Category Archives: Children

Westport School Calendar: A Work Of Art(s)

In 1976, Westport artists honored America’s bicentennial with a special calendar.

Howard Munce, Hardie Gramatky, Randy Enos, Al Willmott, Ward Brackett, Stevan Dohanos and others contributed sketches of Old Mill Beach, the Compo cannons, old Town Hall, the railroad station, even the revered Minnybus.

Proceeds helped fund Bicentennial events in town, and the purchase of artwork for the Bicentennial art collection.

Hardie Gramatky’s illustration of Old Mill, for the 1976 Bicentennial calendar. The original is being donated by his daughter, Linda Gramatky Smith, to the Westport Public Art Collection.

Inspired by that project, the Long Lots PTA launched a Westport Schools Calendar in the early 1980s. Student artists submitted work. Filled with dates of key school and district activities, it quickly became a major fundraiser.

In 2018 we’re a lot closer to the Sestercentennial than the Bicentennial. But the Westport Schools Calendar is stronger than ever.

In 2015, the LLS PTA handed the project over to Friends of Westport Public Art Collection. Proceeds now support the amazing collection that hangs in every school, and many town buildings.

This year, over 200 local students — from kindergarten through 12th grade — submitted art for the calendar. A committee chose a colorful image by Greens Farms Elementary School 1st grader Jack Steel for the cover. GFS 4th grader Kasey Feeley’s homage to the district as a thank-you to teachers graces the inside cover

Jack Steel’s 2018 cover art .

Each of the 13 months features wonderful student work — in full color.

The young artists were inspired by their schools, sports teams, activities and nature. Like their professional predecessors in 1976, their images relate powerfully to Westport.

“In an era when we all keep our calendars on electronic devices, the Westport Schools Calendar is a wonderful throwback,” says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

“You can see a whole month’s events spread out in front of you, accompanied by fun student art.”

Marpe’s daughter graduated from Staples years ago. But he still uses the calendar to keep up with school events.

Staples High student Will Roschen’s image of his building is the March illustration.

The 2018-19 Westport Schools Calendar can be ordered here online (scroll down). Click here to print out the form, and mail it in.

Calendars will also be on sale at all Back to School nights, and later this month at Saugatuck Sweets and Athletic Shoe Factory.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

New GFA Head Stresses Balance, Purpose, Community

Greens Farms Academy has had just 3 headmasters in the past 45 years.

As the successor to Jim Coyle, Peter Esty and Janet Hartwell, Bob Whelan has big shoes to fill.

Fortunately, he’s well on his way. He’s 6-5, and a former basketball player and coach.

Even more fortunately, he’s got a strong, eclectic background. Whelan graduated from Brown University in 1991 with a double major in American civilization and philosophy. He spent several years as a founder, singer, songwriter and director of a rock band that recorded with Atlantic Records and toured extensively.

Bob Whelan

He returned to school, earning a graduate degree in education, policy and management at Harvard, then embarked on a career in development, teaching and administration at 2 leading day schools.

Coupled with his profound understanding of the challenges facing today’s students, Whelan is the perfect educator to lead the Beachside Avenue private school into the future.

Brown challenged him to think about his passions, he says. His band, Angry Salad (“despite its name, we were not mad and had no agenda”), was a joyful time. He was surrounded by “talented, artistic, creative people.”

After 6 years in Brown’s development office he taught ethics and writing, coached boys and girls basketball, and rose to associate head of school at Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, New York.

Whelan’s most recent position was headmaster at 130-year-old Lake Forest Country Day, with over 400 pre-K to 8th grade students just north of Chicago.

There he developed innovative spaces, did cutting-edge work with social and emotional thinking, created a more diverse and inclusive community, and reinvigorated faculty and staff morale.

Bob Whelan, working with young students.

When a search firm approached him about GFA, he was intrigued.

“I’d always associated Westport with creativity and the arts,” Whelan says. “It’s a beautiful community, engaged in local life and the world.”

As he learned more about the school, he realized its students, faculty and mission aligned with his own sensibilities.

He accepted the position last fall. Since then, Whelan has worked with parents and alumni — and been mentored by Hartwell, the departing head.

Whelan is spending this summer meeting individually with staff members, alumni and alumni parents. He feels like an anthropologist, discovering how Greens Farms Academy got where it is, and how it heads into the future.

Before Greens Farms Academy students return in the fall, the new head of school is learning all he can about them. (Photo/Yoon S. Byun)

“I’ve always enjoyed the relationship between teachers, kids, parents and ideas,” Whelan says.

“There are surprises at every turn: learning that the school is coming off its most successful spring in its athletic history, and seeing how the performing arts help students raise their voices. I’m having a lot of fun in this process.”

Whelan is also digging deep into Westport. He’s finding “great energy everywhere” — during an early weekend here, he was amazed at the Fine Arts Festival —  and is thinking about ways to open GFA’s doors to the town.

“There are opportunities for everyone to come in and learn. A school like this has a responsibility to leverage access to a community like this, that’s dedicated to education. It’s important to bring folks behind the stone wall.”

Greens Farms Academy

Being head of Greens Farms Academy — with its beautiful facilities, excellent faculty, strong endowment and high-achieving students and parents — is a great opportunity.

But Whelan is well aware of the challenges.

“The world is evolving,” he says. “As we think about the tools we want our children to have, we also want them to be people of character, who can express themselves articulately. How do we help develop not only those skills, but also help them lead a fulfilling life of purpose, as they contribute to their community? How do we model that here?”

He knows that social media and technology are “incredibly compelling. How do we make the real world relevant to them?”

But, he adds, “kids are kids. Whether it’s the 1960s, ’80s or 2010s, it’s important to preserve childhood. We can’t lose sight that developing skills is not mutually exclusive with developing a sense of balance in life.”

Whelan takes over a school that traces its founding back 93 years. Greens Farms Academy, its new head says, is “more dedicated than ever to deepening its roots in the community. As the school reveals itself to me, I look forward to seeing it reveal itself to those who don’t know it.”

Bob Whelan will be an active leader. Those big shoes will soon be everywhere.

YMCA To Expand Bedford Facility, Enhance Camp Mahackeno

In 2014, the Westport Weston Family Y opened its new Bedford Family Center, off Wilton Road.

It was big, beautiful, modern, bright and airy.

It also lacked gymnastics, and a child care center.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center.

Four years later, the Y is ready to embark on a 2nd phase of construction. Highlights include bringing the gymnastics program back from Norwalk, increasing space for programs like yoga, and enhancing facilities and amenities at nearby Camp Mahackeno.

Today, the Y reveals the specifics in a series of member meetings in the Schine Room. Two were held this morning. One began a few minutes ago. A 4th is set for 6:30 tonight.

According to CEO Pat Riemersma, a 22,000-square foot, 2-story addition will connect to the current “Kids Club” part of the current building (facing the main parking lot).

The upper level will include space for gymnastics, and a bigger “Kid’s Club.”

An architect’s drawing of the proposed Bedford Family Center upper level expansion.

The lower level will allow expansion of popular programs like group exercise, spinning, dance and youth services.

The addition is within the previously approved 107,000-square foot footprint, Riemersma says.

The project includes 70 more parking spaces. However, the Y will not seek a change to its current membership cap, or increase the day camp cap of 360 children.

Camp Mahackeno — just south of the Bedford Family Center — will see a new pool and splash pad; new poolhouse; re-grading of the athletic field; relocated archery range; 2 new giant slides (tucked into existing grading and vegetation); expanded playground, with equipment for older children; improvements to the outdoor amphitheater, and a refurbished and winterized Beck Lodge.

Plans for the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center expansion, and renovations at Camp Mahackeno. New construction and areas of enhancement are marked in yellow.

The facility addition and camp improvements are slated to begin in September 2019. Camp Mahackeno is expected to open on time in June 2020. The building addition is planned for completion in September 2020.

Total cost of the project is $25 million. Funding will come from various sources, including the capital campaign, endowment and bank financing, Riemersma says.

Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

The campaign to lessen plastic straw use in Westport no longer sucks.

The Whelk, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Amis, Viva Zapata, Dunville’s and the Black Duck have all joined in. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the process of phasing them out.

Now comes news that a place that serves many more customers a day than all of these combined — well, maybe not Dunkin’ — has joined the crusade.

RTM member Andrew Colabella tells “06880” that he heard from Deborah VanCoughnett, director of dining services for Chartwells, the company that runs food services for the Westport schools.

Andrew says they’ll severely limit plastic straw use when school starts later this month.

None will be on display. However, students who need one — for example, those with physical disabilities — can simply ask a cashier.

Andrew thanks fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, school superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer, Bedford Middle School principal Dr. Adam Rosen and student Michael Rossi Pontoriero, and VanCoughnett for their work on this project.

It’s an important step forward. But bigger issues lie ahead.

Like plastic bottles.

Yesterday, I got an email from Samantha Henske.

Last year — as a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — she started a drive to eliminate single-use water bottles. She and her Workshop grouop sold reusable BPA-free water bottles to 400 KHS students. With the money raised, they bought a water filling station for the school.

Samantha Henske, and plastic bottles.

As she worked on the project, Sammi learned not only about environmental effects of plastic bottles (one year of manufacturing uses enough oil to fuel a million cars; a bottle in a landfill takes up to 450 years to decompose; plastics that get into fish and other sea creatures can end up as microplastics in our bodies), but that chemicals in BPA can lead to neurological difficulties and increased growth of cancer cells.

Now — as she enters Coleytown Middle School — she’s moving forward, townwide. Next month, she meets with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Green Task Force.

This is a sibling effort. She’s doing the research; her sophomore brother Spencer is working on design and technology.

The result is a Change.org petition. The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in all of Westport. To sign — or learn more — click here.

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, is underway.

The program provides new backpacks and gift cards (Staples Office Supply, Walmart, Target) to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Cash donations to the program are welcome too.

Last year, scores of youngsters received assistance. Director of Human Services Elaine Daignault estimated the number as equivalent to 10 classrooms of kids.

“A growing number of Westport families face the burden of financial hardship,” she notes.

“Back-to-school time can be particularly stressful on a family budget. Thanks to generous Westporters, our department provides discreet assistance to families who want to give their children the best possible start to the school year.

“Parents can share in the excitement of back-to-school shopping with their children. And donors can be confident that 100% of their donations benefit their Westport neighbors.”

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations of any amount made payable to “Families in Need Fund” (memo: “Backpacks”), as well as gift cards, can be sent to: Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

New backpacks can be dropped off at the department offices, Room 200 in Town Hall, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., now through August 20.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, contact Margaret Piheiro at 341-1050, or email emilton@westportct.gov.

Photo Challenge #185

Just when you think there’s no more open space in Westport — along comes last week’s Photo Challenge.

Chip Stephens’ shot showed an old-school tree fort, in the woods. (Click here to see.) Guesses included Winslow Park, Earthplace and Camp Mahackeno. 

Good ideas, all. But the scene was actually the Children’s Natural Playground at the Leonard Schine Preserve, off Weston Road near Bridgewater’s complex.

Kristin Schneeman, Stan Skowronski and Jonathan McClure knew the answer. But overall, there were not many guesses.  I guess too many people were outside, enjoying one of the most beautiful days of the year.

Perhaps they were at the Leonard Schine Preserve. It’s one of Westport’s hidden gems — literally and figuratively. Click here for details. But if you go, bring repellent — then check for deer ticks.

They don’t call it the “Natural Playground” for nothing.

Here’s this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d find it, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Melissa Joan Hart Wants Westport To #StopSucking

America knows Melissa Joan Hart as an actress — the star of sitcoms like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Melissa & Joey.”

Westporters know her as our neighbor. Like moms all around town, she cares about the environment, and the world we’re leaving our kids.

Melissa Joan Hart, with her family.

One of her major concerns is plastic straws. They’re too light to be recycled, and are one of the most common pollutants found in waters — on Compo Beach, in Long Island Sound, everywhere really.

Melissa is not alone. Other Westporters are working to eliminate plastic straws. Internationally, a Plastic Free July Foundation — based in Australia — is taking aim at all single-use plastics.

But Melissa has taken special action. Spurred by the knowledge that ours was the first town east of the Mississippi River to ban plastic bags, 10 years ago — a move many other communities have emulated — she’s beating the bushes to get restaurants to stop using plastic straws.

Or, to use her favorite hashtag: #stopsucking.

The idea, Melissa says, is for restaurants to move to “straws on request only” — and use alternatives like bamboo, paper, pasta or stainless steel straws. Another option: Patrons can carry reusable straws.

A number of leading restaurants are already on board. Melissa has commitments from The Spotted Horse, Gray Goose, Arogya, Jesup Hall, The Whelk, The Cottage and OKO.

She’s working on Terrain, Amis, Bartaco, Granola Bar and Tarantino’s. Then she’ll keep going, through all our many restaurants and other food places. (She’s got an ally in Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran).

But that’s not all. Melissa wants influential Westporters to post each restaurant that makes the #StopSucking promise, and drive traffic there.

If it’s posted to Instagram accounts like @LonelyWhale, @LifeWithoutPlastics and @Take3fortheSea, the campaign can reach far beyond Westport, she says.

Melissa Joan Hart loves living, raising her kids — and dining — here.

She’ll love it even more when we all #StopSucking.

Chill Out, Grill Out — And Give!

Last summer, Allyson Maida took a shot in the dark.

The longtime Westport psychotherapist — in her role as president of Business Networking International — organized a “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” event at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Attendees brought their own balls, frisbees, food and drinks (grills were provided). A per person entry fee helped raise over $7,200.

Allyson Maida

Every penny went to children living in transitional housing, served through Homes with Hope. Funds covered day-to-day expenses like birthday parties and transportation not covered by traditional sources.

There was more too. Businesses like Calise’s Deli, Aux Delices and Garelick & Herbs gave gift cards, so families in need could enjoy great food. Folks offered tutoring services and clothes.

It was a wonderful day, filled with surprises.

Weston Police commissioner Susan Moch spontaneously and pridefully sang the national anthem. Everyone stopped, and joined in.

Nick Santasiero and Jimi Italiano pulled out guitars and jammed. Others banged bongos.

Kids and adults played softball together. Strangers tossed frisbees.

Ernie Addario, Bill Hall and Amy Guyette Hall cooked vegan, vegetarian and meat meals. Fleisher’s Craft Butchery brought a large tent (and lots of sausage). Spotted Horse sent steak tips and salad, while Garelick & Herbs provided desserts. (The few leftovers went straight to the Gillespie Center.)

Bill Hall takes care of business at last year’s “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” party.

Everything came together, Allyson says.

Now she’s organized an encore.

The 2nd annual “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” is set for this Sunday (July 15), at Greens Farms El. It starts at 2 p.m., and continues until the last person leaves.

This year, some of the children benefiting from the event will be there too. You won’t know who they are.

They’ll be just like everyone else: Westporters having fun in their town.

(The entry is $20 per person, payable at the event; children under 12 go free. Food and drinks are provided, though you can bring your own. For more information, email allyson@allysonmaida.com. Tax-deductible donations can be made payable to “Westport BNI,” and sent to Allyson Maida, 840 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880; write “Homes with Hope” on the memo line.)

Pic Of The Day #449

Kids, geese and gulls at Compo Beach (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pic Of The Day #448

Earthplace Summer Camp: 1st mud fight of the season (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)