Category Archives: Children

Human Services’ Holiday Help

If you’re like me, you’re excited by the holiday season — and annoyed at the rampant commercialism that accompanies it.

But if you’re like dozens of Westport households here, you wonder how you can afford any gifts at all.

Holiday giftsOverlooked in all the ho-ho-ho-ing are local families for whom the holidays may not seem merry or bright. Job loss, medical expenses, foreclosure, divorce — those circumstances and others may add extra stress to this time of year.

Fortunately, riding shotgun with Santa is Westport’s Department of Human Services.

It’s a great, confidential way for Westporters to provide gifts for kids — and ease the financial burden on entire families. Last year, 432 residents — including those served by Homes With Hope, the Westport Housing Authority, Project Return and the schools’ Open Choice program — received holiday assistance.

One recipient — whose life changed drastically 4 years ago — cried after picking up gift cards.

A mom of limited means thanked DHS for easing the stress she felt on Christmas morning.

A longtime Westporter — who can afford to live here only because her apartment is owned by her family — says that without the program, her son would have only one present under the tree.

Another says simply, “the Holiday Gift Giving Program has made all the difference.”

Contributions come from individuals, as well as garden and book clubs, scout troops, schools, churches and businesses. Donors and receivers are assured of confidentiality.

For years, Audrey Hertzel has organized a huge effort at Sterling Investment Partners. She collects stuffed animals and books for the Holiday  Giving Program.

For years, Audrey Hertzel has organized a huge effort at Sterling Investment Partners. She collects stuffed animals and books for the Holiday Giving Program.

“Some of the most appreciated gifts are grocery and gas cards of any amount,” says Human Services director Barbara Butler. Also well received: gift cards to local stores.

Cash donations are always welcome. They allow Human Services staffers to buy last-minute gift cards for clients.

Cards and checks (made payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holiday” on the memo line) can be mailed to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880 at any time (the sooner the better, of course). They can also be dropped off in Town Hall Room 200 during business hours.

If you’d like to shop for a family’s actual gift request — in full or part — or for questions, contact Patty Haberstroh (hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069).

Families needing extra support during the holidays should call 203-341-1050.

 

An Adams Family Mystery

In 1932 — the depths of the Depression — the University of Chicago’s hospital lowered its rates for delivering babies. The new price: $55, for a 10-day stay in a 4-person room.

A little child wrote the hospital. In careful, misspelled cursive, she said:

Dear sir

If i send you $55 will you send us our baby cause our baby aint come yet an i wont wone.

It was signed M. Adams, Westport.

The letter from M. Adams...

The letter from M. Adams…

The letter reached Jessie F. Christie, a nurse and superintendent of what was then called the Chicago Lying-in Hospital and Dispensary.

She replied:

I am sorry we cannot sent you a baby for $55.00. You would have to send your mother to us before any arrangement could be made. The stork will only fly for mothers, not for little boys or girls. I think it is a very poor arrangement but it is one we cannot alter. I hope your own baby will come soon.

...and the response from Julia Christie.

…and the response from Jessica Christie.

The letter — addressed to “Miss or Master M. Adams, Westport, Connecticut” —  never got here. The post office returned it, due to insufficient address.

For nearly a century, the yellowed letters were tucked away in a University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences filing cabinet. Now — 82 years later — they’ve been found.

UC news office assistant director Ashley Heher asked the Westport Library for help. Jaina Lewis checked historical records. She found a listing for an Adams family in 1930. But the only child whose name started with “M” was 19 years old.

storkBridgeport’s 1940 records show a Marjorie Adams, age 16. That would make her 8 in 1932. No younger children are listed in 1940. But her mother was 39 in 1932 — meaning she would have been at high risk if pregnant.

Now that the letter has been discovered, Chicago officials want closure. So they reached out to “06880″ for help.

If you have any information about M. Adams — or his or her mother or sibling — contact Ashley.Heher@uchospitals.edu.

And tell “06880.” This is our mystery now too.

(Click on the University of Chicago blog “Science Life” for more details.)

The Wheels On The Bus…

First Selectman Jim Marpe and the Board of Education have created a joint Bus Parking Task Force.

Eight high-powered members will explore a variety of school bus parking arrangements. They’ll see if a public or privately owned site can bring down the cost of parking those 8 trillion Dattco buses.

Let’s hope they succeed. The current spot — behind the gas station opposite Playhouse Square — creates a traffic nightmare. (And I’d say that even if I didn’t live in the condos across the street.)

But if the task force really wants to solve a transportation problem, how about attacking the most pressing school bus issue in town:

The fact that every kid in town has a personal bus stop. Even if he or she lives 3 !@#$%^& feet away from another one.

Pretty soon, each kid will get his or her own personal bus.

Pretty soon, each kid will get his or her own personal bus.

 

Veterans Day: The Sequel

Veterans never tire of serving their country — or their community.

Each year, Bedford Middle School marks today by hosting veterans from the Y’s Men. They talk about what they did, why and how they did it, and provide an important link to yesterday for tomorrow’s leaders.

This morning’s event was lively. A number of veterans brought mementos of their service. Their stories were insightful, poignant — and often laced with a bit of humor.

Among the attendees were the 2 most recent grand marshals of Westport’s Memorial Day parade: Leonard Everett Fisher (left, below), and Bob Satter.

Leonard Everett Fisher and Bob Satter

(Photo/January Stewart)

Both are World War II veterans. Though — except for their uniforms — you wouldn’t know it by looking at them.

Westport Students: BYOD

New York City is finally ending its long ban on cellphones in schools.

At Brien McMahon High School, a student said recently, anyone who brings a laptop to class is considered weird.

Westport, meanwhile, plows ahead with its “Bring Your Own Device” initiative. Beginning next year, students will be required to provide their own technology during the school day.

Technology 1 - NBC News

Students use their own devices — which tie in to classroom technology like Smart Boards. (Photo/NBC News)

According to Inklings, the Staples newspaper — accessible online, of course — the Board of Education heard a BYOD progress report last month.

A PowerPoint presentation (natch) noted that this month, parents will be advised of specifications for “devices that may be purchased.” The months ahead brings parent information sessions, student input and “boot camps” for students and teachers.

Inklings reported that the Westport School District will provide “refurbished devices” for elementary and middle schoolers who are financially unable to purchase their own; Staples students will get new Chromebooks. Funding comes from a $30,000 line item for new technology purchases this year.

Electronic devices don't necessarily lead to isolation. In fact, they can increase collaboration.

Electronic devices don’t necessarily lead to isolation. In fact, they can increase collaboration. (Photo/HerffJones)

According to Inklings, townwide director of technology Natalie Carrignan said that 60% of students already bring their own devices to school.

At Staples, that percentage seems low. Laptops, tablets and cellphones are everywhere. They’re used constantly — often for schoolwork, occasionally not.

Each month, it seems, fewer and fewer students sit at the desktop computers that fill the library and learning centers. And the laptops that teachers can sign out for class use are often slow, unreliable and out of date.

Sure, Staples students use laptops to play games or watch videos. But even in the cafeteria, the amount of schoolwork that gets done is compelling.

Sure, Staples students use laptops to play games or watch videos. But even in the cafeteria, the amount of schoolwork that gets done is compelling. (Photo/www.District196.org)

If you think there should still be a debate about using technological devices in school, you might have argued a century ago that cars may not be the best replacement for horses.

Westport students live their lives online. So do most teachers.

Our school district’s job is to prepare young people for life through the end of this century. Administrators and the Board of Ed are figuring out how to harness technology, to best serve education in the sciences, humanities and arts. They recognize reality in many forms (including financial).

But if you’d like to offer your own insights, click “Comments.” On whatever electronic device you’re using right now.

Image

Which Of These Halloween Candy Wrappers Seems Different From The Rest?

Halloween candy

Halloween Update: Live From The Epicenter

An “06880″ reader who wishes — for obvious reasons — to hide behind a mask of anonymity wrote at 4 p.m. today:

Greetings from Oak Street, the epicenter of trick or treating for Weston children* whose families cut through here to avoid the light on Main St. and Clinton.

I just put 475 candy bars into baskets. I ran out last year at 7 p.m. Now I am pondering not the ethics of this Weston tradition, but an etiquette question:  Would a sign saying something to the effect of “happy to be of use to you and your family again this year; now would you consider slowing down that Range Rover, and maybe stopping at either of the stop signs the next time you blast past my house?” be okay?

*Scientific fact:  My neighbor taught elementary school in Weston for 30 years. She said 75% of the kids she saw were from Weston.

"Hah! We live in Weston, where there's 2-acre zoning. Your houses are MUCH closer together!"

“Hah! We live in Weston, where there’s 2-acre zoning. Your houses are MUCH closer together!”

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)