Category Archives: Education

Staples Interns See The Real World. And Rock It.

It’s late June, and summer is already in full swing.

A few newly minted Staples graduates are doing actual jobs: caddying and working at restaurants. Some are taking summer courses, to get ahead for college (or make sure their acceptances are not rescinded).

Many recent grads are interning. In 2014, internships are the way to get jobs after graduating from college in 2018. (Although, even then, they might need a few internships before landing a full-time, paying gig.)

But these are not the first internships for the Class of ’14. For a month — from mid-May until right before commencement — 94% of all Staples seniors took part in what has become one of the most important, highly valued and intriguing parts of their entire education.

This year's interns were too busy working to take photos. So the images here are from years past. In 2009, Matt Takiff (above) worked at Sport Hill Farms.

This year’s interns were too busy working to take photos. So the images here are from years past. In 2009, Matt Takiff (above) worked at Sport Hill Farms.

The Staples Senior Internship program is several years old. But this year it exploded, with 426 of the 463 class members taking part. (The ones who did not had their reasons, including academic or disciplinary ineligibility.)

Forget senioritis. Instead of sitting around for the last month of school, burned out and bored out of their skulls, the Future of Our Country headed to offices, other schools, even farms, to learn about the Real World before actually entering into it.

Thanks to the incredible work of program director Lee Saveliff, every intern has a site, a supervisor and a Staples staff mentor. Each intern must complete 95 verified hours of work — and each week, must write an in-depth “reflection” on the experience so far.

The reflections provide great insight into the world of work — and the minds of today’s teenagers.

MLB-dot-com-logo-200Four interns went to New York with MLB.com — the online arm of Major League Baseball. They worked on social media projects, and enjoyed devising ideas for GoPros at every different stadium. (For example: a “tour” of Fenway’s Green Monster.)

But they also had to make a presentation to top executives, including CEO Bob Bowman. One intern was amazed at the vast difference between standing up in a classroom, and a boardroom. (MLB execs were quite impressed, fortunately.)

Several interns worked with the Himes for Congress campaign. (Hold your fire. Republicans had interns too. One traveled often to Hartford with State Representative Gail Lavielle.)

The Himes interns slogged through mundane tasks, like stuffing envelopes. But they also learned the ins and outs of campaigning. They met the Congressman — and Governor Malloy.

And they had to do something most folks older than 25 or so take for granted: talking on the phone.

The interns followed up with constituents. They called likely and uncertain voters. For a generation raised on texting, that aspect of the job was “terrifying.”

But they did it. And their weekly reflections show their confidence in going outside comfort zones, gratitude for learning an important life skill, and pride in doing something tangible, with results that can be measured.

In 2009, Carolyn Ross worked at Taylor's Floral Arts. She even arranged flowers for her own baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies.

In 2009, Carolyn Ross worked at Taylor’s Floral Arts. She even arranged flowers for her own baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies.

The internships spanned nearly every job imaginable. Some seniors worked in Westport schools (where teachers and — especially — young students adored them).

Others worked at Wakeman Town Farm. Tauck World Discovery. Voices of September 11. Marinas. Wealth management firms. Contractors. WPKN. Country Clubs. Restaurants. CLASP Homes. Harbor Watch. The police. Norwalk Hour. Auto body shops. Discovery Museum. Terex. Jewish Home for the Elderly. Verizon. The public defender. Longshore. Priceline. Law and medical offices. The Westport-Weston Health District. Westport Arts Center. Winged Monkey. Veterinarians. The Bridgeport Bluefish. Yale University. Mitchells.

Many internships -- like this from last year at WEBE -- involve something new for teenagers: interacting with the public.

Many internships — like this from last year at WEBE — involve something new for teenagers: interacting with the public.

Interns were exposed to everything: The tedium of some jobs. Bosses who don’t always explain things clearly. Commuting. (A number of interns freaked when problems at the South Norwalk bridge threw Metro-North into chaos. They instantly gained new appreciation for what their parents go through every day.)

“We know our kids are hard-working, polite, creative problem-solvers,” says Staples principal John Dodig — one of the internship’s driving forces. “It’s nice for the community to see that too.”

It certainly is. But that’s just a side benefit.

The main reason the program is such a success is seen by the nuanced reflections the interns write. The strength of their voices as they describe how much they’ve learned and grown in just one month. The confidence they display as they return to Staples, for one final week, to graduate.

And the ease with which they go on to their next steps in life: College. Travel.

The next internship.

 

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.)

Melissa Beretta: “This Place Will Always Be A Part Of You”

Melissa Beretta’s baccalaureate speech last Thursday night nailed it.

The Staples High School salutatorian talked insightfully about the importance of Westport as home. She paid tribute to the people and experiences her town and school provided her. She did it with wit, wisdom, grace and maturity. It’s a speech worth savoring.

Melissa began by saying that — contrary to popular myth — most students did not spend every Saturday night partying. Many watched television — shows like “Gossip Girl” and “The Office.” From time to time, Melissa tried to emulate characters she saw on TV. She noted that some of her best lessons in high school came not from a teacher or coach, but from a TV show. In fact, she said, many of her life philosophies — including the following example — come from “One Tree Hill.”

Melissa explained:

Melissa Beretta, Class of 2014 salutatorian.

Melissa Beretta, Class of 2014 salutatorian

In the show, Karen Roe says to her son, Lucas, “In your life, you are going to go to some great places, and you’re going to do some wonderful things. But no matter where you go, or who you become, this place will always be with you.”

Now, to a girl who has lived in the same house for 18 years, who loves her family, and who seriously contemplated failing Culinary so she wouldn’t have to graduate, this insight struck me as nothing short of brilliant.

We, the class of 2014, are immensely lucky to have grown up in a place like Westport. Our hometown is nurturing and cutthroat. Its people are both open-minded and occasionally biased. It breeds both innocence and worldliness. Each of these traits can be positive, even while they seem contradictory.

On any given Saturday you can find a father sitting in the bleachers at a Little League baseball game, screaming at his son to keep his eye on the ball. Mothers stay up sewing rhinestones onto dance costumes so that their daughters will get the role of Clara in the annual Nutcracker. And parents check Home Access Center every day, but don’t understand that “incomplete” may be your teacher’s way of saying your test hasn’t been graded yet.

I’m not going to stand up here and tell you our town is perfect. Because it’s not. We have bullies and peer pressure. We are overscheduled and sometimes overwhelmed. But at the same time, we have so many things to be proud of.

When I was writing this speech, I started by listing the negatives of growing up in a place like Westport and how those can be advantageous. I wanted to highlight all of the things we take for granted. But as I wrote my first draft, I felt as if I were trying to capture everyone’s experiences growing up here as if they were all the same.

All of us are wildly fortunate to have grown up in Westport and to have gone to Staples. However, we are lucky for different reasons.

Staples High School means many things to many people.

Staples High School means many things to many people.

Some of us are lucky because we found refuge in the classroom.

In 10th grade I had the good fortune to be in a class with 21 other sophomores, taking the first-ever AP US History class offered to underclassmen. At first, I did not want to take it. I hated social studies, I definitely hated history, and I absolutely hated the very large summer assignment given to us by Mr. Heaphy.

We left the room on the first day, some of us terrified, others quite confident. Most of us were not friends.

This is how many classes begin.

Daniel Heaphy (Photo/Inklings)

Daniel Heaphy (Photo/Inklings)

In the beginning, we clung to those we knew and those we were comfortable with. But as class went on and Heaphy’s eager spirit and sense of humor drew us in, we became a family. Soon, we were teasing, interrupting, and laughing without realizing that the barriers between us had broken down.

In my 4 years at Staples, I’ve had many classes like this. The progression is the same. We find refuge with peers who scare us, and with teachers who scare us even more.

Some of us are lucky because we found refuge on a field, on a stage, on a court, or in a club

As a freshman, I had the daunting task of finding my place on the Staples tennis team, made up primarily of upperclassmen. Others found themselves in similar situations. We each had the task of fitting in to a new group, with a new set of rules and endless possibilities. We watched year by year as seniors left and freshmen joined. These families formed and morphed. We each got a taste of something special, something that made our experience in high school different and memorable.

Staples made that possible. Westport made that possible.

Lots of you are probably sitting in the audience right now kind of hating your parents for making you come, kind of hating me for continuing to talk, and kind of loving the fact that tomorrow you will be out of here for good.

I get it: We are going on to the next chapter of our lives. Independence. Freedom. Money. Love. Excitement. All of these lie just around the corner.

Staples High School Class of 2013But some of you, like me, are already nostalgic for that teacher who’s inspired you, that kid who always says hi to you in the halls, or this school that’s been your home for 4 years. Some of you — hopefully most of you — realize that, while at Staples, we’ve already been given independence, freedom, money, love, and excitement.

“No matter where you go or who you become, this place will always be with you.” I’ve heard those words 100 times, and they will stay with me forever.

Westport has given us all so much, and Staples is at the center of that. Remember, as you go on to your exciting new home, that no matter what happens down the road, this place, your hometown, will always be a part of you. Be proud and embrace it.

We are unbelievably lucky.

Thank you.

 

Kelsey Shockey Will Happily Make Your Day

Kelsey Shockey has had a tough life. But she may be the happiest girl ever to graduate from Staples.

Kelsey Shockey handled a camera at the 2012 graduation. Today, she gets her own diploma.

Kelsey Shockey handled a camera at the 2012 graduation. Today, she gets her own diploma.

The senior — who earns her diploma a few hours from now (and is a state finalist tennis player) — always has a smile. She makes each day brighter, for everyone.

Her “Happy Tips” on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show are legendary.

Last night, she took joy one step further.

She spoke at baccalaureate — and capped off her speech with a video. Produced with Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito, it shows a variety of Staples folks singing, dancing, heading soccer balls (!), and generally being happy, all to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ song of the same name.

There are appearances by students, teachers, coaches, custodians, paraprofessionals, cafeteria ladies — even principal John Dodig and superintendent of schools Elliott Landon show up.

Staples is a high-pressure, high-stakes place. But it’s also a school filled with people who care — and who genuinely want every student to feel welcome and loved. And to be happy.

Check out the video. Kelsey Shockey will make you smile. As she has done every day, for 4 years, at the school she graduates from today.

(Click to be taken directly to YouTube.)

(Every year, Jim Honeycutt produces a 2-DVD set graduation package. It includes baccalaureate, graduation, the best of “Good Morning Staples,” Homecoming, highlights of proms, plays, concerts — you name it. Ordering details will be available next week at the Staples High School home page.)

Frank Corbo And Lis Comm’s Very Important Lessons

This month, Frank Corbo retires after nearly 5 decades in education. He spent 30 years as a classroom math teacher, 13 as a department chair who taught 2 classes, and the past 6 years as Westport’s full-time grades 6-12 math chair. He has helped put Westport on the world math education map.

At 70 years old, he looks back at his career — and discusses what he’s learned.

First, you have to love the subject you teach. I love math. It is much more than computation and manipulation of symbols. Math is about thinking. Math is a language that gives us an alternate window to view and understand the world. Math can can surprise and delight. It can also be a thing of beauty and elegance, in its ability to generalize and compress big ideas into symbols. One simple differential equation can express an infinity of meaning.

Frank Corbo

Frank Corbo

Second, you have to love your students. You must find something you can genuinely like in each one, no matter how challenging he or she may be. Unless you can connect with your students as human beings, as individuals, and find their strengths, you can never reach them.

After talking about trust — between students and teachers, teachers and department chairs, department chairs and building administrators — Corbo says:

The hierarchical workforce paradigm is different from the commonly accepted one. Teachers are not the workers. Instead they are leaders of the workforce, which is the students. The product is learning. Productivity is measured not by how many hours or classes a teacher teaches. but how much work the kids do. And that depends on how good a leader the teacher is — how well the teacher plans tasks that will lead students to a deeper understanding, and motivate them to complete those tasks.

My job as an administrator is to bring teachers new ideas, ask provocative questions, and push them to think about what they are doing and why. If there is trust, teachers will be open to new ideas, to trying new approaches. I have been fortunate to lead an exceptional group of teachers, arguably the best group of math teachers in the country. They are intelligent, professional, adaptable, good-humored, and passionate in their commitment to kids and to high-quality math education.

Westport is an exceptional district. My years here have been fulfilling, challenging and enjoyable. Thank you all.

Frank Corbo is not the only administrator retiring — not even in his family. His wife, Lis Comm, steps down too, after 44 years in Westport. Her current position is townwide director of secondary education. She says:

Lis Comm

Lis Comm

First, I love my subject area: English. Teaching students to read the word is really teaching them to read the world and to read themselves. And teaching students to write is really teaching them to think about their place in the world, to solve real world problems, and to find out who they are.

Reading and talking about literature, poetry, and non-fiction, in a classroom together, is an extraordinary opportunity to get to know the best that has been thought and written through the ages, to get to know yourself and others. I am proud to say I was a full-time English teacher for 25 years.

Second, I would go into education again because of teachers in Westport. I saw amazing teaching in every classroom. Really good teachers are my heroes. I think William Ayers got it right when he described the work of a teacher as “exhausting, complex, idiosyncratic, never twice the same—… at its heart, an intellectual and ethical enterprise…. Teaching begins in challenge and is never far from mystery.” Who would not fall in love with a job description like that?

Working with young people has kept me young in spirit and forced me to at least try to keep up with a fast changing world. The great educator Elliott Eisner said that students ensure our immortality. Our lives as teachers live on in theirs.  That is quite a remarkable thought!

Iain Bruce: “Your Life Is Up To You”

The other day, Iain Bruce gave the convocation address at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario – his alma mater. Westporters know him as a dedicated Family Y board member, and an avid bicyclist who has raised over $150,000 for breast cancer, AIDS vaccine research and multiple sclerosis. Professionally, he is a senior managing director in the risk group of Ambac Assurance in New York.

Iain Bruce, in his convocation garb.

Iain Bruce, in his convocation garb.

Iain started out like many graduation speakers: “33 years ago, I sat where you sit today: happy, proud, grateful, excited, anxious…and jobless.”

But after noting a few differences between his class and the current graduates (there are more women now, and everyone seems smarter), a few similarities (the wonderful experiences they all had in college), and a few bits of advice about taking responsibility for your life, being flexible, seeking balance and doing the right thing, Iain came to the heart of his speech. He said:

You are going to be tested in life. Some of those tests will be very hard indeed: much tougher than anything most of you have experienced so far. You may lose your job or become seriously ill. Death may take a friend, a lover, a spouse, a child. The  thing to know is that while you can’t choose what happens to you, only you can choose how you respond.

In 2010 my employer was taken over by its regulator and put into rehabiliation, forbidden to write new business, and its existing business put into runoff. In the preceding 2 years we had let nearly half our staff go. Later that year, our parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In September of that year, like you, I came to Kingston, and like your parents, my wife and I helped our son unpack his gear and move into residence. Ten days later, on a gloriously sunny morning, I knelt in the wet grass behind Victoria Hall identifying his body for the police.

Some of you knew Cameron. Some of you, I know, were tested by his death. One of you, I know, was his floormate and his friend.

Cameron and Iain Bruce.

Cameron and Iain Bruce.

In the wake of that annus horribilis, it would have been easy to curl up and hide, to retreat into the enervating solitude of lassitude. Nobody would have criticized it. Everybody would have understood.

But it would have been wrong. It would have been a failure: a failure of responsibility to family and colleagues; a failure of duty to myself and to Cameron’s memory; a failure to live.

Strength, and wisdom in a way, came in a form you will recognize. 2 bastardized Gaelic words: “Cha Gheill.” Loosely translated: “No surrender.”

And so I took the harder road, but the better one, the more fulfilling one, the right one. My professional position has grown and changed in ways I could not have foreseen, and I am more engaged in my work than I have ever been. In my local community and my larger non-professional world I have friends and colleagues whom I know in new and different ways, and with whom I share many important goals and much fulfilling work.

And at home I have the renewed love of my wife and daughter. To my surprise, really, I have a balanced life, one that is dramatically changed from what it was, but one that is still good and still full.

Iain Bruce and his wife Linda.

Iain Bruce and his wife Linda.

And that brings us to our last lesson. Remember this place. Hold it close to your hearts, because it is sacred.

I observed earlier that you have made friends here, some perhaps the best friends of your life.

On the worst day of my life, 33 years after our own frosh week, 4 of my classmates dropped everything they were doing and drove hundreds of miles from 4 different cities to be with me.

Beyond your family, your classmates are your support network, and you are theirs. Be there when your friends call on you, and call on them when you need them. And remember where it began.

Queens UniversityIf you are like me and my classmates, and I suspect you are, Queen’s has shaped you in ways that are not yet fully discernible. You will come in time to realize that this place is not really a physical location, a building, or a campus, though all of that infrastructure is crucial to its mission and to your memory.

Queen’s is, really, a state of mind. It has imbued in you a perspective, a strength, a body of knowledge and intuition that will help equip you for what lies ahead, whatever that may be.

You have it in you to succeed, not only in the obvious ways visible through your professional life, but in the ways that matter to your family, to your friends, to your soul. Your life is up to you. Only you can recognize opportunity when it presents itself. Only you can act on that opportunity. Only you can balance your own needs, obligations, and goals.

But in doing that, you can depend on your friends to be there for you, and they can depend on you to be there for them.

Congratulations to you all. Go forth now, and make your mark.

(Iain Bruce’s speech begins about 24 minutes into this video.)

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.”

A Greenwald Graduation Gracias

Longtime Westporters (and Staples grads Tom Greenwald and Cathy Utz) write:

Our youngest son, Jack, graduates from Staples this month, so it seems like a good time to express our thanks.

Thank you to the entire Westport school system, and every teacher, administrator, librarian, custodian, kitchen staff member, counselor, principal and member of the Board of Ed.

Thank you for steering our 3 children safely through their formative years.

Jack, Joe and Charlie Greenwald then...

Jack, Joe and Charlie Greenwald then…

Thank you for guiding them, helping them, praising them, chastising them, coaching them, directing them, comforting them and informing them.

Thank you for giving them the opportunity to run, jump, sing, dance, play, work, act, read, write, add, subtract, make friends and make strides.

Thank you for letting them join teams, casts, groups and clubs.

Thank you for letting them run around at recess, sit around at lunch and hang around during free periods.

...and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald today.

…and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald today.

Thank you for the kindergarten birthday parties, the 8th grade dances and the senior proms.

Thank you for teaching them how to respect others and think for themselves.

Thank you for returning them to us better people.

We will be forever grateful.

 

 

Staples Culinary Grads Cook Up A Storm

Staples graduates achieve great success in a dazzling variety of fields: Music. Theater. Engineering. Finance. Media. The law.

It’s what you’d expect from a high-achieving high school in an affluent suburb.

But — quietly, creatively and in high numbers — Staples alums are making their marks as chefs, caterers and restaurant owners too.

For over a decade, the school’s culinary program has been as dynamic as its academics, arts and athletics.

Recently, “06880” profiled Alison Milwe Grace. A highly regarded instructor — one of 3 formally trained chefs in the culinary department — and owner of a catering company, she reached the final round in the Food Network’s “Kitchen Casino.”

Josh Litvinoff

Josh Litvinoff

Last month, 4 of Cecily Gans’ former students earned degrees from  Johnson & Wales University‘s prestigious culinary program. Kelly Powers, Becca Nissim, Brandon Hans-Lemus and Josh Litvinoff now move on to the next stage in exciting careers.

Josh — who joined Kelly in starting a college catering and demonstration business — says it would not have happened without Gans’ help and guidance.

“She continues to check in on us,” he notes. “She even comes to Providence to catch up.”

Gans is proud of her 4 former students. Kelly — who worked with Bill Taibe at The Whelk — honed her writing skills at Staples, then began a Culinary Journalism Club at JWU. Josh completed his senior year in high school and 1st year of college at the same time. Brandon did an internship at the Dressing Room, stoking the passion first ignited in the Staples kitchen.

Gans calls JWU “the right fit” for all 4. One reason: the support given to them in Westport by this “very progressive, very supportive school system.”

The Staples curriculum is “college-level,” she says. “We individualize the program to meet every student’s needs. There’s baking and pastry. In Culinary II we do international and American regional cooking, in a professional setting. We work with the Farmers’ Market. We stay current, and pay a lot of attention to local and seasonal foods. So students who go on to culinary school have a great foundation already.”

Cecily Gans and her culinary students prepare to enjoy one of their own meals. (Photo/Ben Reiser for Inklings)

Cecily Gans and her culinary students prepare to enjoy one of their own meals. (Photo/Ben Reiser for Inklings)

Gans cites other graduates. Alex Burger is cooking at 1 of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. Jose Olmeda works with a leading Philadelphia chef. John Nealon, his wife Sophie Potash and Rob Krauss opened the highly regarded Fortina in Armonk, New York. Kat Leong was most recently the catering director at Carnegie Hall.

Other graduates are pursuing related careers, like nutrition.

“If that’s what’s in their heart, we help set them up for success,” Gans says. “That’s our goal. We want to see them find their passion, thrive and feel fulfilled.”

Most of Gans’ students, of course, do not go on to culinary school, or careers in that field. That’s fine. She is happy to give them a lifelong appreciation for food — and the knowledge of how to prepare it.

“This is an incredible school system,” Gans says. “Like everyone else here, I’m glad I can help kids figure out their next steps.”

A Message To Teens: “Remember To Breathe”

It’s pretty tough to give a great speech to inductees of the National Honor Society. What can you tell the brightest, hardest-working kids in the school: Keep studying? Work hard?

Cathy Dancz pulled it off though, at last week’s Staples High School induction ceremony. Here’s what the popular social studies teacher said:

Thank you for inviting me to speak here tonight. I consider it a great privilege. I would also like to congratulate the inductees for this great honor.

Cathy Dancz

Cathy Dancz

You have mastered the game. You were born with intellect, have developed an incredible work ethic, and been lucky to be provided for and supported so far in your lives (for which you will eventually thank your parents). You also have demonstrated the less measurable quality of behaving ethically – to the betterment of the school community. So, congratulations.

But the game will change.

It won’t change right away. College will be similar to high school, for the most part. Similar, obvious rules. It’s what comes next that becomes difficult. There are things we haven’t taught you here, but that you must learn.

You need a good, strong handshake. Not the bone-crusher. But a strong, solid shake. And don’t hold on for too long.

Look people in the eyes when you talk to them. It is very important. It makes people think you are listening to them and that you are honest. It will convince them to stay on board with you even if you are going somewhere that seems crazy.

You need to learn to breathe. This may sound crazy. We all know how to breathe. It happens naturally, from the beginning. But many of us aren’t doing it right. I am still learning to breathe properly. But let me back up.

National Honor SocietyWhen I graduated college I had no idea where I was headed. I got a job that I didn’t like in New York City. I heard about an opening for a lacrosse coach at Vanderbilt University. So I got on the next plan to Nashville. I had some interesting experiences there. I loved the girls. But it wasn’t the right fit. And I started experiencing anxiety.

I went to the doctor. He immediately offered me Prozac, and told me how many people my age were having the same experience. I politely declined the offer, wondering whether he was sponsored by the drug company, and began to experience panic attacks. This is the first time I learned to breathe.

The problem is that life after school doesn’t have set boundaries or clear goals. Sometimes you work really, really hard and nobody cares. Sometimes you are very good at something, but it makes you a target of scorn instead of praise. It turns out that being honest, direct and confident can mean that you are intimidating.

The fact is that life is not a sprint. I don’t know what it is – a marathon, a tough mudder, a triathlon with periodic rests on beaches, plus severe hurricanes and snowstorms. But it’s all much easier to take if you learn to create balance for yourself.

Cathy Dancz quoted the Dalai Lama...

Cathy Dancz quoted the Dalai Lama…

The Dalai Lama says that if every 8-year-old learned to meditate, in one generation there would be no war. Part of me knows this is a bit trite. But a bigger part of me knows how incredible it would be if more people actually did it. You need to sit by yourself, and breathe. And “by yourself” I mean without your phone. Alone. Maybe even outside. You need to figure out who you are, what you are about, and hopefully that you kinda like yourself.

Now comes Part 2. Responsibility. We’ve all heard that knowledge is power. That money is power. Well, here we are on the gold coast, and I’ve got news for you. You’ve got money and knowledge. So you’ve got power. And with great power comes great responsibility. Shout out to Spiderman.

If you’ve been in any of my classes you know about the many problems in this country and this world. You know about the people for whom you collect cans at Candlelight; you know about income inequality and gender inequity; you know about cronyism; you know about the horrible crises in Syria and the Central African Republic.

You know there are small things that you can do, like tell your friend to get the heck off Yik Yak. And the sooner you start doing that, the sooner it will become a habit and you can sleep the sleep of the just.

You can also decide to take on bigger issues. Because now is the time, in your lives, to do it. You can look around this room and see older people and know that, though we may have passions, we also have families to raise and bills to pay. Revolutions come from the young idealists.

So, here I’ve given you dichotomous advice. First I said, don’t just do something, sit there. And now I’m saying, don’t just sit there, do something. So what do you do?

I don’t pretend to have the recipe for a life well lived. I don’t have all the answers, and I hope I still have a lot more life to live. We are in a society that sends very confusing messages about what to value. So, being moderately interested in history, I took a look back at some historical scholars for guidance.

...and Rabbi Hillel.

…and Rabbi Hillel.

You’ll notice that I left a quote on your chair. It is from Rabbi Hillel in ancient Babylonia. He is an incredibly famous Jewish historical figure, largely credited for helping to create the Mishna and the Talmud.

Rabbi Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

After coaching college lacrosse, I got a job as a paralegal at a law firm. In 6 months I was managing other paralegals, some twice my age. It was crazy. I was 22. But this game had rules, and I got them. I started planning for law school. I took the LSAT, was offered a scholarship in Duke Law’s international program. But something didn’t feel right.

Then our nation suffered the 9/11 tragedy. And I suffered personal tragedy as well. And I reevaluated.

I decided to become a teacher and a coach, because the last time I could remember being really happy was as a student-athlete and this seemed like the grown-up version.

I got my degree and I came here to Westport. It was great. I loved teaching and I took over the lacrosse program. It was TERRIBLE. We were 2-7. But I figured out the rules and poured my blood, sweat and tears into it.

By year 6 we made it to the state championship. I’d done it. But that’s when I stopped and took a look at my life.

I was a mother. Having kids has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They don’t come with a guidebook. It is terrifying, hilarious, painful, exhausting, and I realized that I wasn’t happy with parts of my life. So I made big changes.

Staples High SchoolStepping away from my marriage and from Staples lacrosse were 2 of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But now I am real. I am 100% present with my 2 daughters. I am mindful of what kind of behavior I model for them and what we discuss on a regular basis. I’ve experienced more joy with them in the last 2 years than our first 7, combined.

Yesterday I was out on Jinny Parker Field. I watched Hannah score her 1st goal, and I knew I was home. When I told her I would miss her practice tonight because I’d been asked to speak here, she said, “You know what you should tell them? That you are a good person.”

It’s been a crazy journey so far. But if the little person who sometimes tells me that I’m the worst mom in the world can also say that I’m a good person, I know I’m doing something right.

I hope you find someone that says the same to you.

Just remember to breathe.

 

Thank you.