Category Archives: Children

Julia Marino’s NBC Airings

Last month, “06880” described the heartwarming friendship between Julia Marino and Chaihyun Kim.

They met in Long Lots Elementary School kindergarten, and for the next 3 years were inseparable.

They went their separate ways later, as kids do. But — as Julia became a US Olympic team snowboarder, and Chai a pre-med student at Yale University — their friendship endured.

Chai and Julia, age 6.

As Julia got ready to head to PyeongChang for the Winter Games, Chai and her family used their South Korean contacts to help Julia’s family find lodging and tickets.

It’s exactly the type of story NBC loves. Many Olympic viewers are casual — or even non — sports fans. By showcasing athletes’ back stories, the network hopes those viewers will be drawn into the drama of sports.

Area residents can tune in at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, February 17, WNBC-TV Channel 4) for Julia and Chai’s story on “The Olympic Zone.” NBC stations around the country will also air the show; check local listings for time.

That segment should whet viewers’ appetites for Julia’s big air competition. It begins Monday (Sunday, US time).

(Hat tips: Sharon and John Miller)

Julia Marino

Library Flexes Its Transformation

The Westport Library’s renovation project involves much more than a facelift.

It’s a Transformation — they capitalize the word — in which every interior space is reimagined and redesigned to respond to the ever-changing needs of 21st-century users.

One of the elements of the new facility is “flexibility.”

So — in the midst of the 18-month effort — officials are sponsoring “Flex.” The 5-day series of innovative programs offers a tantalizing taste of  just how flexible and creative the new library will be.

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project includes a “forum” on the main floor. As construction proceeds, that same Great Hall will be the site of several “Flex” events.

“Flex” brings together art, cinema, music, dance, food, authors and more. Some events are free; others are fundraisers to support the library.

All are worth checking out.

“Flex” begins on Wednesday, March 21 (12-3 p.m.). Jane Green — Westport’s own multi-million-selling author — hosts a celebrity lunch. Sam Kass — former Obama White House chef, senior policy advisor for nutrition, and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign executive director — will deliver a keynote address, and sign copies of his “Eat a Little Better” book. James Beard Award winner Elissa Altman emcees. (Tickets: $150)

That night (Wednesday, March 21, 7 p.m.), the Friedman Gallery in Bedford Square) is the site for Moth-style storytelling about rock ‘n’ roll. With Michael Friedman’s stunning photos as a backdrop, local residents Mark Naftalin, Crispin Cioe, Roger Kaufman, Wendy May, Bari Alyse Rudin, Cassie St. Onge, Rusty Ford and others will talk about their amazing experiences in the music world. Full disclosure: I’m emceeing, and will toss in a tale or two myself. (Tickets: $50)

Michael Friedman in his pop-up gallery. His photo shows Levon Helm, drummer for The Band.

Four events are planned for Thursday, March 22. At 9 and 10 a.m., the Great Hall is the site of 2 dance-a-thon classes led by Jose Ozuna, an actor, dancer and Ailey Extension instructor. Prizes will be supplied by Athleta, Soleil Toile and Faces Beautiful. (Free)

At 1 and 3 p.m., the Great Hall transforms into a theater. Matinee movies feature Westport’s own Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. (Tickets $25)

The Great Hall changes again, for a 7 p.m. food lovers’ Q-and-A with internationally known food writer Ruth Reichl, and a celebrity panel including local chef/restaurateur Bill Taibe, sustainability expert Annie Farrell and “entertainologist” Lulu Powers. (Tickets: $75)

The day ends at the Whelk, with a 9 p.m. dinner with Reichl and guests. (Tickets: $500)

Bill Taibe serves up octopus and squid at The Whelk. He’ll be joined by Ruth Reichl as part of the Westport Library’s “Flex” programming.

Friday, March 23 is “unplugged” — a day of relaxing with author readings and live music in the Great Hall. Area writers include Alisyn Camerota, Fiona Davis, Nina Sankovitch, Lynne Constantine, Catherine Onyemelukwe, Carole Schweid and Suzanne Krauss. Among the local musicians (3:15 to 8 p.m.): Brian Dolzani, Twice Around, the Mike Cusato Band, Ethan Walmark, and Suzy Bessett and Rob Morton. (Suggested donation: $25)

The Great Hall transforms yet again on Saturday, March 24. This time it’s a performance and party space. A gala evening of food, dancing and fun stars Chevy Chevis and her band, honoring local treasure Eartha Kitt. After dinner (7 to 9 p.m.) things heat up with a dance party (9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) featuring live music, a noted mixologist and a dessert extravaganza. (Tickets: $500 entire evening, $250 dance party only)

“Flex” ends on Sunday, March 25 with a family day (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.): arts and crafts, face painting, magic and more. Tech guru and Westport resident David Pogue kicks off the event, which includes story times with local authors Victoria Kann (“Pinkalicious”), Joshua Prince (“I Saw an Ant on the Railroad Tracks”), Tommy Greenwald and Lauren Tarshis, plus illustrator Tim Fite. Participants can also write a love letter to the library, with artist/storyteller Diego Romero and the Typing Machine. (Free)

David Pogue brings his creative mind to the Westport Library’s “Flex” family event.

“Flex: is curated by Westport Library creative director Moshe Aelyon. He’s a noted event planner and design expert.

Moshe is very talented.

And — like the event he has planned, at the library he serves — extremely flexible.

(For more information, and to purchase tickets, click here.)

Westport Mom: We Need Armed Guards At Schools

A Westport mother of middle school students writes:

As I watch the news in tears this morning, I see kids running out of a high school in Florida away from an active shooter. I think about the parents and friends who lost loved ones. So I wonder: Are we doing enough?

As a mom, my main job is to keep my children safe. When I put them on the bus in the morning I’m worried, afraid, just not sure if they are going to a safe place. I know some of these events are not preventable but still I ask the question: Are we doing enough?

I have often thought it’s time we place an armed guard at the entrance to our schools. I’ve wanted to ask this question for years but been afraid to, because I know it sounds drastic. But when is the right time?

(Bramhall/NY Daily News)

These events are tragic, and happening more frequently. So I’m not afraid to ask this question anymore. It’s time to start the discussion. There have been 18 school shootings this year, and we are not even 2 months in. I think drastic response and change is absolutely necessary.

The guard at our middle school is the nicest, sweetest person but he is in no way prepared to protect our kids against a shooter. Nor are the locked doors if it’s a person someone knows. An armed guard gives our children a fighting chance. Aren’t they worth it? We place armed guards at banks, national monuments, train stations. Why not our schools?

Also, what is the protocol if someone is concerned that a student is going to act out? We often hear that the perpetrator was a troublemaker, bullied or depressed. We need a way for kids to express their concern if they fear someone is on the brink of doing something destructive. It needs to be anonymous and easy; otherwise kids won’t do it.

I think the process should start at middle school. Then there should be a plan to address the concern with the parents — mental health counseling, understanding if they have access to weapons, social media observance, etc.

Is there something like this in place, and I don’t know about it? Perhaps at the high school?

I’m tired of watching news stories like this. I’m sure our government will not act to solve this issue, which makes it more important that as a town we take it upon ourselves to do something more — to be a model for others. I don’t know what the answers are, but I can’t just sit back and wait. I’m angry, worried and tired!

Are we doing enough?

Superintendent, 1st Selectman React To Florida Shooting

This morning, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer sent this message to families of all Westport students:

Yesterday, waves of shock and profound sadness permeated all schools in our country as again we heard about another school shooting. One official reported in the press that this was the 18th school shooting in 2018, and it was one of the most deadliest in terms of loss of life.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the community of Parkland, Florida as it grieves the loss of its loved ones and struggles to come to terms with this horrific event.

Schools are the heart of any community, housing its most vulnerable citizens when in operation. On any given school day, we have 21% of our Westport residents sitting in our classrooms. Ensuring that our schools are safe and secure for our students and staff remains our preeminent goal.  Nothing supersedes keeping your children safe – nothing.

With the level of emotional upset felt in our community by the recent news in Florida, there have been some parent inquiries about our school security. While it would not be appropriate to share details of our overall plans in this communication, it is important to know that our District has comprehensive safety and security plans in place at each of our schools that have been reviewed by our first responders. We work in a strong partnership with all of our first responders, and Chief Koskinas and I regularly communicate, as we did last evening, whenever there are events that can have a ripple impact in our community.

Our District trains staff how to be prepared and to keep our students safe in any event that we may encounter, from a high-impact weather event to an active shooter situation. Every school routinely conducts lock down drills and other emergency drills. Ironically, Staples High school had informed its students earlier this week that in homeroom today the school would be reviewing its lock down procedures for a scheduled drill after the break. The school will continue with its preparation for this drill, but has modified the presentation to be sensitive to recent events.

We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, District security staff, both our Police Chief and Deputy Chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers. SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives. We are constantly seeking to assess every aspect of our security program. Our safety plans don’t just sit on a shelf, but are discussed, reviewed, and improved on an ongoing basis as we gain new information.

While much of our work on school safety and security is behind the scenes, we never stop seeking to improve our approaches, protocols, and training to support the well-being of our students and staff. In response to parent requests for more information, we will provide a presentation on school security in the upcoming weeks.

Please do not hesitate to contact your student’s school administrator if you have specific questions or concerns related to the safety of our schools.

In addition, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement:

On behalf of all Westport residents, I would like to offer my heartfelt prayers and condolences to the residents of Parkland, FL. The senseless mass shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School has devastated dozens of families. It has also vaporized the dreams, hopes, and futures of so many promising teenagers who were lost. All Westporters are terribly saddened and heartbroken over the tragic events.

Unfortunately, gun violence such as this can happen anywhere, as the 2012 Sandy Hook school tragedy constantly reminds us. Parkland, FL has a population size similar to Westport, and was recently named one of Florida’s safest cities.

In Westport, our police department continues to take proactive measures, in coordination with the Westport Public Schools, to protect the safety and security of our students and staff.  Our police officers and school staff regularly receive training to prepare for, and respond to, similar crises.

But that is not enough. Congress must pass legislation that protects our youth and all citizens with reasonable and common sense gun regulations consistent with Second Amendment rights. There is absolutely no excuse for our national leaders to ignore this problem again.


Westport’s Newest Cub Scouts: These Girls Are Great!

Eric Overgard is an avid Scouting volunteer. In nearly a decade in Westport, the technology project manager has moved up the ranks from Cub Scout organizer, fundraiser, pinewood derby head and pack leader to Boy Scouts committee member.

His son Alex was a Cub Scout.

Now his daughter Vanessa is too.

That’s right. This year, the Boy Scouts of America open their ranks to girls.

The official date for Boy Scouts is 2019. For Cub Scouts, it’s this coming fall. But the BSA has granted exceptions to a few “early adopter” Cub Scout packs.

Westport’s Pack 39 is one.

It’s a no-brainer for Overgard. And a natural fit for his daughter.

“Scouting is a family activity,” Overgard — who was a Scout himself in Houston, before graduating from Wilton High School in 1987 — says. “Vanessa had been going on activities with us for years. She was disappointed when we told her girls could not be Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts.”

By coincidence, the Overgards were on an Appalachian Trail hike when the news came that the Scouts would admit girls.

Vanessa was thrilled.

Eric Overgard, with Alex and Vanessa.

Troop 39 cubmaster James Delorey encouraged Overgard to organize a Westport girls’ den. He’s doing that now, with a group of 3rd graders.

Why not Brownies?

“The typical Boy Scout activities are things the Girl Scouts don’t typically do,” Overgard explains. (Just as Cub Scouts is the younger version of Boy Scouts, Brownies is the lead-in to Girl Scouts.)

“Both organizations have been gender-based. In this day and age, we should eradicate that. As a parent, I want my daughter to have the opportunity to explore the ‘masculine’ side as well as the ‘feminine.’ I do beading with her. Now we can do whitewater rafting together too.”

He notes that although the Boy Scouts are accepting girls — and the requirements for activities are the same — Pack 39’s new den will be gender-separate.

That allows girls to choose electives they like. Vanessa and her fellow Cub Scouts have so far chosen critter care (caring for animals, talking to veterinarians) and “bear picnic basket” (cooking and nutrition).

Feedback has been very positive, Overgard says. But, he adds, “I live in Westport. I’m sure some areas of the country are adamantly against girls in Boy Scouts.” He notes that the United States is the only country where Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts have not already been open to girls.

Overgard hopes to expand Cub Scouts to girl dens in grades other than 3rd.

To do that though, he needs something that all Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops everywhere rely on more than anything else: parent volunteers.

(To learn more about Westport’s girl Cub Scout den, click here or email

Staples, Cesar Batalla Students Cook Up Friendship

Stacey Henske is a dedicated volunteer. She’s involved with many worthy causes — including Westport PTAs.

But she and several other Westporters also serve as room moms at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport. Through the Brighter Lives For Kids Foundation, they help provide opportunities and experiences to city children that will enrich their education.

Stacey works with Melody Curran’s 2nd grade class. The other day, she helped organize a visit to Alison Milwe Grace’s Culinary 1 class at Staples High School.

“The Staples students were fantastic with the kids,” Stacey reports. The high schoolers helped the youngsters bake chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms. They learned to measure ingredients, crack eggs and use a mixer.

They already knew how to eat cookies, Grace notes.

The field trip was a Henske family affair. Learning Through Lighthouse — a Staples club that her freshman son Spencer is involved with — paid for the bus.

And her daughter Samantha — a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — was there too. As the 2nd graders’ adopted “room sister,” she often helps a little girl in a wheelchair.

No word yet on what’s next for the Staples/Cesar Batalla menu.

Staples and Cesar Batalla students. Chef Alison Milwe Grace is at right.

Greens Farms Dares Other Elementary School: Take The ALS Pepper Challenge!

Every holiday season for years, Greens Farms Elementary School students, staff and parents have raised money to purchase gifts and necessities for needy Westport families. One of their major fundraisers is a Walk-a-Thon.

Patty Haberstroh — the Department of Human Services program specialist in charge of the town holiday giving program — has always supported the Walk-a-Thon, and all of GFS’ efforts, fully and enthusiastically.

Each year, she tells the kids how wonderful their contributions are, and how much they’re helping neighbors in need. She inspires everyone, of all ages, to do as much as they could.

Now Patty’s been diagnosed with ALS. And Greens Farms El is supporting her just as energetically as she’s done for them.

The other day, students, teachers, administrators and parents — some of whom no longer have children at the school — came together.

The event was the #ALS Pepper Challenge. Principal Kevin Cazzetta, assistant principal Christopher Breyan, phys. ed teacher Lisa Thomas, music teacher Suzanne Propp and seven parents ate hot peppers — after, of course, soliciting funds to do it. Money raised will benefit ALS research.

In the video below, parent Melissa Levy explains how much Patty means to Greens Farms. Then parent Kathryn St. Andre mentions the song the Walk-a-Thon participants always sing with Ms. Propp: “I Wish.”

The highlight comes at the end of the video. Greens Farms students challenge all the other elementary schools in town — well, the staff and parents there, anyway — to take the ALS challenge in honor of Patty.

Game on!

(Click here for the Haberstrohs’ hot pepper challenge donation page.)

Bedford Backs Leah’s Birthday Bash

Pirate costumes, swords, crowns and scepters; a life-size Glinda the Good Witch cutout; Alice in Wonderland costumes for this spring’s production — all that and more is moving from Bedford Middle School to Kolbe Cathedral High.

Bedford is happy to give it up. The props and costumes are headed to a photo booth at “Leah’s Birthday Bash.” The annual carnival — raising thousands of scholarship dollars — is one of the most important dates on the Bedford calendar.

Leah Rondon

The event honors the memory of the 6-year-old daughter of longtime science teacher Colleen Rondon. When Leah died in a tragic accident 2 1/2 years ago, Bedford teachers rallied to hold the first carnival. The middle school staff will be in full force this Saturday (February 3, noon to 4 p.m.).

Current and former BMS students, including Jamie Mann and Jasper Burke, perform too.

Visual arts teacher Lynne Karmen, library media specialist Kelly Zatorsky and costumers Paula Lacey and Elisa Smith Pasqua are all helping with the elaborate production — complete with tripods and LED lights.

Science teacher Jason Frangenes and math teacher Laurie Gray again runs the ping pong toss. Last year, Frangenes provided hundreds of goldfish as prizes.

Theater teacher and stage director Karen McCormick — who helps supervise the moving of all those props and costumes to Kolbe — says the Bedford faculty dives in to help because they believe so strongly in the event.

“We all want to support Colleen,” McCormick adds. “It’s a great way to keep her daughter alive.”

Rondon’s husband Henry is Kolbe’s principal. The carnival’s proceeds benefit the Leah Rondon Memorial Scholarship Fund.

(Kolbe Cathedral High School is at 33 Calhoun Place, Bridgeport. For more information on the carnival, click here.)


Julia And Chai’s Olympic Story

The other day, “06880” reported that Julia Marino made the US Olympic snowboard team. In a few days, she heads to PyeongChang, South Korea.

Yet there’s more to the story than just excitement that a Westporter has a chance for international stardom.

A decade and a half ago, Julia and Chaihyun Kim met on the first day of Long Lots Elementary School kindergarten. Chai had just moved to the US, with her mother and 2 sisters. She did not speak a word of English.

But she and Julia became best friends. For the next 3 years, they were inseparable. Chai’s mother worked every Saturday at a dry cleaner, so Julia’s mother Elaine picked Chai up. They played in soccer and basketball leagues, and in their spare time did whatever little kids do.

Chai and Julia, age 6.

Chai moved to Wilton from age 9 to 11, but came back to attend Bedford Middle School and Staples High. She graduated in 2015, and is now a pre-med junior at Yale University.

Julia attended St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, and traveled far and wide on the snowboard tour. But the girls kept in touch.

In December 2016, Elaine ran into Chai. The proud mother mentioned that Julia might qualify for the Olympics.

Julia Marino heads to the Olympics

Chai said that her father still lives in Seoul. She said her family would be happy to help with Olympic planning.

They sure did. In May — through the Korean-resident lottery — they got Elaine’s family tickets to the opening ceremony and Julia’s events, a savings of at least $2,000.

Over the summer, Chai’s family traveled to PyeongChang to film several lodging options. The Marinos had worried it would be difficult to house their large group of relatives and friends in one location. The videos confirmed it.

So Chai’s father spoke with a friend who owns 2 vacation apartments in Gangneung. They’d never rented them to anyone — let alone to foreigners — but thanks to Mr. Kim, the Marinos are leasing both modern 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartments.

Chai Kim

They know what they look like too, because Chai filmed last summer, when she was in South Korea.

Mr. Kim drafted a rental agreement, and translated it into English. He also arranged all their transportation in South Korea.

The Marinos reimbursed him — and bought tickets for Chai and him to attend Julia’s events. “It’s the least we could do!” Elaine says.

So next month Elaine, 5 aunts, 3 uncles, 5 cousins and Julia’s sister Cece head to to the Olympics.

This may not qualify as one of NBC’s famous “Up Close and Personal” Olympic stories.

But for the Marino family, South Korea is a journey they could never make alone.

BONUS NEWSLast weekend at the X Games, Julia won a silver medal in slopestyle.

Jaden Waldman Rocks Radio City. And He’s Peterrific!

Jaden Waldman has had quite a career.

This past holiday season, he performed before hundreds of thousands in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

He’s been in films and commercials. He’s done voiceover work. Now he’s co-starring in “Pinkalicious & Peterrific” — an animated series on PBS Kids.

There’s a lot more to come.

Because Jaden is just 8 years old.

Jaden Waldman

Then again, he’s been working nearly half his life.

When Jaden was 3, his older sister’s manager — she was the first performing Waldman — asked him if he was interested in acting too.

It took him a couple of years to say yes.

When he did, his 2nd audition was the charm. Jaden booked a commercial/promo for “Blaze and the Monster Machines” on Nick Jr.

That led to a lot more work with Nick Jr. Plus commercials for Bush’s Beans, and Chuck E. Cheese.

The restaurant gig was particularly fun, Jaden says. He’s an animated kid, and the director’s command — “pretend you’re part of a family at Chuck E. Cheese” — allowed him to move all around the set.

Then came the chance to audition for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

After 2 callbacks, he landed the part.

Jaden was triple cast as Ben — a boy who finds Santa Claus in a department store, convinces his brother that Santa is real, then travels to the North Pole.

He performed on opening night. Then Jaden did up to 11 shows a week, from November 10 through January 1.

Throughout the run he lived in a New York apartment, and was home schooled.

Jaden Waldman, getting ready for Christmas.

There were plenty of rehearsals. Jaden says of his first time on stage: “I thought my heart would explode.”

Nerves quickly gave way to confidence. It was a great experience, Jaden says. And he never got bored.

He had “a decent amount” of lines. He worked especially hard on a scene with the Rockettes. “Everything was timed to the second,” he says. “It was pretty complex. And there were lots of people on stage.”

He turned 8 in the middle of the run. The Rockettes gave him a shout-in, in the middle of a number.

Plenty of school friends saw the show. Jaden gave backstage tours. He enjoyed explaining intricacies of the show, like how the curtain works.

Last month, he was back in a New York studio for more voiceover work. He’s Jaden is in the midst of recording the first season as Peter in “Pinkalicious & Peterrific.” The animated show follows Peter (Jaden), his sister and friends as they explore music, dance and art through different adventures.

Jaden Waldman, in the voiceover studio.

He is given some creative license during taping — for instance, funny voices and sound effects. He loves when he gets to sing as Peter. “The character is funny, and I like to be funny too,” Jaden says. “I like to to play jokes just like him.”

“Pinkalicious & Peterrific” premieres February 19 on PBS Kids. Episodes are already available here, and on the PBS Kids Video app. Check out this one below, from YouTube:

Of course, Jaden is more than just a theater kid. He plays on a Westport Soccer Association travel team, does magic tricks — and plays drums.

I know what you’re thinking: Is “School of Rock” next?

That would be cool.

Stay tuned.

(Mark Saturday, March 3 on your calendars. Victoria Kann — author of the “Pinkalicious” book series — visits the Westport Library at 2:30 p.m. She’ll be joined by Jaden Waldman, who will sing one song. Click here for more information, and to register.)

Jaden, at his workplace.