1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of WestportNow.com.

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

18 responses to “1st Day Of School!

  1. Carissa Baker

    My first year in Westport was 1963 when we moved from Duluth, MN. Entering fifth grade at Bedford Elementary, I was tickled by the changing of classes/teachers for subjects, actually getting to eat lunch at school in a cafeteria (not walking home for lunch – then back to school for the afternoon), being transported by busses (not walking), and the vibrancy and sophistication of the kids. I also marveled at the gorgeous colonial building of Bedford Elementary, with it’s historic mural above the auditorium entrance. Even at the age of 10, I was quickly convinced that we had moved to a most special and exciting place! Loved all the schools I attended there! And when I became a teacher years later, and eventually a Principal, I tried to emulate the many outstanding Westport educators who had shaped and nurtured me along the way.

    • I’m glad you did move into Westport and join me at Bedford Elementary.One of my fond memories of that year was Mrs. Lyons reading Phantom Tollbooth to us. Of course the Sixth Grade dance at the end of the year and how the parents transformed the gym with decorations for us.

      • Carissa Baker

        Hey Patty! My very first Westport friend! And Mrs. Lyons playing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” on the record player as we all prepared for morning homeroom.

    • Nancy W Hunter

      Yes, and I, too, remember the Sixth grade “graduation” dance from my year, with crepe paper and balloons, entering in the gym with the (well practised) “Grand March”, and dancing with my Dad.
      I still have my class photo — Huge! 20″ long, lots of room on the back for friends’ autographs, even Mrs. Lyons and Mr. Lomnitzer signed.
      A very nice school, with excellent teachers.

  2. Relics of the past, indeed, treasures…including (especially, perhaps?) the class assignment written in cursive!

  3. I was in the first group of First Graders at Coleytown in 1953. We had moved to Westport from New York City and though we had been here for a couple of months and I had made friends with some local talent, I was so nervous that first day of school I fainted. Coleytown was a wonderful school. Oh, by the way, by the time I was in 6th grade all the elementary schools had teams which played one another. For the girls there was a kickball team and a basketball team, I was on both but more for my enthusiasm than any big athletic talents. We also had Friday afternoon dance classes which most of the 6th graders signed up for; girls wore white gloves, boys wore jackets and ties!! Imagine that!

  4. Melody James

    I was in Coleytown’s first “second grade class.” I had Miss Small who became engaged to Paul Lane–Coach Lane. It was very exciting to us, our own Cinderella. I well remember the mural and how great to see it! My brother Michael was in the first 6th grade graduating class and I see him on the right of the baseball photo; my brother Beau was in the first fifth grade class. It was clean, new and pink. Long lines to await our polio shots. My parents decorated my bedroom with the same Pennsylvania Dutch inspired gray wallpaper of the Teachers’ room–that private door we only had glimpses of. I also remember the safety drills in case of nuclear attack–lined in the hall, “child pose” covering our heads with our little arms…really. And at 6th grade we learned the May Pole dance to celebrate spring. One of the most vivid memories is of the PTA Fundraiser show The Coleytown’s Capers in 1955-56, fabulous variety shows with original skits, sings and parodies. My father Hal James was the producer, years later he co-produced Man of La Mancha. The Capers pulled writing-directing-acting-dancing and musical talent from parents (as well as friends who had no kids in the school–Ed Kogan, Larry Wynn come to mind.) moms were can-can dancing beauties and mermaids. It was magical for us kids to experience these sides to our parents and catch glimpses of their other lives and talents. Miss Odell was the firm handed Principal.

    • Melody, I’m so glad you mentioned the Capers. My mother was in the first three years of the show and sang an amazing torch song called “The Girl in the Picture”. The singer of the song laments her husband being a commuter, it ends with this line: “He works all day in the City, so we can live in the country, and spend all our time apart.” ( or it might be “alone”, I can’t remember.) You get the idea. I wonder who wrote the song? It was magical as you say, we were lucky. No?

  5. Thanks for the hat tip but the major credit goes to Carol Borrman, the principal’s assistant who brought out this scrapbook during our Coleytown El class of ’65 50th-anniversary mini-reunion tour several weeks ago. We were all amazed by this remarkable historical document and, in another example of “it’s a small Westport world,” one of the 5th-grade creators of the 1953-54 scrapbook, Marcia Sorisi, is a cousin of Jeff Wilkins, who was part of the ’65 mini-reunion group.

    For those of you old enough to remember Art Linkletter, one of my favorite clippings in the scrapbook reported that a Coleytown teacher “at the request of her class has written a letter to Art Linkletter to ask for information concerning flying saucers.”

  6. Jenny Johnson Warden

    From Jenny Johnson
    I was in Melody James’ class. As were Connie Brandt, Harriet Bienfield, Joshue Markel, Richard Ireland, Karen Berger…… I remember being a Polio Pioneer and getting a lollipop. Getting ready for a nuclear attack by crouching in the corridor…that would do a lot of good. Meetings for Brownies, Cub Scouts, and Catechism after school in the lunchroom. At the Coleytown Capers, our Dads also danced the can-can. At 6’4″ my Dad was memorable.

  7. Scott Brodie

    I was a member of the inaugural cohort of students at Burr Farms School. Westport, and the nation were in the throes of the Baby Boom. The town could hardly build schools fast enough. Burr Farms was slated to open in the Fall of 1957, but was not ready in time. Greens Farms went on double-session for the first semester, and we moved into the new building at the start of the second semester.

    It was considered appropriate for Kindergarten students to walk up to a half-mile to school. Greens Farms was far enough to justify a bus for the bunch of kids living on Burr Farms Road, but the pick-up point was at the foot of the road, on Long Lots — more than a half-mile from my house near the end of the road. Our mothers drove us to the bus stop in the morning, and picked us up mid-day when school was done (no full-day Kindergarten back then!) Once Burr Farms opened, we were on our own, and walked the half-mile-plus through our neighbors’ yards, except perhaps in the rain.

    On the first day of school (at Greens Farms) we were given a tour of the building. It seemed very large, and we felt very small. The School Office contained an imposing front counter, taller than we were! The next day, I was paired with another student (I think it was Liz Doyle!) to take the attendance record to the Office. It was a long way, and we got hopelessly lost. Eventually, we stumbled onto Mr. Metellits, the “Burr Farms” principal, unpacking some boxes. He was very friendly, and kindly showed us to the Office, and then back to the head of the LONG stairway down to the Kindergarten rooms.

  8. Joshua Markel

    My family moved to Westport from Brooklyn in June of 1954,during the second year of the school’s existence. We lived on Easton Rd. probably a quarter mile or so from the school. That summer my mom had me walk up to Coleytown on a blisteringly hot day, on my own, to get used to the commute. There were no sidewalks at that time and I don’t think present day parents would be so trusting of their children and of the benevolence of the world.

    As I wandered around the parking lot, taking in the sparkling new building, the principal, Miss Odell, spotted me and took me inside. I was in awe of the pony in the dessert mural outside her office. She filled out a 3×5 card with the name of my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Mondela (sp?) who later became Mrs. Capassi (sp?), and the room number. She then walked me through the hall and showed me the room.

    I have to say that her welcome did a great deal to quiet any anxieties I had about starting a new school in a new town. I still have some wonderful friends from that third grade class.

  9. Joanne Koeller

    I was in that first class at Burr Farms with Scott Brodie and I, too, got hopelessly lost when I had to bring the attendance record to the office. I think I was paired with Toby Fales. It’s good to know, all these years later, that Toby and I weren’t the only ones who got lost!

    • Scott E. Brodie

      Hi, Joanne,
      Looks like misery loves company, even 58 years later! — Scott.

  10. Nancy W Hunter

    The Librarian’s comment is quite remarkable, and wrong!
    Anyway, I do remember being read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in the Coleytown library, and remember that the time spent there was good, good enough to pursue.
    We arrived from Montreal in ’65 or ’66, awkwardly, half way through the school year. Arithmetic was taught differently, but at least we didn’t have to walk home for lunch, or wear a uniform, which was also good.
    Gym class, though, was taught by someone who seemed to be an army sergeant. I can still hear her yelling “Whoa!”, as if we were cattle!
    By grade four, string instruments were introduced (had to wait until grade five or six to play a wind instrument), which seemed worldly until adjudication day came! Thank you Miss Straub!

    Fred mentions Art Linkletter, but our 5th grade class had the pleasure of travelling into the Big Apple for the Dick Cavitt Show(!) Happily, our other classes made yearly trips to the Museum of Natural History, something, though, out of the ordinary for many other communities I imagine.

    With the many different elementary and junior high schools, and with all the history and personality within each one, it was great to come together as one at Staples.

  11. Joshua Markel

    Yes, my mother was Ruth Markel, guidance counselor at Burr Farms School. She went on to be head of psychological services for the Westport school district and a key advisor to Claire Gold (wife of Julius Gold, proprietor of Gold’s Delicatessen), the superintendent of schools.

    During her tenure she was charged with making two important changes in the schools. First, children with learning differences and handicaps were, if at all possible, to be mainstreamed into the general school population. Second, the schools became responsible for paying for and outsourcing educational services for any students unable to be mainstreamed. This meant my mother had to find appropriate sources of these services, vet them and properly place children in them.

    My mother pioneered these programs and did the legwork necessary to make them accepted and workable.

    And more personally, my mother was a model of a woman deeply engaged in her work and handling a high level of executive authority, roles quite uncommon at the time. Even more remarkably, she did these things without her children feeling in any way neglected.