Category Archives: Children

To Cesar Batalla School, With Love

If you’re like me, you spend time sitting in Riverside Avenue traffic wondering what goes on behind those mysterious windows above Arezzo restaurant.

bonnie-marcus-logoTurns out it’s a design studio, home to the Bonnie Marcus Collection. Launched by Diane von Furstenberg’s former right-hand woman, it’s where 10 very talented people — all local moms — create illustrations for bridal shower, wedding and party invitations; greeting cards; calendars and more.

Bonnie has developed licensing deals with some of the biggest companies in the world. Her designs are found in more than 50,000 retail and online stores.

But today her studio concentrates on one school, in nearby  Bridgeport.

Bonnie’s cards often feature hand-painted sparkles. So Westporter Nicole Straight — who volunteers at the Cesar Batalla School, and is a big fan of Bonnie Marcus Collections — came up with an idea: Give every student there a chance to make a sparkling Valentine’s Day card for someone special.

Westport middle school student Sydney Gusick helped package goodies at the Bonnie Marcus design studio.

Westport middle school student Sydney Gusick helped package goodies at the Bonnie Marcus design studio.

It could be a parent, sibling, teacher or friend. The key is for kids to have fun making their own cards.

Today, Nicole is delivered 1,200 sparkle pens to the school.

Plus Valentine’s gifts for each teacher: A calendar, filled with color and creativity, for every classroom.

Bonnie and the rest of her team enjoyed plenty of smiling faces at Cesar Batalla today.

Who knows? They may find a future designer there too.

(Hat tip: Robin Gusick)

Making a valentine, today at Cesar Batalla School.

Making a valentine, today at Cesar Batalla School.

 

Kelly Powers: Westport Privilege Meant Straddling 2 Worlds

TEAM Westport’s essay contest on white privilege has sparked plenty of conversation, both on “06880” and — thanks to an AP news story that went viral — everywhere else.

Alert reader and Staples High School graduate Kelly Powers has a unique vantage point. She writes:

It was my first day at Saugatuck Elementary School. I had moved to Westport that summer, and was less than thrilled to enter a new school.

Little did I know I was extremely lucky. The Westport school system opened doors and granted opportunities I could only have dreamed of in my hometown of Port Chester, New York.

Yet instead of basking in my fortunate circumstances, I noticed — and pointed out, without hesitation — that no one looked like me.

Everyone stared. I had kinky hair, a “boys” haircut, tanned skin, and I used alien vernaculars no one seemed to understand. Those who did understand were quick to teach me the “proper” way of speaking.

I’d love to say that I had a remarkable ability at age 9 to deconstruct the stigmatization that was placed upon me. But I didn’t. Instead I answered questions like, “Do you live in Bridgeport?” I watched the confusion as people saw me with my white dad. Then came the next question: “So you’re adopted?”

I’m not denigrating my classmates for their curiosity, nor did I take offense. I’m simply noting that from the very beginning, I learned I would be under the microscope. To escape these confines, I would have to fully integrate into the new culture I was thrown into.

Kelly Powers (center), with Staples High School friends.

Kelly Powers (center), with Staples High School friends.

It didn’t take long to mold myself to Westport’s standards. The only thing I couldn’t mold was my skin color, which proved to be a blessing and a curse. I was just as much a Westport kid as my classmate who got a hand-me-down Audi for their 16th birthday. (I got a Subaru, which could be argued is more Westport than an Audi. But that’s not the point.)

I lived and breathed the bourgeois lifestyle. I expected the world to work with me, never against. Did I notice the bits of microaggression, stigmatization or alienation I endured? No, because I was feeding them. To escape the microscope, I fed into the hegemonic ideologies that form the bubble that encases the town, and more specifically, Staples High School.

I was not surprised to see a Facebook page filled with “mean spirited” (every “ist” you can think of) memes, from Staples students.

The Staples environment is filled with racism. The quicker you accept that, the easier it is to assimilate. For a student of color at Staples, it always proved beneficial to juggle the “us not them” and “them, but not really” outlook.

For Kelly Powers (right), life was not always a day at the beach.

For Kelly Powers (right), life was not always a day at the beach.

“Us” meant being a part of the Westport world, where we complained about having to put our laundry in the hamper for the cleaning lady. The “not them” referred to the other people that who match our skin tone but lived an incomprehensible, and disregardable, lifestyle.

On the flip side, “them, but not really” allowed students of color to pick and choose the desired traits of their racial background when it was encouraged and deemed appropriate by those around them, even if they really had nothing to pull from. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a student of color who grew up in Westport say, “I’m totally afraid of black people, I wouldn’t dare go to Norwalk alone at night,” but then turn around and say, “I’m that loud because I’m black.”

The way to survive was to feed the biases, which began by belittling the group of people your peers associated you with. I constantly stoked the fires of prejudice, to stay afloat.

The “us, not them” and “them, but not really” outlook paved the perfect path to shaping one’s identity by the group that was in power: white, privileged, heterosexual teenagers.

I experienced this first hand by constantly being told the way I acted was because of my racial background. However, the real reasons lay locked away. If I ever combated this assumption, I would have been ostracized.

I saw it happen to students of color who called kids out for their prejudice. Not only did I not realize how confining it was to be forced into a tightly woven box using the fabric of essentialism, but they didn’t even realize that it was wrong.

Even though I’m biracial, I was labeled “black.” Even though I’m Italian, I was labeled “ghetto.” Even though I lived in Westport, I was associated with Bridgeport.

Kelly Powers today.

Kelly Powers today.

In the Westport I grew up in, a place people would not dare call anything other than “open, inclusive, and liberal,” these issues simply weren’t discussed.

I believe Westporters are so afraid of the word “racist” because it’s heavy and is seen as a binary. In reality, it’s a spectrum. We all have racial biases — it’s natural for our brains to categorize based on superficial attributes — but it’s not okay to denigrate entire groups of people due to perceived differences.

However, is it fair to expect a group of students who very rarely escape homogeneiy to be empathetic to other walks of life?

We can break this cycle. We must encourage students to talk about it, encourage the difficult conversations, write essays about white privilege, volunteer at a soup kitchen outside of Westport.

It’s never too late to unlearn prejudice. But first you must acknowledge that it exists.

Remembering Harold Levine

Harold Levine — a giant on the local philanthropic scene — died peacefully at home yesterday. He was 95.

Professionally, he’s known as the co-founder — with Chet Huntley — of the Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver ad agency. Highly regarded for its creativity, the firm was in the forefront of providing career opportunities for women and minorities. In 1996, Levine received a diversity achievement award from the American Advertising Federation.

Levine was also a lifelong champion of education and the arts.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, as chair of the Freeport (New York) Board of Education, he steered that school system during a period of racial and political unrest. He later served as chair of the board of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

After moving to Westport, he committed himself to providing educational and arts opportunities to Bridgeport children.

As chair of Neighborhood Studios, he helped a small arts program grow into a large, thriving organization that now provides a broad array of music, fine art and dance education.

He often — and successfully — sought financial and other support from Westport, to benefit Bridgeport youngsters.

Levine is survived by his children, Rita and Jay; 4 grandchildren, and a great-grandson. He was predeceased by his wife Sue and brother Josh.

A funeral is set for Monday (February 13, 10:30 a.m.) at Temple Israel. Memorial contributions may be made to Neighborhood Studios, 391 East Washington Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06608.


In 2015, Harold Levine asked me to spread the good word about Neighborhood Studios. I was happy to oblige. At 93, he wrote the following plea:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

Westport Moms Own WestportMoms.com

Westport moms have lots of options.

Also, lots of questions.

How do I find the right summer camp? What activities can I do with my 2-year-old? Where can I find a place for a great brunch with my husband?

Up to now, those answers were scattered all over the Googlesphere.

Starting a couple of weeks ago, they’re aggregated all in one place.

Fittingly, it’s called WestportMoms.com.

The site is the work of (duh) Westport moms. Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post are the type of active, plugged-in women friends often turn to for advice.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post enjoy a WestportMoms event, at The Cottage.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post enjoy a WestportMoms event, at The Cottage.

When Megan and Melissa heard about GreenwichMoms.com — the brainchild of Layla Jafar — and similar pages for Darien and New Canaan, they realized it was a perfect platform for Westport too.

And they’re the perfect partners to produce it.

Megan and Melissa are responsible for all local content. (Which includes Weston and — at least for the moment — Wilton and Fairfield.)

The other day, the home page included “M&M Picks” (All Birds Sneakers for moms, Mad Mattr for munchkins); a New Year’s resolution on cooking healthier meals (with recipes for, um, pizza quesadillas and baked chicken fingers); a story on chef Brian Lewis, the man behind the wildly popular restaurant The Cottage, and a “Meet a Mom” feature with, actually, 2 moms (the founders of Granola Bar).

The rest of the site includes an events calendar (heavy on story time for toddlers); lists of public, private and preschools plus summer camps, and a resources page with links to activities, attractions, babysitting and nanny agencies, pet care, fitness health and beauty (from gyms to botox), pediatricians and pediatric dentists, restaurants and specialty food stores (there are plenty!), shopping and products.

Part of the home page of WestportMoms.com

Part of the home page of WestportMoms.com

WestportMoms.com makes money from advertising partners and sponsored listings.

The graphics are spare. That’s fine. Moms who log on want information, not splashy photos.

And to answer everyone’s question: Sure. There’s tons of good info on WestportMoms for Westport dads too.

Leah Rondon’s Birthday Bash

In August 2015, Westport mourned the loss of Leah Rondon. She was struck by a car, while playing at a friend’s house.

The daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon played soccer, basketball and softball, and was the Ansonia Boys & Girls Club “Girl of the Year.” She loved reading, and proudly listed all her summer titles on the refrigerator.

She was just 6 years old.

Despite this unimaginable tragedy, Colleen’s energy and enthusiasm has not wavered. She teaches children with passion and pride.

Leah Rondon

Leah Rondon

On February 4, Leah would have been 8 years old. Her mother has created a Birthday Bash. She’s determined to make it a day of joy, not mourning.

She’s also determined to make Leah’s birthday mean something. So she and her husband — an administrator at Bridgeport’s Kolbe Cathedral High School — are growing a scholarship in Leah’s name.

The Birthday Bash this coming Saturday (February 4, 12-4 pm) features a carnival with games, crafts, face painting, raffles and entertainment. The event takes place at Kolbe Cathedral.

Performers — many of whom are from Westport and Weston — include Jamie Mann (who has performed as Billy Elliot in 60 shows from New Hampshire to Florida), Stephanie Greene, Zoe Lieberman, Claire Vocke, Brody Braunstein, Chloe Manna, Lola Lamensdorf, Cate Steinberg, Leif Edoff (8-year-old pianist), Jasper Burke, Isabelle Katz, Lucas Lieberman, the award-winning Westport Dance Center company and more.

All proceeds benefit the Leah Rondon Memorial Scholarship Fund. It’s awarded to a graduating female Kolbe Cathedral student. For more information, click here.

And if you can’t make it to Leah’s Birthday Bash but want to donate to her fund, click here — then scroll down just below “Events” in the center of the page.

The Y’s Very Special Swimmers

Special Olympics is a special program. Since its founding in 1968, the non-profit has transformed countless lives through sports. Nearly 5 million athletes in 169 countries — and over a million volunteers — participate each year.

But the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s Special Olympics program is extra special.

It began just over a year ago, as a dream of Westporters Marshall and Johanna Kiev. Working with Y officials and members, it quickly grew to include a basketball program (13 special needs athletes and 13 partners practiced weekly, and competed at a Holiday Sports Classic). A track and field team will be added soon.

But it’s the swim program that’s really made waves.

Having fun with the Westport Y's Special Olympics swim program.

Having fun with the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program.

Two dozen youngsters, of varying physical and intellectual abilities, practice every Sunday — under the guidance of real, professional swim coaches. They’re one of the few Special Olympics teams anywhere that does that.

Barbara Bachuretz has spent 30 years training swimmers. Erin Ritz is a Westport Y Water Rat coach.

They’re backed by a corps of dedicated volunteers. The group includes former Amherst swimmer and water polo player Peter Nussbaum, and Hopkins School freshman Henry Fisher. Both live in Westport.

In June — proudly bearing the name Water Rats — 24 swimmers traveled to the Summer Special Olympics Games at Southern Connecticut State University. They were the only team there whose special needs youngsters swam all 4 laps of the relay. All other relay teams included unified partners.

The Water Rats Special Olympics team amassed over 30 medals. It was a great event for the entire group.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat Special Olympics team (with coaches) (and friends!).

The Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat Special Olympics team (with coaches) (and friends!).

But individual stories stand out too.

Y senior program coordinator Jay Jaronko remembers a 14-year-old who was very nervous. Jay and his coaches assured him he could watch other swimmers before his race, to feel comfortable about the event.

But when they got to the meet, the boy was scheduled to race first. Casting aside his fears, he focused directly on his lane. He got in the water, stared straight ahead — and finished first by an astonishing half pool length.

Then he headed off with teammates to the concession stand. His amazed parents told Jaronko, “he’s never done that in his life.”

“I was hooked on Special Olympics before that,” Jaronko says. “But that was the point when I really, truly got it.”

Smiles all around on the Y's Special Olympics swim team.

Smiles all around at the Special Olympics swim meet.

Another story: After the Summer Games, a father told Jaronko that teammates would be at his son’s upcoming birthday party. That too was a first.

This year, Jaronko reports, that boy is swimming and playing water polo for his high school.

“We’re doing a lot more than just teaching kids to swim,” the program director says proudly.

Here’s something even more special: The entire Y Special Olympics program is free.

There’s no registration free, no charge for apparel — nothing. Even meals are covered.

The Y covers all the funds. The Kiev family has been great, throwing fundraising parties to help.

This year’s budget is $46,000.

The program is worth every penny.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email jjaronko@westporty.org.  To read more about the Kievs and their daughter Chloe, click here.)

This is what the Westport Y's Special Olympics Water Rats program is all about. (Photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

This is what the Westport Y’s Special Olympics Water Rats program is all about. (Photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

 

Proud Townees Offer Westport Wear

Last summer, Ted Vergakis was on vacation in California. He saw someone wearing a simple T-shirt, with 2 words in beautiful script: “King’s Highway.”

Ted’s a Westporter. He had no idea what the shirt referred to. It could have been “a San Diego biker gang,” for all he knew.

No matter. He wanted one.

His oldest son Theo went to Kings Highway Elementary  School. His youngest son Alecko is a student there now. The family calls it “a special place,” and seeing those words crafted on a T-shirt seemed both cool and rare.

Ted realized that though there are places to buy things that say “Westport,” they don’t feel as if they were created specifically for here.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

So he and his wife Stephanie decided to create a hand-drawn script for Westport, and a unique illustration that can’t be found anywhere else in town.

This was not a total stretch for the couple — but not exactly what they’d been planning either.

Both grew up in small Massachusetts towns. Both started their careers in advertising, managing creative departments and producing campaigns.

Stephanie went on to work in fashion, at Donna Karan. Ted spent several years running the global creative group at IMG — with clients like the Olympics, NCAA, sports stars and models.

Now they run their own studio, called Offmad. They provide creative and strategic support to clients like Kayak.com, PwC, Vroom and others.

Ted and Stephanie's Westport hoodie.

Ted and Stephanie’s Westport hoodie.

Their route to Westport — via Manhattan and Hoboken — was similar to others’. When they felt the need for more space, and realized the commute would be longer, they wanted someplace special.

“More of a destination, not just a suburban town,” is how Ted describes it.

Work colleagues suggested Westport. On weekend trips here, Ted and Stephanie “pretty much knew it was the perfect place.” They loved it all: seeing houses in the morning, then lunch at the Mansion Clam House, a trip to the Compo Beach playground, a stop at Trader Joe’s.

“We were really taken by how much at home Westport made us feel,” Ted says.

“It felt very New England and familiar. We both loved where we grew up and vacationed — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard. Westport really reminded us of all those special things from home.”

But — like most Westporters — when Ted had his aha! T-shirt moment, he also realized that Main Street has become flooded with retailers that do not offer anything authentic and Westport-special.

So he and Stephanie decided to partner with skilled designers and illustrators. They wanted to celebrate their town, and the artists who created its legacy.

Townee's sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Townee’s sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Creating the sparkling Saugatuck Bridge illustration for their “Townee” apparel — which now includes short- and long-sleeve T-shirts, hoodies, fleeces and rally caps, for adults, kids and toddlers — was particularly important.

“I don’t think there’s a soul in town who doesn’t love the way the bridge looks during the holidays,” Ted says. “It’s perfect from every view — from 95, driving over it, walking through it.”

As for the company name, Ted says, “We think being called a townee is a compliment — a badge of honor. It’s someone who knows the best things to do, see, when to go places.

“Loving where you live makes you a townee. We all spend so much time  here doing normal day-to-day things. We want to remind others of how special Westport is.”

Their reminder: a line of high-quality apparel that’s comfortable, can be worn every day, and shows the pride people have in their town.

Townee launched last month. You may already have seen folks wearing Ted and Stephanie’s gear.

Just call them townees.

(Ted and Stephanie offer free delivery to all addresses. For more information — including ordering — click here.)

Babysitting Solutions — The Modern Way

You need a babysitter. It’s getting late. Your regular — and your 2 back-ups — have not responded to voicemail or texts.

It’s a scene every Westporter who has — or had — kids can relate to.

Who you gonna call?

Starting soon, no one.

You won’t need to call. There’s an app for that.

Bambino Sitters is the brainchild of Sean Greene. Last year, the California single father of 3 realized while driving around his neighborhood, worrying about a sitter for that night, that behind many doors were sitters eager for work.

He just did not know who they were. And they did not know him.

Greene’s app could be called “the Uber of babysitting.” After downloading it to your iPhone or iPad, you create a profile as “sitter” or “parent.”

If you’re a sitter, you set your own schedule and update your availability.

Two screens for sitters...

Two screens showing sitters…

If you’re a parent, you sign in via Facebook. That allows you to see friends in your neighborhood — and which nearby sitters they love.

You don’t have to text 20 sitters. You just punch in “6-10 p.m., Thursday night,” and send a request to the sitters you (or your friends) like. When someone responds, it’s a match made in babysitting heaven.

The app tracks the time a sitter spends at work. All payment is done through the app too, so there’s no fishing around for money or change.

...and 2 for parents.

…and 2 for parents to click on. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Last summer, Greene launched Bambino Sitters in Pacific Palisades. He’s since rolled it out to Santa Monica, Brentwood and several other neighborhoods.

So what — besides similar demographics — does this Southern California story have to do with Westport?

Bambino Sitters’ director of marketing is Sara Snow. She’s Greene’s friend, and former neighbor.

For the past year and a half, Snow has lived in Westport. She came East for her husband’s job. (Why Westport? Her college friend Missy Zahler lives here, and sold Snow on it.)

Sara Snow (upper right), with her children and mother. With Bambino Sitters, mom won't always have to babysit!

Sara Snow (upper right), with her children and mother. With Bambino Sitters, mom won’t always have to babysit!

This area will be the first national extension of the app. It goes live here over the next few days.

Katie Hill serves as Westport’s launch director. She moved here with her husband and 3 elementary school-aged kids. She’s a natural — as both a user and an executive.

Once Westport and Fairfield County are Bambino Sitter-ized, it will be rolled out in other towns and cities nationwide.

It’s a great app for any area with anxious parents and eager sitters. In other words, almost everywhere.

But we’ve got it (almost) first.

Jersey And Walden Rock Broadway

The Milwe name is well known in Westport.

Sid and Bea were longtime political activists. Alison Milwe Grace is a noted caterer, and much-admired culinary teacher at Staples High School. Many family members still live here.

After graduating from Staples in 1985, Cindy Milwe moved to California. She now teaches middle and high school English in Santa Monica. But her sons are making quite a name for themselves. They’re both on Broadway — in the cast of “School of Rock: The Musical.”

school-of-rock-logo

Plenty of Westporters have seen the pulsating Andrew Lloyd Webber smash. But they might not have known they were watching a pair of Milwes. The boys — Jersey and Walden Sullivan — use their father’s last name.

Yet their Westport connection is strong. The town where so many relatives live is just a train ride away from New York. It’s nice to come here. Eight performances a week is never easy.

Particularly when you’re just 12 and 9 years old.

Jersey was the first to join the cast. He’s loved music since he was 2, and for years took lessons through School of Rock — the similarly-named-but-unconnected music education program (a franchise is in Fairfield). Jersey joined the West L.A. house band. He was 10 years old, and life was good.

Jersey Sullivan

Jersey Sullivan

In the summer of 2015, Cindy and Tom heard about a casting call for the upcoming Broadway production. Jersey didn’t think of himself as a “theater kid,” but he loved the music. He figured, what the heck?

Tom sent a YouTube video of Jersey playing guitar and drums, and singing. The casting director liked it so much, he asked Jersey to fly to New York — the very next day.

The family had already planned to be in Westport the following week. While here, they learned Jersey had landed a role in the ensemble: James, the “security guard”. He’d also understudy for 2 actors: Zack  (the guitarist) and Freddie (the drummer).

More than a year later, Jersey is 1 of only 2 original cast members left. Since Walden joined the show last fall, they’re also the only brother act.

Walden’s the true “theater kid” in the family. He’s played the piano, sung and danced since he was 4.

Walden always wondered why his non-theater brother got to be on Broadway. He actually auditioned at the same time Jersey did — the producers may have just humored the 7-year-old — but when the original Lawrence (the keyboardist) got too big for the part, Walden was asked to audition again.

Another kid got the nod.

Walden Sullivan

Walden Sullivan

Yet Walden was called back last summer. He started rehearsing in October, and made his debut November 7.

The road to Broadway was not easy. Jersey was unsure about leaving his family (including an older sister), friends — and his band — behind.

Tom — a copywriter and marketer — got a furnished apartment on the Upper West Side. The lease was 6 months.

Jersey loved his new gig. He quickly bonded with the cast. They eat together often, and have sleepovers.

Jersey  was playing with rock stars — including Stevie Nicks and Slash — and was actually a rock star himself. He performed with Lin Manuel Miranda; appeared on “The Today Show,” “The View” and the Tony Awards, and rode on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

When his brother joined the cast, he was happy to stay on.

“It’s a blast,” Jersey says. “The music is a lot of fun. I’ve made lifelong friends. And I learned I could move across the country, and succeed in a new environment.”

He’s also learned how to adapt to Broadway. A few times, he’s had just 15 minutes’ notice to prepare himself for one of his 2 lead roles.

Walden adds, “The best part is meeting new people, and getting to perform.”

Of course, he admits, he was nervous on opening night. But he got good advice — “If you make a mistake, don’t worry” — and ever since, he’s been rockin’ the house.

The Broadway house.

The other day, the cast of “School of Rock” — including Jersey and Walden Sullivan — joined a “Good Morning America” Andrew Lloyd Webber mashup tribute:

The Last Night Shall Be First

Tonight, Westport celebrates the final night of 2016 with a First Night celebration.

The family-oriented event includes a slide at Saugatuck Elementary School …

first-night-2016-slide

… Dennis the Train Man at the Westport Library …

first-night-2016-trains

… and a telescope for stargazing on the banks of the Saugatuck. In the background are launch boats, for the 8 p.m. fireworks.

first-night-2016-telescope

Hundreds of volunteers — including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Jacqueline Devine — make First Night possible:

first-night-2016-jim-marpe-and-jacqueline-devine

It all takes place in and around downtown. There’s music, magicians and more at Town Hall, Toquet Hall, Jesup Green, the Westport Historical and Christ & Holy Trinity Church, through 10 p.m.

first-night-2016-light