Category Archives: Children

Roundup: Special Needs Siblings, New Restaurants, More


When Connecticut moves into Phase 3 of reopening on October 8, restaurants can operate at 75 percent capacity. Right now, it’s 50 percent.

It’s a tough time to open a new spot. But 2 restaurants are trying.

Capuli — featuring “California-Mediterranean” cuisine — takes over the former Westport Pizzeria (and before that, Joe’s and S&M Pizza) Post Road East location, across from Design Within Reach.

Gabriele’s replaces Positano, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s a storied locale. It’s been the site of The Dressing Room (Paul Newman and Michel Nischan’s venture), and other popular mainstays like Player’s Tavern.

Both openings are set for the fall. (Hat tips: Amy Schneider and WestportNow.)

Capuli comes here soon.


Colleen Palmer resigned in 2019, after 3 turbulent years as superintendent of schools.

She’s still in education. Today’s New York Times story on a population boom in small-town Vermont — driven by families escaping COVID in other states — includes this quote:

At the (private) Mountain School (at Winhall) there are 39 new students in a student body of 83, nearly all from what Colleen Palmer, the head of school, calls “Covid families.” They have brought with them, she said, “a real influx of terrific energy, enthusiasm, vitality, diversity.”

Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: Tracy Porosoff)

Colleen Palmer


Abilis — the non-profit that supports over 700 people with special needs, and their families — launches “Sibshops.”

The program is for children ages 10 to 14 who are siblings of someone with a disability. The fun workshops and events combine recreation, discussion and information, and are safe spaces to share ideas and feelings while meeting others in similar circumstances.

Participants enjoy recreational activities and play games, while learning about the services their brother or sister receives. Sibshops begins this Wednesday (September 30), and runs through December 16. Meetings are virtual, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Registration is $40 per child; the first 2 meetings are free. To register, click here. visit abilis.us/calendar. For more information, email schulte@abilis.us.


And finally … “Who By Fire” is Leonard Cohen’s 1974 version of the Hebrew prayer “Unetanneh Tokef,” chanted on Yom Kippur.

The prayer Cohen heard as a child in the synagogue describes God reviewing the Book of Life and deciding the fate of every soul for the year to come – who will live, who will die and how.

The Day of Atonement — the holiest in the Jewish religion — begins today at sundown.

Aw, Shoot!

The Westport Farmers’ Market is — like every other public gathering — socially distanced.

But that did not prevent dozens of young photographers from getting up close and personal with the produce and products at our town’s favorite Thursday event.

This year, 8- to 18-year-old entrants in the “Young Shoots” contest had a choice. They could showcase produce, flowers, prepared food — or anything else representative of the Farmers’ Market — at home or at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Just as they’ve done constantly over the past 6 months, the young artists demonstrated resiliency, creativity, and spunk.

Plus a great eye.

Awards were presented — socially distanced, of course — at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center last week.

Alexander Sod won 1st place in the 11-14-year-old category for his photo, “Unraveling.” His shot also captured the overall “People’s Choice” award.

“Unraveling” (Alexander Sod)

The contest is “an incredible way to show both my creativity and my love for food –the taste, its shapes, patterns, and textures you can’t find anywhere except in nature,” he says.

Rose Porosoff placed 2nd in that age group, for “Veins.”

Other winners include:

8-10-year-old:

  • 1st place: Kayla Stanley for “Rinsing Strawberries”
  • 2nd place: Nakul Sethi for “The Sunset Focaccia.

“Rinsing Strawberries” (Kayla Stanley)

15 to 18-year-old

  • 1st place: Morgan Freydl for “Seacoast Mushrooms”
  • 2nd place: Anooshka Sethi for “Sunshine Toast.”

“Seacoast Mushrooms” (Morgan Freydl)

First place was worth $100, plus WFM merchandise. Runners-up  get $50 each plus WFM swag,

Lori Cochran-Dougall, executive director of WFM, says Young Shoots is more than a food photography contest.

“Clearly it encourages creativity in young people. But it also reminds adults that kids see things with a lightness and simplicity that we might miss. To see the world of food through their eyes is refreshing.”

To see all the entries from this year’s contest, click here.

(The 7th annual “Young Shoots” contest and reception were sponsored by the Westport Farmers’ Market, in collaboration with the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center and Artists Collective of Westport.)

Alexander Sod and Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran-Dougall, at the “Young Shoots” awards ceremony.

 

(Happy?) Halloween!

September still has a week to go.

But we’re already a month into Starbucks’ pumpkin latte season. A pop-up Halloween store popped up weeks ago in Compo Shopping Center.

Halloween preparations are already in full swing.

Yet this is 2020 — the year in which the world falls apart, each day’s news is worse than the one before, and every activity we rely upon has changed.

Wait — does that include Halloween?!

Social media is filled with parents (okay, mothers) asking: “What’s happening with Halloween? Is it still on?”

A reader emailed yesterday, asking if Governor Lamont has canceled it. (He has plenty of powers. Controlling Halloween is not, I don’t think, one of them.)

But questions about the spooky night are valid.

In these days of hybrid school, social distancing and frequent hand washing, is sending children out in packs a good idea? If people were concerned about the spread of COVID at Compo Beach — and they were — what happens when hordes of kids converge on the narrow, candy-packed streets near Soundview? And speaking of candy: Should youngsters really be collecting all that stuff that was already handled by so many people?

On the other hand, the whole idea of Halloween is to wear a mask. What’s the harm in wearing another (coronavirus) mask underneath a plastic one of a princess, vampire or Donald Trump? Halloween is an outdoor activity — and plenty of boys and girls are playing plenty of youth sports every day, after school. Consider this too: Kids have lost so much already. Do we really want to take away Halloween?!

Beats me. I sure don’t know. I don’t have a kid, and it’s been decades since I trick-or-treated. (Or participated in mischief. Click here for the spectacularly embarrassing story of how I tossed my own parents’ mailbox into a pond.)

I’m pretty sure there won’t be the annual downtown Halloween parade. That event seems spooked: It’s been canceled frequently in recent years by bad weather.

But a town-sponsored gathering is different from a grassroots community one. This is a free country*, and we are free to not only have Halloween or not, but to argue passionately about it.

A scene from the 2010 Halloween parade.

So the “06880” Comments section is open. Do you think kids should go trick-or-treating this year? Will you stock up on goodies, or turn off the lights? Are there creative alternatives to Halloween? How will you talk to your children about families that have a different position than yours?

Click “Comments” below. As always, please use full, real names.

And remember: There is still a month to go. In COVID time, that’s like 500 years.

*For now, anyway

A house at Compo Beach (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Unsung Hero #159

Back-to-school 2020 was nothing like years past.

This COVID-filled fall there was a lot less focus on new clothes, backpacks and binders. Parents and kids paid much more attention to masks, hand sanitizers and the amount of space between desks.

It’s a new world. And students, teachers and administrators are smack in the middle of it.

Back to School Night is virtual. Staples Players does choreography outside, on the tennis courts. There is no lunch in the elementary schools.

Behind those changes are human beings. Getting to where we are today was a gargantuan task. It’s not perfect — as superintendent of schools Tom Scarice notes often, it’s a fluid work in progress — but it is a tribute to the Westport Public Schools staff that our public schools are open, with adaptations made for both in-person and distance learning.

Think about it. Teachers have to learn new technology, balance the demands of students sitting a few (at least 6!) feet from them with those a few miles away, create new lessons, take on new tasks — all while figuring out (and worrying about) their own kids in their own schools, not to mention worrying about being back in an environment with many other people, after 6 months away.

Administrators spent the entire summer devising new schedules, monitoring class sizes, measuring classrooms and hallways, creating protocols for lunchrooms and playgrounds and gyms, answering a squintillion questions (many of which had no answer), all while assuaging the fears of some staff, parents and children who did not want to return to school, and others who did not want to stay home.

Then they did it all over again — and again and again — because, like clockwork, the rules and regulations changed.

This is not Westport. But it could be.

Think too about all the school personnel we seldom think about (but always should): Custodians. Cafeteria workers. Secretaries. Nurses. Bus drivers. Substitute teachers. Crossing guards. Security guards.

All are crucial to the functioning of a school. All are doing things differently this year too. All have their own personal concerns, but all care deeply for the buildings they serve, and (more importantly) the boys and girls in them.

No education decision pleases everyone. And every decision about COVID-19 is more controversial than even start times and budgets.

There have been glitches. There will be more. The internet will go down. The number of positive cases will go up. The future is uncertain. But everyone connected with the Westport Public Schools has planned — as best as possible — for today, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.

That’s why all of them are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

If you see anyone involved with any of our schools, thank them for all they do.

From a safe, masked distance, of course.

A message of support, from a grateful Westporter.

Pic Of The Day #1253

Sign of the times (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Roundup: Dancing At Bedford Square, New Novel, New Spa, More


Broadway is dark. But the catchy song “On Broadway” — you know, about neon lights — inspires Westport youngsters to keep their musical theater dreams alive.

Right here in Bedford Square.

The dance floor is concrete. The kids use store windows as mirrors.

But they’ve got a real-live Rockette — 15-year veteran Stevi Van Meter — as their dance instructor.

The Saturday morning classes are the brainchild of Laura Prendergast. The Theater Camp 4 Kids Broadway Academy owner vows to keep musical theater going, whatever it takes.

Bedford Square owner David Waldman donated the space.

When the weather gets cold, the kids will just bundle up and keep dancing. Hey — they’ve already got their face masks. Click below for the video!


Westporters know L.J. Peltrop as a server at Rye Ridge Deli.

He’s also a writer. His debut novel, “Waiting Face,” is a thriller involving addiction, mental health, and the fight to “belong.”

It launches this Tuesday (September 22) on Amazon.


There’s a new holistic business a few feet over the border.

Veda Healing Spa (596 Westport Avenue, Norwalk — just past Whole Foods) is a spa. Owner Harpreet Kaur was born and raised in Punjab, India and has 20 years’ experience as a licensed esthetician in Ayurvedic skin treatments, healing and wellness.


And finally … 50 years ago, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoia” offered not-very-uplifting songs about war, corruption and trauma. Happy half-century! (Hat tip: Mark Yurkiw)

Scarice Adds Info Re Coleytown El Closure

Yesterday afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice updated Westport families on the COVID-related closure of Coleytown Elementary School. He wrote:

Early this morning, the administration was informed by a staff member who self-reported that they had received notification overnight of a positive test. Given the tight timeline and that students and staff were to arrive within hours, I made the decision to close CES and Stepping Stones Preschool in order to implement our tracing protocols in conjunction with the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor. This is a 1-day closure, and both schools will reopen Monday.

The need to determine risk prior to receiving students was the primary reason for this decision. Additionally, the closure has enabled our facilities staff to perform a thorough cleaning of the school. The health and safety of our students and staff will continue to be our highest priority.

In working closely with the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor, it has been confirmed that the staff and students have implemented our mitigating measures by maintaining distance to the maximum extent possible, and by wearing masks. However, the Connecticut State Department of Education /Department of Public Health guidance indicates that decisions for exclusion from school and quarantine will be based on the individual circumstances of each case, including those who have spent a significant amount of time (i.e. more than 15 minutes) in the presence of a positive case, regardless of mask wearing.

Coleytown Elementary School. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

In this case it was determined that the students and staff in two CES classrooms spent a significant amount of time in the presence of a positive case. As a result, these individuals will be excluded from school community and have been recommended to quarantine for 14 days from the date of contact, September 10. To be clear, siblings and other family members of these children and staff do not need to quarantine.

I am quite certain that, for very good reasons, many in the school community prefer specific information about the individuals involved in this matter.  However, the school district administration is required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations regarding student and employee confidentiality and privacy.

The Americans with Disabilities Act precludes sharing the identity of an individual, with the exception of sharing the individual’s identity with a public health agency (e.g., Westport Weston Health District). In addition, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents the school district from publicly sharing personally identifiable information derived from student education records.

In light of these confidentiality and privacy protections and our related legal obligations, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of the school community, we will continue to adhere to the appropriate means of notifying the school community of possible exposure to COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.  Judgement will be used and each case might look a little different from another.

Some unintended consequences resulted in this matter as well. For example, the distance-learning teachers located at CES were not able to access their materials this morning, and as a result, those classes needed to be cancelled. The distance-learning specials were impacted similarly, yet this was not communicated to parents and I apologize for any inconvenience. We have reviewed this process so that we can maintain continuity to the maximum extent possible the next time we experience a closure or interruption of education.

I intentionally state, “the next time” since I want to reiterate that we are educating our students in the midst of a global pandemic. I expect that we will continue to confront circumstances like this throughout the duration of the pandemic. We will get better in our response each time. We will learn lessons from each event and we will continue to educate and develop our children to the very best of our ability.

Finally, we will continue to count on each other as we continue to rise up and endure this challenge.

COVID Caution Closes Coleytown El, Stepping Stones

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice sent this notice today to all Coleytown Elementary School families and staff:

The administration learned early this morning that a staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. Given the timing of the notice and our need to follow district protocols with contact tracing, as a precautionary measure, Coleytown Elementary School will be closed today, Friday, September 11, 2020, to students and staff. This closure includes the staff and students of Stepping Stones preschool.

[Principal Jenna] Sirowich and the administrative team will be working closely with the central office administrators, the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor to assess the impact of this positive COVID-19 test and begin contact tracing.  We will provide an update to the CES and preschool community later today.

In the interim, our custodial staff will be conducting a thorough cleaning of the building to ensure it is ready for reopening.

We regret needing to take this action and for the late notice but feel it is the most prudent decision so that we can implement the necessary tracing measures.  The health and safety of students and staff are our primary concern.

This was the scene Tuesday morning, at Coleytown Elementary School.(Photo/Stephanie Mastocciolo)

Schools Superintendent: Let’s Join Together For All Our Kids

On the day before the start of a new school year — one unlike any other — superintendent of schools Tom Scarice sent a message to Westport families. It too is unlike any back-to-school note sent before. He wrote:

I am certain that you have received countless messages from teachers, principals and others in the school system as we approach the first day of school tomorrow. I will do my best to keep this brief so that you could enjoy the last day of summer vacation, along with this gorgeous weather.

Enclosed in this message are necessary notifications for parents and guardians in order to start the school year. Please review at your earliest convenience.

Most importantly, I would like to welcome each of you  to the start of the 2020-2021 school year. This will be a unique year, and one that will require the abilities to communicate effectively, to adapt regularly, and to support each other as we navigate the realities of educating our students during a global pandemic.

Tom Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Last April, during the initial COVID worldwide spread, Dimo’s Pizza in Chicago reinvented itself. Dimo’s owner Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau felt driven to respond to the pandemic. Realizing that his restaurant regularly makes things very quickly, in large quantities, and very cleanly, Syrkin-Nikolau recast the use of his pizza ovens to heat and shape acrylic face shields. Concurrently, Dimo’s continued to make pizzas, some for takeout and others donated to local hospitals.

Success stories such as this one have been reported all over private industry and the non-profit sector. Reinventing, i.e. transforming a process or recasting for a new use, is a bit more complex when considering teaching and learning. I am a purist in a sense in that I believe in the power of the interpersonal dynamic between the teacher and the student, live and in-person. Technology has augmented facets of education, yet it still has not, and some regards, I do not believe it ever will, replace the incalculable experience of the classroom.

Yet, for this school year, hundreds of Westport teachers and support staff are faced with this challenge.

Last Thursday I had the chance to formally address each and every employee of the Westport Public Schools, albeit, remotely. I shared my thoughts on how the highest performing systems, (i.e. teams, private industry, etc.) can “count” on each other for the greater good of the mission. I made specific promises of support to the team.

In my numerous conversations with teachers and support staff over the past few weeks, it is clear to me that within the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, there is a strong desire to do this right, to meet the needs of each and every student in a way never done before.

We are not, and will not be, perfect. We are a system comprised of people with all of the strengths, potential, and shortcomings that we bring collectively to our schools, present company included. However, like Dimo’s pizza, we are poised to rise up and reinvent, if only for this time period, while we continue to confront this pandemic. Our kids are counting on us.

Although I am not well-known to the community at this point, I am confident that you will all come to see me as an educational leader who is by nature, optimistic. I do not believe that optimism is the denial of current reality, but the belief that all things continually improve, that this too will get better.

Until that time, I ask that you join me in supporting our educators as they embark down a path of reinventing, even if for only this year, in order to meet the needs of our children. I ask that you offer your patience, your generosity, and your kindness.

In turn, on behalf of the Westport Public Schools team, I offer you the promise that we will do our very best to serve your child, to benchmark our progress and seek to continually improve, and to provide your child with not only an excellent education, but a nurturing place to grow and develop during this time.

As summer closes and we approach our first school day, I ask all in the school community, to rise up and join together to deliver for our children.

Most sincerely,
Tom Scarice

As Schools Starts, Cops Urge Caution

As COVID continues — and the new school year begins — the Westport Police Department urges all drivers and pedestrians to exercise extra care.

As an added “incentive,” officers will be extra-vigilant for violators. 

The department urges families to discuss these rules together:

As COVID-19 has significantly altered our schools’ scheduling with staggered student arrival and dismissal times, motorists will for the first time share the roads throughout the day with school buses making frequent stops, as well as children who are walking or biking to school.

This year more than ever, we strongly urge commuters to allow extra time to prepare for traffic delays. Please remain vigilant and alert around school zones, bus stops and school buses. Obey the school bus laws of Connecticut, which include slowing down and preparing to stop for yellow flashing school bus lights and stopping for red flashing school bus lights.

Drivers

In neighborhoods with school zones or when backing into a roadway, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.

Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks.

Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

Learn the “flashing signal light system” used by school bus drivers to alert motorists of pending actions:

  • Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
  • Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Motorists on both sides of the roadway must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.

Children

Get to the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

When the bus approaches, stand at least 3 giant steps away from the curb, and line up away from the street.

Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it’s okay before stepping onto the bus.

If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least 5 giant steps ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus driver can see you, and you can see the bus driver.

Use the handrails to avoid falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing with drawstrings and book bags with straps do not get caught in the handrails or doors.

Never walk behind the bus.

Walk at least 3  giant steps away from the side of the bus.

If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.

Follow instructions given by school crossing guards. Do not cross until they have stopped traffic completely and have advised it is safe to cross.