Category Archives: Children

Together At The Playhouse Table

In today’s always-connected, over-scheduled world, many family traditions are lost: sharing meals. Going to live performances together. And talking about them afterward.

Which is why the Westport Country Playhouse‘s “Together at the Table Family Dinner” is such a fantastic idea.

Created to make live theater accessible to more families — and introduce young audiences to the Playhouse in a warm, informal atmosphere — the program begins with a 5:30 p.m. communal dinner in the rehearsal space next to the theater.

Actors and directors wander in, for casual conversations about the show everyone is about to see.

The meal is wonderful — and not just because kids, parents and other adults are actually eating and talking together. When the show begins, there’s a palpable connection between the audience and the actors they’ve just met. The strong feeling continues through the entire play.

Sharing a meal before the show.

Sharing a meal before the show.

A recent attendee said, “Sharing a live performance with my kids is thrilling. It’s like taking an imaginative journey together.” The shared experience is far beyond watching TV or a movie together.

On the car ride home, she added, her children could not stop talking about the play. They kept asking when they could come back.

Jim and Libby Liu of Westport have taken their 8- and 6-year-olds to the Playhouse’s children’s productions. This year, they brought them to 2 adult shows: “And a Nightingale Sang” and “Love & Money.”

Libby says the program is a great way to get younger audiences involved in mainstage shows. Her kids loved asking questions of the actors during dinner, before they got into costume.

She appreciates both the early start time (7 p.m.), and the price: $10 per ticket, which includes the pre-show meal.

Playhouse logo

Erin McAllister calls the Playhouse’s program “a rich cultural experience for the community. Without programs like this, the arts would be inaccessible to many individuals and families.”

The next 2 “Together at the Table” events are “Bedroom Farce” (Tuesday, September 1) and “Broken Glass” (Tuesday, October 13). Both are appropriate for ages 14 and up; younger at a parent’s discretion.

There are only 2 rules for “Together at the Table”:

  1. At least one family member must be a student-aged child.
  2. Have fun.

(To purchase “Together at the Table” tickets, call 203-227-4177. For more information, click here.)

1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of WestportNow.com.

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

Remembering Leah Rondon

Colleen Rondon is a much-admired Bedford Middle School teacher. Former students remember how often — and lovingly — she spoke of her own 3 children.

The entire Westport community was stunned and saddened to learn of a tragic accident that took the life of her youngest child and only daughter. Leah Marie Rondon died last Thursday, at just 6 years old.

Leah was about to enter 1st grade, and looked forward to taking the school bus.

She played soccer, basketball and softball, and was the Ansonia Boys & Girls Club “2015 Girl of the Year.” She loved reading, and proudly listed all her summer titles on the refrigerator.

Leah Rondon

Leah Rondon

The family’s many friends have organized a GoFundMe campaign. The webpage says:

As the Rondons begin the heartbreaking task of putting Leah to rest, we are asking for donations to assist them with funeral and other miscellaneous costs they may incur during this difficult time, so they can focus on family, healing, and honoring their daughter’s memory. Colleen and Henry Rondon are amazing parents, educators, and caring members of every community in which they are involved. We know they would do the same for us and ask you to give whatever you can in their time of need.

A mass of Christian burial is set for tomorrow (Tuesday, August 25, 10 a.m.) in the Church of the Assumption, 61 N. Cliff Street, Ansonia. Family and friends may call at the church tonight, from 3-7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made John C. Mead School Library, 75 Ford St., Ansonia, CT 06401; Ansonia Boys & Girls Club, 28 Howard Ave., Ansonia, CT 06401; or Ansonia Recreation Department, 253 Main St., Ansonia, CT 06401.

Farmers’ Photo Fan Favorites

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Sunday, August 23.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

Ken Bernhard’s Missions Of Mercy

Ken Bernhard is a very busy man. But not too busy to help others in need.

The longtime Westport attorney and former state legislator is deeply committed to 2 important ventures.

One is Soles4Souls. Founded as a relief organization after philanthropists and shoe executives provided footwear to people impacted by the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the non-profit has distributed 22 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries (and all 50 US states).

A few years ago, Bernhard helped collect over 700 pairs in Westport. He’s organized another collection this month. Collection boxes are set up in Town Hall and the Senior Center. More than 150 pairs of shoes have already been donated this year. Breaking that 700 mark should be a walk in the park.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

In October, Bernhard heads to Jordan. With an Arab-speaking colleague, he’ll purchase and deliver everything from toothpaste to school supplies — to Syrian refugees. He’s helped set up the 501(c)(3) Syria fund, under the umbrella of Helping Jordan Refugees and Mercy Corps.

“When I listened to the news about millions of refugees who have lost so much, and endured incalculable suffering through no fault of their own — ending up in bleak compounds with nothing but a will to survive — I thought I and our community should do something to help.”

If a busy guy like Ken Bernhard can find time to help these 2 excellent causes, the rest of us can pitch in too. Donations made payable to The Syria Fund should be sent to Ken Bernhard, 11 Woods Grove Rd., Westport, CT 06880; online, click on TheSyriaFund.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

Skate Park Utopia

Last fall, when the skate park was threatened during controversial plans for the Compo Beach renovation, dozens of sk8trs and their parents spoke eloquently for its survival. They described its importance for kids in passionate, athletic, community-building — even life-saving — terms.

It was spared the hook. This summer, I — and I’m sure many other Compo lovers — have looked at it with new, more appreciative eyes.

Recently, the skate park has sported a new look. Colorful, mural/graffiti-type painting has turned gray concrete into something much jazzier.

Skate park - Compo

But some Westporters wonder about the advertisement (top) for Utopia Skate Camp. It’s also visible from other angles. A bit out of place — and overly commercial — they say.

Time for an “06880” debate. What do you think about the new look of the Compo skate park? Have you had any personal experience with it? Who (or what) are these Utopia dudes? Click “Comments” — and please use your full, real name.

“1-Room Schoolhouse” In A Westport Driveway

It’s an incongruous sight: Sitting in the driveway of a wooden, wizened 1720s house is a multi-colored, futuristic-looking structure. A sign calls it “The Think 3-D Lab.”

Folks passing 178 Cross Highway, near the Fairfield line, have wondered what’s up. The answer is: something very, very cool.

The “lab” — actually a 100-square-foot, easily disassembled building — is the brainchild of Mark Yurkiw. It’s in front of the saltbox home (which still bears a musket ball hole in the front door, thanks to Redcoats who marauded past on their way to Danbury in 1777).

The

The “Think 3-D Lab” sits in front of Mark Yurkiw’s 1720s-era house. (Photo/copyright Amy Dolego/ Winton Studios)

Mark spent an intriguing career in New York. A physicist by training and artist by avocation, he’s designed magazine covers and TV commercials; worked on films and special effects, and created “storytelling sculptures” for Fortune 500 companies and non-profits. (His “Homeless Statue of Liberty” for New York Cares helped bring in a million used coats.)

Mark’s son met James Potter, an architecture student at Norwalk Community College. When James heard that Mark was working on a project for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he said he wanted to be involved.

The project was for a 10-year-old boy in upstate Connecticut. He wanted a place to play Legos and Minecraft games.

Mark’s mission was to “meld the physical and digital worlds. I wanted to educate this boy about his future.”

So Mark, James and NCC engineering student Andrew Myers spent the past 2 months designing and building “the 1-room schoolhouse of the 21st century.”

James Potter and Mark Yurkiw inside the

James Potter and Mark Yurkiw inside the “1-room schoolhouse.”

That “1-room schoolhouse” includes LED lighting; a bed for “dreaming” about creativity; a solar-powered fan; a 3Doodler pen for writing in space; a wireless “Internet of Things” kit; magnetic walls; movable tables — and, of course, plenty of space to experiment with Legos. Most of the materials were donated.

What Mark calls “the world’s first off-the-grid 3-D printer” — it runs on solar panels — is being manufactured now. It will be installed soon, donated by Tiko 3D.

Mark’s idea, meanwhile, has morphed from educating one boy about his future, to inspiring an entire generation of children.

He hopes that community college students will build dozens — hundreds! — of these “3-D labs.” They can design their own, or buy them pre-built and set them up, in libraries, schools, pediatric hospitals and backyards.

The money the students earn can help fund their 4-year college degrees. At the same time, they’ll reach and teach even younger kids.

“I’m inspired by 20-year-olds who inspire 10-year-olds,” Mark says.

Another view of the interior. Check out all the Lego materials under the desk -- and the bunk bed for

Another view of the interior. Check out the Lego materials under the desk — and the bunk bed for “creative dreaming.” (Photo/copyright Amy Dolego Winton)

And that “3D Lab” sitting in his Cross Highway driveway? Mark says it will be disassembled next Thursday, then trucked upstate as a surprise gift for the 10-year-old Make-a-Wish boy.

“His jaw will drop,” Mark says.

Then he turns back to work. A creative tinkerer’s work is never done.

(Mark is looking for sponsors to get his idea — as part of a non-profit foundation — off the ground. To help — or for more information — email mark.think3D@gmail.com.)

You Can Go Home (To Coleytown El) Again

In 1963, Fred Cantor’s parents moved to Easton Road from Queens. Two years later he graduated from Coleytown Elementary School, just down the street.

To mark that 50th anniversary, a small group — Fred, Nancy Saipe, Leslie Schine, Andy Lewis, Jeff Wilkins, Dan Magida and Cherie Flom Quain — arranged a literal stroll down memory lane. Principal Janna Sirowich and her assistant Carol Borrman helped them take a tour of the current school on Tuesday. Here’s Fred’s report:

Coleytown was K-6 during our time there — the peak years of the baby boom era. Our 1965 photo shows 97 kids in 6th grade. We had 3 teachers, so that’s 32-33 students per class!

Coleytown Elementary School's graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Coleytown Elementary School’s graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Most in our group had not been back inside in decades. Some long-lost or fuzzy memories were jogged during our visit.

There was no formal auditorium at Coleytown. The gym with a stage on the side doubled as the auditorium. We had an annual Christmas concert there. Parents sat in rows of folding chairs on the basketball court.

The gym/stage space brought back memories of a graduation ceremony. Boys and girls walked in from the playground. We were lined up by height, from shortest to tallest.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

Walking down the corridors and visiting old classrooms evoked other images from the distant past:

  • Nap time in kindergarten, where kids stretched out on giant towels.
  • A particularly unruly 3rd grader who was disciplined regularly by having his desk placed in the hallway.
  • Developing a newspaper-reading habit for current events discussions, by clipping stories on topics like civil rights and space exploration.

Everyone remembered recess fondly. Popular games were 4-square and “maul the ball carrier” (tackling the kid with the ball — an activity schools might not embrace today).

Report cards have certainly evolved over 50 years. Our 5th grade math classes were divided into “fast,” “high average” and “low average” tracks. We were also graded on “penmanship.”

Fred Cantor's report card.

Fred Cantor’s 5th grade report card. It’s quite a bit different from those used today. According to teacher Miss Belz, Fred “made good progress this year.”

At this stage of life, thinking back on those early childhood years elicits thoughts of classmates and friends no longer with us.

Those feelings were particularly poignant this week. Our classmate Andy Lewis — who looked very forward to the tour — died of an apparent heart attack just days before he was to head to Westport.

My last email exchange with Andy was about our Coleytown experiences. He said he’d walked home for lunch “if the menu was bad, like fish sticks.”

Andy’s sudden death is also a reminder that we never know what the future holds. We should be grateful for every opportunity to reunite with old friends.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Lucy’s Literacy Project

This summer, rather than simply enjoy all that Westport offers, Lucy de Lande Long decided to help others. She assigned herself a project: build a library in Africa.

She’s spent the past few weeks collecting books for children in preschool through 8th grade (and raising money to cover shipping to Sierra Leone). She’s working through an organization called African Library Project.

So far, Lucy has built a website, designed a logo, established a donor link, created an Instagram account, and developed a flyer so people can contribute or arrange a pickup in Fairfield County or Manhattan.

Admirable work, for sure. What’s even more impressive is that Lucy just finished 7th grade.

Lucy de Lande Long, with a few of the many books she's collected.

Lucy de Lande Long, with a few of the many books she’s collected.

She goes to Chapin School in New York. But Lucy has spent every summer of her life in Westport, so she’s a local.

She’s a ballet dancer and a singer (modern and Italian operettas). She also reads — a lot.

Lucy loves this project because it involves 2 things very important to her: literacy and Africa. Her school has a long association with a school in Kibera, with Skype chats and donations of uniforms, supplies and funds.

Lucy is getting there...

Lucy is getting there…

Lucy has seen how books can breed curiosity. She wants everyone to “immerse themselves in new worlds through stories and characters. Books are the building blocks for education. They spark imagination and dreams. They’re pretty fun, too.”

Those are her words. This is no ordinary rising 8th grader.

She is 3/4 of the way to her goal of collecting 1,000 books, and heading to $500 for shipping. She’s enlisted the help of family and friends.

Lucy has learned a lot so far: how to create a webpage, how to ask for donations — “and how good it feels to help others.” When she thinks about the children who will receive the books, she says “my heart is filled with joy.”

To make the project even more personal, she’s contributed many of her own beloved childhood books.

“I clearly remember being read to as a small child, and participating in book clubs,” Lucy says. “I would do anything to make sure everyone around the world has the opportunity to read as much as they like.”

She has done plenty already. Now it’s our turn to help.

The ship date is September 1. That’s less than a month away. Lucy’s made it easy to contribute.

(Ready to help? You can drop books off at 35 Harbor Road, Westport or 425 East 58th Street, New York City. For a pickup in Fairfield County or Manhattan, email africalibrary@gmail.com. To donate funds online, click here.)
Africa Library Project logo

 

Ezra’s Video Game Went Viral. You’re Not Going To Believe What He Did Next.

When Ezra — whose parents asked that his last name not be used — was 7 years old, he attended a tech camp.

Inspired, he started developing his own game. He called it “One Line.”

Ezra worked steadily on it. Finally, when it was finished, he posted it on Scratch — an online community developed at MIT to help young kids learn the basics of coding.

It went unnoticed for 10 days. Then, Ezra’s mom says, it was highlighted in a section called “Featured Projects.”

Overnight, Ezra’s game got over 16,000 views — and more than 1000 comments. Nearly all were very positive.

A screen shot of

A screen shot of “One Line.”

Within 2 days Ezra was asked to remake Pacman for Scratch, sell the rights for an app, make a sequel, and help design other games. He’s also been warned to copyright his project, which his mother says is a good idea.

“I don’t think any of the gamers know he’s 8 years old,” she adds. “It’s all a bit overwhelming for him.”

So Ezra did what any normal, viral-game-sensation game creator would do: He turned off the comments.

And went outside to play.

(Click here for Ezra’s game. Enjoy the comments that were posted before he turned them off!)