Category Archives: Education

Remembering Lou Dorsey

To generations of Westport students, Lou Dorsey was phys. ed.

The Saugatuck native, Staples High School graduate and longtime teacher died November 2, in Florida. He was 93 years old.

Dorsey was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. He left school after the basketball season, to join the Navy. “It was more important to get in the war before it ended than to get my diploma,” he said in 2004.

Nine classmates (out of a graduation class of 100) also left school early, for the war. Dorsey received his diploma eventually, on leave, in a special ceremony with principal Douglas Young.

Dorsey served in the Pacific Theater, as a radioman third class. After his service he received his undergraduate degree at Arnold College (now the University of Bridgeport), and his master’s at Columbia University.

Lou Dorsey

He taught physical education for 33 years at Saugatuck and Burr Farms Elementary Schools, and Staples High School.

He was inspired to teach by his high school coaches, particularly Roland Wachob at Staples.

“Rollie would put me in charge of his 9th grade class when he’d go off on a baseball trip,” Dorsey said. “If you did that nowadays you’d get sued.”

Dorsey and his wife Pauline spent 60 summers in the western Maine mountains. They moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida 33 years ago, where Dorsey was an avid golfer.

He is survived by 4 children: Judith Dorsey and her husband Kenneth Gomberg; Kimberly Slimak and her husband Michael Slimak; Jiliane Dorsey and Louis Dorsey, Jr. and his youngest sister, Patricia Dorsey Wood, as well as 3 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in Rangeley, Maine next summer. Click here to leave condolences.

Westport Students Honor Vets

For several years, Westport schools have been in session on Veterans Day.

At first, the move was controversial. Why, some residents wondered, did our students and staff not get the federal holiday off, to honor all those who have served our country?

Of course, that’s not what most people do on Veterans Day. If you’ve got the day off, odds are you spend far less time thinking about America’s vets than you do about going to the gym, walking the dog and what’s for dinner.

Things are very different inside our schools.

Many make the day meaningful, by prepping students with special programs.

Jay Dirnberger, with a plastic helicopter made for him by a Bedford Middle School student. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Every year on or around the holiday, Bedford Middle School invites veterans to meet, in small groups, with 8th graders. The vets talk about their experiences, and lessons learned. Students ask questions, and have meaningful conversations.

Jay Dirnberger has participated for the past 8 years. He always looks forward to it — especially the attentiveness of the youngsters, and their insightful questions.

Sometimes, he says, they help him uncover long-forgotten incidents or emotions.

Jay and his wife, Molly Alger, always look forward to the thank-you notes that arrive from students a few days later. They are detailed and meaningful, she says. Every year, one or two bring her to tears.

Ted Diamond is a longtime participant too. The World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator was there again last Friday — at age 102. So were 96-year-old Larry Aasen, and 95-year-old WWII vet Leonard Everett Fisher.

Leonard Everett Fisher, at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/January Stewart)

“This is a terrific program,” Molly says, “particularly in a town that does not have a lot of family members on active military duty.” She thanks Courtney Ruggiero, David Deitch and the social studies staff for organizing this event for “the future leaders of our country.”

Bedford Middle School student thanks a vet. (Photo/January Stewart)

Veterans at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/Bob Fitzpatrick)

Greens Farms Elementary School usually holds a Veterans Day event on the actual holiday as well. This year, due to scheduling issues, it was last Friday.

For the past 7 years, 3rd grade teachers have run an all-school assembly. That’s no coincidence: instructors Amy Murtagh, Karen Frawley, Dan Seek and Michelle DeCarlo all have immediate family members who are veterans.

Murtagh’s husband is on active duty in the Marine Corps Reserves. He recently returned from a year-long deployment, including 7 months in Afghanistan. He presented GFS with a flag flown over his base.

Capt. John Murtagh, UMSC, and 3rd grade teacher Amy Murtagh. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Frawley’s mother is a retired Air Force member. It’s important, Murtagh says, that Greens Farms students meet a female vet.

Seek’s father is also retired from the Air Force — and a former POW. DeCarlo’s father-in-law is a veteran too.

Every year, the GFS program begins with a reception. Veterans, their family and school students or staff members they’re related to swap stories.

Clockwise from bottom: Greens Farms 3rd grader Lily Jumper; Lily’s mother Lauren; Lily’s grandparents Marie Jumper, and James Jumper, electrician’s mate 3rd class, US Navy. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

The 3rd graders then run the assembly for the entire school. There is a Pledge of Allegiance, national anthem, and a discussion of why Veterans Day  is important. Then everyone sings songs from each branch of service.

Third graders teach the rest of the school about something related to the day. Past lessons have included a Missing Man table, and discussions of the Oath of Enlistment and the sacrifices veterans and their families make.

This year, the subject was the importance of our flag — including flag-folding. That was especially poignant. The ceremony was conducted by 2 vets who recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan. One — Lt. Ryan Weddle of the Navy — is the father of a current 3rd grader. On Friday, he folded the flag with Capt. John Murtagh of the Marine Corps

After the ceremony, each veteran was presented with a flag that had already been folded the traditional way. Each vet’s background and honors was noted.

Among the attendees this year: a female veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, a Combat Action Medal recipient, and veterans from multiple wars.

Veterans at Greens Farms Elementary School. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Like Molly Alger, Amy Murtagh believes that honoring veterans in schools takes on added significance here. “Westport doesn’t have the biggest military presence,” the GFS 3rd grade teacher says. “So this is an incredible learning opportunity for our students.”

Meanwhile, it’s a regular — if special — school day today, in Westport. But Colin Corneck won’t be in class this morning.

The Staples High School senior — a member of the boys soccer team, boys swim team captain, and recipient of a Naval ROTC scholarship — will deliver the address at the town’s annual Veterans Day service.

The program begins at 10:30 a.m., with a patriotic concert by the Westport Community Band. In addition to Colin’s remarks, there’s an invocation and benediction by the Rev. Alison Patton Buttrick of Saugatuck Congregational Church; remarks from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe; placing of a memorial wreath by members of VFW Post 399 and American Legion Post 63; taps played by Community Band trumpeters, and the “Armed Forces Salute.”

Colin will represent all Westport students well. They won’t be there, because school is in session. They wouldn’t have been there if school was out, either.

But thanks to the work of teachers and staff at all levels, our youngsters today have a great knowledge of — and appreciation for — what today is all about.

Good Morning, Olivia!

A couple of years ago, Westporter Olivia Cohn invented Happy Ride. The personal air vent cured car sickness — while not bothering other passengers.

She was in 4th grade at the time.

Happy Ride earned her a National Invention Convention medal.

Her video was posted on YouTube. A producer at “Good Morning America” saw it, and loved it.

He contacted Coleytown Elementary School. Administrators did not give out her number. So the producer reached out to Town Hall; Olivia’s dad Neil is on the website, as a Planning & Zoning Commission alternate.

Flash forward to today. Olivia — now a Bedford Middle School 6th grader — was on “Good Morning America’s” 3rd hour. It’s called “GMA3 Strahan, Sara & Keke,” and airs at 1 p.m. on the East Coast.

All week long, GMA is featuring inventors. On Friday she’ll be on again, with the other 4.

Olivia, her invention (left) and the “Good Morning America” hosts.

Olivia continues to do great things. She’s very involved in sciences, and solving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

She’s also part of a worldwide group called Girls In Science 4SDGs. Click here for one of her great posts.

The group will help moderate the UN’s annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science next February.

You go, girls! Especially our hometown inventor, Olivia Cohn.

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Olivia Cohn, on TV.

Click below for a bootleg version of Olivia’s appearance. It has not yet been shown on the West Coast! Click here for the official version.

 

Bassick Band Needs Music Men (And Women)

In Westport, our schools’ stellar music program is a given.

Just a few miles away in Bridgeport, it’s a gift.

Bassick High School struggles with the basics. Recently, administrators found enough money to hire a band leader. Jon Garcia is eager to teach students, who are just as eager to learn.

But they can’t play without instruments. The band closet was almost empty.

Bassick High School band director Jon Garcia.

When Westonite Martha Deegan heard about the situation, she called a meeting with her Sky’s the Limit Foundation board of directors. They voted to take on the project.

They ask area residents with instruments languishing in closets, attics and basements — in other words, plenty of Westporters — to donate them to the Bassick marching band.

The foundation will clean them, and replace cork, pads and valves — whatever is needed to get the instruments in working order.

It would be great, Martha says, to get donations to buy new ones. But that’s expensive: a new tuba costs up to $7,000. So they’re concentrating on used, semi-forgotten but desperately needed instruments.

She has a personal desire to provide saxophones: Her father played sax with Stan Kenton and the Paul Whiteman Orchestrsa, back in the day at Cedar Point, Ohio.

Martha will pick up any instruments — anywhere in Connecticut. She’ll also reimburse shipping costs from out of state.

She’s off to a great start. A lawyer friend called, and offered an accordion, violin, sax, conga drum and cymbals from foreclosed houses that are being cleaned out.

Donations have already begun: trombones, trumpets, woodwinds, keyboards, euphoniums, electric guitars, and a clarinet, banjo and grand piano (!) from Westporters, and a flute from a Weston family.

Local residents involved include Dr. Jennifer Baum Gruen, opera singer Lucia Palmieri, “What Up Westport” founder Marcy Sansolo, Sue Connors, Shirley Hwang, Sue Daly and Kristana Esslinger.

Bassick High School band members.

Norwalk’s AAA Band Rentals shop — owned by Weston resident Mike Spremulli — has offered to recondition (free!) all donations.

Members of the “Bassick Big Band” will play at Barnes & Noble on Saturday, November 9 (3 to 5 p.m.). They’ll accept contributions (of money and/or instruments). The store will donate a portion of its profits from sheet music and music books to the school’s program.

Still needed:

  • 4 flutes
  • 1 obe
  • 1 clarinet
  • 4 alto saxophones
  • 3 tenor saxophones
  • 1 baritone saxophone
  • 5 trumpets
  • 2 French horns
  • 5 trombones
  • 2 baritone euphoniums
  • 1 tuba
  • 1 concert bass drum
  • 1 concert snare drum
  • 1 pair of crash cymbals
  • 1 timables
  • 1 pair of congas
  • 1 pair of bongos
  • 2 electric bass guitars
  • 1 electric guitar

“The Good Book teaches us to ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the lands,'” Martha says. “This is my holiday wish and mitzvah for the Bassick High School marching band.”

(To donate, email marthadeegan@rocketmail.com)

 

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Youn Su Chao

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Democratic Board of Education candidate Youn Su Chao. Saugatuck Elementary School PTA member Jen Berniker conducted the interview. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Lee Goldstein

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Democratic Board of Education candidate Lee Goldstein. Saugatuck Elementary School PTA member Jen Berniker conducted the interview. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

“Westport Together”: It Takes A Village To Raise Our Kids

As long as there have been teenagers, adults have worried about them.

In 1996 the United Way organized 2 townwide forums on youth issues. They led to the formation of Positive Youth Development: a collaborative effort to support youngsters and their families in their homes, at school and throughout the community.

The goal was to prevent risky behavior by providing parental education and support, rather than correcting challenges after something happens.

PTAs helped too.

Dialogue between groups resulted in new programs, including Toquet Hall, Community Service Corps, school psychologist meetings, Suniya Luthar’s research, a schoolwide substance abuse survey, and Risky Behavior Forums.

Now, 20 years after its formation, Positive Youth Development is being revitalized. Teenagers face new challenges (along with the old ones). Town organizations and non-profits have changed.

Information comes at us all in a firehose. In a torrent of emails, meeting notifications and online platforms, it’s easy to miss important ideas.

It’s time for the community to help its young people in different ways.

This morning, at Human Services’ 23rd annual breakfast for mental health professionals, the department will launch “Westport Together.”

It’s a new alliance that advocates for resilient youth, healthy families and strong communities; provides education through programs, presentations and resources, and enhances connections among families, schools and the entire town.

The PYD philosophy remains the same. But Westport Together hopes to enhance links between town and school programs; improve communication among partners and community members, and increase participation and information sharing.

A new website brings a number of youth, parenting and community programs together in one place. There are also pages for upcoming events, and a rich array of resources.

Westport Together alliance members include:

  • Westport Public Schools
  • Westport PTA
  • Town of Westport (Human Services, Police, Fire, Parks & Recreation)
  • Earthplace
  • Westport Library
  • MoCA
  • Positive Directions — Center for Counseling and Prevention
  • RULER (parent group)
  • Wakeman Town Farm
  • Westport Museum for History and Culture
  • Westport Prevention Coalition
  • Westport Weston Health District
  • Westport Family YMCA

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker

Second selectman Jen Tooker helped lead the project, along with Human Services director Elaine Daignault, youth services program director Kevin Godburn and school district coordinator of psychological services Valerie Babich.

Tooker says, “This is more than a revitalization of PYD. It’s a declaration of our commitment to, and prioritization of, the health and well-being of our youth.

“We want Westporters to know this is not an easy topic to tackle. We understand it takes a village to support this initiative. The village is ready and working!”

Back in the day, Daignault adds, “when a kid walked through town, people knew him and looked out for him. There was less chance of risky behavior.

“With Westport Together, we hope to get back to that time when everyone looked out for our kids — together.”

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Liz Heyer

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Republican Board of Education candidate Liz Heyer. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

Good Will Hunting: Herrera Has A Great Target

Three years ago, Will Herrera was cleaning the Staples High School guidance suite. The hard-working custodian was on his usual 3 to 11 p.m. shift.

A poster caught his eye. It advertised Norwalk Community College‘s Summer Bridge program.

Will had tried college once before. But he was young; the pressure of studying, while juggling work to pay tuition, was too much.

No one in his family had gone to college. His parents had not even finished 5th grade, in their native Colombia. But a relative’s wedding gift of 2 plane tickets to New York gave them a foothold here.

They arrived with green cards in 1985. They worked hard — in New York, Detroit, Florida and Connecticut — while constantly emphasizing to Will the importance of education.

Will Herrera, in the Staples High School library.

Will attended a magnet school in Bridgeport. He dreamed of becoming a teacher, like those who were influencing him. But he too had to work — he began cleaning YMCAs when he was 15 — and in 2013 was hired as a custodian at Bedford Middle School. He moved to Staples 3 years later.

That guidance poster for NCC marked a turning point in his life. He decided to give college another shot.

Caring admissions officers helped him through the admission and scholarship process.

Will took courses in English, math, environment, pyschology, creative writing, philosophy, computer science and public speaking. He got involved in extracurricular activities, like planting trees at Veterans Park.

All the while, he worked the 2nd custodial shift at Staples.

He considered dropping out just short of graduation, when his mother — who had battled breast cancer twice before — was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But she urged him to persevere.

This past May, Will graduated from NCC — with a 3.51 GPA, and cum laude honors.

His goal of becoming a teacher grew stronger than ever.

Will applied to Sacred Heart and Southern Connecticut State University. He was accepted to both.

Though SHU is much closer — just 2 miles from the home he bought in 2015 — he chose Southern. Its education program and resources are better suited to his needs, he says.

This semester, Will takes 4 courses, in the morning and early afternoon: Teachers, Society and Communities; Introduction to Special Education; Math for Elementary Education, and Health.

Meanwhile, he continues to work the 3 to 11 p.m. custodial shift at Staples.

Oh, yeah: He’s also a board member for the custodians’ union.

Will Herrera works at Staples — as a student observing teachers, and as a custodian on the second shift.

Part of his coursework involves classroom observation. He’s doing that at Staples — the same school where, a few hours later, he cleans classrooms.

Observing science and world language classes, he’s intrigued by how teachers handle their work: creating lesson plans, leading discussions, handling a wide variety of learning styles, and doing the thousands of other things educators do every day.

“Education is stressful,” he says. But he notes that everyone in a school — teachers, counselors, custodians — deals with stresses. There are issues of time management, collaboration, priorities — you name it.

Staples world language teacher Julia Svec has loved having Wilson observe her Spanish and Italian classes.

“I knew him from working here,” she says. “I saw how bright and enthusiastic he is, with a great personality.

“He is very aware of different learning styles. He established great rapport with the students. They really appreciate him.”

She is impressed with the way he handles his demanding job, his studies and his observations. “It takes courage and perseverance,” she notes. “He is so inspiring.”

Will’s dream is to be a secondary school Spanish teacher. An administrative or leadership position might follow, at some point.

He’ll earn his bachelor’s degree from Southern in 2021, and will have completed his student teaching.

He’ll apply then for jobs.

If there’s a position open in Westport, I know many people at Staples — in the  classroom, and on the custodial staff — will be honored to recommend him.

Jake Sussman Fights For “The Forgotten Child”

Imagine yourself as the child that always smiled
You were wild, you were beguiled —
Until the day you were profiled.
This is the story of the forgotten child.

Jake Sussman delivers those words clearly, directly and powerfully. Like many guys in their early 20s, he’s got scruff and exudes confidence.

But he is “The Forgotten Child.”

Now, he’s making sure that educators around the world do not forget any other Jake Sussmans out there.

There are many.

Growing up in Westport — and diagnosed with a learning difference — Jake had a “great experience” at Coleytown Elementary School.

Middle school was different, though.

“It wasn’t working for me,” Jake says. He transferred to The Southport School, then the Forman School in Litchfield for high school. After graduating in 2014, he headed to Roger Williams University.

It was the only college he applied to with no academic support system.

Jake Sussman

“That was fine,” Jake says. “In life, there’s no special corner for employees with learning differences.”

He directed his energy and charisma toward creating a Hillel on the Rhode Island campus. By the time he left for his senior year at the University of Hartford — for its program in communications and business — there were 30 attendees at Shabbat dinners.

As a junior, he took part in a campus poetry slam. “The Forgotten Child” was all about overcoming adversity, and being true to oneself.

Negative labels are destructive
Counter-productive and obstructive
This forgotten child refused to acknowledge
“You will never go to college.”

Speaking those words out loud, Jake felt empowered. He told his story — but he was not alone.

“Everyone learns differently,” he notes. “I may be 3 grades behind in reading, but I’m the best artist in the class. Teachers have to be able to tap into that.”

He realized his poem spoke for “anyone not seen or heard.” Learning differences, sexualities, physical disabilities — whatever adversity students have to overcome, Jake included them. They too are “forgotten children.”

At boarding school, Jake had met Harvey Hubbell V. The Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker — who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 1960s, and in 2013 produced “Dislecksia: The Movie” — was intrigued by Jake’s passion. And his poetry.

Beginning last May, they collaborated on a video. Last Thursday — in the middle of Dyslexia Awareness Month — they launched “The Forgotten Child” on Facebook. In it, Jake implores:

Don’t ever give up your shot
Our minds are all we’ve got!

Within 2 days, it had 25,000 views worldwide. And dozens of very favorable comments.

He hopes it reaches the right audiences: people with learning differences, and those who work with them.

“I’m not a teacher, a psychologist, a researcher or a parent,” he says. “I am a student. I represent all those who are not seen or heard, just for the way they learn.”

“The Forgotten Child” is just one of the ways Jake is speaking out about his own educational life, and those of so many others.

On Monday night, he was at a Decoding Dyslexia meeting in Salt Lake City.

I’m not sure whether he presented a talk or a poem.

Either way, I have no fear.

His message was heard loud and clear.

(For more information, email bookings@jakesussmanlive.com)

Jacob Sussman, filming his video.