Staples Students Journey 6 Miles — And Far Outside Their Bubble

“Education is the seed to the tree of success,” writes “S.”

Yet, she notes, Bridgeport schools lack many of the resources of those in Westport, just a few miles away. One example: While classroom teachers here enjoy the assistance of multiple paraprofessionals, in Bridgeport there may be only one for an entire school.

And while the Staples High School cafeteria is open for breakfast, snacks and lunch — with options ranging from frozen yogurt to sushi — youngsters at Luis Muñoz Marin are served “horrific” meals, like 5 chicken fingers and an “unidentifiable fruit cup.” When Staples students brought the Marin kids pizza, the children saved the chicken and fruit in their bags, for a meal later at home.

S. was stunned to see the differences in education between the 2 nearly neighboring communities. She wants Connecticut to make a difference for the future — “one seed at a time.”

Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School

Luis Munoz Marin School

S. is close to the educational disparity issue. She’s a Staples student — and a member of Linda McClary’s Child Development class.

Working with Christie Barcelona — a former Staples student who now teaches 5th grade at Luis Marin — McClary organized a pen pal project. In addition to writing each other, they arranged for the Westporters to visit the Bridgeport school this past fall.

This month, the elementary schoolers will come to Staples.

Recently, McClary asked her students to write essays about their experiences. The topic was “disparity of education in Connecticut.”

For many in McClary’s class, it’s been an eye-opening semester.

“I have been able to see outside of the ‘Westport bubble,'” S. wrote. She called herself “blessed” at the opportunity to meet the Luis Marin 5th graders.

Staples High School

Staples High School

Other essays were equally fascinating. “L” said:

Over school breaks, dozens of Staples kids take a trip somewhere exotic like Ecuador or Nicaragua to help families living poorly by building schools, homes, etc.

I am not trying to take away from their experience, but it blows my mind the amount of people who go on these service trips plane rides away, versus the amount of people who go a few miles down the highway to help families.

Ten miles down the road, we can help. We can make the difference.

“L” contrasted her time at Luis Marin with her visit to Coleytown Elementary School — another part of McClary’s curriculum.

Coleytown Elementary School

Coleytown Elementary School

Coleytown classrooms have rugs, a smartboard, plenty of cubbies and “hundreds of books, based on genre and authors. An amazing environment for the students to learn.”

In Bridgeport the desks were all paired, with a few pencils for pupils to share.

“The kids who need comfort and stability at school are the ones who aren’t getting an equal education,” L. wrote. “How is this fair?”

L. called the visit to Luis Marin “honestly life changing. It made me deeply appreciate the teachers, janitors, principals, etc. in my school who make this environment a place I love going to every day. I just hope that one day, each child has the opportunity to value and enjoy education like I do.”

“E” admitted — “much to my absolute dismay” — that she has been stuck in a “rich kid bubble.” She assumed everyone had dolls, piano lessons and other expensive things. Surrounded by laptops and other affluent students, she asked herself: “How many times have I driven past Bridgeport and not even had a second thought to the shattered windows and empty buildings?”

An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.

An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.

She called the “complete imbalance” of Connecticut’s schools “absolutely unacceptable.”

How can we possibly make these kids excited to learn without proper supplies? How can we expect American children to achieve amazing things, and improve our country, when they aren’t provided with enough materials to better their education?

Individual meetings proved instructive. “G” learned that her pen pal faced enormous struggles at home. Spending time together helped the young girl — and made the older one feel like an important role model.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to give her advice on friends,” G. said. “Also, to try to positively affect her future by telling her to do well in school and never slack off.”

Other students shared their own, powerful insights.

I was especially moved by “W”‘s unique perspective. Growing up in Fairfield, she was chosen through a lottery to attend the Bridgeport 6 to 6 Magnet School. She hated to leave her childhood friends, and dealt with enormous culture shock.

Bridgeport's 6 to 6 Magnet School

Bridgeport’s 6 to 6 Magnet School

But as the year went on, W. learned about her classmates’ “cultures, neighborhoods, families and background stories.” That led her to “a new world full of fresh faces and experiences that changed my perspective to helping others.”

She stopped judging others — “which was hard for a middle school girl” — and felt transformed into someone who was “open-minded to accept all of the new experiences happening around me.”

In 8th grade, her family moved into her grandparents’ Westport home, to take care of them. This time, it was “culture shock in reverse.”

W wrote:

I have learned so much in the past several years, and recently from my Child Development class, about educational disparity. Every child deserves an equal opportunity at a good education.

As my inspiring teacher, Linda McClary, said to my class: “Get up in the morning, go to school, and thank your lucky stars your parents moved to this town and this school.”

13 responses to “Staples Students Journey 6 Miles — And Far Outside Their Bubble

  1. Just recently I’ve gotten involved in helping at the Bridgeport schools as a room mother for a third grade class. It is so much fun working with both the teacher and the kids. And I hope I’m making a difference! I share the responsibility with two other friends and we try to cover various things as the teacher requests. Brighter Lives for Kids Foundation is an organization that does wonderful things for the Bridgeport schools. If anyone wants to donate or get involved this would be a great organization to contact.
    It is so true that there is great need just down the road and so many ways to make these kids lives a little brighter!

  2. Allison Adler

    I think it is a great organization that helps those less fortunate not far from us. There are so many places we can help.
    I think Builders Beyond Borders, where the kids have traveled to Guatemala and Ecuador(during a hurricane last year) , gets an unfair rep as “Adventures for Rich Kids” and other names. Yes, the kids travel to help but they are meeting the most basic needs of the community. Often, there aren’t even schools or working toilets or housing with 4 walls and a roof before B3 shows up and helps build infrastructure in a very short time. .The kids are immersed in the culture which is so different from the 06880. And it is not an “exotic” locale -these are 3rd world communities-we are not talking about the resort communities and the kids don’t stay at a Ritz or 4 Seasons or anything close-they bring their own toilet paper–they eat the same food and work long, grueling days along with members of community. So, any way we can help people less fortunate is a good thing whether it is near or far.

  3. Love Mrs. McClary! Great class at Staples!

  4. Susan Saracena

    John Ramos is a young man, trying to make a difference in the lives of Bridgeport youth at Harding High School. Not only is John trying to rebuild the football and wrestling team…funding needed. But he is also developing a mentor program for the young teens at Harding. John also developed the school’s new scholarship program, called ‘Adversity to Prosperity’. Again, funding needed. Please check out http://adversitytoprosperity.org/. “The mission of Adversity to Prosperity is to uplift communities through youth athletic programs, service and education. We are dedicated to helping inner city residents financially with their educational needs by granting scholarships and/or supplying funding for school-related expenses such as books and supplies. We are fully committed to provide fiscal sponsorship to struggling athletic programs in the state of Connecticut in an effort to uplift & give back to our struggling communities. We are a recognized 501(c)(3) as of April, 4th 2014”.

  5. What will Mrs DeVos do to help?

    • Not a damn thing

    • The people of Bridgeport elected a convicted criminal mayor. What are they doing to help themselves?

      • Such a productive and positive response, as usual.
        Is it true, then, that — for decades — “the people of Bridgeport” only have themselves to blame? What’s missing in this picture?

      • Yes, Michael Petrino. Indeed, the people of Bridgeport elected Mayor Joe Ganim, and rather handily with 62% of the vote against two other genmeral-election major candidates: Independent-Democrat Mary-Jane Foster and Republican Enrique Torres.

        Bridgeporters also elected one of the most profound do-nothing, say-nothing, ask-nothing, inquire-of-nothing city councils I’ve seen. To me, that has turned out to be a far worse decision than returning Joe to office.

        Between leaving Westport after Staples in 1975 and returning to Connecticut to live in Bridgeport in 2015, I lived during those four decades in some very special U.S. cities: Durham, Raleigh, and Cary, N.C.; Indianapolis; Chicago; and Boston. I’ve been exclusively a city and urban kind of guy since leaving Westport.

        Bridgeport isn’t quite the smallest of the cities I’ve lived in — Durham was smaller when I lived there and Raleigh wasn’t much bigger (though it is huge now). But Bridgeport is the most complicated city I’ve ever lived in. But it has arguments about the past instead of about the future. Bridgeport even has arguments about how to argue about the past.

        That said, this city has much potential — much more than its neighbors in Fairfield, Westport, Easton, Trumbull, Shelton, Stratford, and Milford will give it credit for. I’ve lived in cities with lots of potential that’s been realized. Bridgeport is largely unrealized potential, but it’s all here. A lot of it was due to the work of former Mayor Bill Finch, especially downtown, with the support of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council under the recently retired Paul Timpanelli. And with the patient careful investment of developers.

        It would be a better city with better elected leadership, especially on the city council.

        Bridgeport’s city council consists of 20 members elected from 10 districts, two to each district. They are elected bienially: 2015, 2017, 2019, etc. The mayor is elected quadrenially: 2011, 2015, 2019, etc. This time around, all 20 members are Democrats. There was one Republican on the last council.

        Much of the council has to be replaced in 2017, if reformers can work past the entrenched Democratic machine led (if not ramrodded or shovel-fed) by the Democratic town chair, Mario Testa. It’s not out of the question that some reformers might run as Republicans.

        But the administration and the person of Joe Ganim is finding its footing and sea legs. There is new and attractive activity in retail, restauramts, and especially market-rate housing downtown. I live in the Landmark Apartments (www.landmarkBPT.com) overlooking McLevy Green and the Barnum Museum; they were developed in the former Mechanics & Farmers Savings Bank headquarters building by Forstone Development of Darien. Forstone, along with Spinnaker Development of Norwalk, and Kuchma Development of Bridgeport have become the three stongest and most able investors in top-quality housing, office, and retail/retsaurant space in downtown Bridgeport. There’s a funk creative, artistics, entertainment, and professional ethos emerging here. It will happen, but it needs an organizing principle (see below).

        At this point, close to 3,000 people live 24/7 in downtown Bridgeport and about 10,000 work here during weekdays. That starts looking like a possible retail tipping point. Could happen soon, maybe, with a good economy and also success at Steelpointe, the housing/commercial mixed-use center across the harbor from downtown. In 2017, we should see a Hampton Inn Hotel, a multiplex cinema, and about 250 units of housing. I hope … since the same was promised for 2016. But my labor friends say it will happen.

        Joe Ganim had a tough time in his first 14 months. He inherited budget problems from Bill Finch (not Bill’s finest hour) and created problems of his own, especially in a bloated police budget. It all resulted in a disastrous tax hike and reassessment in 2016 that stirred the city’s political conscience in ways it hadn’t seen in years. The council could have been the check and balance against the mayor’s budget; instead, they barely lifted any of their collective 200 fingers to take any measure to question the budget or prevent its passage. The result: In 2017, at least a few council members will be edged out in favor of reformers who know how to frame a question or inquire of the mayor about anything.

        Joe, on the other hand, seems to be settling on a top administrative team to take him the rest of the way in this term. If he can smooth out the budget this year and communicate well with the city, he might just be able to make progress in the rest of his term until the 2019 election. He asked for a second chance to be elected to what we call “G2,” the second-time-around for Joe Ganim. But G2 now needs a good year two, and Joe needs to be honest and forthright about what his citizens are angry and worried about.

        The biggest thing Bridgeport needs, in my opinion, is a clearly articulated vision for itself. It just so happens that I blogged about this question yesterday. See my new DavidoffKilter blog post entitled: “High Population Anxiety: Did Stamford Surpoass Bridgeport While No One Was Looking / And Why Being The Largest Isn’t As Important As Having a Vision.” It’s published at:
        View story at Medium.com

  6. James Carusone

    Great artical about segregation! Nice work Dan….

  7. Dan Woog’s blog post on the exchange between Staples High School of Westport and Luis Muñoz Marin School (not just elementary, but pre-K through Grade 8) on Bridgeport’s East Side has achieved the compliment of being recognized by one of fellow community bloggers.

    Lennie Grimaldi, who just celebrated ten years of blogging at http://www.OnlyInBridgeport.,com, picked up Dan’s post — which means that now Bridgeport’s blog commentators (moi, included) are weighing in on Lennie’s site just as Westporters are commenting on Dan’s site.

    Lennie Grimaldi’s review of Dan’s post, which is turning heads in both Westport and Bridgeport, is entitled (a pun there, I guess) as “For Students, Education Culture Shock Westport to Bridgeport.” It can be read here:
    http://onlyinbridgeport.com/wordpress/for-students-education-culture-shock-westport-to-bridgeport/

    I confess that I also wrote my own reaction to Dan’s post as a Westporter who now lives and is active in Bridgeport. My take is published on my DavidoffKilter blog — “The Visitors Bridgeport Schools Need” — at:
    View story at Medium.com

  8. Ann de Bernard

    While Staples students learned to value their own teachers and educational environment through this experience in Bridgeport , one would hope they learned to value the Bridgeport teachers who do amazing work in the face of such savage inequalities