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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.”

WestportREADS Together

Westporters like to read. Hardcovers and paperbacks; on Kindles, iPads, even iPhones — we’ve often got our noses buried in books.

Once a year, many of us do it together.

That’s the premise behind “Westport READS.” Every January since 2001, the Westport Library picks a book for the entire town to read — and think about. There are school discussions; clergy weave it into sermons, and the Library plans special “Westport Reads”-themed activities for an entire month. The idea is to strengthen the community through the shared experience of a book or author.

George Hodgman

George Hodgman

This year’s selection is Bettyville. George Hodgman’s powerful memoir tackles his identity as a gay man, writer and son, whose complicated relationship with his mother comes to a head when he leaves New York to care for her in his Missouri hometown.

A keynote presentation by Hodgman himself at the Library (Thursday, January 19, 7 p.m.) is the capstone of this year’s “WestportREADS.” But there’s much more in store.

A screening and discussion of the movie “In & Out” — in which a high school drama teacher questions his sexuality, in the midst of preparing for his wedding to a woman — is set for Saturday, January 28 (4 p.m., Town Hall, in conjunction with the Westport Cinema Initiative).

The month-long program incorporates events connected to other themes in Bettyville too. For example, to honor the role an adopted dog plays in the book, Westport Animal Shelter Advocates showcases their work — and sponsors a pet food drive (Sunday, January 29, 3 p.m.)

To celebrate the kindnesses shown in the memoir, artist/author Elaine Clayton hosts a workshop for artists of all ages, to “draw, collage and color kindness” (Wednesday, January 11, 4:30 p.m.).

Several companion books have been selected for younger audiences. I’ll Give You the Sun is an award-winning story of first love, family, loss and betrayal. Lily and Dunkin (for middle grades) and George (for upper elementary schoolchildren) focus on how and why children label themselves. Red, meanwhile, is a light-hearted picture book about a crayon with an identity crisis.

bettyville-bookAll month long, an exhibit in the Riverwalk hallway looks at our town and its people during the 1970s. There’s an “identity wordle” (visual depiction of text) in the MakerSpace, and an artist-in-residence challenge to show 2 parts of your personality (featuring a how-to family workshop today — Saturday, January 7 — at 2 p.m.).

Want more? Check out these other WestportREADS events:

  • Sunday, January 8 (2 p.m.): Discuss Bettyville at Barnes & Noble.
  • Sunday, January 8 (2:30 p.m.): Bring a grandparent or older friend or relative to make a keepsake book (Grades 1 and up).
  • Tuesday, January 10 (2 p.m.): “The Music Man” classic movie — plus a Shake Shack custard.
  • Tuesday, January 10 (7 p.m.): Experts discuss the emotional, legal and practical issues you might face as your parents age, whether they live close by or far away.
  • Wednesday, January 11 (7 p.m.): Nancy Moore — who uses art to express her thoughts about gender identity, in loving response to her transgender son — shows and discusses her work.
  • Thursday, January 14 (2 p.m.): Dr. Mark Schenker discusses the themes raised in Bettyville.
  • Tuesday, January 17 (11 a.m.): A discussion of the book at the library, in partnership with the Senior Center.
  • Tuesday, January 17 (2 p.m.): The past merges with the present in the hit movie “Sunday in the Park with George.”
  • Saturday, January 21 (1 p.m.): Robin McHaelen, director of True Colors, leads a family-friendly, free-wheeling discussion on today’s changing gender norms. Light lunch and refreshments too!

bettyville-logo

  • Sunday, January 22 (2 p.m.): Discussion of I’ll Give You the Sun, at Barnes & Noble.
  • Tuesday, January 24 (2 p.m.): Showing of the 1971 movie “The Boy Friend.”
  • Thursday, January 26 (7 p.m.): Discussion of I’ll Give you the Sun.
  • Thursday, January 26 (7 p.m.): Neighbors & Newcomers and PageTurners discuss Bettyville.
  • Monday, January 30 (6 p.m.): Discussion of Lily and Dunkin.
  • Tuesday, January 31 (2 p.m.): Showing of the movie “Funny Girl.”

That’s a lot. It seems there’s something for everyone.

And you read all about it here.

(For more information on WestportREADS, click here. To schedule a facilitator for a book discussion, email mparmelee@westportlibrary.org.)

 

 

Rolling Stone/Staples Music Connection Continues

This morning, “06880” highlighted Pussy Mannequin. In case you missed that story — or skipped it entirely — the hook was that Rolling Stone magazine named that band’s “Romantic” album the 3rd best of 2016 (sandwiched between David Bowie and Leonard Cohen).

Oh yeah: Half of the band — Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul — are 2005 Staples High School grads.

Turns out it’s not the only Westport group Rolling Stone is jazzed about. Charly Bliss just made their “Favorite Songs Right Now” page.

Charly Bliss — that’s the band’s name — includes Eva Hendricks, her brother Sam Hendricks, and Dan Shure. All are recent Staples alums.

The song that’s cited is called (unfortunately) “Turd.” The magazine describes it (helpfully) as “a great punk-rock banger about getting catcalled (‘In your dreams, turd!’).

But before you quickly scramble away from this page, know this about “Turd”: All proceeds go to Planned Parenthood.

Go figure.

(To learn more about Charly Bliss, click here. Hat tips: David Roth and Pam Barkentin Ehrenburg.)

Bridgewater-DC Connection?

Today’s Norwalk Hour reports that the frontrunner for Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration is David McCormick.

That’s “06880”-worthy because he’s the president of Bridgewater Associates — the Westport-based firm that just happens to be the largest hedge fund on earth.

Interesting. But even more intriguing is seeing if anyone makes a connection between McCormick and another Bridgewater guy: the former general counsel.

He too once lived in Westport. Guy by the name of James Comey.

For a hedge firm with a low profile, a current and former Bridgewater employee have been in the news lately.

For a hedge firm with a low profile, one current and one former Bridgewater employee have been in the news a lot lately.

 

Westport Library’s Iconic Eikon

It’s been there in the Westport Library — right near the reference desk — since spring.

You might not have noticed it.

But plenty of business executives, investors, entrepreneurs and job seekers have.

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It’s a Thomson Reuters Eikon database. And Westport is the only public library in Connecticut to have one.

The financial analysis tool enables users to track market, company and economic data. It’s sophisticated, strong — and completely free.

For Westport Library patrons, that is.

If you installed one of these babies in your office or home, or on a mobile device, — according to published rates — it could cost up to $1,800 a month.

Thomas Reuters donated both the hardware and software to our library. They’re looking to expand their market, and thought making it visible — in a community that cares very much about the markets — would be a smart move.

Feedback has been great. Eikon is used often, by a variety of folks for a host of reasons. It’s already led to positive results for job seekers, as they’ve researched potential employers before interviews.

But this is not our library’s only just-one-in-the-state database. For the past few years, LexisNexis has provided legal and business research — also free. That’s a donation too, from the Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm.

Our library is amazing. In fact, there’s none other like it in Connecticut.

You can take that to the bank.

Last Loaf For Panera Bread

Bad news for Panera Bread fans: The bakery/cafe on the Norwalk border closes on December 20. Sources say a rent hike is to blame.

That’s a shame. It’s often packed. Workers, seniors, moms and many others like it. Some grab a quick snack or lunch. Others linger for a loooong time.

Where will they go now?  Well, there’s one a short ways away, on Norwalk’s Main Avenue.

And there’s a Panera near the Southport border.

Sure, it’s all the way across town. But if you really love that focaccia bread…

The Panera Bread near HomeGoods.

The Panera Bread near HomeGoods.

(Hat tip: David Loffredo)