Category Archives: Children

Katelyn And Solenne: Now Hear This!

When Katelyn Bouchard was born 12 years ago, she failed the screening test for a hearing disorder.

But her eyes were lively, and quick to react. Her parents did not think anything was wrong.

But a second test 5 months later showed profound hearing loss. “She couldn’t hear a jet engine if it was next to her,” says Katelyn’s mother Gen.

Gen Bouchard

Gen — a former hedge fund executive who now owns Scout & Molly’s in Playhouse Square — and her husband contacted Diane Shannon. The longtime Westporter is a birth-to-3 service coordinator at Soundbridge, a regional program providing resources and services to children with hearing loss.

Diane explained 2 options: sign language and cochlear implants. The couple chose the latter.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices. Unlike hearing aids — which amplify sounds — implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear, to send sound signals to the brain.

Katelyn had her 1st implant at 10 months. Used to a world of silence, she tried to throw it off her face.

But Diane began working with Katelyn. She started from the ground up, introducing sounds, words and sentences.

Katelyn’s sister Solenne arrived 15 months later. Her parents knew then that — despite no family history of hearing loss — their newborn had a 1-in-4 chance of the genetic disorder.

Kately and Solenne Bouchard

Tests revealed that she too suffered hearing loss. She too would have implants.

Katelyn’s other implant was done the same day Solenne had 2. At 10 months, she was one of the first children that young to have surgery on both ears simultaneously.

At first, Solenne was very sensitive to sound. Once again, Diane patiently helped the Bouchards’ baby adapt to a new environment.

“We could hardly wait for them to start saying words,” Gen recalls. “Now they don’t stop talking.”

The girls have thrived. Katelyn — a 7th grader at Bedford Middle School — plays lacrosse. Solenne is a 5th grader at Saugatuck Elementary School; she plays basketball. Both are excellent students.

Katelyn and Solenne Bouchard

Though the only sign of cochlear implants are processors, “kids are kids,” Gen says. “Sometimes they ask, ‘What’s that on your ear?’ The girls just explain.”

Katelyn and Solenne are strong advocates for themselves. In loud environments, they’re not embarrassed to ask someone to repeat what’s been said.

Otherwise, their lives are no different from many other Westport youngsters.

But they — and their mother — have not forgotten the importance of helping other hearing-impaired kids.

Every year, Scout & Molly’s picks a non-profit to help. Last month, the store offered a silent auction, raffle items and refreshments, to support the Hearing Health Foundation.

The organization provided educational materials — including information on how to prevent hearing loss. (One way: Turn down the loud music!)

Katelyn and Solenne were there.

Then they went back to their own active, well-rounded — and sound-filled — lives.

 

Tip O’ The Top Hat For Music

Westport schools do a great job of introducing young students to music.

Some jump all in, eager to become the next Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma or Eric Clapton.

Others are somewhat interested, and want to learn more. But they — or, more accurately, their parents — are not yet ready to shell out the going rate for private lessons.

Now that niche is filled.

Top Hat Tutors is a service owned, operated and run by Staples High School students, for youngsters ages 5 to 18. The 1-to-1, peer-to-peer model has proven successful and popular.

It’s also less expensive than the professional, adult, we-have-to-make-a-living tutoring that’s so prevalent throughout town.

Nick Denton Cheng is a senior cellist at Staples. He’s also Top Hat’s music director. That’s their newest offering — their first foray into a non-science/math/ English/social studies/world languages subject.

Nick Denton Cheng

“It’s an untapped market,” Nick says. “Lessons are very expensive. This is a great great alternative.”

It’s an untapped market for tutors as well as tutees. Nick had more applicants than he could use. He’s selected 18 Staples musicians so far. Many already taught informally. Some are section leaders in orchestra or band; helping younger musicians is part of that gig.

“We all love music,” he notes.

Top Hat’s new program is aimed at youngsters ages 5 to 12 or so, who are just starting to develop their skills.

The most popular instruments so far are violin, guitar and piano. But Top Hat is already tutoring a couple of budding bass players and oboists. They’ll accommodate any instrument.

The cost is $40 an hour. Click here — then toot with your tutor away.

Jaden Waldman: Westport’s Anime Star

When you work in the entertainment industry, you take all kinds of gigs.

This holiday season — like last year — Westporter Jaden Waldman is performing before hundreds of thousands of people. in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

He’s been in films and commercials. He co-starred in “Pinkalicious & Peterrific,” on PBS Kids.

That last gig makes sense. Jaden is only in 3rd grade.

So it also made sense that when he and his family went on a camp vacation last summer, his mother made sure to keep his week audition-free.

But an offer to try out for voiceover work in the English version of “Mirai” — a very cool Japanese anime film — was too good to pass up.

So one day, the camp let Jaden into the photography studio. He spent 5 minutes taping, then headed back out to waterski.

A month later, Jaden was invited to New York for an in-person callback. They loved  him. Recording started almost immediately.

Jaden Waldman, in a voiceover studio last year (before “Mural”).

Jaden watched short film clips of the Japanese version. Then the writer had to work the English dub to fit the mouth flaps of the character. Timing was crucial.

The English voice director spent 35 hours recording Jaden — mostly via FaceTime from LA.

They must have done something right. “Mirai” has just been nominated for a Golden Globe.

Unfortunately, the only nearby showing is this Saturday (December 8), at 12:55 p.m. Even more unfortunately, the nearest theaters are in Danbury and Port Chester.

But we don’t want to disappoint Jaden’s many fans. So if you can’t get to the theater on Saturday, just click the video link below.

 

4 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 few 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 8, 9, 15 and 16, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Collection boxes will also be set up from Monday (December 3) through December 16, 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.

——————————————

Westport’s Department of Human Services annual, confidential Holiday Giving Program helps over 400 residents each year.

Donors contribute gift cards to local stores, supermarkets and gas stations. Cash donations are welcome too; Human Services staff uses them to make purchases for clients.

Checks (payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holidays” on the memo line) and gift cards may be mailed to or dropped off at: Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Room 200, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information, email hsyouth@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1069. Individuals and families needing extra support during the holiday season should call 203-341-1050.


A new online option helps Westport’s most vulnerable residents this season — and beyond. Over 400 individuals and families in town meet the federal poverty level.

The “WeCare Westport” portal provides access to 7 funds:

The Barbara Butler Fund connects at-risk youth with enrichment opportunities.

The Residents in Need Fund provides emergency financial assistance for food, shelter, utilities, medical expenses and other critical needs to Westport residents meeting income guidelines.

The Senior Client Needs Fund serves seniors on limited or fixed incomes during periods of financial hardship.

The Family-to-Family Fund supports offers help with unforeseen expenses during times of financial hardship.

Toquet Hall, located downtown, offers social, cultural and recreational opportunities to teenagers.

Prevention and Educational Programming gives free education and awareness events addressing substance abuse, mental health and parenting education.

Donors who want to help but have no preference of which population to assist can direct funds to the Area of Most Need. This assists residents of any age, when most urgently needed.

To donate to any of these 7 funds, click here.


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.

In addition, Lucy’s (23 Jesup Road, next to Green and Tonic ) is taking donations for the Cesar Batalla School. Unwrapped new toys can be dropped off Mondays through Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays noon to 5pm).

If interested, act now! Gifts will be given by Santa on December 20.

In 2016, Westporters donated these gifts to the Cesar Batalla School.

—————————————————–

(These are only a few ways to help. To add your own favorite cause, click “Comments” below.)

 

Pics Of The Day #591

Tonight’s Christmas Tree lighting at Town Hall included …

Staples’ Orphenians (with Rudolph, of course) …

… little kids and grown-ups …

… a somewhat slender Santa …

… and the feature attraction. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Playhouse “Pianist” Teaches Children About Holocaust Horrors

You can’t say the Westport Country Playhouse isn’t timely.

The most recent production — “Thousand Pines” — was a provocative look at gun violence, through its effect on 3 families.

Now comes “The Pianist of  Willesden Lane.” It’s an encore performance, thanks to raves before.

The pianist — Grammy-nominated Mona Golabek — tells the gripping, true tale of her mother. A piano prodigy herself, whose dreams were threatened in 1938 by looming war, she flees Vienna for England on the Kindertransport.

Golabek describes it all, while interweaving music of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, even a bit of Gershwin.

The elegant, beautiful show is also crucially important. It comes at a time of rising anti-Semitism worldwide, and just weeks after the murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” should be seen by audiences of all ages. But on Sunday, December 16, the Playhouse will be filled with young people.

The 3 p.m. production will be followed by age-appropriate group discussions led by local Holocaust survivors. The goal is to educate children about that horrible time in a sensitive way, stressing the importance of standing up to bigotry and hatred, with the power of hope.

Monique Lions Greenspan’s mother survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She knows first hand the incredible strength, optimism and gratefulness that Holocaust survivors possess.

“Their stories provide invaluable lessons,” she says. “I feel a deep sense of obligation to make our community aware of this opportunity for our children — and adults too — to bear witness to and learn from their experiences.”

(The recommended age for this show is 10 and older. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 16 performance. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 5-22 run. The program is sponsored by Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Jewish Federation Association for Connecticut, Holocaust Child Survivors of CT and the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut.)

After Coleytown: School District Considers 9 Plans For Next Year

When mold closed Coleytown Middle School in September, school administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents scrambled to adjust.

Sixth and seventh graders moved to Bedford Middle School. Eighth graders headed to Staples. That temporary measure will last through the current school year.

Now — with the fate of CMS still undetermined — educators and townspeople must plan for the next school year.

Yesterday at Town Hall, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer presented 9 options to the newly formed Community Advisory Group. Comprised of teachers, administrators, PTA members and others, they have a December 10 deadline to present a 2019-20 plan to the Board of Education.

The options — which may be amended as work continues — include:

  1. Keeping 6th grades at elementary schools; all 7th and 8th graders would remain at Bedford. Stepping Stones Preschool would move from Coleytown Elementary to a rented facility; Long Lots kindergartners would attend CES in that space.
  2. As above, but Long Lots 6th graders would attend Coleytown El in the current Stepping Stones place.
  3. Stepping Stones would move to a rented facility. Long Lots 6th graders would attend CES; Saugatuck and Kings Highway 6th graders would go to Bedford Middle School (which would include portable classrooms); Greens Farms 6th graders would remain in that school, and CMS 7th and 8th graders would remain at BMS.
  4. All 6-8th graders would attend Bedford on a staggered schedule. For example: grade 6, 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.; grades 7-8, 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  5. Maintain the current plan: All 6th and 7th graders at BMS; CMS 8th graders at Staples.
  6. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford on the same school schedule.
  7. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford, with double sessions. For example: Session I, 7 a.m. to noon; Session II, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  8. Housing one of the following at a different, rented location: Early learning center (Stepping Stones Preschool and all kindergarten classrooms districtwide); 6th grade; 8th grade; all of Coleytown Middle School.
  9. Utilize 1 of the 5 elementary schools to house CMS. Those elementary school students would be redistricted to the other 4 elementary schools.

The Community Advisory Group’s next meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 p.m., Bedford Middle School).

Big Love From Little Barn

Dining out with a 2-year-old is never easy.

For Joy Mermelstein — the mother of a non-verbal, autistic boy — it’s particularly tough.

But Little Barn advertises itself as “kid-friendly.” They’ve got high chairs, special menus, and a patient staff.

The other day, Joy’s family — with her son Charlie — headed to the popular Post Road restaurant. He acted out a bit. A couple nearby — with their own young child — did not mind.

But another diner did. And said something.

Joy sat down. She teared up.

What happened next is remarkable. The wait staff, the manager — everyone — went waaaay out of their way to make Joy and Charlie feel welcome.

I won’t tell you exactly what happened. Joy describes it far better than I can.

And she does it on a video she posted to Facebook and YouTube. (Be sure to watch it to the end!)

It should go viral.

And if it does, Little Barn should add plenty of seats and tables. Because they deserve to be packed — every meal — with the kind of patrons who appreciate a good restaurant, run by and with great people.

(Hat tip: Peggy Lehn)

Friday Flashback #113

From the 1950s through ’80s, Westport junior highs fielded interscholastic athletic teams.

Bedford and Long Lots — and, after it opened in 1965, Coleytown — competed against junior highs from Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich in football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, baseball, softball and track.

Competition was intense — both within the league, and to win the mythical Westport “town championship.”

Interscholastic competition ended in 1983, when Westport schools moved from a junior high model, to middle schools. Ninth graders went to Staples High, and competed on their own freshman teams.

But in the 1950s — and perhaps earlier — local elementary schools had their own intra-town sports teams. I have no idea when they began. By the 1960s, they were gone.

I don’t know what sports they involved either — except for boys basketball, as shown by this Saugatuck Elementary School photo provided by alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor.

Fred adds that a scrapbook from Coleytown Elementary School’s first year — 1953 — describes a girls kickball competition between that school and Bedford El.

If you’ve got stories about elementary or junior high sports teams, click “Comments” below.

And try not to stretch the truth.

Smart Song For A Smart Walk

Despite the efforts of parents, teachers, the media and others, there’s still a stigma attached to learning disabilities. Youngsters who learn differently are still called lazy and stupid.

The 1st annual Smart Walk for Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities is set for this Sunday (12 p.m., Sherwood Island State Park).

The event celebrates the strengths and talents of young people with learning disabilities and ADHD. It rejects stereotypes, empowers kids and parents, and raises awareness and funds for educational programs, youth mentoring, parent networking and resources to help families find support for their children.

Smart Kids founder Jane Ross is a beloved figure in Westport. When her son was diagnosed with dyslexia in 4th grade — after years of frustration — she panicked. Would he ever learn to read? Could he ever go to college?

She educated herself on how best to help her son. After earning his masters degree from the Columbia University School of Architecture, he is an architect in New York City. He designed the house his parents are now building.

Teams, families and individuals will walk a scenic 1.5-mile route at their own pace. There’s a photo booth, plus children’s crafts, games and face painting,

Oh, yeah: The inspiring song “This is Me” will be sung proudly on Sunday.

The “Greatest Showman” tune is an anthem for everyone who is different. And it was co-written by Justin Paul — a 2003 Staples High School graduate.

He won’t be at Sherwood Island on Sunday. But his music will help everyone at the Walk for Kids with Learning Disabilities celebrate some very special young people.

(To register, click here. The entry fee is $15; children under 5 are free.)