Pic Of The Day #705

Compo Beach jetty (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Northern Lights May Be Seen This Far South

If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, scrap that trip to the Arctic.

Just step outside tonight.

Thanks to a geomagnetic storm — and clear skies — Connecticut residents may see the rare phenomenon this evening.

Check out these Northern Lights!

The Northern Lights — technically, Aurora Borealis — results from electrons colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere near the North Pole.

But — according to NBC Connecticut — our state is on the “very southern fringe” of areas that may be able to see the Lights this weekend.

Of course, this is not northern Canada or Scandinavia. Among the many differences: We have plenty of light pollution.

So if you’re on the lookout, NBC advises, find a dark area away from street and city lights.

Then look north.

(Hat tip: Chip Stephens)

We Choose To Include This Great Video

Jeff Staw has strong Westport ties.

He grew up here, then returned with his wife Amy in 2009. She was a TV producer, working with non-profits including Save the Children (when its offices were here), and Special Olympics.

The Staws moved to Colorado in 2016 (but come back every summer). Amy now works at her children’s elementary school, as an education assistant for students with severe special needs.

When teachers planned an Inclusion Week, they asked Amy to put her production expertise to good use.

The result — shot on an iPhone — is tremendous.

Sandy Staw notes proudly that her grandchildren are in the video. David talks about being left out (he’s the one with fish pictures in the background), while Juliet says she chooses to include “because everyone needs someone to play with.”

So far, the video has been seen only by the Staws’ Colorado school community. But “06880” readers in their former home town will appreciate it — and its message — too.

Amy and Jeff Staw, with David and Juliet.

Pic Of The Day #704

Last night’s rain flushed a ton of worms onto the Wakeman athletic fields asphalt. Happy spring! (Photo/Tim Fielding)

Friday Flashback #134

As Westport debates what’s needed to make Main Street lively again, we hear one chorus a lot: live music!

It’s been only a few years since Bobby Q’s rooftop concerts ended. But before that, there was Mark’s Place.

Located on the left side of Main Street — on the 2nd floor of what was, most recently, Acqua and Boca restaurants — Mark’s Place was a late ’60s/early ’70s club/bar/disco.

It was not the only venue for live music in Westport — there was the Nines Club at the old skating rink on Post Road East (owned, improbably, by orchestra leader Lester Lanin; Mitch Ryder, the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians played there); the Players Tavern, and a spot underneath the Ice Cream Parlor where I saw the Shangri-Las.

I’ve tried to find photos, with no success. Recently though, these images of Mark’s Place surfaced on Facebook, thanks to Rufus Eakin.

(Photos courtesy of Rufus Eakin)

Close your eyes. Remember the scene. Then click “Comments,” to share any groovy memories of Mark’s — and all those other music — places.

College Consultant: “Develop Who You Are. Don’t Cheat.”

The recent college admissions scandal — that gross, hydra-headed monster involving enormous bribes, test-taking ringers and fake photos of teenagers “playing” sports they never even tried — has mesmerized many Westport parents and students.

Plenty of educational consultants too.

Richard Avitabile

Richard Avitabile has seen both sides of the process. He’s directed college admissions offices. Since 2002 he’s been a counselor with Steinbrecher & Partners, the Westport-based group that helps students from around the globe make appropriate educational choices — not just for college, but secondary school, therapeutic programs and graduate options as well.

He’s a parent, too.

“This is so entwined with how our society thinks about education, college and success. It’s opened a Pandora’s box,” Avitabile says of the arrest of 50 adults — including the mastermind of the long-running scam — earlier this month.

“This story makes us all wonder what we’ve been doing with our professional careers.”

Yet he is wary of painting all educational consultants with the same brush.

“The goal of independent counselors is to help kids negotiate a complex process, and find a way to succeed,” he says.

“At our core, we’ve always felt that students’ hard work, and the interests they’ve developed, have been the reason for their success.”

After the news broke, he spoke with colleagues across the country. They believe the scandal involves “a very small number of applicants, and a very small number of colleges and universities.”

But because of the sensational nature of the offenses — along with the money and Big Names involved — the story has legs.

The internet was brutal after news broke that Lori Loughlin and her husband paid $500,000 for her 2 daughters to be admitted to the University of Southern California as crew athletes — though neither ever rowed.

“Most students get good grades and work on their test scores without having someone do it for them,” Avitabile notes. “We tell them, ‘develop your own life, and chances are good you’ll have great opportunities and options for college.'”

What Rick Singer, his clients and a few coaches and unscrupulous educators have done “devalues the worth of students,” says Avitabile. “These parents somehow felt they had to rig the system for their kids. I don’t think those families had to do that.

“I’ve spent a lot of time telling families there are opportunities, without playing this game. You can find the right college for your child. We’ve helped them do that for years.”

It’s not easy, he admits. Educational consultants help people with means (and plenty of pro bono clients) through the long process.

Steinbrecher & Partners — and many other educational consultants — often assist families who lack the financial or other resources that well-heeled clients have. “We truly enjoy working with students who are eager for an education, helping match them to a school that’s right for them,” Avitabile says.

Most educational consultants help students focus on their passions, and choose a school that is right for them.

He is not surprised that some people try to use the system for their own ends. He is, however, dismayed that Singer — someone he calls “not an educational professional” — developed “a band of people who helped others commit fraud. They were not helping students through the process. They were thieves.”

Parents often ask Avitabile and his colleagues, “how can I be sure my child is admitted to [insert name or type of school]?”

“We spent a lot of time explaining that there are no guarantees,” he says. “At some schools 75% of the applicants are qualified, but fewer than 10% get in.”

So his message to students (and parents) is: “Develop who you are, in and out of the classroom. Pursue experiences that interest you. Work on talents or activities that fit your personality and goals. Don’t do something because it’s what you think a college wants. Become the person you are proud of, then find the places that meet your characteristics.”

After 17 years as an educational consultant — and 3 decades before that in college admissions — Avitabile is convinced that many families can make excellent decisions about college.

“I love it when a student takes the lead, and parents support the goals their child has for education,” he says. “Our thrust from the beginning is to put students in charge.

“If we listen to them, we can avoid bad intentions. Students can achieve what they want without illegal actions.”

Pic Of The Day #703

In November, Berkshire Hathaway moved into new offices above Bartaco.

With views like these — to the east and north as well — it’s a wonder their agents ever leave the office to actually sell real estate.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Inspiring Interview With Staples’ Star Students: 5 PM Tonight, Channel 4

Just when you think the world has gone bonkers, you hear about Sirina and Anisa Prasad.

The twins are Staples High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

They’re warm, wonderful girls. They work hard in school, at the subjects they love (math, science, economics, English, the environment — everything, actually).

They started a Staples Science Olympiad team, competed in the Federal Reserve challenge (and advanced to next month’s semifinals), and spent the summer researching solar cells. The  year before, they interned at a water quality lab.

But they also knit, bake and play video games. They enjoy each other, and their friends.

They never planned on being Staples’ top 2 students. It just happened. And everyone is delighted for them.

WNBC Channel 4 sent a crew to interview them today (Thursday). The segment is scheduled for the 5 p.m. news.

Valedictorian Sirina Prasad (right), and salutatorian Anisa Prasad, on camera today.

I have no idea what they’ll say. But I know they’ll say it well, and with plenty of enthusiasm.

And I’m sure they’ll be smiling all the way through.

FUN FACTThe Prasads are not the first twins to be valedictorian and salutatorian. Eric and Todd Lubin turned the double play in 2011.

Walker Marsh Reports From Mozambique: We Need Urgent Help!

Westporters are everywhere — including Mozambique.

The African nation just suffered a catastrophic cyclone. It hasn’t gotten much press here. 

Walker Marsh — a 2013 Staples High School graduate — is serving there in the Peace Corps. He sends this harrowing report — and desperate plea for help.

Early Friday morning March 15, my city of Beira was hit by Cyclone Idai. It caused mass destruction throughout the central region of Mozambique, and bordering Zimbabwe and Malawi.

I am serving 50 miles as the crow flies from the provincial capital. My district has suffered unfathomable flooding. The photos I have seen are jarring and terrifying.

Mozambique has been my home for the past 18 months. To see it ravaged is heartbreaking.

The people of Mozambique are the most resilient I have known in my life. I know that together we will rebuild.

On Monday (March 18) I managed to catch a flight from Beira to Maputo via Nampula, to be able to access the internet. Since the cyclone hit we have been without electricity, communication, fuel, food, drinking water, road connections, ATMs and banks.

The cyclone left behind death and destruction. Schools, our office and the hospitals that have remained standing are the refuge of hundreds of families who lost everything.

Dozens of stranded Mozambicans huddle on buildings without roofs.

The roof of the hospital in Beira has fallen. Five newborns died, along with another 160 in the facility. There is no standing light pole. Trees block the streets. No shop or market is operational. We ate only eaten oranges and avocados for 3 days, and rationed drinking water.

The wind was so strong that it launched air conditioner motors from walls to nearby roofs. Small animals were also blown away, and now hang dead on trees or roofs.

The wind reached more than 140 miles an hour. No window or door resisted the fury of seawater, sand, stones and everything else it encountered on the way. Roofs turned into sheets that wedged inside houses.

Houses became swimming pools. We protected ourselves with mattresses, to avoid being hit by glass and objects. The house I rented for the past 5 years in front of the beach fell apart.

This nightmare lasted for hours. The last hour was the most dangerous. The wind diminished for a few minutes, before attacking more forcefully and destroying the last remaining homes.

The devastating aftermath of Cyclone Idai.

The next day I asked 2 sailors to go to Barada’s mission to get some information, but the sea and wind did not allow navigation. I asked one of our drivers to take the land route, but after 25 miles he had to go back to the city. The road had been swallowed up. In its place was a lake filled with crocodiles, surrounded by people trapped in trees.

People who walked for 2 days to Beira told me that entire villages with homes and people disappeared. The president of Mozambique announced that several districts are completely isolated from the rest of the word. He expressed great concern about the diseases, calamities and number of human casualties expected. Aerial photos show hundreds of bodies floating in rivers. At night, groups of people wander around.

After 4 days I have received a bit of information about our Peace Corps missions.

Machanga: The boarding school has no more roofs. Students sleep under trees.

Estaquinha: More than 100 tons of corn (food for 4 months in our boarding schools) is gone. All agricultural machines are underwater. An investment of 200,000 euros was swallowed by water.

Mangunde: Part of the school, boarding school and health center lost roofs. Communities around the mission are completely flooded.

Barada, on the beach: I have no news yet. I fear for the worst.

Our new Beira office is almost destroyed. Armed police, guards and our 3 dogs stand guard day and night.

Before the cyclone, Walker Marsh (front row, far right) posed with colleagues at the school where he works.

It continues to rain heavily. The forecast is for more rain for days. Rivers continue to rise. Neighboring countries are also affected by heavy rains. They may open dams to avoid collapse.  That would cause more floods in Mozambique.

I am dismayed and shattered by this Dante-esque scenario. I see panic in the faces of those who now fear for their lives, and those of their loved ones. We need urgent help.

Here is how you can donate:

Save the Children: Cyclone Idai Children’s Relief Fund

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: Mozambique – Tropical Strom Idai Campaign

Oxfam: Cyclone Idai Appeal

United Nations: Mozambique Cyclone United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund

Gorongosa National Park: Cyclone Relief Fund

Humanity & Inclusion: Help Mozambique

(To contact Walker directly, email WalkerMarsh9@gmail.com)

Walker Marsh

Pic Of The Day #702

Biking at the beach (Photo/Patricia McMahon)