Category Archives: Children

Pics Of The Day #964

Last night, Wakeman Town Farm invited everyone to its Christmas tree lighting …

… and as soon as the lights went on …

… the kids got down to business. (Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

Pic Of The Day #962

A gaggle of children joins 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (center), 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker (left) and the Staples Orphenians, to count down before Westport’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony this evening, at Town Hall.

The Christmas tree, in front of Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Sofia’s Abuela

As a veteran language arts teacher, Paul Ferrante makes sure to expose his Westport middle school students to a multicultural array of writers.

And as a published author himself, Ferrante encourages his pupils to enter writing contests. In his 13 years teaching in Mount Vernon, New York, and 20 years at Bedford and Coleytown, approximately 70 students have won awards.

When Altice USA — the parent company of Optimum and News12 — announced a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest, Ferrante passed the info on. The prompt: Write about a Latino person, past or present, who inspires you to dream big.

Five of Ferrante’s Bedford Middle School students entered. Most wrote about people they knew from books, culture or history.

Sofia Alarcon wrote about her grandmother.

Sofia Alarcon

The 7th grader described her abuela’s life: A political dissident in Argentina who made it her mission to free adults from poverty by teaching them to read and write, Edith Staheli and her husband were arrested by the government.

He disappeared; she was deported. She returned years later — after working in exile for social justice — to educate the poor.

Sofia wrote:

My grandmother inspires me to always give my all and nothing less, and to help those less fortunate than me. She inspires me to try hard, because you don’t know if you can do something if you don’t try. It is her strength that inspires me to fight till the end and this strength motivates me to never stop believing in a more just and equal world.

Because she didn’t stop.

It was a beautiful, insightful essay, Ferrante says.

The judges agreed. They awarded Sofia first prize — and a $1,500 scholarship.

“Her personal stake comes through loud and clear,” Ferrante notes. “Sofia created a passionate tone. And her narrative hook brings the story full circle, in the conclusion.”

The award “couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” he adds.

Sofia’s grandmother, Edith Staheli.

It’s particularly meaningful for 2 reasons, Sofia’s mother Natalia Frias-Staheli, says.

For one, Sofia thinks of herself as a “STEM” — science, technology, engineering and math — person. In writing the essay, Ferrante encouraged her to push outside her comfort zone.

For another, Sofia’s grandmother died suddenly in September. She was just 66, with many projects still ahead.

Felicitaciones, Sofia. You are already dreaming big!

2 Ways To Make A Difference

Westporters care.

We care about our friends and neighbors. We care about kids and older folks in need, here and in nearby towns and cities.

We want to help — particularly in this holiday season.

But we don’t always know how.

Here are a couple of great ideas.


The Westport Police Department Local Union #2080 and Police Benevolent Association host an annual Holiday Toy Drive. Thousands of donations benefit underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and beyond.

Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys — and cash donations — in the ASF Sports parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on Saturdays and Sundays, December 7, 8, 14 and 15 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Collection boxes are set up now through December 15 at:

  • Westport Police Department, 50 Jesup Road (24 hours a day)
  • Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
  • ASF Sports, 1560 Post Road East (weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Questions? Email jruggiero@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-6017.


In recent years, Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School has become a favorite destination for Westporters hoping to help youngsters enjoy the holidays.

The school serves children in high poverty brackets. Some live in shelters. 100% are fed breakfast and lunch at school.

Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

Westporters can provide some of those gifts, for children in pre-K through 3rd grade.

It’s easy: Click here to order online from Amazon. Orders from the Wish List will be shipped directly to the school. They are also accepting donations at the Family Resource Center in the school (606 Howard Avenue, Bridgeport).  Call 203-579-8526 for drop-off times. For more information, email blabrador@bridgeportedu.net.

If interested, act now! Gifts will be given by Santa on December 19.

In past years, Westporters donated these gifts to the Cesar Batalla School.

 

“Bye Bye Birdie”; Hello Tisdale!

“Bye Bye Birdie” is a staple of student drama troupes. What can you say about it that hasn’t already been said?

In the case of this weekend’s performances at Bedford Middle School: plenty.

The show features students from both Bedford and Coleytown Schools, so it should be a blockbuster.

Oliver Hallgarten, and admirers. (Photo/January Stewart)

In keeping with the theme, there’s a special ice cream social sock hop prior to the Saturday matinee. It includes ice cream from Saugatuck Sweets, hula hoop and dance contests, and free funky socks.

But that’s not the big news.

The sock hop is a benefit for the Turnaround Arts program. That’s a national arts education project with schools that face daunting educational challenges.

Bedford’s Turnaround Arts partner is the Jettie S. Tisdale School in Bridgeport. Together, Tisdale students are developing their talents and voices.

After each season’s show, Bedford donates its set, costumes and props — plus a donation from a raffle and promotions — to support Tisdale’s next production.

Andrew Maskoff and Ellie Cohen, in Bedford Company’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” (Photo/January Stewart)

But it does not stop there. After their show, Tisdale passes those resources on to another Turnaround Arts school. Then of course, they do the same…

The ice cream social and sock hop begin at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday (November 23). Raffles will take place at all “Bye Bye Birdie” performances (Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

Enjoy the show! It’s sure to make you “put on a happy face.”

Curtain Call For “A Christmas Story”

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” plays at Curtain Call in Stamford, now through December 14.

But many ties to Westport make this a true hometown show.

The story starts with the Kweskin Theater, Curtain Call’s home. Al Pia was its founding artistic director — and for many years, the highly esteemed director of Staples Players as well.

One of Pia’s high school actors was Ben Frimmer. He’s now the director of “A Christmas Story” — and director of Coleytown Company, the well-regarded middle school troupe.

Justin Paul (Photo/Dan Woog)

A couple of decades ago, Justin Paul acted for Frimmer at Coleytown. After graduating from Staples in 2003, and then the University of Michigan, Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, rocketed to stardom. They’ve won Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards for works like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.”

Another work — “A Christmas Story: The Musical” — enjoyed a Broadway run. With great music and splashy production numbers, it quickly became a holiday classic.

And, in Stamford, a Westport holiday classic. Frimmer has cast several current and former students in the production: Matthew Bukzin, Cooper Gusick, Gavin Jamali, Julie Lloyd, Imogen Medoff, Sarah Peterson and Ari Sklar.

Westport youngsters in “A Christmas Story: The musical.” Front row (from left): Gavin Jamali, Cooper Gusick Ari Sklar. Rear: Matthew Bukzin, Imogen Medoff,.Jamali.

Frimmer’s own son Ari plays Ralphie Parker.

Ari Frimmer, as Ralphie.

Even Curtain Call executive director and producer for “A Christmas Story” has a local connection. Lou Ursone was mentored by Pia.

Plenty of Westporters will be heading to Stamford to see this production. But they’ll feel as if they never left home.

(“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is performed Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 2. In addition, there are Thursday evening performances on December 5 and 12, and Saturday matinees on December 7 and 14. For tickets and more information, click here or call 203-461-6358, ext. 36.)

What Up Westport? Help Out Bridgeport!

One of the most thriving online communities — besides “06880,” of course –is What Up Westport.

That Facebook group is a meeting ground for questions, tip-trading and all-around help.

But What Up? reaches beyond our borders too.

Tomorrow — for the 3rd year in a row — the virtual community members sponsor a townwide collection of actual goods, for real people in true need.

Actually, it’s 3 different drives in one.

Puzzles, board games, arts and crafts, Legos, socks, picture frames, wallets — those are the gifts that will go to underprivileged, and often under-served, families in Bridgeport.

At the same time, there is a collection of non-perishable items for a food bank in desperate need, also in Bridgeport.

Diapers, baby shampoo, baby lotion and bottles will also be collected, for women in safe houses.

It’s a 3-fer — and a win-win-win.

The collection takes place Sunday (November 16) between 12 noon and 1:30 p.m. at the Westport Library upper parking lot, next to the Levitt Pavilion.

See you there!

Lots of gifts needed tomorrow.

Fathers And Daughters Dance In The Spotlight: The Sequel

Two years ago, the Westport Weston Family YMCA sponsored a “Father Daughter Dance.”

I was surprised. I wrote:

This is 2017! How could they single out fathers? What about girls whose dads were away on business? Girls with divorced fathers, living far away? How about girls whose dads had died — or those with 2 moms?

They’re all “families” — as the “Family YMCA” should know.

The Y responded that the name of the dance “does not stem from a desire to be traditional, nor was it meant to exclude other family types.”

Instead, it was “intended to honor and strengthen the relationship our community of fathers has with their daughters, and for the Y to provide a space for them to share time together.”

In fact, the Y’s flyer noted (at the very bottom): “If dad is not available, substitutes are welcome. Preferably grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, close family friend etc.”

Malia Daniels (2nd from left) attended the 2017 Y’s Father-Daughter dance with her uncle.

Okay. Good info. Important, for sure.

So why cling to the outmoded name? I ended my piece:

“Now — as a way to make all girls feel comfortable, welcome and accepted — maybe they can come up with a more inclusive dance name.”

Nah.

This year’s “Father Daughter Dance” is this Friday (November 15, 7 p.m.).

The tagline says: “Her fingers are small but she has her dad wrapped around them.”

Yep — dad.

Dabbing at the 2017 Westport YMCA’s Father-Daughter dance.

At the bottom of the flyer, there’s this: “Enjoy a great night of fun with your little girl, complete with music, dancing, snacks, pictures, and a best dressed contest!

“If dad is not available, substitutes are welcome including grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, close family friends, etc.”

If dad is not available? 

Dad may be traveling on business, sure.  But he also may have walked out on the family. Or died. Or been an anonymous sperm donor.

I’ll say it again (updated): This is 2019. Families come in all shapes and sizes.

All of them are members of the Westport Weston “Family” YMCA.

This is not a question of being PC.

It’s about being realistic.

And really caring about all members.

Come on, Y: Walk the talk.

And then dance the night away.

 

Westport Students Honor Vets

For several years, Westport schools have been in session on Veterans Day.

At first, the move was controversial. Why, some residents wondered, did our students and staff not get the federal holiday off, to honor all those who have served our country?

Of course, that’s not what most people do on Veterans Day. If you’ve got the day off, odds are you spend far less time thinking about America’s vets than you do about going to the gym, walking the dog and what’s for dinner.

Things are very different inside our schools.

Many make the day meaningful, by prepping students with special programs.

Jay Dirnberger, with a plastic helicopter made for him by a Bedford Middle School student. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Every year on or around the holiday, Bedford Middle School invites veterans to meet, in small groups, with 8th graders. The vets talk about their experiences, and lessons learned. Students ask questions, and have meaningful conversations.

Jay Dirnberger has participated for the past 8 years. He always looks forward to it — especially the attentiveness of the youngsters, and their insightful questions.

Sometimes, he says, they help him uncover long-forgotten incidents or emotions.

Jay and his wife, Molly Alger, always look forward to the thank-you notes that arrive from students a few days later. They are detailed and meaningful, she says. Every year, one or two bring her to tears.

Ted Diamond is a longtime participant too. The World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator was there again last Friday — at age 102. So were 96-year-old Larry Aasen, and 95-year-old WWII vet Leonard Everett Fisher.

Leonard Everett Fisher, at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/January Stewart)

“This is a terrific program,” Molly says, “particularly in a town that does not have a lot of family members on active military duty.” She thanks Courtney Ruggiero, David Deitch and the social studies staff for organizing this event for “the future leaders of our country.”

Bedford Middle School student thanks a vet. (Photo/January Stewart)

Veterans at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/Bob Fitzpatrick)

Greens Farms Elementary School usually holds a Veterans Day event on the actual holiday as well. This year, due to scheduling issues, it was last Friday.

For the past 7 years, 3rd grade teachers have run an all-school assembly. That’s no coincidence: instructors Amy Murtagh, Karen Frawley, Dan Seek and Michelle DeCarlo all have immediate family members who are veterans.

Murtagh’s husband is on active duty in the Marine Corps Reserves. He recently returned from a year-long deployment, including 7 months in Afghanistan. He presented GFS with a flag flown over his base.

Capt. John Murtagh, UMSC, and 3rd grade teacher Amy Murtagh. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Frawley’s mother is a retired Air Force member. It’s important, Murtagh says, that Greens Farms students meet a female vet.

Seek’s father is also retired from the Air Force — and a former POW. DeCarlo’s father-in-law is a veteran too.

Every year, the GFS program begins with a reception. Veterans, their family and school students or staff members they’re related to swap stories.

Clockwise from bottom: Greens Farms 3rd grader Lily Jumper; Lily’s mother Lauren; Lily’s grandparents Marie Jumper, and James Jumper, electrician’s mate 3rd class, US Navy. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

The 3rd graders then run the assembly for the entire school. There is a Pledge of Allegiance, national anthem, and a discussion of why Veterans Day  is important. Then everyone sings songs from each branch of service.

Third graders teach the rest of the school about something related to the day. Past lessons have included a Missing Man table, and discussions of the Oath of Enlistment and the sacrifices veterans and their families make.

This year, the subject was the importance of our flag — including flag-folding. That was especially poignant. The ceremony was conducted by 2 vets who recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan. One — Lt. Ryan Weddle of the Navy — is the father of a current 3rd grader. On Friday, he folded the flag with Capt. John Murtagh of the Marine Corps

After the ceremony, each veteran was presented with a flag that had already been folded the traditional way. Each vet’s background and honors was noted.

Among the attendees this year: a female veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, a Combat Action Medal recipient, and veterans from multiple wars.

Veterans at Greens Farms Elementary School. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Like Molly Alger, Amy Murtagh believes that honoring veterans in schools takes on added significance here. “Westport doesn’t have the biggest military presence,” the GFS 3rd grade teacher says. “So this is an incredible learning opportunity for our students.”

Meanwhile, it’s a regular — if special — school day today, in Westport. But Colin Corneck won’t be in class this morning.

The Staples High School senior — a member of the boys soccer team, boys swim team captain, and recipient of a Naval ROTC scholarship — will deliver the address at the town’s annual Veterans Day service.

The program begins at 10:30 a.m., with a patriotic concert by the Westport Community Band. In addition to Colin’s remarks, there’s an invocation and benediction by the Rev. Alison Patton Buttrick of Saugatuck Congregational Church; remarks from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe; placing of a memorial wreath by members of VFW Post 399 and American Legion Post 63; taps played by Community Band trumpeters, and the “Armed Forces Salute.”

Colin will represent all Westport students well. They won’t be there, because school is in session. They wouldn’t have been there if school was out, either.

But thanks to the work of teachers and staff at all levels, our youngsters today have a great knowledge of — and appreciation for — what today is all about.

Good Morning, Olivia!

A couple of years ago, Westporter Olivia Cohn invented Happy Ride. The personal air vent cured car sickness — while not bothering other passengers.

She was in 4th grade at the time.

Happy Ride earned her a National Invention Convention medal.

Her video was posted on YouTube. A producer at “Good Morning America” saw it, and loved it.

He contacted Coleytown Elementary School. Administrators did not give out her number. So the producer reached out to Town Hall; Olivia’s dad Neil is on the website, as a Planning & Zoning Commission alternate.

Flash forward to today. Olivia — now a Bedford Middle School 6th grader — was on “Good Morning America’s” 3rd hour. It’s called “GMA3 Strahan, Sara & Keke,” and airs at 1 p.m. on the East Coast.

All week long, GMA is featuring inventors. On Friday she’ll be on again, with the other 4.

Olivia, her invention (left) and the “Good Morning America” hosts.

Olivia continues to do great things. She’s very involved in sciences, and solving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

She’s also part of a worldwide group called Girls In Science 4SDGs. Click here for one of her great posts.

The group will help moderate the UN’s annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science next February.

You go, girls! Especially our hometown inventor, Olivia Cohn.

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Olivia Cohn, on TV.

Click below for a bootleg version of Olivia’s appearance. It has not yet been shown on the West Coast! Click here for the official version.