a project like this, you realize it’s all about the kids,” Julie says.

“You can make a difference — one child at a time. You try to give them an opportunity they otherwise would not be exposed to.”

The preschool takes great advantage of the outdoors. There's a fantastic playground too.

The preschool takes great advantage of the outdoors. There’s a fantastic playground too.

But, she realizes, beyond teaching children to count and learn their ABCs, Adam J. Lewis has given them “self-confidence, resilience and perseverance, so they can handle whatever life throws at them.” In Bridgeport, Julie knows, “you face a lot of curveballs.”

In the beginning of the school year, she recalls, a little boy always said, “I can’t do this.” Now, he never says that.

“That’s 90% of the battle,” Julie says. “If you believe in yourself, you have a much greater chance of success.”

She — and all the other folks associated with Adam J. Lewis — feel a tremendous amount of pride. They’ve launched what already is a wonderful institution.

But Julie can’t help noticing something.

“Literally 5 miles from Westport, things are so dramatically different. The need can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to think, ‘How can I make a difference?'”

She answers her own question.

“For some reason, the education of young children makes you feel like you are making a difference.”

Next year, Adam J. Lewis welcomes 16 pre-schoolers, up from 12 this year. They’ll add another teacher. And they’ll keep making a difference.

One child at a time.

(Adam J. Lewis Preschool administrators, educators and board members hope Westporters will continue to support them with money, time and energy. To learn more, click on the Adam J. Lewis Preschool website.)

US Ties Portugal — But Westport Soccer Wins

The Staples boys soccer team played host to 250 younger players today, in a sun-filled, joyful warmup to the US-Portugal World Cup match.

There were mini-games, an obstacle course, a speed gun, penalty kick contests, food, a raffle, and plenty of smiles. It was hard to know who had more fun, the kids or the Staples guys.

The only drag was the final result. Portugal scored with 10 seconds to go in injury time, to tie 2-2. But perhaps one of the kids who chanted “USA! USA!” in the auditorium will be on the field for the USA in a World Cup 20 years from now — and will remember this as the day that started it all.

Taking it steady on one part of the obstacle course. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Taking it steady on one part of the obstacle course. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Denzel Robinson (left) and Sam Kantor help on another part of the obstacle course. Denzel said he loved watching the little kids smile.

Denzel Robinson (left) and Sam Kantor help on another part of the obstacle course. Denzel said he loved watching the little kids smile. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Checking out a powerful kick, with the aid of a speed gun.

Checking out a powerful kick, with the aid of a speed gun. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Best buds, playing the game they love. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Best buds, playing the game they love — and lovin’ the US jerseys. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Staples tri-captain Andrew Puchala shows some future stars how it's done. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Staples captain Andrew Puchala shows future stars how it’s done. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Part of the crowd this afternoon. The Staples players sit proudly at top. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Part of the crowd this afternoon. The Staples players sit proudly at top. (Photo/Kim Lake)

It doesn't get better than eating pizza and wearing USA face paint. (Photo/Doug Fincher)

It doesn’t get better than eating pizza and wearing US face paint. (Photo/Doug Fincher)

 

Westport: With Your Help, A “Fan Favorite”

On Memorial Day, Coleytown Elementary School’s Clara Holleman and Sutton Lindau, and Long Lots’ Sydney Newman — all 5th graders — joined bazillions of other Westporters by marching in the parade. (They were with PAL.)

But they did much more. They gave up a weekend of barbecues and swimming, to help Westport win the “Visit Connecticut’s Fan Favorite Town” contest.

With Staples senior (and soon-to-be Fashion Institute of Technology student Claudine Brantley), the girls spent 3 days documenting Westport’s most popular sites. They didn’t miss a spot (and discovered some hidden gems). They even snagged an interview with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

You may have seen them filming around town. You may even be featured in their very clever and creative video:

So they’ve done their part to promote Westport. Now they need your help.

To vote for Westport, go to Facebook. Search for “VisitConnecticut.” Then click the “CTFanFavorite” tab. Cast your vote for Westport.

Ballot-stuffing is allowed. You can vote every day through July 25. You don’t even need to live in Connecticut to vote.

The winning town receives advertising support from the Connecticut Office of Tourism; national and in-state PR support; an editorial feature in the 2015 Official Connecticut Visitors Guide, and a week of social media features across the tourism office’s social channels. Plus a plaque.

You might even win a free 4-night Connecticut getaway.

Sutton, Sydney and Clara have done all the hard work. Now help them spread the word, and make Westport a “fan favorite.”

One of the shots from the film: the iconic cannons. Other scenes included fly fishing on Ford Road, the Playhouse, Coffee An' -- an' a whole lot more.

One of the shots from the film: the iconic cannons. Other scenes included fly fishing on Ford Road, the Playhouse, Coffee An’ — an’ a whole lot more.

A Very Special Little League “Challenge”

The 2nd season of Challenger Little League baseball is in the books. And it’s hard to tell who had more fun: the boys and girls with disabilities, or the “buddies” who helped them.

18 “Westport Winner” players faced Greenwich yesterday, at the season-ender on Meyer Field.

As always, each Winner had a buddy to help them at bat and in the field. This time the buddies included the regulars — players’ siblings, and commissioners’ and coaches’ kids — plus special guests: 8 of the 11 boys from last summer’s Little League World Series squad. Scott Stagg and Mike Connors are the highly regarded coaches.

There may be no joy in Mudville. But there sure is at Meyer Field, during Challenger Little League's final day of the season.

There may be no joy in Mudville. But there sure is at Meyer Field, during Challenger Little League’s final day of the season.

After the game, the players and their buddies shared pizzas. Then came trophies, and player-picture baseball cards for all.

Everyone is already looking forward to next year. Congrats to all involved in this Challenger program — which is really no challenge at all.

 

Hillary Frank’s “Longest, Shortest Time”

Most radio producers don’t get jobs by recording interviews on their parents’ answering machine, then feeding clips into a boombox.

Then again, most radio producers are not vying for Ira Glass’ attention.

But the quirky “This American Life” personality liked what he heard from Hillary Frank. In 2000 he hired her for his Chicago staff.

Hillary Frank

Hillary Frank

It was a great career move. The Westport native — who had left Staples 7 years earlier as a junior, heading straight to Tufts — learned plenty at the popular, offbeat, interview-driven radio show.

She began freelaning for “Studio 360,” “”Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” She wrote 3 novels.

Then, in 2010, Hillary had a baby. Childbirth and recovery were rough. She’d just moved to New Jersey. She had no other moms to talk to.

“After all those years as a radio producer, I knew I could ask anyone anything by sticking a microphone in their face,” Hillary says.

It worked. Asking questions was cathartic. She felt better — and the women she talked with did too.

Working irregularly (“during naptimes”), she produced 20 shows in 3 years. All were about early parenthood. She called it “The Longest Shortest Time.”

The topics were typical Hillary. “The Emperor’s New Onesie” covered a toddler who refused to wear clothing. After 2 stark naked months, she was diagnosed with a sensory disorder. The girl’s mother told the story in a funny, relatable way.

For a piece on natural childbirth, Hillary revisited her own experience. She interviewed her midwife and others, wondering whether she could have done anything differently. The answer: probably not.

Hillary Frank logo

Hillary’s stories ranged from ridiculous to serious. Topics included miscarriages, the NICU, and a lifelong vegetarian who thought her son’s digestive problem came from her breast milk, and began eating meat.

Hillary started by emailing 300 colleagues and friends. Slowly — through word of mouth, and a shoutout on “This American Life”‘s Facebook page — her audience grew. Strangers submitted their own stories.

Last fall, Hillary realized she needed to start making money from her podcasts. Kickstarter provided donors and sponsors.

Now WNYC has picked up her podcasts. They air it on their website, through their iTunes channel, and via their app. She’s promoted it on the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows too.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 17, 3 p.m.) she hosts a Google hangout called “What’s Up With Your Boobs?” (It’s about lactation.)

Hillary Frank podcast

Hillary just completed her 32nd episode. A father is surprised to feel indifferent — at times miserable — after his child is born. His wife, meanwhile, is thrilled.

Hillary approaches the story the same way she does every other one: with a twist. She doesn’t probe the feelings themselves; instead, she examines spousal conflict in parenthood.

“The Longest Shortest Time” is well worth all of yours.

Don’t Take Our Rock!

Alert “06880” reader (and nearby resident) Stephen Rubin writes:

Thanks to the continuing efforts of the Westport Housing Authority, the old trailer park on Post Road East will at long last be replaced with townhouse-style housing.

The long-anticipated new Sasco Creek Housing construction will be similar to the adjacent Hidden Brook homes. These plans will add affordable housing. and improve the entire neighborhood.

However, a price of this project is the loss of the big old rock that kids have played on, used for sunbathing, done homework on and decorated for holidays for decades.

Everyone realizes that the rock must go, but the kids posted a last fruitless plea to keep it. Sorry, but “King of the Mountain” will now be played elsewhere. That’s the cost of progress!

Rock

 

Staples Soccer Website And Fields Will Be “World Cup Central”

A good number of Westporters are heading to Brazil for the World Cup. Most of us, unfortunately, will stay home.

But the World Cup comes to Westport — all tournament long — via the StaplesSoccer.com website, and at a special June 22 event.

The “World Cup” link at the top of the website leads to contests, trivia, history, blogs from players and alums who are in Brazil — you name it, it’s there.

Brazil world cupThe 1st 2 contests — to guess the finish of all 8 1st-round groups, and pick the starting lineup for the 1st US game — are already underway. Prizes are ASF gift certificates; the deadline is this Wednesday, June 11. Contest details are here.

There are polls too, like “Who will win the World Cup?” and “What do you think about Landon Donovan being left off the US team?” The polls are here.

StaplesSoccer.com’s pages also include trivia and fun facts (updated daily).

The website is for all of Westport — and soccer fans everywhere. To add something to the World Cup pages — or submit stories and photos when you’re in Brazil — email StaplesWorldCup@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, on June 22, Staples boys soccer is sponsoring a “Westport World Cup” day. At 3:15 p.m., elementary and middle school players will enjoy mini-games, an obstacle course, speed gun and penalty kick contest and more, at the Staples athletic fields.

At 5 p.m. there are food trucks; at 6 p.m., the US-Portugal game will be shown on a big screen in the auditorium. At halftime, the raffle winner — for a unique, behind-the-scenes tour of ESPN with World Cup broadcaster Jeremy Schaap — will be chosen. Sign up now for one or all of the June 22 events.

You (probably) can’t be in Brazil. But the Staples boys soccer program brings  Brazil to you.

Staples boys soccer players enjoy helping the next generation of players. Last fall Sterling Price, Patrick Beusse, Charlie Leonard and Steven Sobel hung out with WSA players at Burr Farms Field.

Staples boys soccer players enjoy helping the next generation of players. Last fall Sterling Price, Patrick Beusse, Charlie Leonard and Steven Sobel hung out with WSA players at Burr Farms Field.

Sarah Guterman: Celebrating 39 Years Of Musical Wonder

Sarah Guterman always wanted to teach.

She wanted to teach in an elementary school classroom. She wanted to teach music. She wanted to give children the same love for rhythms, melodies, songs and stories that she’d enjoyed growing up.

For 39 years, she’s done just that.

Sarah Guterman, doing what she loves: teaching music.

Sarah Guterman, doing what she loves: teaching music.

As a kid in Mamaroneck, her family — including her Episcopalian minister father — gathered around the piano. Sarah’s mother — a 2nd grade teacher — played.

Sarah graduated from Skidmore in 1975, when there was a glut of teachers. She received 3 offers, though, and chose Westport because — located right on the Sound — it felt like home.

“Of course, I couldn’t afford to live here!” she laughs.

Her 1st job was at Hillspoint Elementary School. Then it closed.

She moved on to Burr Farms El. It closed too.

Her 3rd position was Green’s Farms. Unbelievably, it closed. “Whenever I got to a new school, people panicked!” she says.

She transferred to Long Lots, when it was K-8. She taught music in the hallway, then had a 3rd grade class.

When a job opened up at Kings Highway 25 years ago, Sarah had a choice: music or classroom. She chose music, and never regretted it.

Sarah Guterman's Kings Highway classroom is packed with musical "stuff."

Sarah Guterman’s Kings Highway classroom is packed with musical “stuff.”

“This school has a warmth to it,” she says. “It’s very supportive — the parents and the staff.”

The building is “challenging” — there have been ceiling issues, and a room was closed — but “the people are amazing. I’d take people over the physical plant any day of the week.”

Her passion is bringing children’s literature into the music room. She does it in many ways, including Readers Theater. Sarah explains, “I look for things in books like quatrains that can be sung.”

A strong advocate of the Orff Schulwerk music philosophy — she’s been past president of Connecticut’s OS association, and presents nationally on the curriculum — she appreciates that it “empowers children. They learn to work as a team, be flexible and make adjustments.” They do this by using many instruments, and utilizing rhythm and patterns via speech and movement.

A sign in Sarah Guterman's classroom says it all.

A sign in Sarah Guterman’s classroom says it all.

In recent years, though, music education — much of education, in fact — has run headlong into standardized testing.

“The new state initiatives this year hit me hard,” Sarah admits. “I had to test kids on stuff I hadn’t taught, like note-reading, to prove later that I actually did teach it. For the first time ever, I had kids crying.”

The result, she says, is that “the whimsy” has been taken out of music education.

“Music is an art,” Sarah insists. “To use paper and pen to show data …” She shakes her head in disbelief.

“We’re treating children like a product from a factory,” she continues.

“Well, they’re not. They’re living, breathing organisms.”

State initiatives — and a national push toward testing — are a major reason Sarah is retiring this month. “After 39 years, if I can’t teach my best — it’s time,” she says.

Throughout her career, she has loved the freedom Westport gave her and her colleagues. “We’ve been able to develop our own school cultures and passions,” she says.

Sarah Guterman and fellow music teacher Carrie Kohlun plan upcoming lessons.

Sarah Guterman and fellow music teacher Carrie Kohlun plan upcoming lessons.

For example, Sarah’s choruses have produced plays. She’s done recorder ensembles, and dance. She’s given up plenty of free time to do it. But she does it because it’s what she’s always wanted to do.

“I love seeing a child skip out of my room saying, ‘That was fun!'” Sarah says. “It feels good to deliver a good lesson, but have them feel like they were playing. We need playfulness at the elementary level.”

In retirement, Sarah is not leaving children behind. She’ll head to Italy, but when she returns she looks forward to bringing picture books to life through “guest artist gigs.”

Sarah smiles. She sums up 4 decades of teaching — all of it in Westport’s elementary schools — very simply.

“What a dream!” she says. “I’ve been able to come to work, sing and tell stories!”

And thousands of boys and girls — some of them now men and women — are better human beings for Sarah Guterman’s passionate, creative and loving “work.”