Westport And Diversity: Staples Students Have The “Write” Stuff

Today’s “06880” theme is diversity. There’s more of it in Westport than you think. Stories posted in the past few hours include Khaliq Sanda’s stirring speech reflecting on 4 years here as an A Better Chance scholar, and Clay Garner’s career as a Westport teenager-turned-Chinese-musician-star.

Of course, another story noted that Westport’s wealthiest neighborhood — Coleytown — is 91.7% white, 3.1% Asian, 2.7% Latino and 0.9% black.

TEAM-Westport-logo2Recently, TEAM Westport — the town’s multiculturalism committee — joined with the Westport Library to sponsor an essay contest. High school students were invited to reflect on the fact that 30 years from now, racial and ethnic groups currently in the US minority will collectively outnumber whites. Students were asked to describe the benefits and challenges of this change for Westport as a whole, and themselves personally.

25 students responded. Tonight the winners — as judged by Westport educator Dr. Judith Hamer; Yale University’s Patricia Wei and teen services librarian Jaina Lewis — were announced. And celebrated.

The young writers addressed a host of challenges. Many were optimistic, even inspired.

Top prize — and $1,000 — went to Staples junior Megan Root. Her tremendously insightful essay — titled “Diversity: The Maestro of Innovation” — explored what she misses by living in a community that is 93% white. She knows that while her teachers pose many important questions, she does not hear answers from a variety of perspectives.

First prize winner Megan Root is congratulated by (left) TEAM Westport chairman Harold Bailey, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

First prize winner Megan Root is congratulated by (left) TEAM Westport chairman Harold Bailey, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Megan described the value of “a symphony of ideas.”

It’s a little like being able to hit new keys on a piano, shifting your hands and stretching your fingers so you can play different octaves. Every starts in the middle C position. It’s easy and comfortable and you learn the basic skills.

But all the interesting music, the songs with real power, make you strain for the high G and reach for that low F. Entering a majority-minority world is like starting to reach for those far-off notes.

It will be a challenge, unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but ultimately it will open up a whole new book of music. No one wants to be stuck playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Taught by the maestro of diversity, I hope to learn Mozart and Vivaldi.

Megan looks forward to being exposed to more diversity, as the population changes. “I don’t think I can really complete an education in life until I join bigger, more varied conversations,” Megan wrote. “America’s diversity means access to culture and traditions and ideas from every corner of the globe.”

Eliza Llewellyn reads her award-winning essay.

Eliza Llewellyn reads her award-winning essay.

Eliza Llewellyn — Staples senior, and class valedictorian — won 2nd prize, and $750, for “No Longer 91 Percent.” She’s grown up in a multicultural family — part Welsh, part Chinese — and has hope for America’s future.

“Beyond economic strength, a mix of ethnicities will make us more tolerant and empathetic toward others,” Eliza said. “Rather than recoiling from a gay couple or crossing to the other side of a street from a black man in a hoodie, we can learn to see these individuals as people rather than a blanketed ‘other.'”

She concluded, “I am more than a Westporter, or even a Chinese-European. I am a citizen of the world.”

Third prize winner ($500) Kyle Baer was less optimistic. In “Westport: A Bubble Refuses to Pop,” the Staples junior wrote that Westport’s near-total whiteness “sets Westport back from the rest of the nation in terms of its cultural richness.

“To be stuck in an upper-class, all-white town in the coming years will be a significant disadvantage to students. We have little choice but to evolve, or risk losing our appeal as a family-friendly town. Yet the path on which Westport is headed shows, as of yet, no signs of diverging.”

Kyle is right: Westport is homogeneous. But — as the very fact that he won a prize by writing about diversity, in a contest sponsored by his town’s multicultural committee — shows, at least we’re looking at that path he says we’re on.

Kyle Baer with his proud grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer.

Kyle Baer with his proud grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer.

(Click here for Megan Root’s essay; here for Eliza Llewellyn’s, and here for Kyle Baer’s.)

5 responses to “Westport And Diversity: Staples Students Have The “Write” Stuff

  1. James Holmes

    Sorry Kyle is “stuck in an upper-class, all-white town”, ask your parents to send you to school in Norwalk or Bridgeport you ungrateful punk.

  2. Jennifer Meeker

    It’s pretty pathetic to verbally attack a teenage boy based on a few select sentences of his essay.

  3. I wish Mr. Holmes had come to the Library and heard the students. All three gave thoughtful, caring critiques of their home town–its advantages and disadvantages.

  4. Here are direct links to the 3 winning essays: ·

    Megan Root – Diversity: The Maestro of Innovation http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=6435

    Eliza Llewellyn – No Longer 91 Percent http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=6434

    Kyle Baer – Westport: The Bubble That Refuses to Pop http://www.westportct.gov/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentID=6433

  5. jerrymacdaid

    Thanks for posting the actual essays Dan. Your excerpt from Kyle’s, while the conclusion, did not reflect the tone of the overall essay leading to an unfortunate and inappropriately harsh but somewhat explainable knee jerk reaction from James.

    There are certainly ways for Westport to provide the diversity that these kids desire. Merging school districts with Norwalk, for example. Unfortunately, they are mostly ways that their parents would find abhorrent and would trigger exit from school system to private schools or just exit from Westport. And perhaps for good reason having little to do with racism but everything to do with economics and a desire to obtain the best education possible for their kids.

    Really the conundrum the entire country faces.

    On criticism of Kyle’s essay though – the generally accepted term these days is “mobile home park” rather than the more pejorative “trailer park”. Frankly, I thought they were more in the category of modular homes these days anyway. 🙂