The pandemic has also affected Suzuki Music Schools. But their classical music education and performance schedule has simply moved from Colonial Green to cyberspace.
The popular children’s “Pillow Concert” series returns January 24, and continues through spring. Family-friendly concerts give children a chance to be up close and personal with performers beyond the front row (and they’re encouraged to bring pillows to create seats at the artists’ feet).
Online master classes and interactive workshops will be conducted by widely acclaimed artists like violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Regina Carter. They’re open to audit for non-students for the first time (for a small suggested donation to the school).
The 4th annual Connecticut Guitar Festival returns March 5-7. It goes global virtually this year, featuring international artists. Attendees can tune check out Suzuki Schools’ social media pages every week leading up to the festival for discussions famed guitarists about how they’ve performed during the pandemic.
For more information on Suzuki Music Schools, click here.
“Has anyone ever mentioned the overflow Post Road traffic at the Starbucks drive-thru?
“I can’t tell you how many time I’ve driven by and thought it’s an accident in the making. I snapped this the other day leaving the Bank of America ATM next door. I could barely see the approaching traffic.
“I’ve got nothing against Starbucks. I just don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
Colin, the topic has been addressed before. This has been going on for months — ever since the pandemic began.
I am stupefied that anyone would sit in a car for so long at any drive-thru. It’s particularly mind-boggling because there is a perfectly good Starbucks a mile or so down the road, at Stop & Shop. The biggest line I’ve ever seen there is one person.
You could drive, park, get your coffee, drink it — and do all your grocery shopping — in the time you’d spend on that Post Road Line.
Of course, it would mean getting out of your car …
And finally … Phil Spector — the influential record producer who went from creating the famous Wall of Sound to prison for the murder of a woman in his home — died Saturday, of complications from COVID. He was 81.
Elementary and middle school students will return full-time to their buildings on February 1. Staples High School will follow soon after.
That’s the word from Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice. He says:
This school year has been a physical, emotional and psychological test of our collective endurance. We close out the first half of the school year at the end of this month. In the midst of the uncertainty and episodic chaos, I hold a very optimistic perspective for the second half of the school year.
As I shared with the parent community on December 22, I recommended a cautious approach to our school reopening this year.
However, based on 4 months of experience in preventing virus transmission in our buildings, and the similar success of peer districts in our region who have fully reopened, along with the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, I began conversations intended to increase access to on-site schooling for the second half of the school year. These discussions included a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students, and increased access for on-site schooling at Staples….
We have remained on the course I illustrated for the school community on December 22. There is a great deal of work that has been done, and continues to be done, to safely welcome our students back for additional on-site schooling. However, we remain on the timeline shared on December 22.
Those who serve our students, namely our faculty and support staff, are the reason for our success. Our collective support of these professionals is critical to the success we have enjoyed for decades. Yet as a system, our primary mission is to serve and develop our students. In the course of this work, challenges emerge in an ordinary year. In a pandemic the challenges grow exponentially.
As a community, we are faced with obvious public health obligations to ensure that we are responsibly doing our part as a school system to minimize virus transmission. However, we are also obligated to balance our public health responsibilities with the perhaps less obvious risks that have impacted our children as a result of the reduction of on-site schooling.
The academic, social/emotional, and psychological impact on our students is not captured each evening on the news in cases per 100,000, or in positive test rates. Yet the impact is real, consequential, and warrants mitigation.
It is time to move to bring these two obligations a bit more into balance.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)
In October, the district partnered with the Tri State Consortium and conducted focus groups with almost 250 teachers, students and parents to identify critical problems for us to solve this year as a result of delivering a pandemic education.
Many of the problems that were identified can be addressed, in part, through greater access to additional on-site schooling.
The lack of connections with peers and adults, the academic struggles, and the ongoing challenge of engaging students can all be tempered with additional on-site schooling. This move will not eliminate these problems, nor will it eliminate the profound social/emotional and psychological issues that have emerged for some children, but it will ease the effects on the children we serve.
The benefits full on-site schooling are so important, particularly after long periods of remote and hybrid instruction this year and last year, that bringing our responsibilities to public health and our students into balance is warranted.
With less pandemic experience in the fall, I was less inclined to increase the levels of on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level which provided an “everyday” model. A move to a “pandemic classroom” was not warranted given the uncertainty of the coming months in the fall.
That said, given our experience since then, and the experience of our peers in the region, along with the significant benefits of full on-site schooling, in my judgement it is time to begin this transition.
The Transition Process Elementary Schools
The transition to full time on-site schooling will begin with a full asynchronous remote day for all elementary students on Wednesday January 27 in order to provide teachers the time needed to accommodate their classrooms for full enrollment.
A special 2-day transition schedule (January 28 and 29) will be shared next week by the elementary principals to their school communities which will illustrate how they will gradually welcome back their entire student body, with the first full K-5 day of on-site schooling scheduled for the first day of the second half of the school year, Monday February 1.
From that point forward, elementary students will engage in full school days, with changes made to arrival/dismissal, bus seating assignments, lunch, and recess. The principals will communicate this information, and more, to their families in the coming days.
Given the need for our elementary faculty to deliver their instruction in a pandemic setting, and all of the professional challenges associated with this, like most districts in our region, Wednesdays will remain an on-site half day for students. Afternoons will be reserved for teachers to work with colleagues as they continue to solve instructional problems unlike any they have experienced in their careers as a result of COVID-19.
Greens Farms and 4 other elementary schools will reopen full-time on February 1.
Lunch will be served in homerooms and efforts will be made to “de-densify” the classrooms where appropriate when serving lunch by accessing other areas of the school building.
A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).
The distance learning option will remain for students and this program will be largely unchanged, providing consistency for this population of students. More information about the distance learning option will be provided by the elementary principals in communication to their families.
The middle schools will also transition to full time on-site schooling on the first day of the third quarter, February 1. The middle schools will transition the first phase during the month of February and the second phase on March 1. Phase 1 will have all students return in person for full day instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while maintaining the existing Distance Learning half-day schedule on Wednesdays (February 3, 10 and 24 only). Phase 2 will commence on March 1 with students attending school in person all 5 days, eliminating the Distance Learning Wednesday….
A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school). Distance learners at the middle school level will continue to have access to live streaming.
Coleytown (above) and Bedford Middle Schools will also reopen full-time on February 1.
Like the elementary and middle school levels, the Staples team has also developed plans for an increase in on-site schooling for students. However, given our tragic loss last week of a senior and the impact on the school of working with students to process the events at the nation’s capital, for good reasons, the Staples plans are a week or so behind schedule.
In full candor, my expectation last week was that the Staples team would fasten their attention to the work of supporting students and staff as a result of a heartbreaking loss to the school community.
That said, it is expected that these plans will be reviewed and considered for implementation in the coming weeks. The perhaps less obvious effects of the pandemic (social/emotional, psychological) have hit our high school population particularly hard and we have an obligation to respond. I am confident that we will.
Staples High School will reopen full-time shortly after the other schools. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)
The Unintended Consequences
Along with perhaps lessening the negative academic, social/emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic on our students, there will be some unintended consequences. With more students on site it is very likely that we will see increased numbers of students and staff recommended to quarantine in light of being considered a close contact to a positive case.
Additionally, it is also likely that in some instances, a full, temporary school closure might be warranted in response to a positive case that includes many close contacts. Staffing our schools has been a challenge, and that challenge has the potential to grow during full on-site schooling.
We expect an increase in the number of distance learners, as this has been the case with our regional peers. Districts in the region that have successfully transitioned to full on-site schooling have reported a 5%-10% increase in distance learners at the outset of implementing full on-site schooling.
Finally, our buses will likely see more students on board. Vigilance in mask wearing on our buses, and in all settings will be critical to our continued success.
As I shared on December 22, given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is clear that with continued vigilance in mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely. Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.
Communication throughout the system will be essential to making appropriate changes as necessary. We will continue to monitor our performance and the effectiveness of our safety measures. In response, we reserve the right to make programmatic adjustments along the way.
You can expect building principals to follow up with families in the coming days as we prepare for this change in learning models.
It was a gorgeous sunrise on Soundview Drive this morning.
Let’s hope it foretells a better week ahead than the last one. (As for that “red sky in morning” stuff … there’s no rain or snow in the forecast.)
The family of Timari Rivera — the Staples High School senior who died last week — has released his obituary:
Timari Raquan Rivera, 17, was greeted in heaven on Monday, January 4, 2021 from his earthly home.
He was born August 5, 2003 to Timothy Rivera and Anglie Edmounds in Bridgeport. He attended local schools and began his love of the game at age 6, when his pediatrician suggested that if his mom didn’t put a basketball into Timari’s hands, he would.
His passion for basketball grew from PAL league, leading him to play in several leagues – including Weston Wilton Travel Team, NE Playaz, and CT Elite AAU, but his varsity position with the Staples High School Wreckers remained his primary focus.
Timari was a math whiz, fluent in basketball statistics, and loved pottery. He enjoyed spending time with family, friends, playing 2K, and every teen’s passion, eating. He was set to graduate from Staples this year.
In addition to his parents, left to cherish the memory of this “gentle giant,” are stepfather Devin Robinson, big little brothers Taurean and Tyron Rivera, 9 additional siblings, nephews Amir and Tristian Rivera, bonus niece Marlo Perkins, and a host of family and friends.
A private Service of Celebration will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, January 12, at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, 729 Union Avenue, Bridgeport. Friends may greet the family from 9 to 10 a.m. at the church. The family will proceed to a private interment immediately following service.
The family wishes to thank those who have expressed their love and condolence in various ways. It is truly appreciated. To plant memorial trees in memory, click here.
Seen yesterday at Sherwood Island:
Photographer Mary Sikorski reports that the riders’ jackets said “Yale Polo.”
So that’s why they look like 3 Wise Men.
Those kids playing on Saugatuck Shores are so adorable, you could just eat them!
And finally … on this day in 1972, East Pakistan officially renamed itself Bangladesh.
In response to yesterday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:
As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the Chief Elected Officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting.
I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.
In addition, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice wrote to parents:
I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness. By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting President. All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.
My purpose for addressing the school community is to reassure parents that our team will be ready to receive our students Thursday and serve them in the most professional manner. This is our calling, among the noblest of professions.
Our team is working this evening to make certain that faculty and staff have resources assembled to support their work tomorrow and beyond. Each building principal will meet with faculty and staff to prepare them for the day. Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment.
Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)
Each level will work to maintain an age-appropriate approach. The elementary level will not initiate group discussions on this topic but will be responsive to individual students as the need arises. We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners. As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.
The middle school level will address the events of the day in their social studies classes, primarily with a civics lens. It is likely that middle school students have encountered a good deal of unfamiliar historical and political language today related to the process of certifying the election, and the manner in which the behaviors at the Capitol have been characterized by the media, and also social media.
Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events. Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward. Any student in need of additional intervention will be addressed through our support staff at the middle school level.
The high school level will also address these events in social studies classes. Teachers will facilitate the discussion as students generate the questions. Our high school students are close to voting age. Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics. Alternative spaces will be provided for students during lunch waves and throughout the day to provide support when needed on an individual basis.
This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear. There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. Our high school community is just beginning to grieve the loss of a beloved classmate and the lingering emotional impact of the pandemic remains. We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.
These strong feelings will be experienced by both students and adults. In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities. We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.
Books can be mirrors, reflecting our own experiences.
They can be windows, allowing us to look at new worlds.
Or they can be sliding glass doors. Exceptional authors help us actually walk through, and enter other people’s lives.
Because young people come to literature with great curiosity and openness, children’s literature is exceptionally important. Too often though, the characters young readers see are too much like themselves.
Or nowhere like them at all.
In an effort to broaden the pages available to local child, tween and teenage readers, the Westport Library and Public School’s PTA have teamed up on an exciting initiative.
“Finding Diverse Books” — a curated list of the Library’s collection — features long-underrepresented characters. Specifically, they’re Asian, Latinx, Black, LGBTQ, Native American, people with disabilities, and those who are neurodiverse (on the autism spectrum, or with similar different abilities).
Selections are broken into levels: K-2nd grade, 3rd-5th, middle school and high school.
“Can I Touch Your Hair?” presents paired poems about topics like family dinners, sports, recess and more.
It’s part of a national “We Need Diverse Books” project, begun by authors and the publishing industry. The Library’s “Own Voices” program is an offshoot of that.
The Westport PTA’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has championed the effort. Library director of youth services Mary Parmelee is an enthusiastic supporter.
She points to research showing that when children read books deeply and closely, their brain lights up in the same area as if they were actually living that experience.
“Parents understand Westport is an insular world,” Parmelee says. “They’re asking for these books. And they’re checking them out.”
The youth librarian reels off a wide sampling of popular topics: books about Black children’s place in America, trans youth’s experiences in high school, Latinx families and life with OCD.
“Pashima” is about a girl who thinks her mother’s homeland exists only in her imagination.
Yet many simply include diverse characters as part of everyday life. One features a little Black girl whose parents try to get her to sleep in her own bed.
“For years, these types of characters were not part of the books being published,” Parmelee notes.
Now they are.
“We hope they can help nurture a society that is connected through a shared humanity,” says PTA DEI committee co-chair Ngassam Ngnoumen.
Check ’em out!
(Click here for the Westport Library’s “Diverse Books Need Us” page. Click here for the Library’s #OwnVoices Resource Guide.)
It was touch and go, but I survived last night’s monster storm.
You can see the damage to my patio in the photo below. As soon as things ease up, I’ll head outside and clean up that newspaper wrapper that blew in from somewhere. Wish me luck!
All told, 5 (!) Westport customers lost power. Three are still out.
But the storm that missed our town hit other parts of the state. At its height, over 56,000 Eversource customers were out. As of noon, service had been restored to 30,000. Sharon was the worst hit locality, with 70% of customers powerless.
Early in the pandemic, Stan Witkow started a virtual Bingo game. Winners donated their pots to a non-profit of their choice.
Players came from around Westport — and around the country. Each week, the game grew.
Now, Stan says, virtual bingo ends 2020 having raised $10,200.
“My wife Susan and I think this may be one of the best things we’ve ever done. We can ‘t believe how committed friends, neighbors and strangers (to us) have been to this effort.”
Major beneficiaries have been Connecticut Food Bank, Homes with Hope, Bridgeport Hospital’s special COVID relief fund, and numerous other organizations here and around the US.
And, Stan reports: “Best of all, everybody wants the game to continue next year. So it will!”
A scene from the Virtual Bingo game.
Christmas wreath, 2020-style:
As of yesterday, Westport had 884 COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic (772 confirmed, 67 suspected). The number of new cases in the week — 45 — was down slightly from the previous week.
There were no deaths from COVID within the past 7 days. Our cumulative total is 25. Click here for a full statewide report.
In May 0f 2019, Long Lots Elementary School 4th grader Brett Malizia wanted to help his friend and classmate Eden Kopreski. She had just been diagnosed with leukemia. He raised funds by running in a 5K race and half-marathon.
Brett — now 12 – is doing it again. This Sunday (December 27) he’ll do the Sono half marathon.
It’s a virtual event — every participant runs on his or her own — so there will be no crowds cheering. Brett’s mom — Westport native Ursual Richards Malizia — asked on social media for people to make posters. They’ll line the route, as a nice surprise for him.
Another way to support: Click here for a GoFundMe page. Money raised goes to help defray Eden’s medical expenses, as well as to a leukemia survivor organization.
Ursula and Brett Malizia
A Westport resident found the items below — and newspaper clippings, and more — at 378 Main Street, near Coffee An’. If they’re yours — or you know who they belong to — email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So how did you spend your Christmas Eve day?
These guys obviously finished their shopping, and had nothing else to do, so …
And here was the scene a day later: 12:30 this afternoon…
And finally … in the spirit of world peace, here is an African carol from Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert. It’s from 2010 — but it never gets old.
The list of losses from COVID is large: Businesses. Jobs. Human contact. Way too many human lives.
But there are small losses too. We don’t often think about things like missed birthday parties and sleepovers. But they matter — especially if you’re a kid, locked down at home and missing your friends.
Which is why the creative talents of Sarah Rose are so important. And so sweet.
She’s the brains behind Rosebud Slumber Parties. It’s a niche specialty, and she’s pivoted several times during the pandemic. But by planning, setting up (and cleaning up) themed events — even if it’s just siblings or one friend — she’s put smiles on the faces of many Westport children.
And their parents.
Sarah moved to Westport 4 years ago from England,, when her husband was transferred. With 3 young boys, she thought it would be “a great adventure.”
She settled in more quickly than she expected, thanks to new friends through preschool, the Compo playground, and her Kings Highway South neighborhood.
Sarah Rose, her husband and sons.
In Britain, kids’ birthday parties often take place at home. So she started a business: Rosebud Boxes. (When she was pregnant, her babies were called “Rosebuds” — a play on her last name. I told you she was clever!)
Sarah provided tableware, costumes and themes. But, she soon realized, most Westporters plan children’s birthday parties at other venues.
She heard about a company that did the same thing for sleepovers. No one was doing that here.
So in early 2019 Sarah began offering tents (handmade with her husband), sleeping mats, blankets, sheets, pillows, twinkling lights, star machines –the whole shebang.
There were 8 themes to choose from, like Harry Potter, unicorns and rainbows, Paris, sports. The age range was around 5 to 11. She did more girl parties than boys, but there were plenty of those too.
Then came COVID.
From mid-March through May, Sarah had no bookings. Yet when people tentatively ventured back into the world, she was ready. She dropped boxes off at people’s homes, with instructions for how parents could set everything up.
Special delivery from Sarah Rose.
For a 7th birthday, one mother surprised her daughter with a themed tent — just for her. The little girl loved it.
Word spread. This summer, Sarah provided outdoor tepee parties. Each youngster had his or her small, individual tepee. But kids could sit on their own, socially distanced, Sarah-provided blankets outside. And they talked easily between them, all night long.
When the concept of outdoor movies took off, so did Sarah’s tepee business. Then she introduced low picnic tables, with themes like “English high tea” and “enchanted forest.”
Ruby and Rose Kovach enjoy a unicorn-themed party.
As COVID cases surged, parties moved back inside. Now the guest list might include only siblings and cousins, or perhaps a friend or two.
(Earlier this month, good weather allowed a party planned for a garage to move outdoors to a patio. Screened-in porches and pool houses are also good venues.)
It’s still “magical and fun,” Sarah says. And, with lower numbers, it’s more of a bonding experience than with tons of boys and girls.
After the Lehnerd-Reilly family read all the Harry Potter books out loud, they celebrated with a sibling sleepover for the oldest 4 children. Eva, Oscar, Orlando and Marku still tal about it.
Business is picking up. She’s hired Staples High School students to help. She also offers add-on packages, like a cookie service and children’s yoga.
“When parents see everything all set up, they’re blown away,” Sarah says. “They love the idea, and they’re just thankful they can do something for their kids.”
Even indoors, a tepee sleepover can be fun. Just ask Stella and Sloane Evans!
Sarah’s service has brought herself some unexpected joy too.
Growing up in England, she adored Melissa Joan Hart. When the former “Sabrina” actress — who last year lived in Westport — threw a Minecraft-themed party for her 8-year-0ld son, Sarah did the honors.
“From being a 13-year-old girls in a small English village, to planning a party for Melissa Joan Hart, was like a dream,” Sarah says.
Almost as dreamlike as providing a party — small, socially distanced, but a party none the same — for kids in this American suburban town, in the middle of a pandemic.
Sarah Rose and her staff, behind (from left: Staples student Ava Eckholdt, Cassy Callari (Greens Farms Academy), Kate Smith (Staples) and Sarah’s British friend, Helen Martin-Elmer.
(Click here for the Rosebud Slumber Parties website. Hat tip: Michele Sinacore)
Run by Broadway actress Jodi Stevens Bryce (with her husband, actor Scott Bryce), it offers instruction and education for performers of all ages. Students are diverse, committed — and very talented.
Jodi’s students always bring joy to the community. That’s tough, in these COVID days. But now we need it now more than ever.
Every December SBE showcases its work with friends, family and — especially — seniors, at places like the Westport Senior Center. Students spread holiday cheer, and in return get a full performance opportunity with a grateful audience.
This year that performance was impossible. What could Jodi’s group do instead?
Jodi Stevens Bryce
The first plan was to carol door to door for older residents. As coronavirus cases rose and the Weston schools went all online, that became untenable.
Plan B was to sing at the Weston Senior Center’s holiday drive-up luncheon. New restrictions and an abundance of caution scotched those plans too.
But Jodi and her young performers realized that — just as they had gone virtual themselves — they could perform a song, film it separately and safely at home, then edit it together to give hope and joy back to the community.
“Many of our elderly are still sheltering in place, are ill, have lost loved ones, are lonely, or are otherwise unable to gather in public,” Jodi says.
Of course, they’re not the only once who could use a little cheer.
So here — for everyone, old and young, in Weston and Westport and far beyond — is SBE Studio’s “Almost Christmas.” The song from “A Little Princess’ shines a light on a simpler time.
But in these tough times, the joy in the hearts of students from Weston, Westport, Fairfield, New Canaan and Ridgefield is clear, palpable, and lovely indeed.
(Featured players include Hannah Johnson, Elana Nordstrom, Adia Hourihan, Emma Seoane, Eve Davis, Hannah Pressman, Sofia Abreu, Lauren Wasserman, Sophie Bud, Scarlet Tanzer, Ulma Hedge and June Skodis.)
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