Category Archives: Children

Tyler Paul: Art For All

It was the mid-1990s. Tyler Paul is not sure of the year, or his grade. But 2 decades later, he vividly recalls a day at Long Lots Elementary School.

A group of actors and puppeteers arrived for a “very special school assembly.” The troupe used original skits and puppets to talk about bullying.

Tyler remembers other special assemblies over the years, too: an original presentation of Maya Angelou’s works. A presentation on Chinese traditions. And many more.

Tyler Paul

Tyler Paul

Those events were only part of Westport’s long history of fostering and encouraging an arts environment. Between the Westport Country Playhouse, the PTA’s Cultural Arts Committee and the superb drama departments at Staples and the 2 middle schools, arts have been integrated into the curriculum at nearly every level.

Today, Tyler is executive director of the Northeast Children’s Theatre Company. Earlier this year he was contacted by a member of the Cultural Arts Committee. They wanted to bring his professional theatrical programming for young audiences into the elementary schools.

Coincidentally, NCTC had just commissioned and premiered a new musical. They were looking for a partner to pilot it in schools. With Julia Gannon and Diana Sussman, they brought “Jack and the Giant” to all 5 Westport elementary schools in March.

The musical teaches youngsters about perseverance, heroism, courage a self-identity. It fits in well with the curriculum core standards. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Looking back on his own in-school and after-school theater arts enrichment here, Tyler calls it a “full circle moment.” No other town that he knows of boasts the in-school enrichment program that Westport does. That early exposure to the arts, he believes, is a large reason he now works full-time in that field.

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul.

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul.

Of course, every organization needs funds. On Saturday, October 25 (8 p.m., StageOne Theater in Fairfield), NCTC sponsors its 2nd annual “Broadway in Connecticut” gala. The evening of music is hosted by the Tony Award-nominated songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Yes, Justin is Tyler’s brother. He too has benefited greatly from Westport’s arts environment.

The concert includes performances by Broadway stars from “Wicked,” “Godspell,” “Bridges of Madison County” and “Next to Normal,” too. A live auction includes house seats to “If/Then,” followed by a backstage tour.

Proceeds from the gala benefit artistic programming for school audiences — and educational initiatives for underserved children in disadvantaged communities.

So that youngsters everywhere in the region — not just in Westport — can have the same awe-inspiring experience Tyler Paul had, back when he sat in his own very special school assembly.

(For tickets — which are limited — and more information, visit www.nctcompany.org/gala.)

A young girl in Bridgeport is inspired by NCTE's outreach program. Tyler Paul was inspired by the arts too, 20 years ago.

A young girl in Bridgeport is inspired by NCTC’s outreach program. Tyler Paul was inspired by the arts too, 20 years ago.

Stop The Presses! Kids Walk To School!

Though this sounds like the lead sentence of an Onion article, it’s true:

“200 or so children walked to school this morning.”

Walk to School 1

The King’s Highway Elementary youngsters were joined by staff members and parents (plus “Paws,” the school mascot). Police officers were on hand too.

Jamie Viesselman — a KHS phys ed teacher — organized the event, as part of “International Walk to School Day.” Apparently, not walking to school is not  limited only to Westport, or even the US.

Walk to School 2

The walk began at the Westport Board of Ed technology center on Riverside Avenue, and continued up Burr Road to the school. That’s not too far — but then again, it’s further than most kids these days walk to school.

Walk to School 3

Each student who participated received a certificate, and orange shoe laces.

As for the orange school buses: They’ll probably be filled again tomorrow.

(Photos by David Gusitsch)

(Photos by David Gusitsch)

Flash! Great Photos From Colorflash!

David Pogue clearly does not have enough to do.

The Westporter only founded Yahoo Tech, writes a monthly column for Scientific American, hosts science shows on PBS’ “Nova,” serves as a “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent, and is one of the world’s best-selling how-to authors.

So with all his free time this morning he went down to Sherwood Island, where Westport-based Phoebe’s Friends had organized a “Colorflash 5K.”

Over 1200 people ran (or walked).  They were splashed with color dust at 4 stations. Post-race festivities included food trucks.

All proceeds will be donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for Pediatric Cancer Research.

David’s other talents include photography. He took these shots, and shares them with “06880” readers.

Thanks, David, Phoebe, phriends, and all who participated. Looks like a blast!

Colorflash 2 - David Pogue

Colorflash 3 - David Pogue

Colorflash 1 - David Pogue

(All photos/David Pogue)

 

Day On Bald Mountain

Jono Walker’s family — the Bennetts — settled in Westport in the 1700s. They lived on South Compo Road through the early 21st century.

Jono is in Pennsylvania now, but his roots here remain strong. The other day, Googling for background info on a piece he’s writing, he found a few “06880” posts about Bald Mountain. He sent along this excerpt from his longer story.

Skonk!

My snowball splattered the middle of another Redcoat’s roof. Not a bad shot.

Snow-packed Imperial Avenue was directly below the steep hill I perched on top of. It was harder than you’d think for this wily Minuteman, on his home terrain, to hit the hapless British soldiers. I’d been at it for half an hour, and hadn’t made a perfect shot — the driver’s side windshield — but the accuracy of my sniper fire on that blustery February morning was steadily improving.

The site of this ambuscade was Bald Mountain, a 90-foot promontory overlooking the Saugatuck River. The name always confused me. The rounded top of the bean-shaped hill was covered in towering hemlocks, looking nothing close to bald.

blog - Bald Mountain

From its summit I peered over the brow, at the Gault Field Little League diamond covered in snow. Directly across the river, red-bricked Bedford Junior High and gold-bricked Assumption Church gleamed in the morning sun.

Upriver, I saw the stand of trees surrounding the Woman’s Club and police station. Further away, just over the roof of the Fairfield Furniture Store on the far side of the river, was Old Hill. 200 years earlier 1,000 Minutemen dug in, lying in ambush hoping to wreak havoc on an advancing column of Redcoats.

The Gaults were just starting to gouge out the eastern perimeter of Bald Mountain in those days, felling trees and mining the moraine for sand and gravel. It would take 20 years to flatten the place, at which point they paved a road and built a dozen McMansions on the level ground that had been a rolling hill ever since the last Ice Age.

For thousands of years the Paugussett Indians maintained a fishing and trading post in the “faire fields” and salt marshes around Bald Mountain. They called the place Machamux (“the beautiful land”).

In 1661 the Paugussetts were hoodwinked into selling a portion of their lands east of Bald Mountain (today’s Green’s Farms) to the newly established town of Fairfield for 13 woolen coats, plus a little wampum.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

It only took another decade or so for the rest of Machamux — from today’s Sherwood Island west to the Saugatuck River, and north to the Aspetuck River — to be appropriated by colonists. By the early 1680s all of modern-day Westport was settled by dozens of industrious freemen and their burgeoning families.

Among them were my ancestors Thomas, James and John Bennett. They were granted nearly 1200 acres. The land they “improved” ran on either side of today’s South Compo Road, from roughly the Post Road south to what was once called Bennett’s Rocks (the jagged granite outcropping now bisected by Narrow Rocks Road).

Within their property was a steep-sided hill rising from the marshy banks of the Saugatuck River. They eventually cleared it for pasture, and it became known as Bald Mountain.

At 10 years old I knew nothing about this history, beyond a vague awareness of that patriotic military action atop Old Hill. So there I was, armed and ready — a brave patriot using his insider’s knowledge of the local landscape to defend his homeland from the foreign invader.

Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain.

The enemy approached: a bright red Studebaker negotiating the wide turn around the base of Bald Mountain. My snowball landed with a splatter more spectacular than I could have dreamed, right on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The car skidded along the snow bank. Out sprang the driver, scanning the hillside. He was a surprisingly young soldier — and mad. When he spotted me high above him he shook his fist, swore, dashed across the road and up the hill.

But — like his hapless forebears — this man’s entire military strategy (and his attire) were ill-suited to the wilds of the new world. The enemy was angered and dangerous, fully capable of rendering me to shreds, yet dressed in slippery business shoes, he was completely outfoxed.

I watched his 3 vain attempts to scale the formidable redoubt. Then I calmly turned, melting into the deep and shadowy woods, unbowed and ready to fight another day.

 

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Last Ollie For The Skate Park

Everyone’s talking about the big changes proposed by the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee: a new entrance, renovation of the bathhouses, elimination of perimeter parking.

Hardly anyone has mentioned a smaller plan: the end of the skate park.

Eddie Kim knows the stereotypes of skateboarders: “hooligans, drug dealers and delinquents.” He also knows the Compo park attracts a wide variety of people, like a fearless 8-year-old girl who loves riding down ramps.

She loves the park, and would be devastated to see it close.

The Compo Beach skatepark

The Compo Beach skate park.

Kim works at the park. But during the school year he’s a teacher. He practices Bikram yoga daily, and founded his own theater company. He’s a skater too. For him, skating is a creative way to relieve stress.

Kim wants Westporters to see the value of the skate park, and the community that has grown around it. He asked several regulars to offer insights. One of the most eloquent is James Bowles, a Staples freshman.

James knows that many people can’t understand why he’s spent “every free minute” of the past 6 years on a skateboard.

He says that when he was 6, at Long Lots Elementary School, he was diagnosed with OCD. For the next couple of years he hated his life. But the moment he set foot in the Compo skate park — “heading into the great unknown” — he was hooked.

His fears and stresses vanished. He was hooked.

He visited the park every day. He dreamed of skateboarding at night. He met his best friends there. They’re different ages, but they gave him a sense of self-worth, of potential, of community. That’s something every kid needs.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

This summer, James worked as a counselor-in-training at the Compo Beach Skate Camp. “Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they finally roll away from a trick they worked extremely hard to land is mesmerizing,” he says. Some of them may have been going through their own troubles, as he had.

He adds:

Even though I’m still young, I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. Kids my age are swept up into partying, drinking and general idiocy. Most people assume that because I skateboard, I get caught up in that sort of stuff.

I believe that if it weren’t for skateboarding, I would have been more likely to do that. The amount of times I’ve turned down plans to do ludicrous things, because I wanted to go skate, is enough to know I’m doing something right. Skateboarding has been one of the best investments of my time.

James says that the freedom of skateboarding has allowed him to work through his OCD. It has also helped him learn to be polite, pick up after himself, and look after others.

“Compo has always been a safe haven for people to skate legally,” he notes. “It’s a space where parents feel safe leaving their children. Compo has been my favorite place for 6 years, and I can’t imagine what losing the park would be like.”

Plenty of skaters gained confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Plenty of skaters gain confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Others agree. University of Colorado sophomore Casey Hausman made lifelong friends at the Compo park. “It’s a great community,” he says. “Everyone is supportive. Kids don’t need to worry about disappointing teammates or parents. Any progress is encouraged and applauded by everyone, no matter what the skill level.”

Kim Celotto’s 13- and 8-year-old boys have been skateboarding at Compo for years. She calls the instructors “patient, wonderful teachers who all the boarders look up to and admire. They learn skills and confidence, while having fun with friends.”

And, she says, skateboarding’s emphasis on fun and individual growth — not “fierce competition” — appeals to youngsters who may not be interested in team sports.

Parent Debra Newman has seen many kids flocking to the park in 90-degree weather, with no shade. “Would we rather have them sitting in front of the TV, exercising their thumbs?” she wonders.

But the final word belongs to James Bowles, the OCD sufferer who found a haven and a home at the Compo Beach skate park:

“I know that the argument of a 14-year-old high school freshman hardly compares to that of a town representative. But I hope anyone reading this will see my point of view.”

What Do Baseball, The Internet, Grandkids And Oscar’s Have In Common?

That kid-gives-a-foul-ball-to-the-girl-behind-him story has legs.

Alert “06880” reader Tom Orofino follows up with this PS:

His son and son’s wife were in California showing off their new 9-week-old baby Colin to the wife’s family. While there, they took the infant to Dodger Stadium.

Colin had a cute little shirt on, with a sign saying it was his 1st baseball game.

A Dodgers’ PR guy took a picture, and posted it to their Twitter feed. It’s gotten over 53,000 likes.

Tom Orofino grandkid

Yesterday, Tom was in Oscar’s. He proudly showed Colin’s photo to owner Lee Papageorge.

Lee promptly introduced Tom to another set of grandparents: those of the kid who caught the ball at the Red Sox game last week, and gained his own viral following.

What are the odds that 2 grandchildren of Westporters would earn internet fame in the same week — and that both sets of grandparents would be at Oscar’s at the same time?

One more Westporter — Rod Serling — would be proud.

Honoring Greg LaValla

Greg LaValla is a much-loved PAL football coach.

He’s also involved in a tough battle with cancer.

Some of his young players made a video to let him know how much he means to them, and how much they miss him on the field.

They’ll also honor him this Friday night (September 12). At halftime of Staples’ opening game of the 2014 football season, Greg will be added to the distinguished list of names on the Wreckers’ Wall of Fame.

His players will be there, wearing their game uniforms. They’ll sit together.

They’ll be tight and together. Just like all the other teams Greg has coached, so well and for so long.

Middle School Students Raise The Roof

The other day, Wakeman Town Farm received a welcome donation to its “Raise The Roof” campaign.

But the money to help replace a leaky roof did not come from a big local business or hedge fund manager. The donors were 2 Westport 8th graders.

Hannah Schmidt and Nina Barandiaran raised $145 through a bake sale. In keeping with the WTF theme, it featured vegetable-themed goods (think carrot cake). Hannah and Nina came up with all the ideas on their own.

Hannah (left) and Nina with one of their intriguing, farm-related creations. (Photo/Carrie Aitkenhead)

Hannah Schmidt (left) and Nina Barandiaran with one of their intriguing, farm-related creations. (Photo/Carrie Aitkenhead)

The money is much needed. Carrie Aitkenhead — who with her husband and fellow farm steward Mike Aitkenhead has worked with Hannah for 3 years — says that rain leaks into her bedroom during heavy rain. Towels and a canning pot temporarily solve the problem.

“When we heard that the girls took it upon themselves to raise money for the farm, the whole WTF board was humbled and floored,” Carrie says. “These 2 girls are wonderful.”

Of course, WTF hopes that many more Westporters — hedge fund managers as well as middle school students — will pitch in too. A Harvest Fest — the 3rd annual farm-to-table event — is set for Saturday, September 13 at WTF on Cross Highway.

WTF logoIt features great food, including local meats, artisanal cheeses and seasonal produce, contributed by local farmers and prepared by local rock-star chefs. Many local restaurants and caterers are contributing, including Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Tierra, Le Farm, Da Pietro’s and Saugatuck Sweets.

There’s also wine, beer, Prosecco and signature cocktails, plus a live band and auction. Items for bid include a private 4-course dinner party prepared by chef Jon Vaast at Sugar & Olives, and luxury BMW racing bikes.

In addition to the new roof, funds support youth programs, including summer camps and  homesteading workshops.

You know — the kind of stuff Westport youngsters love. And help support, in their own special, bake sale way.

(For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.) 

 

 

Labor Day Blues

Memorial Day has a parade. The 4th of July means fireworks.

Now, Labor Day boasts its own Westport tradition.

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival opened a weekend run today downtown.

With 3 separate events — great music at the Levitt Pavilion; a barbecue competition in the Imperial Avenue parking lot, and kids activities/food trucks/vendors in the library lot — there is something for everyone.

Westport's Emergency Medical Services staff participated in the hotly contested barbecue competition.

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff joined the hotly contested barbecue competition.

A number of Westporters — and many more from throughout the region — strolled easily around the grounds. The footbridge connecting the Imperial Avenue and library parking lots got more use than maybe ever. Kayakers drifted up the river to see what was up.

The music was awesome. And the smell of barbecue ribs, chicken and steak was everywhere.

This dude had a great time listening to some blues.

This dude had a great time listening to some blues.

(For information on bands, tickets and more, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. The festival runs through 9:30 tonight. On Sunday the music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Lucy Roth waits as a balloon man creates a unique design.

Lucy Roth (left) waits as a balloon man creates a unique design.

A WPKN fan listens to music at the Levitt.

A WPKN fan listens to music at the Levitt.

Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe was at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, with his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha.

Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe enjoyed the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, with his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha.

 

Greens Farms School, Back In The Day

This morning’s post about Westport’s constantly changing school landscape inspired alert reader Seth Schachter to go his archives.

He’s lived here only 4 years, but he’s got a great sense of history. Seth writes:

This post card is from the early 1900’s. From what I was told, the school was in the same location as today’s Greens Farms Elementary School. It is my guess and understanding that the oldest section of today’s GFS (referred to on the inside as “the fountain area”) is probably this post card image.

Early Greens Farms School

Is this in fact the current site of Greens Farms Elementary School? If readers have any information on this original building, please click “Comments” below.