Category Archives: Children

Pics Of The Day #793

On Monday, 5th graders from Greens Farms Elementary School had an “after-graduation party” at Compo Beach.They just hung out, enjoying the setting sun away from their parents, close to friends who will disappear for the summer. They’ll return as middle school students in late August. Meanwhile … (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

Here’s the flip side of life at Compo. Too many people don’t pick up after themselves. This was the scene yesterday morning: a Parks & Rec employee doing what all of us should do ourselves whenever we are at the beach. (Photo/Matt Murray)

Unsung Hero: Special Bus Driver Edition

A few hours ago, I posted this week’s Unsung Heroes story. Kudos to the traffic agents, who put up with all kinds of weather (and all kinds of drivers) to make sure our kids (and teachers) arrive at school safe and sound.

I just found out about another person who makes school special. Like the traffic cops, he’s not a Board of Education employee. But he’s as important as any educator.

Mario Viola drives bus routes for Coleytown and Saugatuck Elementary Schools. He truly goes “the extra mile.”

Grateful parent Lisa Newman says, “He tirelessly loves and cares for our children. He decorates his bus for holidays, shows up for their concerts, and keeps everyone excited for school.”

One day, Lisa’s son had an as-yet-undiscovered fever. He arrived home wearing Mario’s hat. The driver had given it to him to make him feel better. (“It worked!” she says).

Mario Viola, and Lisa Newman’s son.

School ended yesterday. But today, the kids on his routes enjoyed one last day with Mario.

He invited them all to Carvel for ice cream — and treated every one!

Mario Viola and his happy kids, at Carvel today.

Thanks, Mario Viola, for doing so many little things, for so long, for so many. Long after these youngsters forget most of what went on this year, they will remember your kindness, and you.

(Hat tip: Heather Sinclair)

David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

The other day, reader David Gusick took this pre-prom picture, and sent it to “06880.”

. (Photo/David Gusick)

Tomorrow, more than 450 seniors graduate from Staples High School.

Today — inspired by the prom, the rest of the graduation activities, and the upcoming commencement — he addresses his son Sam, and the rest of the Class of 2019:

You may think this is your day. But it’s our day too.

I am not the class valedictorian, nor do I wear any fancy robes or caps to indicate that I am a man of letters. But reaching certain milestones, no matter who you are, is a good time to gather thoughts, reflect and write them down.

So I did. And so should you.

Sorry, kids. This speech is for your parents. But you may still want to listen. You might learn something.

Staples graduates listen to Dave Gusick’s speech. Or at least, the Class of ’18 listened to someone last year.

While you may think this day is all about you — and to a certain extent it is — I’m here to help educate you that today is just as much about us parents, and the blood, sweat and tears we shed to help get you here today.

Almost every parent here today should agree that you, our children, are our crowning achievement. The greatest thing most of us will ever create. To see you successfully pass this milestone is just as much a testament to our hard work as it is for yours.

Even before you were born, “the worry” began. With each phase of your life, new worries begin. Because with every opportunity comes risks.

As newborns, you gave us a literal wake-up call (typically at 2 a.m.) that our lives no longer belonged to just us.

As babies you relied on us for everything. Your survival literally depended on us.

As toddlers we had our introduction to the “great letting go,” as we exchanged our control for your independence.

In a late-summer ritual, this eager group of Caccamo Lane and Juniper Road kids waited for the first bus of the year. (Photo/Pam Long)

That is the time we moved to Westport from New York. It was shortly after 911, and just before our son’s 2nd birthday.

Like many of you, we moved here for the schools. Westport schools always rank near the top in the state and nation. Plus, Westport had Bar Method classes, which my wife didn’t think existed outside of Manhattan.

We made new friends quickly with other parents who were also new to the area.

When kindergarten started, our playgroups scattered to the 5 elementary schools. While we remained friends with some families, our attention focused on families who attended our elementary schools.

Having children that age and younger is perhaps the closest your family will ever be. You go everywhere and do everything together. You are a team.

While certain children are easier than others, raising any child is never easy. Having children forces us to be our better selves. Whether you like it or not you are now their teacher, coach, mentor and role model.

Elementary school activities are perhaps the most difficult to watch as parents. The orchestra sounds like a beached whale begging to be euthanized.

The first year kids pitch in youth baseball is mostly watching them walk around the bases as pitchers futilely try to avoid hitting the backstop and batter.

For generations, a rite of growing up.

You attend these recitals, games, tournaments, performances year after year after year. At first their progress is so incremental you barely notice their advancement.

Then comes the middle school phase. The kids keep getting better and better, accelerating with seemingly no end in sight. Next thing you know, they’re going to the Little League World Series!

Finally, high school.

We come back together. One school, one community: Staples. Now our lives, schedules and friendships are driven by YOUR activities, practices, rehearsals.

This message is for parents and students.

To be a healthy and happy adult, it is important to understand closure. Having unfinished business — especially with your parents — will stunt your future growth. You can blame us for any of your problems, but know this: We did the best we could with what we had to work with. We did what we thought was best. As did our parents before us. As will you, too.

A parent’s job — and joys — never ends.

Only understanding, acceptance and closure will prepare us for our next chapter, and our continued growth.

Parents are no longer the gods you saw us as when you were little. We are flawed. To maintain that pretense would be a disservice to you.

I love the annual ritual of Staples’ Back to School Night. It a reunion of sorts for us parents. I jokingly refer to it as “back together.” Many of the couples we knew starting out are no longer together. But for one night we return to the way things used to be.

Now there is a weariness, from years of work and worry. For ourselves and our children, that took a toll.

And so it goes.

As you become upperclassmen, you make some sort of invisible leap.

Part of the payoff for Dave Gusick: Watching his son Sam (3rd from left) in Staples Players’  “Twelve Angry Men.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

The musical ensembles are now pitch perfect. You sound like a single instrument. Your performances are infused with so much emotion that it brings grown men to tears. Seeing a Staples Players production is almost always better than seeing a Broadway show. The quality and standards are so high, and they are performed by our kids, for our town.

Just last week people posted prom pictures. Kids I hadn’t seen since nursery school have grown into such handsome and beautiful young adults!

You are now quicker, stronger, faster, sharper, more inquisitive and engaged than we are.

It is natural to feel nervous and scared about what comes next. I know I am. We have worked 18 years to help you be the best person you can be. To equip you with the skills you need to take care of yourself, and cope with all of the challenges life will throw your way.

To the graduating seniors: You are no longer children. Yet no matter how old you become, even when you are in your 50s and  60s we will refer to you as “our children.”

When each of you walk up to accept your diploma, there will be a community of people extending beyond your parents who have quietly rooted for you and your success.

So that brings us to today. Take a moment to forgive your parents for any mistakes you think we made. Thank us for the innumerable sacrifices you never saw. No matter how you feel about us, your happiness and growth have always been our #1 priority. In return, we asked for almost nothing.

Finally, to the parents: Our job will always be to listen. And to love.

Thank you.

Pics Of The Day #789

The Yankee Doodle Fair was packed last night. It runs till 10 p.m. tonight, at the Westport Woman’s Club (44 Imperial Avenue). Tomorrow is the last day: 1 to 5 p.m. Don’t miss it!

(Photo/Lee Scharfstein)

(Photo/Kristina Bory)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Chad: Challenger Baseball’s Shining Knight

Chad Knight has a sparkling resume.

Last week the Staples High School senior captained his baseball team to their 2nd state championship in 3 years. In 2013 Chad starred on the Westport squad that reached the finals of the Little League World Series.

He’s been drafted by the New York Yankees — but he’s heading first to Duke University. He’s also an excellent piano player.

Yet one of his many other recent honors — Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year — led to an especially fine moment.

As part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward Fund, Chad was given $1,000 to pass on to any national or local youth sports organization of his choice.

He chose Westport Little League’s Challenger Division. That’s the very successful program for boys and girls with disabilities.

Chad Knight (rear, center, white shirt) and Challenger commissioner Beth Cody (front, blue shirt) join Challenger players, buddies, and Staples baseball players today.

Chad’s generosity came from the heart. Throughout the years he has served as a “buddy” to the players. He always found time to help out. He loved the youngsters, and they adored him.

In appreciation of Chad’s gift, commissioner Beth Cody announced that Gatorade is the official drink of the Westport Winners challenger team. Today at Meyer Field, she presented Chad with a bottle with his name, number and the Westport Winners name.

Starting this fall, every Challenger player will get one too.

It was a quick, fun ceremony, before Westport took on Norwalk in their final game of the season.

Then Chad headed off to his next celebration: his own graduation party.

In 2014, Chad Knight (right) was a Challenger buddy with Dylan Curran. Dylan is now manager of the state champion Staples baseball team, and still plays with the Westport Winners.

Pic Of The Day #785

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story on High Point Road. In the midst of highlighting all the joys of the longest dead-end street in town — the road I grew up on — I complained that kids there no longer rode bikes to school, the way my friends and I did.

Maybe — because I regularly pass so many parents waiting for their kids’ buses on nearby North Avenue (and don’t get me that they drive to the beginning of roads like Adams Farm and Greystone Farm Roads to pick them up, aaaargh!) — I just assumed that High Point parents did the same.

My bad.

Biking to school from High Point is alive and well. Here’s a shot of Long Lots Elementary the other day:

(Photo/Tally Jacobs)

When they’re older, many youngsters walk from High Point to Bedford Middle School too.

“This time outdoors is an important part of the kids’ day,” says High Point parent Tally Jacobs.

“It says so much about Westport that kids take advantage of their proximity to the schools, the fresh air, the independence and community feeling that results from walking and biking.”

Of course, walking to Staples — directly behind homes on the west side of the road — is a different story. Most High Point kids with their licenses drive to high school — even though it takes longer.

I’m can’t make fun of them for that.

I did the same thing, waaaaay back in the day.

(Hat tip: Amy Hochhauser)

Pic Of The Day #784

Rides are arriving for the annual Yankee Doodle fair. The much-anticipated, unofficial-start-of-summer event at the Westport Woman’s Club on Imperial Avenue kicks off Thursday at 6 p.m. It continues Friday evening, all day Saturday, and ends Sunday afternoon. (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Staples Grad Turns Chess Rookies Into Kings And Queens

Earlier this year, Marian Edmonds — a teacher at Price Middle School in Atlanta — won a district-wide award. Her prize: She could attend any educational conference she wanted.

Instead, she used her prize money to bring 5 students to the US Chess Federation’s National Junior High Championship in Grapevine, Texas.

They’d been playing less than 2 years. But that was enough time for Edmonds — the former Marian Warshafsky, a 1978 Staples High School graduate — to introduce them to the game.

And to inspire, motivate, and coach them well enough to compete at a national level.

Marian Edmonds, and her Price Middle School chess team.

It all began in the fall of 2017. Edmonds — on cafeteria duty — had a chessboard. Several kids seemed interested. She taught them the basics.

They told their friends. Soon, Price had a chess team.

Chess offers many benefits, Edmonds says, like critical thinking skills, improved confidence and concentration, and the life lesson that every move you make has consequences.

“Chess makes us all equal,” Edmonds told the Atlanta public schools’ website. “All you need is the opportunity and the motivation.”

She sure gave them that. This past April, her team placed 6th in the state tournament.

Marian Edmonds with one proud Price chess player …

Then came Texas. The selection process for the 5 players included writing an essay about the game’s impact on their lives.

Chess “made me a better person,” Cierra Patton wrote. She said she now feels “like I’m a knight.”

The national tournament was the big leagues. Most of the Price kids’ competitors had been playing for years — some with professional coaches.

“Our students had to learn how to simply play a board game: how to compete, take turns, manage frustration, lose gracefully, and persist through losses,” Edmonds said.

“Yet here we were, at the same competition, facing those same chessboards.”

Like any great coach, Edmonds inspired her team.

“That kid wouldn’t last a single day at Price Middle School,” she’d say. “You’ve GOT this!”

They sure did. Her team finished 16th overall — and Aquantis Clemmons took 5th place individually.

One of Marian Edmonds’ chess players exudes confidence at the national tournament. (Photos courtesy of Purpose Built Schools Atlanta)

That was exciting. Unfortunately, the team was not at the awards ceremony. Their flight home had been booked for the same time.

No matter. Tournament officials were so thrilled at the Price youngsters’ performance, they delivered the trophies to them at the gate.

“Victoriously, the Price chess team boarded their plane with trophies in hand,” the Atlanta schools’ website reported.

“Their fellow passengers cheered them on. Aquantis, Keylon, Corey, Montayo and Cierra beamed from ear to ear.”

(For the full story on Edmonds and her chess team, click here. Hat tip: Laurie Woog.)

A Guy In A Black Porsche Sees A Lemonade Stand…

If you wanted lemonade yesterday, you were in luck.

Over 30 stands popped up throughout county. They were part of the 6th annual Angel-Ade, a fundraiser for the great Al’s Angels children’s charity.

Then there was the stand on the corner of Stoneboat and Red Coat Roads.

It’s not the most well-traveled spot in town. But 4 neighborhood kids — 9-year-olds Sophie Chan and Jessica Selzer, and 6-year-olds Torey Chan and Jacob Selzer — decided to raise money for St. Jude’s.

They sold fruit cups for $2, cookies (2 for $2), and lemonade ($1).

The young lemonade stand proprietors. (Photo/Frank Rosen)

A guy in a black Porsche 911 drove past. He slowed down, circled back, got out and talked with the kids.

He bought a lemonade, and handed them $100.

Jessica said she could not break the bill.

He told her: “Keep the change.”

The Selzers’ mom Jodi said, “We never met this man before. We were shocked by his generosity.”

The kids raised $215. Chances are, for the rest of their lives they’ll never forget that great $100 gift, from a man they did not even kn0w.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.