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Building Bridges, From Staples To Syria

Kion Bruno’s mother — eye surgeon Dr.  Aryan Shayegani — is a 1st-generation Iranian American.

Neighbors on their road here in Westport include a 1st-generation Palestinian neurosurgeon, a Pakistani man, and a family that hosted Iraqi refugees.

“They’re all pillars of society,” Kion says. “And they’re all Middle Eastern.”

Kion Bruno

At Staples High School — where the 11th grader is a varsity tennis player, and founder of the squash team — he hears occasional terrorist “jokes.”

“With the current presidential administration, there’s been a definite increase in xenophobia,” Kion says. “We need to bridge the gap.”

He’s doing his part. Along with several others, Kion started a Building Bridges club at Staples. Already they’ve brought in a few speakers: Iranian American women, to talk about their lives in Iran (very similar to the US, Kion says); Palestinian neurosurgeon Dr. Khalid Abbed, who grew up very poor and whose son now goes to Staples, and Tarek Alasil, a Syrian refugee training to be an ophthalmologist.

The group also arranged a Skype call with teenagers in Iran.

Now they’re reaching out to audiences beyond Staples. On Saturday, April 1 (3 p.m., Staples auditorium), Building Bridges will sponsor a screening of “Salam Neighbor.”

It’s directed by Greens Farms Academy graduates Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple, who lived in a Syrian refugee camp. The film provides an intimate look at that horrific humanitarian crisis.

Congressman Jim Himes will be featured in the panel discussion that follows the screening, along with First Selectman Jim Marpe.

Other panelists include a Syrian refugee, being hosted in Westport; Ali Majeed, an Iraqi refugee who was hosted here and is now training to be a dentist; Claudia Connor, president and CEO of the International Institute of Connecticut resettlement program; John McGeehan of Westport Interfaith Refugee Settlement, and Megan Laney, a Westport native studying in Syria who was evacuated when the war began.

Senator Chris Murphy is sending a personalized video.

The suggested donation is $10. All proceeds benefit local and international refugee agencies and charities.

“Our community has the choice to stand by passively,” Kion says. “Or we can unite, and act to make a difference.”

He and his organization of teenagers have already built a bridge to the Middle East. Now the rest of us must cross it.

 

Friday Flashback #31

Two weeks ago, our Friday Flashback featured E.T. Bedford’s handsome Beachside Avenue estate.

I’d heard about it, of course.

But I’ve never heard of this equally cool-looking place:

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The Beachside Inn must have been nearby.

But where? And when?

If you know anything about this grand building, click “Comments” below.

And if you ever stayed there, we must hear your story!

(Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Paying It Forward For Refugees

Last week, “06880” told the story of Josh Kangere, a refugee from the Republic of Congo who has found work at Sugar & Olives — and the beginnings of a new life in America.

Today there’s another hopeful tale, of another Congolese immigrant here.

Three years ago, a man named David was granted refugee status. He came to Bridgeport, found work in Milford, and established himself. Last week — thanks to the International Institute of Connecticut — he was reunited with his wife Anathalie.

He also got to hold his son Christian for the first time. When David left Africa, the boy had not yet been born.

The Nestor family of Weston heard David’s story from Sue Ingall, a fellow Westonite who sets up refugee houses with volunteers from 4 area churches: Christ & Holy Trinity and the Unitarian Church, both in Westport; Norfield Congregational in Weston, and Greenfield Hill Congregational in Fairfield.

They were touched, and wanted to do something special. So Samantha, Mike, Finn and Gavin gathered furniture and children’s toys, and headed to Bridgeport on Saturday morning to meet the family.

David and Anathalie with the Nestor family.

It was a special day for everyone. Saturday was the birthday of Samantha’s grandmother Fay, after whom their son Finn is named. A refugee herself, she escaped the Russian pogroms nearly 100 years ago, with her mother and sisters.

Fay, like Christian, was separated from her father for years. She and the rest of her family journeyed to New York, where eventually they were all reunited.

They were the only members of their family to escape from Russia. Their cousins, uncles and extended family were all murdered by the Nazis.

Despite the mass executions, abductions, mutilations and rapes that are almost daily occurrences in Congo, David’s and Anathalie’s faces are filled with gratitude and hope.

And the Nestors were happy to connect their own family’s story with David’s.

(This Sunday [March 12, 3 p.m., Bessemer Center, Bridgeport] IICONN will hold a Rally for Unity and Resilience to Stand with Refugees and Immigrants. Speakers include Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy. Click here for information on the Facebook page.)

“06880” Turns 8. Let’s Celebrate!

Eight years ago today, the Y anchored downtown. Mario’s and Mansion Clam House were popular restaurants; Westport Pizzeria was on Main Street, a few doors down from Oscar’s. Barack Obama was barely a month into his 1st term as president.

How times have changed.

Yet one thing remains the same. Every day — often 2, 3 or more times — I post a story on “06880.”

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. You read about its possible reconstruction here first. And you got its entire history here too. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. You read about its possible reconstruction here first. And you got its entire history here too. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Each day since March 6, 2009, I’ve written about Westport. From Compo to Coleytown, education to entitled drivers, Friday flashbacks to photo challenges, real life and random crap, I’ve covered it all.

The only sure things in life are death and taxes. I write about them too.

For over 2,900 straight days, “06880” has been right here, on your desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iWatch, whatever. In all that time, I haven’t missed a day.

I’ve posted over 6,400 stories. The tagline “Where Westport meets the world” means that I write about organizations, events, politics, real estate, recreation, people who live here, people who once lived here, people who want to live here, even TV shows about people who live here.

You’ve made more than 73,300 comments. I’m proud of our Westport community — and particularly proud of the “06880” community we’ve created together.

“06880” is a living, breathing, organic community. Once a year — on my anniversary — I put out my tin cup, and ask you to help sustain it.

Because — as “06880” has grown — so has my time commitment to it.

Will work for food.

Will work for food.

You see the stories I write. What you don’t see is the research I do. The interviews I conduct. The comments I moderate — and the private emails I respond to. (I get 40 to 50 a day. People ask me questions about long-ago restaurants, how I pronounce my name*, and can I please fix typos in their comments. I reply to every one. Even the guy who asked me to please post fewer stories, because his inbox was getting full.)

You don’t see the hours I spend scouring the interwebs for photos, the time I spend taking my own — and the sizing and framing that follows.

I even spend money on “06880.” I pay to keep it ad-free. I pay for domain mapping. I pay for photo-editing software.

If you like what you read, please consider supporting “06880.” Scroll down — details at the bottom! 

Am I worth $1 a month? $1 a week? Perhaps (my choice!) $1 a day!

If my 6,400 stories are worth a penny each, that’s $64. If half of them are worth a dime each, that’s $360. I’ll leave other calculations to you.

I hope that if “06880” has ever:

  • made you laugh, cry, think or wonder
  • spurred you to go to an event, read a book, try a restaurant or patronize a store
  • helped you meet a neighbor, or connect with an old friend
  • kept you up to date in a blizzard, hurricane, windstorm or power outage
  • made you feel connected to your new town (or the place where you grew up)
  • alerted you to a new housing or zoning development in town
  • provided a forum in the “Comments” section for you to rant about an issue, rave about a place, or complain that I’m a ****ing liberal (you know who you are)
  • delivered news about a favorite person or store
  • galvanized you to support a cause
  • helped publicize your event, book, appearance or concert
  • published your photo
  • paid tribute to someone you loved or admired
  • connected you to your hometown from many miles away
  • saved you time or money
  • opened a window on Westport’s history, helped you think about its future, introduced you to someone in town you never knew, or helped you look at someone or someplace in a new way
  • inspired you
  • made you sit up and say “Wow!” (or “holy f—!”)

— you will consider tossing something my way.

Everyone can contribute: Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians,  Socialists. Sure, you know where I stand politically. But I’ve always given you a voice, too.

Only a suggestion.

Only a suggestion.

Thanks for 8 great years. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, whether anyone sends an anniversary gift or not.

We’ll still have our annual summer “06880” party at the beach. Plus photos of drivers who park wherever they damn well feel like it.

And if you’re one of those readers who hates that feature, no problem. Wait a few minutes, and I’ll have another story.

You can donate by PayPal: click here. It’s easy (and safe)! You don’t even need a PayPal account. If you get an error message, try www.paypal.comthen log in (or create an account), and send money from the drop-down menu by entering this email address: dwoog@optonline.net. Or click the “Donate” button on the home page of “06880.”

Checks may be mailed to:  Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.  Put “06880″ on the memo line.  It won’t do anything for the IRS, but it may help you remember at tax time why you sent me something.

—————————————————

*My last name rhymes with “vogue” — not “Boog” or “bog.” But don’t worry — I often mispronounce it myself!

Is this a great town or what? (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Is this a great town or what? (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

 

 

Hail To The Chief

Andrew Kingsbury took over as chief of the Westport Fire Department in May 2011. Among his many responsibilities: director of emergency management for the town.

At the end of August, Hurricane Irene struck. Two months later, an early snowstorm created havoc.

Just before Thanksgiving, Saugatuck Congregational Church caught fire. Only a heroic effort saved the historic structure from burning to the ground.

Kingsbury’s first months on the job were — literally — a trial by fire.

In the years to come he faced Superstorm Sandy, and several mammoth snowstorms.

Kingsbury managed them all professionally, efficiently and compassionately. And that was in addition to all his other tasks: Handling fires in homes and businesses everywhere in town. Responding to car fires and accidents on I-95 and the Merritt. Overseeing building inspections, compliance issues, safety campaigns in schools and elsewhere. Leading investigations. Developing budgets.

And, oh yeah, serving as headquarters for the Secret Service when President Obama was in the area.

Westport Fire Department chief Andrew Kingsbury, in his office. On the left -- above the windows facing the Post Road -- are souvenir fire helmets.

Westport Fire Department chief Andrew Kingsbury, in his office. On the left — above the windows facing the Post Road — are souvenir fire helmets.

Kingsbury’s last official day is tomorrow. He retires after 30 years with the Westport Fire Department — his only job since being offered a position here one semester shy of college graduation.

New chief Rob Yost — previously an assistant, who was sworn in on Friday — inherits a department in excellent shape. That’s what Kingsbury’s predecessor Chris Ackley did for him, and the retiring chief is determined to continue that tradition.

Last week, Kingsbury sat in his sunny office at fire headquarters, overlooking the Post Road, and reflected on his 3 decades here.

He’d been a volunteer firefighter in his native Trumbull. After starting in Westport on July 1, 1986, he spent 17 years on the line. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2003, and assistant fire chief 2 years later.

Kingsbury is proud of his accomplishments. In the aftermath of each storm or other weather-related event, there is a ton of paperwork. “We work hard to get the town — and individuals — reimbursed,” he says, citing one part of his job that few folks ever see.

One small issue during Superstorm Sandy, on North Avenue.

One small issue during Superstorm Sandy, on North Avenue. Downed wires are always a danger for the fire department.

During Sandy, Kingsbury spent 28 straight days at work. Much of that time was stressful. Some of it was simply “answering phones, reassuring people.”

It’s not in his job description, but Kingsbury goes to every house fire. He’s honored whenever someone calls or emails to thank his department after a call.

Even a dryer fire can be a devastating experience, he knows. His firefighters pay attention to little details — covering up valuables or putting family photos in a drawer, so they won’t be damaged by water from hoses — and when Westporters acknowledge those acts, it’s gratifying.

But the Saugatuck Church fire stands out.

“I knew the history,” Kingsbury says. “I didn’t want to be the new chief who lost the place where Westport was born.”

Usually, he says, firefighters know within half an hour if a structure can be saved. That November night, they battled for hours without knowing the outcome.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Crews from Norwalk, Wilton, Fairfield and Weston helped out. In the middle of the blaze, Kingsbury called retired fire marshal Fred Baker. He’d worked with the church when they put in firewalls a few years earlier.

Baker told Kingsbury what he knew about the fire stops, and construction materials. As a result, a Fairfield ladder was hoisted at exactly the right point above the sanctuary. There was major damage, but the building stood.

Of course, Kingsbury won’t miss budget battles. “I understand that each town board has a job to do,” he says. “They don’t always understand what we do, but they want to be educated. So every year we explain about our personnel and our equipment. We know it’s expensive.”

There is no alternative. Westport is not like many other suburbs. Its population increases by 27 percent every workday, Kingsbury says, as employees of hedge funds, businesses and stores — along with shoppers — pour in. “That’s a lot of people in motion every day,” he notes.

In addition, a river runs through town — and often floods. So does Long Island Sound.

Hurricane Irene flooded downtown Westport, in August 2011.

Hurricane Irene flooded downtown Westport, in August 2011.

Metro-North — the busiest commuter line in the US — passes through Westport. And I-95 and the Merritt are accident magnets. The Fire Department answers 125 calls a year on those 2 highways alone.

Some of those emergencies include cutting people out of vehicles. “Cars are much safer today,” Kingsbury says. “But extrications are tougher. Cars used to be like tin cans. Now there are so many new metals and plastics. We’re constantly educating ourselves in that area.”

The town has more miles of private roads than public roads, the chief notes. Most date from the 1800s. They’re laid out like cow paths, and few conform to modern codes.

“We build our trucks as small and narrow as we can,” Kingsbury says. And after they take care of a call, they have to leave. “We’ve become very good backer-uppers,” he laughs.

fire-departmentDuring his 30 years in Westport, equipment has gotten much better. Breathing apparatuses are lighter; technology and radio systems are vastly improved, and thermal imaging cameras allow firefighters to see right through smoke.

As chief, Kingsbury has worked to standardize policies and procedures with neighboring departments. They assist each other often, and need to be able to communicate and work seamlessly.

Another Fire Department job that few people ever see are walk-throughs during construction. For the past 2 years, his crew has been in and out of the new Bedford Square.

“We need to see what’s being built,” Kingsbury explains. “If we know what’s wood, what’s metal, we’ll know how to handle any emergency.”

And, he adds, “When that crane showed up, we were there. If anything happened, we’d be the ones to get the guy out.”

But one of the biggest challenges the Westport Fire Department faces is large homes. Any call in a house larger than 6,000 square feet requires more manpower than usual. And, Kingsbury says, big houses have a lot of furniture. “These days it’s all foam rubber and plastics. That stuff burns fast.”

A binder on Chief Kingsbury's shelves holds a map of all Westport homes over 6,000 square feet. And there are a ton.

A binder on Chief Kingsbury’s shelves holds a map of all Westport homes over 6,000 square feet. And there are a ton.

He looks at a wall filled with mementos of his 3-decade career. It includes a signed photo with President Obama, thanking him for his help during a presidential visit.

“We protected Sherwood Island when he flew in here,” Kingsbury says. “And the Secret Service was headquartered here. All their vehicles were in the bays — and their guns.”

But Westporters went about their business, without a clue. “Our lips were sealed,” the chief says.

“I’ve enjoyed being here. It’s been a great experience,” Kingsbury concludes. “When I started, I never imagined the diversity of calls.”

There have been tens of thousands. Yet one stands out.

A while ago, firefighters rescued a 3-year-old from a terrible house fire.

Years later, the girl — by then 16 years old — came to a retirement ceremony for one of those men.

Kingsbury smiles when he tells that story. Then he goes back to work, making sure that the department he hands his successor is firing on all cylinders.

The Saugatuck firehouse -- one small part of Westport's superb Fire Department.

The Saugatuck firehouse — one small part of Westport’s superb Fire Department.

Sarah Barnett’s Singapore Adventure

When Staples High School students plan summer internships, they often gravitate toward their interests: Fashion. Journalism. Sports.

Sarah Barnett is no different. But although the senior serves as dance captain for Staples Players and  dances with the Performing Arts Center of Connecticut, last summer she focused on another passion.

Sarah worked at Gastroenterology Associates of Fairfield County.

Where, as an unpaid intern, she researched different types of preparations for colonoscopies.

Sarah Barnett, hard at work.

Sarah Barnett, hard at work.

That idea did not come out of the blue. Sarah — who is interested in a caerer in medicine — has taken Staples’ high-level Authentic Science Research course since sophomore year.

Last year she designed an independent project with teachers Karen Thompson and Philip Abraham. The aim was to discover the best colonoscopy prep method. As she amassed information, she realized that every doctor’s report was subjective. Her data was skewed by each physician’s personality.

That work — and her summer internship — helped her find a scale that produced much better data.

Which is how last month — while most of her friends took mid-terms at Staples — Sarah found herself in Singapore.

There, she presented her information in a research paper competition, as part of the very prestigious International Youth Science Forum.

Sarah Barnett presenting her research to a judge at the International

Sarah Barnett presenting her research to a judge at the International Youth Science Forum in Singapore.

She traveled to the Hwa Chong Institution with her teacher Ms. Thompson, and Staples junior Charlie Colasurdo. He took part in a science master classes with — among others — 4 Nobel laureates.

Sarah’s event was not for the faint-hearted. She presented to 2 highly qualified judges, then answered questions.

Of 30 participants, Sarah was selected as one of only 5 semifinalists. That entailed another round of presentations and questions.

She did not advance to the finals. But that did not quench Sarah’s enthusiasm for colonoscopy prep — or research in general.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “It made me so excited for a future in science. I love finding new, unexpected thing to study.”

Noting “it was so inspiring to be around bright, passionate students,” she also appreciated the cultural aspect of the International Forum. There were presentations on countries around the world. Sarah made friends with students form Brunei and Estonia — places, she admits, she’d barely heard of.

Sarah Barnett's Singapore experience exposed her to students from around the globe.

Sarah Barnett (center). Her Singapore experience exposed her to students from around the globe.

Back in Westport, she’s preparing for the Connecticut Science Fair. While it sounds small potatoes compared to Singapore, it’s the first step to qualify for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Her goals are twofold: win a scholarship, and get important feedback from judges.

Sarah is also making plans to study colonoscopy prep from the patients’ side. She’ll look at factors like cost and comfort — while of course making sure her data is as objective as possible.

This summer, she hopes for an internship at Yale in neurophysiology in cell biology. Sarah admits, “I don’t know anything about it, but I love neuroscience.”

She’s also applying to Earthplace, for a research project in water cleanliness. That’s another of Sarah Barnett’s passions.

Kids these days!

Villa Del Sol: Despite Rumors, Still Very Much Here

Nearly 2 years ago, I posted a story about Villa del Sol.

Bedford Square — the project to turn the old YMCA into a retail/residential/ restaurant complex — was just beginning. Rumors swirled that the popular downtown restaurant would close.

It didn’t. And — for almost 2 years — owners Jennifer and Colleen Osorio have battled construction debris, dust, dirt, noise, parking issues, even lack of access to part of their own building, while serving the margaritas, classic Mexican dishes and contemporary Nuevo Latino ones their customers love.

Colleen and Jennifer Osorio, inside Villa del Sol.

Colleen and Jennifer Osorio, inside Villa del Sol.

But now there are new rumors. People think that because a proposed land swap — exchanging the restaurant and adjacent parking lot for a parcel across the street — has been scuttled, the restaurant is shutting down.

It’s not. And — with 9 years left on a 10-year lease — Jennifer and Colleen say it won’t.

Yet getting the word out has been tough.

At least once a night, someone asks the sisters if it’s true. So in addition to all the work that goes with being a family-owned businesses — one of the very few left downtown — they have to fight the perception that they’re closing their doors.

They’re not.

Villa Del Sol, on Elm Street across from Serena + Lilly.

Villa Del Sol, on Elm Street across from Serena & Lilly.

Villa del Sol is quite a place. All the furnishings — tables, chairs, artwork — come direct from Mexico. Founder Joe Osorio made many trips south, bringing everything back piece by piece.

Joe’s daughters — Jennifer and Colleen — were always involved in the restaurant. He fought pancreatic cancer for 2 years, and worked until just 3 days before his death, in 2011. The 2 sisters then took over.

Their children all help out now too. A few days ago Jon Osorio was working, on a break from college. Jennifer’s husband, Fili Molina, has been the chef since opening day.

Villa del sol logoVilla del Sol is part of the community. The restaurant donates food to local churches; participates in downtown and police events, and gives discounts to Staples students.

Jennifer and Colleen say that Bedford Square developer David Waldman — who does not own the restaurant building — has been understanding about their plight.

But, they say, their customers should not have to worry about where they’ll get their margaritas. Nor should the owners always have to explain, We’re open!

They’ve made it through the ups and downs of an uncertain economy. This is one more challenge.

Bedford Square opens this spring. They look forward to the traffic it will bring downtown.

“There have been a lot of great changes here,” Jennifer says. “But we’ve lost a lot of family businesses.

“We just want everyone to know this one is still here.”

White Privilege: One Westporter Responds

TEAM Westport’s essay contest for teenagers — on the topic of white privilege — was announced first on “06880.” Now it’s received international attention, through an AP story and on a host of TV newscasts.

The controversy struck close to home for one Staples High School grad. Elizabeth — who grew up here, and now lives on the West Coast — writes:

I’ve been thinking about my own privileges a lot recently. One thing rings particularly true: Privilege is invisible to those who have it. We take our privileges at face value, and do not have to think too hard about them or defend them. We assume that all others have these same privileges, because the absence of a privilege is something we do not often have to think about.

Living in Westport is a privilege. Feeling protected — and never targeted — by police enforcement is a privilege. Attending Westport public schools as a student is a privilege. Living in a town with well-maintained roads, sidewalks, sewage systems and public transit options is a privilege. Being able to openly discuss my political views, no matter how incendiary, is a privilege.

Part of the privilege of living in Westport.

Part of the privilege of living in Westport.

Importantly, these have been granted to me as a white American. I have never felt threatened by police enforcement, even when I have been pulled over for a speeding ticket. In those situations, I never feared that I would be treated unfairly by law enforcement. Thanks to my white privilege, I was able to assume (and was proven correct) that I would be given an appropriate punishment to fit my crime, and would be treated with respect throughout the process.

Thanks to my white privilege, I was able to attend Westport schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, at no cost to my parents. I received a world-class education. I was surrounded by students who looked just like me, believed the same things as me, and supported me unconditionally. I never felt racially targeted, different, or like an outsider.

Another privilege.

Another privilege.

Thanks to my white privilege, it was assumed that I would go to college immediately after graduating from high school. I was granted the resources to visit colleges, interview, be tutored to improve my test scores, make a resume, be counseled, and be accepted. Thanks to my white privilege I received a scholarship to help my family pay for college, graduated in 4 years and acquired a job within 6 months of graduating. When interviewing for jobs, I never felt discriminated against for having a “non-white” sounding name.

As a white female, I will carry these privileges — and others — throughout my life. I was fortunate to grow up in Westport, and reap the benefits of these privileges. However, it is of the utmost importance to recognize them, call them what they are, trace them back to their source, and understand how to grant them to others.

This is particularly important for those who are not born into the same situation as us Westporters. Thinking about how we can extend these situations to others, while recognizing our inherent biases, is so important. This will make all the difference in the next 4 years, and draw a line between us — forward-thinking individuals who wish to improve the future — and those who wish to Make America Great Again and return to an oppressive past.

There is one sign that I saw at both the women’s march as well as a protest at my senator’s home last weekend, that I believe speaks to this issue quite potently: “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

Peace Now!

Everyone knows the peace sign.

You may have flashed it while protesting the Vietnam War (or else you protested the sign itself with a 1-finger salute).

A peace sign, on a house near Compo Beach.

A peace sign, on a house near Compo Beach.

Nowadays you see it on the sides of Westport homes, and at marches springing up around the country since January 20.

(You can also see it all over Westport as the Mercedes Benz logo — though one has nothing to do with the other.)

But the peace sign is showing its age. It was designed in 1958 for the British nuclear disarmament movement. (Fun fact: The symbol combines the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D.”)

So Miggs Burroughs wants to design a new, 21st-century peace sign.

He’s a noted graphic artist (and photographer) (and stamp designer) (and Time magazine cover illustrator).

He is also — for the purposes of this project — the Westport Library’s artist-in residence.

In that capacity,  Miggs will hold a peace sign re-design workshop and brainstorming session tomorrow (Thursday, February 2, 4 p.m.) in the Library’s Great Hall. It’s for folks looking for guidance — but you don’t need to attend the session to submit a design.

peace-signSubmissions must be 6″ x 6″ on paper or cardboard. Any medium is okay. They can be left at the library’s front desk (ask for Chris Timmons). All entries will be exhibited through August.

The word is already spreading. Miggs has heard from artists and art teachers, as far away as California and Florida.

I have already gotten responses from many individuals,

artists and art teachers, including one from California and another from

Florida, who are going to assign it to their classes and submit to the library.

Peace out.

(For more information, contact miggsb@optonline.net)

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.”