Category Archives: Education

Special Olympics Swimming Makes A Splash

Marshall and Johanna Kiev do not see the glass as half full. The Westport couple find it overflowing.

When their daughter Chloe broke her arm playing on the monkey bars at Coleytown Elementary School, the Kievs spearheaded a drive for a better playground.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

To help Chloe — who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that includes heart problems and developmental delays — enjoy activities with friends and classmates, Marshall and Johanna worked with the Westport school system to add Special Olympics Unified Sports to its already very successful Staples High School project. Unified Sports teams include youngsters with and without disabilities. A full elementary program begins this winter.

At the same time, the Kievs approached the Westport Weston Family Y about a more traditional Special Olympics program. They loved the idea.

The result: Registration for the Y’s new swim offering begins Monday (November 30).

Youth ages 8 to 21 years old will learn or improve their swimming abilities. They’ll compete on a team. In June, they’ll join the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven.

Westport Y logoSpecial Olympics Swimming will run year-round. Eight-week sessions begin in January, with sessions each Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Practices will be age- and ability-coordinated, coordinated by a certified swim coach and volunteer assistants.

The Kievs led a fundraising effort — a Halloween party — with many generous attendees. So there’s no cost to participants. The Y will help cover any additional funds.

The entire Kiev family is thrilled about the new program — but no one more than Chloe. “I’m so excited to swim and win medals and have my friends come and watch me,” she says.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email  To read more about the Kievs and Chloe’s Williams Syndrome, click here.)

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Tweetless Turkey Day

Today’s teenagers don’t know life without Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Not to mention Twitter, Yik Yak, Whatsgoodly, streaming videos from Netflix, and — not incidentally — using laptops, tablets and smartphones for schoolwork, in class and out. Staples High School’s BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy ensures that students are connected — to the internet, and each other — 24/7.

(That’s not an exaggeration. Some kids today sleep with their phones underneath their pillows, so they won’t miss any 3 a.m. notifications.)

Technology is wonderful. But it’s also awful. It causes stress. It fragments attention. Social media in particular raises unrealistic expectations. It prevents people from actually being present — connected personally, not wirelessly — with real friends and family members, in real time.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

No one knows this more than Staples’ guidance counselors. They’re on the front lines, watching students battle with the demands of social media, along with the usual stresses of sky-high expectations in a very competitive community.

The guidance department’s Resilience Project is a way to help teenagers find balance, strength and direction. Counselors regularly share videos, stories and ideas with students, teachers and parents, offering strategies to ease anxiety.

This week, they’re doing more. The Resilience Project proposes a Thanksgiving technology break. For 24 hours — any 24 hours during the holiday — Staples students (and staff!) (parents too!) are urged to step away from all social media. Including (aaargh) texting.

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler's Beginnign Design and Tech class)

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler’s Beginnign Design and Tech class)

The technology break coincides with another Resilience Project initiative: Teachers are encouraged to not give homework over Thanksgiving weekend, and to delay long-term project due dates to later in the following week.

Without that obligation, and with family and friends nearby, the hope is that for 24 hours, Stapleites can engage — really, truly, not sporadically or half-heartedly — with other human beings.

The Resilience Project suggests that teachers and students discuss the technology break during Communication Time, a 15-minute period on Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

It’s a great idea. Give it a try.

And if you can’t go 24 hours without technology, at least don’t tweet during Thanksgiving dinner.

Sunday’s TEA Talk: Where Are Our Arts?

You’ve heard of TED Talks. They cover global topics, in intriguing, inspiring ways.

Westport’s TEA Talks are just as important. And they touch on topics that, while broad in scope, are intensely personal.

This Sunday’s event (November 15, 2 p.m., Town Hall, free, with reception to follow) focuses on the arts. Specifically, it examines how changes in the state mandate toward STEM — science, technology, education and math — might affect our school district’s flexibility to take full advantage of the strong arts curriculum and programming we’ve spent decades nurturing.

This TEA Talk — it stands for Thinkers, Educators, Artists — is sponsored by the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. They celebrate our wonderful artistic and cultural heritage — and keep them thriving.


Where will the arts fit in our schools? Will future students have the same opportunity to embrace them? What about students in neighboring communities, not as fortunate as ours? Those are some of the questions Sunday’s TEA Talk will address.

Despite Common Core requirements, Westport educators have found ingenious ways to enhance the curriculum even more, in subjects far beyond visual art. In subjects like math, English and social studies, teachers are utilizing town collections to develop students’ analytical thinking and communication skills.

For example, starting this year every Westport 3rd grader will look at Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” mural. They’ll explore the painting, and tie it in with many aspects of their curriculum. For instance: How have our town and Connecticut changed — and stayed the same — over time? And what influence does geography play on development?

Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Sunday’s TEA Talk includes the state commissioner of education; 2 Westport educators, and world-renowned pianist (and local resident) Frederic Chiu. He’ll lead a discussion of the differences in music education in Westport and less affluent districts.

Anyone can watch a TED Talk on the web. But TEA Talks — those are what make this town (like our arts) special.

(For more information on Sunday’s TEA Talks, click here.)

BMS Honors America’s Vets

Yesterday was Veterans Day. Instead of a large assembly, Bedford Middle School invited veterans to meet 8th graders in individual social studies classrooms.

They’ve done it that way for over 15 years — longer than the current students have been alive.

“This intimate setting permits our veterans to share their personal stories and life experiences, before, during and after their military service,” says principal Adam Rosen.

33 vets took part in this year’s celebration. They served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Gulf War and Afghanistan. Some are active duty service members.

This year's veterans visiting Bedford Middle School included (from left) Ryan Ledan and Peter Nathan (Marines); Gun Moen (Air Force) and Jack Klinge (Navy). (Photo/Susan Van Riper)

This year’s veterans visiting Bedford Middle School included (from left) Ryan Ledan and Peter Nathan (Marines); Gun Moen (Air Force) and Jack Klinge (Navy). (Photo/Susan Van Riper)

“Students have time to ask questions and view photos, medals and garments that the veterans bring in,” Rosen added. “Afterwards, our students write letters, sharing their thanks and personal reflections.

“In contrast to the portrayal of our military and veterans through mass media, this was an incredible and rare opportunity for our students to meet with folks who wrote blank checks to our nation. This special event provided our students with new understanding about service in the US military, through first-hand accounts.”


A Teacher’s Influence Lingers, Half A Century On

Josh Markel is one of those long-ago Westporters who still retains a love for this town (and who reads “06880,” for its blend of yesterday and today).

Josh sent along this story. On one level, it’s about a teacher he remembers fondly, from the late 1950s.

On another level though, it’s a paean to educators everywhere. They may not remember every student — but their life lessons linger decades after their classroom lessons are done.


I hit Long Lots Junior High around 1959. Scott Wright (his real 1st name was Guyer) was the art teacher. He had a profound effect on my development, and I think with others as well. He had a great talent for connecting with kids who weren’t successful in the traditional academic manner. And he was far more than just a successful art teacher.

I would hang out in his room after school, waiting for the late bus. Other kids did too.

Long Lots, back when it was junior high.

Long Lots, back when it was a junior high.

As an example of his unconventional approach, he sponsored 3 competitions for different types of art work, which were shown at Long Lots. Early on (compared to the rest of the world) he saw the value in film as an art form. One of his competitions was a scenario for a short film, which he paid to produce in 8 mm.

It was won by Zazel Wilde, who also spent time in his room after school. Hers was about 3 crises that send a kid over the edge. Very sturm und drang adolescent stuff. Zazel later became a model, and appeared on the back of the Doors’ “Strange Days” album.

Zazel Wilde (left) on the back of the Doors'

Zazel Wilde (left) on the back of “Strange Days.”

Wright also sponsored competitions to design an outdoor sculpture, and a large mural to be affixed to the side of the school. They were fabricated by students, at his expense. Apparently he had a small inheritance which I found out about when I, quite inappropriately, asked him how he could afford a Porsche on a teacher’s salary.

His dedication to the art world went beyond that of a teacher. He put out an irregularly published magazine, “The Palette,” that solicited comments from well-known world figures on the importance of art. He got statements from amazing people, including Winston Churchill. I recently saw Wright’s correspondence and responses, including hand-written signatures, for sale on the internet for $12,000.

In class he tried to make kids aware that art originally was thought to have magical powers. For a project to make an image of something we wished for, he played Bo Diddley for us (showing music as art imbued with magical force) — far out for a teacher in those days.

Scott Wright taught about Bo Diddley, and corresponded with Winston Churchill. This may be the 1st time the 2 men have ever appeared in the same photo collage.

Scott Wright taught about Bo Diddley, and corresponded with Winston Churchill. This may be the 1st time the 2 men have ever appeared in the same photo collage.

Once, he assigned us a project of designing a getaway house for ourselves. I came up with a boring rectangular plan. He showed me what Mies van der Rohe had done with a rectangle in his famous Barcelona pavilion.  That sparked my life-long connection to architecture and design.

The potential for creativity in architecture was underscored when he showed me the house he designed for himself in Weston or Wilton. It was a modern home with a boulder built into the living room.

Wright furthered my interest in cars, racing and automotive design by taking me to my 1st sports car race at Lime Rock, upstate. My wife still suffers under the weight of all the car magazines in our house.

Despite Sputnik's success, Scott Wright believed in the importance of arts education.

Despite Sputnik’s success, Scott Wright believed in the importance of arts education.

Wright also authored an article for Saturday Review about the importance of art education, when the rest of the world was exercised about science education in the wake of Sputnik.

Long before the light shows of the ’60s, he fabricated a device that projected random light effects on a frosted, TV-like screen. He told me of Russian composer Scriabin’s experiments with compositions that combined light and sound.

Wright was on fire. I would love to know more about him, and what happened to  him.

“06880” readers: Do you remember Scott Wright? Click “Comments” below. And if you don’t, feel free to add your thoughts about the influential teachers in your lives.

Werner Liepolt’s Ghoulish Halloween Rediscovery

In 1972, Werner Liepolt was a Bedford Junior High School English teacher. Today, as Halloween approaches, is a good time to remember those long-ago days.

Fellow Annenberg School of Communications graduate Christopher Speeth had secured a soon-to-be-demolished amusement park as a set, raised enough money to rent a 35mm camera and hired some actors. Knowing of Liepolt’s off-Broadway credits, he asked him to write a horror movie.

Werner Liepolt, back in the day.

Werner Liepolt, back in the day.

Liepolt told his 9th graders about his script. It involved a carnival that consumed its customers. He tested scenes on them, and revised it based on their reactions.

“My students were my idea of a perfect horror movie audience,” Liepolt recalls. “They were impeccable critics of the macabre.” The film that emerged was “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.”

It was released for a limited run at Texas drive-ins. Liepolt saw it at one screening. His students never did. The movie disappeared.

A former student managed a seafood restaurant and store. For years, every time Liepolt bought shellfish or went to dinner, he asked about the film. The teacher never had any news. But “his faith in it convinced me of its worth,” Liepolt says.

Four decades later — in 2003 — others realized that worth too. Speeth dug the movie out, sent it to Lucas and Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, and convinced them to remaster it.

In 2007 British horror film aficionado Stephen Thrower saw a screening. He gave Speeth and Liepolt’s work a chapter in his acclaimed, encyclopedic “Nightmare USA.”

Malatestas Carnival of Blood

Word spread. Amazon sold copies of the DVD.

Liepolt’s son Jamie and some classmates at College of the Atlantic unearthed it, and screened it. He alerted his dad that “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” was alive. (Or, Liepolt notes, “had joined the ranks of the walking dead”).

Last month, Arrow Films — which negotiated the rights to redistribute the film — asked Liepolt for an interview. A crew from LA arrived at his Westport home several days ago. They’ll use 40 minutes as part of a DVD bonus package.

“I was as surprised as they were that I remembered so much about the writing and the shoot,” Liepolt says. They may even include a digital copy of the shooting script that he preserved.

Werner Liepolt today.

Werner Liepolt today.

Liepolt also provided Arrow with photos of actors he recruited for the film. Herve Villechaize — famous for his roles in a Bond film and the “Fantasy Island” TV series — began his theatrical career in Leipolt’s American Place Theater production of “The Young Master Dante.” He said he wanted — theatrically — to commit a murder in a certain gruesome way. Liepolt obliged.

The writer also recruited Lenny Baker, who went on to headline on Broadway (“I Love My Wife”) and starred in films (“Last Stop Greenwich Village”).

“That ‘Malatesta’ emerged from the crypt astonishes me,” Liepolt says. Thrower is not surprised, though. He said it “more than deserves a spell in the cult spotlight.”

There is a Facebook page for the film, so Liepolt’s 9th graders from the 1970s can finally track down and see the film they heard about 40 years ago. There’s also a website, and Arrow promises a number of promotions.

“It’s amazing fun that people are enjoying what I helped create so long ago,” Liepolt says. “What makes me sad, though, is that there are so few remaining who helped create the film.”

Halloween is here soon. What better way to get in the mood than a screening of Werner Liepolt’s great — and now rediscovered — ghoulish cult classic?

Remembering Dorothy Straub

Dorothy Straub died last month at 74. She was a longtime music educator in Westport and Fairfield; conductor and administrator for the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras, and past president of the National Association for Music Education.

Dorothy — the widow of Robert Genualdi, former Staples High School orchestra leader and music director of the GBYO — was beloved in Westport for her work with young people.

Countless students got their start in music thanks to Dorothy. Many made it their careers.

Greens Farms Elementary School music teacher Suzanne Sherman Propp is one. She writes:

Dorothy was the kindest, most patient and sweetest music teacher. I started playing violin with her in 4th grade at Bedford Elementary School. Both Cindy Gibb and I (and many, many others) took lessons with her, in school and privately, for many years.

Dorothy Straub

Dorothy Straub

Dorothy often tried to encourage me to move on to what she considered “better” teachers. But none were ever as patient or as tolerant of my, um, “poor work ethic” as she. I always ran back to her.

She encouraged me, when I was 14, to audition for All-State. I made it, where I met many other Westport music heroes, including Tommy and Chris Hanulik, Sue Sweetnam, Suzy Polk, Keith Conant and Tommy Greenwald.

Dorothy loved to hear stories of my crushes, and Cindy and my escapades. She had an adorable laugh. We always knew that her very best friend was Bob Genualdi. She was downright giddy when she told us they were getting married.

To say that Dorothy Straub was a huge influence on who I am as a musician, educator and citizen of the world is a vast understatement.

Cynthia Gibb — a 1981 Staples graduate who went on to fame as a film and television actress, and is now a noted vocal coach in Westport — adds:

When I was 10 years old at Bedford Elementary School, we had an assembly. Not all 4th graders studied a stringed instrument, but a violinist in town wanted to attract more students to music. I was fitted for a 1/4-size violin by a sweet woman with a warm smile. That began my decades-long relationship with Dorothy Straub.

I studied regularly with Dorothy from that time through my senior year at Staples. She prepared me for my school and All-State orchestras, and chamber orchestra with John Hanulik.

Dorothy Straub's legacy.

Dorothy Straub’s legacy.

I would not have known at that time how to say what I know now as an adult: It was clear that Dorothy loved her job. She loved playing music, but I also felt her love of teaching.

She was kind, patient, encouraging, complimentary and joyous during our lessons. She was quick to laugh and smile, even when I hadn’t practiced!

Many years after leaving Westport, I got a call from Dorothy asking if I’d host an event for her. I was beyond honored to collaborate with her at the Kennedy Center for the annual gathering of the National Association for Music Educators, of which Dorothy was president. I was able to publicly thank Dorothy for being my mentor and inspiring my love of music, which has been a significant part of my career.

Hearing that Dorothy was sick, I tried to schedule a visit with her. Sadly, I did not manage to see her before her death. The regret and grief has weighed heavily on me, so writing some words to honor and celebrate Dorothy makes me feel a bit better.

Also, knowing that all children in Westport now study a stringed instrument because of her means that Dorothy’s legacy lives on through the music that our young people make. They may not know her name, but Dorothy Straub’s influence is felt throughout our schools and children.

I fully expect that Dorothy is up in heaven making music with Mozart and Bach. I hope she subscribes to Dan’s blog, so she can feel my love and appreciation.

Remembering Lou Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett — a member of that great generation of post-war Westporters who helped define this town for half a century — died early today. She was 92 years old.

Lou was a lifelong educator. She began in Greenwich Village in the 1940s, and spent many years in the Westport school system. After she retired, she became a sought-after writing coach. Perhaps best known as a Staples High School English teacher, she was beloved by colleagues and students for her deep wisdom, gentle nature, and genuine concern for everyone she met.

Lucille "Lou" Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett

As a founding member of Temple Israel, she helped create one of the town’s most active social justice institutions. As first principal of its religious school, she made sure that there was as strong an emphasis on current affairs as on Jewish education.

Lou was also a gifted poet. She was published frequently — including 5 collections that explore fearlessly and with intensity her Jewish heritage, her childhood in Brookly, and her maturing to adulthood and old age — and never missed a chance to pass on her love for the craft.

Her son George says:

Mom was humble, fierce in her convictions, devoted, and always focused on the needs of others. I have heard over the years many stories from people I don’t even know about how my mother transformed their lives, or started their careers, or pushed them to take a chance on something in which they believed.

She believed in her students, her children and her friends, and strove to help them see in themselves the strength and beauty she saw in them. She treated every one with honesty and respect.

She was also the connecting tissue for an enormous family ecosystem that now spans 4 generations, and multiple continents.

Lou’s husband, Herb, died this past May, at 93. The Barretts were married for 73 years. Lou is survived by 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday (October 6, 12:30 p.m.), at Temple Israel, with private burial service to follow. The family will sit shiva after hte burial at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer in Westport. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, or Temple Israel, Westport.

Former Staples Teachers Are Definitely Not The Retiring Types

Over 200 years of teaching experience was on display the other day, at the Newtown Country Club.

A group of educators gathered for the 1st annual Staples Retired Teachers Golf Classic — and what a classic it was.

Retired Staples teachers

In the photo above are, from left: Bruce McFadden (science), Ed Bludnicki (science, administration, adult education), Pete Van Hagen (science), Tommy Owen (special education), Jim Wheeler (art), Jeff Lea (world language), Bill Walsh (math — and not retired), Bill Brookes (science).

No word on who won. But Wheeler proudly displays his award, for “most uncooperative balls.”

See what happens when these guys leave the classroom?

Just When You Think You’ve Heard Every Parking Story Imaginable…

Alert “06880” reader Cindy Mindell-Wong writes:

Last week, I went back to my car in the notorious Compo Shopping Center parking lot. I found a note on my windshield:

I backed up leaving Little Kitchen, and may have grazed your car’s rear fender. I took a picture of your rear fender for my records. If you would like to discuss, please call me at [number]. Thank you.

This is the 1st new car I’ve owned since I started driving 36 years ago. My previous car, an old beater, was a magnet for parking lot hit-and-runs, not one of them accompanied by a note on the windshield. So I didn’t hold out much hope that I was dealing with an honest broker.

But boy, was I ever! This afternoon, I learned from the note-writer’s insurance company that a check for repairs was on its way.

The week-long process has been a welcome lesson in gratitude, trust, and the magic one person creates in the world with a simple act of integrity and honesty.

Ashley Gayanilo (Photo/Inklings)

Ashley Gayanilo (Photo/Inklings)

There’s a sweet footnote to the story: The woman who grazed Cindy’s car is Ashley Gayanilo, a social studies teacher at Staples High School — and she had Cindy’s daughter  in class last year. When Cindy sent a small gift of thanks — and asked if she could share this great story publicly on “06880” — Ashley replied:

I am humbled that you thought to acknowledge me. Character building is something we emphasize here at school, with Westport 2025. I’m happy to share this as an example. I’ve never been in print before!