Category Archives: Children

Martha Deegan: To Tanzania With Love

What do you do if you’ve been a Fairfield County lawyer for 30 years, but your son teaches in Tanzania and says he needs help building a school?

If you’re Martha Deegan you close your practice, and head to Africa.

Once there, you meet a young engineer from Indiana. You join forces, and build a home for orphans.

You become a missionary, sponsored by Westport’s United Methodist Church.

You work with a children’s home called Kwetu Faraja — “our comforting home.” You welcome Christians, Jews, Muslims, and boys with animist beliefs. You serve over 1,000 street children with medicine, food, clothing and emergency advocacy.

Martha Deegan, with some of the boys she's helped. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

Martha Deegan, with some of the boys she’s helped. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

You raise money for a solar project in the village, Kahunda. You are proud that there’s now electricity, and potable water. You develop a 35-acre farm for them, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

You live in Weston, but every year you go back to the village for a few months. You form relationships with people there.

You are appalled that they live in mud huts with straw roofs, without running water. You are impressed by their openness, generosity and loving spirit.

You know you can’t do everything. But you help a few kids — some as young as 4, sleeping in garbage bags on cardboard on the mean streets of Mwanza — by offering them a chance for an education at your school. You know that even though education is “free” in Tanzania, many youngsters cannot afford their required uniform, books or the interest they must pay on their desk.

Boys at , with a goat. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

Boys at Kwetu Faraja , with a goat. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

You turn to your next project: raising $22,500 to buy a tractor and farm implements. Right now, land is sown entirely by hand. You want the farmers, and the boys at the orphanage, to become self-sufficient.

Then, if you are Martha Deegan, you ask “06880” readers to help. You have faith that your neighbors will understand that you can’t do everything.

But you know that — especially in this season of giving — they (like you) will do whatever they can.

(Donations can be made for scholarships and for the tractor by clicking here. You can also send a check to Kwetu Faraja, 223 West 12th Street, Anderson, IN 46016-1331.)

As young boys swim in Tanzania, older ones keep watch for crocodiles and poisonous snakes. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

As young boys swim in Tanzania, older ones keep watch for crocodiles and poisonous snakes. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

Friendship Pins, 2016-Style

In the 1980s — those pre-technology-time-sucking days — girls made friendship pins. All it took were some beads, a safety pin and — voila! Kids pinned them on their shoelaces, and traded them with each other.

Julie Gannon remembers those times. Recently — when people started wearing safety pins as a sign of solidarity in an unsure political environment — the Westport mom starting thinking it would be a great project to bring back.

But this time with a new, more powerful meaning.

Her project is not about politics. It’s about unity and solidarity — a community coming together to support people of different backgrounds, religions and whatnot.

She started making the 2016 version of friendship pins with her sons, ages 9 and 5. When friends — hers, or the boys’ — stopped by, Julie asked them to help too.

Taking a break from making pins.

Taking a break from making pins.

Now, Julie hopes, kids will see them. They’ll learn that the pins symbolize support and open-mindedness for all. She drives the message home with a note that says, “Friendship pins: Making friends no matter what our differences.” She’s also posted photos of them on Facebook.

Julie hopes others will make them too. They’re cheap, and fun to do. (She’s made a few for adult friends, with a crystal wrapped in wire attached to a gold-covered safety pin. Those are more expensive.)

“I know this isn’t the most diverse area,” she says. “But small gestures can lead to bigger thinking, when those children grow older.”

Plenty of pins to go around.

Plenty of pins to go around.

Right now, Julie’s sons are distributing the pins at school. If “06880” readers want any, she says she’s happy to make them, and put them in a basket on her porch for free pickup. Just email juliegannon1@hotmail.com for details.

Tell her a friend sent you.

 

Cops Collect Toys For Tots

As the holiday season roars into overdrive, we’re (happily) overwhelmed with ways to help the less fortunate. All across town, organizations do their part to bring a little joy to those who truly need it.

“06880” can’t mention all of them. But if you’re looking for one particularly worthy cause, here it is.

The Westport Police local union and Police Benevolent Association are holding their annual toy drive. Each year, they distribute thousands of gifts to children who otherwise would have none, in Fairfield County and beyond. It runs through December 16.

Collection boxes for new, unwrapped toys are set up at several locations:

  • Police headquarters, 50 Jesup Road, 24 hours a day.
  • Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • ASF Sports & Outdoors, 1560 Post Road East, store hours.
  • Whole Foods, 399 Post Road West, store hours.
  • Renato’s Jewelers, 1765 Post Road East, store hours.

In addition, police officers will be in the ASF parking lot the next 2 weekends (December 10, 11, 17, 18, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to accept toys and cash donations.

And to personally thank you for your generosity.

Westport Police

 

Bullying And Cyber-Threats: The (Teen) Experts Speak

“Stricter parents make sneakier children.”

That was one of the gems offered Thursday night. The Westport Arts Center and Anti-Defamation League presented a workshop on “What Children Wish Their Parents Knew About Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Name-Calling.” It was part of the WAC’s current “More Than Words” exhibition, about that topic.

Marji Lipshez-Shapiro — ADL-Connecticut’s director of education — led the event. But the high school panelists stole the show.

They’re the ones who delivered insights like the one about strict parents and sneaky children. The speaker above was explaining that because teenagers’ technical skills far outstrip their parents’, mutual trust makes that relationship work.

Johnny Donovan and Megan Hines — co-presidents of Staples’ Kool To Be Kind group — and fellow K2BK members Gavin Berger, Brian Greenspan, Isabel Handa, Ben Klau and Emerson Kobak — reassured the 100 parents in attendance that they’re raising their kids well. They praised the school system and town for their bullying prevention and intervention programs.

The panelists also presented some scary previews of what’s ahead.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center….

Among their thoughts:

One Stapleite said that Instagram is a good way for 7th graders to start on social media. Facebook can be added in late middle school. Beware: Snapchat can be “dangerous.”

But another said, “Let kids discover social media on their own. Putting on age restrictions makes something seem taboo.”

When one panelist’s parents gave her a smartphone, they asked for her passcode — and told her they could check it any time. They don’t — but she realizes they can. “So I know the boundaries,” she concluded.

Parents should teach their children that the cyber world is not private. Middle schoolers “don’t know that innately.”

Some parents limit their kids’ technology use by making sure phones, laptops and other devices are charged each night in the kitchen — or parents’ rooms. One K2BK member was actually relieved by that rule. “I would’ve gotten no sleep in middle school if I could have texted all night,” he said. Another explained, “It’s not healthy to be distracted all the time.”

...And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

…And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

Stresses on tweens and teens are real. “Don’t say ‘get over it,'” one of the panelists noted. “That doesn’t help at all.”

As for bullying: Classmates and older kids are not the only perpetrators. “The meanest thing anyone ever said to me was by a teacher,” one boy noted.

When should parents call other parents about an issue between their children?

“It ends at elementary school,” one girl said. “After that, kids need to learn to fight their own battles.”

“It’s never too young to encourage your child to have her own voice,” another member added. “But you still have to let them know you’ll always be there for them.”

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Megan gave a particularly powerful presentation. Speaking personally — as someone who does not take Advanced Placement or Honors courses, and who has been called “stupid” because of her passion for fashion merchandising — she spoke articulately, and at times painfully, about her journey to believe in herself.

Ultimately, the panelists agreed, raising a child who can stand up to name-calling; who does not bully, and who can navigate the complex world of cyberspace, is a comes down to trust.

“My parents gave me the stage,” one of the Staples students said. “And they let me tell my own story on it.”

Olympic Swimmer Hits The Y

Chad le Clos is a swimmer.

But not just any swimmer. The South African is an Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion. He’s ranked 1st in the world in the 50, 100 and 200 meter butterfly — and is the current world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meter butterfly

He heads soon to Windsor, Ontario for the FINA World Swimming Championships.

If he wins, he’s got the Westport Weston Family Y to thank.

For the past few days, he’s been training there. He has a connection with a Water Rat family, so the Wilton Road facility seemed a great fit.

Chad le Clos (in the water) with Westport Y Water Rat swimmers.

Chad le Clos (in the water) with Westport Y Water Rat swimmers.

This evening, he raced an exhibition 100 yard butterfly there.

Chad le Clos, on the Westport Y starting block.

Chad le Clos, on the Westport Y starting block.

Plenty of Water Rat swimmers, parents and alumni showed up to cheer him on.

Stop the presses: He won.

I'm no swim racing expert. But I'm sure that's a very, very good time.

I’m no swim racing expert. But I’m sure that’s a very, very good time.

O Christmas Tree!

With the help of a gaggle of little kids, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe lit the town Christmas tree this evening, on the Town Hall lawn.

Staples’ Orphenians sang. The Westport Historical Society provided hot chocolate. Youngsters gleefully counted down “3 … 2 … 1!”

Rockefeller Center it ain’t.

But it doesn’t have to be. Another Westport holiday season has “officially” begun.

Luke Rosenberg leads the Staples Orphenians.

Luke Rosenberg leads the Staples Orphenians.

Boys and girls help 1st Selectman Jim Marpe with the countdown.

Boys and girls help 1st Selectman Jim Marpe with the countdown.

The tree is lit. It's on the front lawn of Town Hall, on Myrtle Avenue.

The tree is lit. It’s on the front lawn of Town Hall, on Myrtle Avenue.

 

Mary Martinik Hangs Up Her Whistle

For 41 years, Marty Martinik has loved her job.

First in Darien, then Trumbull — and from 1992 through now, in Westport — she has taught middle and high school physical education. (With a 3-year stint out of the gym as  Staples’ director of athletics, and the town’s district coordinator of health and PE.)

Mary Martinik

Mary Martinik

From 2001 on, Martinik has been at Bedford Middle School. She’s worked with the adapted physical education program, served as a special area liaison, advised the student council, and been a student teacher and  high school intern mentor.

She’s been recognized at the state level for her work with Hoops for Heart, and her service to professional organizations.

On November 30, Martinik retires. David Gusitsch — the Westport school district’s K-12 health and physical education coordinator — says:

Mary has brought energy and enthusiasm to her classes and students, all the way up to retirement. She has a true passion for her profession.

Her 40 years in public education — 25 of them in Westport — have been filled with more than just teaching. Mary truly believes in the benefits of movement, wellness, and building physical literacy before, during and after school. She has had a positive impact on the lives of tens of thousands of students. For that, we are grateful.

 

Westport And Bridgeport: A Tale Of 2 School Districts

Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Kathy Mahieu writes:

I always wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I played school in my Milford basement with my sisters and brother. I earned a scholarship to Sacred Heart University — the first member of my family to attend college.

I worked for almost 30 years in health benefits. I started as a secretary, and eventually became a national leader in behavioral consulting. I worked with companies like IBM, Credit Suisse and Cardinal Health to design mental health and substance use disorder benefit programs.

My son is a graduate student in engineering at Stanford. My daughter is a UCLA sophomore. My children were very lucky to receive a high quality experience in the Westport schools. The community places a great emphasis on education.

When I changed careers, and received my elementary school teaching certification in 2008, I knew I wanted to work in an underserved district.

I want to make the world a better place. I thought I could do that by teaching in Bridgeport.

I knew the schools would not be the same as in Westport. Yet until I began working there, I had no idea of the true extent of that difference.

Kathy Mahieu in her classroom. She is lucky to have a whiteboard.

Kathy Mahieu in her classroom. She is lucky to have a whiteboard.

We all know there is a tremendous disparity in funding between the 2 districts. But I only realized what that meant when I experienced it first hand.

Supplies. Each year, we ask students and parents to bring notebooks, pencils, highlighters and folders to school. Some families can’t afford them. Other teachers and I purchase supplies so that no student goes without. The district does not even supply staples and paper clips to teachers.

Some students don’t have paper at home to complete assignments. I give them paper. And I supply paper for copying too. This adds up. Even though this is 2016, we use paper because…

Access to technology is limited. Some classrooms have computers. Most do not. I have only 3 in my classroom. They are slow, and difficult to use. We’ve got Compaq hardware, which went out of business years ago.

Students share Chromebooks. We use them on a rotating schedule. My own children had more access to technology when they were in elementary school 15 years ago.

You’d think it’s easier to communicate with parents now because of cellphones and voicemail. But some parents’ numbers change frequently or do not operate, due to a host of reasons. Some parents have difficulty using email.

Many parents speak very limited English. It’s challenging to communicate with them. Our school is very good about using multiple languages, but we see an increasing number of students who speak Portuguese or Haitian Creole at home.

A crowded classroom is always a challenge.

A crowded classroom is always a challenge.

Classroom size. Teacher contracts in Bridgeport limit class size to 29. This year, I am relieved to have “only” 27 students. In Westport, parents were up in arms when a class grew to more than 22.

I have no aide. The only paraprofessionals in our school are those assigned to students who require them for IEPs.

Preschool. Most of our kindergarten students did not attend preschool. In Westport, that’s unheard of. As a result, Bridgeport kindergartners are just beginning to recognize letters. Very few can read.

Imagine how that plays through 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades. The disparity between Westport and Bridgeport grows each year.

Nutrition. Students at our school receive breakfast, lunch and a snack each day. For many, this is the only food they get.

Field trips. These help extend classroom learning. However, any cost over $5 per child could be an issue. What a massive difference from Westport.

I want to share a startling experience. Our 3rd grade class read a story about a moose who was falsely accused of stealing a pie. We introduced students to new vocabulary including courtroom, trial, witness stand, etc.

I showed a short video of the inside of a courtroom, to familiarize students with the environment. I was shocked when at least 1/3 of my students said they’d been inside a courtroom.

I could describe many other issues, including limited psychological support resources. But I’ll stop here.

While our school community contends with these incredible challenges, you’d be amazed by the amount of support provided by teachers, administrators and other professionals in the Bridgeport school district.

I’ve never worked with a more caring, giving and supportive group of professionals — both to our students and to each other. We moan and complain about the situation, of course, but we know we are there to ensure our students receive the best education we can possibly provide.

We do everything we can to help them overcome these challenges, so they can succeed in such a competitive and complex world.

[OPINION] After Election, Let Kids Be Kids

Many “06880” readers reacted viscerally on Sunday to Drew Coyne’s “06880” story. The beloved and talented Staples High School social studies teacher described his reaction to last week’s presidential election, adding insights into what it meant for teenagers in his classroom.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Among those reacting to Drew’s reaction was Jaime Bairaktaris. The community-minded 2016 Staples grad has been highlighted here before. Among other things, he was an Earthplace volunteer and EMT. Last spring he traveled to Italy to work with youngsters from a disadvantaged Naples neighborhood.

Now he’s a Sacred Heart University freshman. He’s still a Westport EMT, still works at Earthplace, and is also an EMT for Easton (working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift).

And Jaime helps supervise elementary school students during lunch in a nearby town. He passes along these insights into today’s kids, a few days after one of the most polarizing elections in American history.


  • Trump’s gonna build a huge wall and keep all the bad guys out!
  • Clinton lies too much. I don’t trust her. She killed too many people!
  • Trump’s gonna kick all of the immigrants out. Where will they go?
  • She’s kind of an old lady.
  • He looks like an angry orange.
  • Mr. B, you CAN’T vote for them. Promise me you won’t!

It’s confusing to hear these things come out of tiny mouths, on the playground or between bites of pizza.

I broke up verbal arguments between students. They climbed over tables or stood on their toes, trying to subdue their opponent.

But the aftermath does the real damage. When the argument is over students are left angry, anxious and frightened. Nothing upset me more than a crying child. One was legitimately fearful they would have to leave the country. Another cried because they could not understand why their classmate did not see what they saw in a candidate.

It’s eerily similar to what some adults feel now. But these are children.

clinton-and-trump-debate

The 2016 election was one of the most polarizing in history.

I know that children should have some exposure to the election process. In today’s world, we have no choice. But when they recite Fox or CNN sound bites, it’s time to stop and let them be kids.

Parents need to teach the process not as if 2 things are up against each other, but rather 2 people.

Kids understand that being mean to other people is wrong. But when a news outlet — or parent — bashes a candidate, a child becomes confused. After a while though, that bashing becomes normal and okay. After all, Mom, Dad or the TV did it.

A child can’t distinguish between a candidate on television or a book buddy in class. That’s where problems start.

I’ve seen what overexposure to “adult topics” can do to a child. I have not found anything good about it yet.

It’s our job to lead by example, be kind to all others, and personify anyone you speak about.

He is a father, a husband, a son. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. Start there, and build up when talking about someone.

Just let kids be kids.

60 Roseville Road: Another Historic Arts Home For Sale

Hot on the heels of 157 Easton Road — the former home of concert violinist Leopold Godowsky Jr. and his wife Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister) — another Westport property with a wonderful arts pedigree is on the market.

60 Roseville Road is listed on a state database of homes owned by famed children’s book authors and illustrators. From 1946 until his death 30 years later, Hardie Gramatky lived — and worked — there.

His name still resonates. In 2006, Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Decades after he wrote and illustrated Little Tootit remains a beloved classic.

The other day, Linda Gramatky Smith — the artist’s daughter — and her husband Ken sat in the light-filled home. They’ve lived there since 1993. Now they’re moving to New Jersey, to be closer to their daughter. They hope they can sell it to someone who cherishes its creative bones.

60 Roseville Road

60 Roseville Road

The house has had only one other owner. Joe Chapin — a famed New York art director — built it as a weekend place. When he died, his wife Henrietta moved to Imperial Avenue (where she lived with Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpies comic characters).

The Roseville Road house was rented out. In the mid-1940s, tenants wanted to buy but could not afford the asking price. So they refused to let potential purchasers inside.

Gramatky peered into the windows. He loved it — and bought it for $22,000.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Moving day was set for December 26, 1946. A huge snowstorm roared in a few days earlier. The tenants — still enraged at not being able to buy — turned off the heat, and opened the windows.

Realtor Muriel Baldwin drove by, and saw what was happening. “She saved the house,” Linda says gratefully 70 years later.

Gramatky quickly became part of Westport’s lively arts community. With Stevan Dohanos, he started a watercolor group. Howard Munce, Ward Brackett and others met monthly to chat, critique each other’s work, and socialize.

Gramatky created a “Little Toot” poster for the Westport Red Cross. He drew caricatures at the Yankee Doodle Fair, was a frequent elementary school classroom guest, and played in the popular fundraising “artists vs. writers” basketball games.

Gramatky’s wife, Dorothea Cooke, was a noted artist herself. She drew covers for magazines like Jack and Jill, and lived in the home until her death in 2001.

“They adopted the community. And the community adopted them,” Linda says.

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

“Compo Beach Figures,” by Hardie Gramatky

His home inspired his work. Gramatky could see Long Island Sound from an upstairs window, and painted that scene. Another work shows a boy and his beagle walking down Roseville Road — then just a country lane.

He painted the 1867 house across the street — owned for years by the Fonetlieu family — from many angles. Linda hung some of those works in her living room, next to windows with a view of that home.

The Gramatky house was a neighborhood gathering place. Kids played in the big yard, and sledded in winter. If they wandered into his studio, the artist let them paint. (Dorothea baked cookies for them.)

When Gramatky was dying of cancer, he spent much of his time in the warm sun porch.

Fellow illustrator Munce said in his eulogy, “Some artists go to France for inspiration. Hardie just looked out his windows, and painted those scenes.”

"Green's Farms Station," by Hardie Gramatky.

“Green’s Farms Station,” by Hardie Gramatky.

Linda looks around the house that she and Ken are selling. It has a long, rich history, and holds memories.

“It’s such a livable home,” she says. “I hope someone buys it who understands what it means, and wants to preserve it.”

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Hardie Gramatky donated this “Little Toot” book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.