Category Archives: Education

Taylor Harrington Speaks Strongly For Those Who Can’t

For some Staples High School students, club rush is a chance to grab candy, as organizations try to lure in new members.

For Taylor Harrington, it was a life-changing event.

As a freshman in 2011, she discovered Best Buddies. The organization — which fosters 1-on-1 friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their classmates — grew to be a passion.

As a junior, Taylor was paired with Wyatt Davis. Though they shared similar interests — sports, music and food — and had attended Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools together, they did not know each other well.

Their relationship grew quickly. They attended Staples games together. Wyatt invited Taylor out on his family’s boat. They attended a “Walk the Moon” concert in New York.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game…

Their friendship has lasted beyond high school. Wyatt has gone to Penn State — where Taylor is a sophomore — for a football game. She showed off the school she loves, and hit the Waffle Shop for eggs and pancakes.

For years the 2 friends have sat in Wyatt’s kitchen, watched his dad Brett cook, and chatted. “He makes the best food!” she says.

Wyatt — who has cerebral palsy — communicates using an iPad attached to his wheelchair. He has a great sense of humor, Taylor notes.

“I love being Taylor’s friend,” Wyatt — now a student at Gateway Community College — says by e-mail. “She makes things easy when we hang out. When she comes over, she’s like part of my family. She is incredibly genuine and sincere.”

“We are all way more similar than we are different,” Taylor notes. “Too many people judge Wyatt and other people with disabilities just because of their medical condition.

“That’s not fair. Wyatt doesn’t let his disability define him, which I love. Any time I think I can’t do something, I think of Wyatt’s attitude. I tell myself, ‘I can do this — just maybe not in the easiest way, or the first way I think of.'”

...and on Wyatt's parents' boat.

…and on Wyatt’s parents’ boat.

Last year — her first in college — Taylor realized how much she missed Best Buddies. She noticed that fellow students who had not gone to school with students with disabilities felt disconnected from them. She also wanted to learn more herself.

That led her to minor in disabilities studies. This semester she’s taking a course with a blind professor. She’s learning how blindness affects the woman’s life, and is asking questions she could not get from a textbook.

Last year, a Deaf Culture class helped her understand hearing impairments as a difference, not a disability.

Taylor’s major is advertising. Her other minor is entrepreneurship. All of those subjects converged in September, when Project Vive — a small State College-based start-up that makes communication devices for people with cerebral palsy and ALS — hosted a poetry night at their workspace.

A 70-year-old woman named Arlyn shared her poetry with an audience, for the first time ever. Because her speech is slurred, she used Project Vive’s Voz Box.

Project Vive's Vox Box.

Project Vive’s Vox Box.

The Box is a speech generation device. It’s customizable — Arlyn operated it with her foot; others use a hand — and at $500 it costs far less than the $16,000 average of similar devices.

Taylor was excited to hear Arlyn — and eager to help.

Soon, she was hired as Project Vive’s marketing intern. She runs social media accounts, promotes events, and creates innovative ways to expand the company’s network of supporters.

She also runs an Indiegogo campaign.

That’s necessary, because even though the Voz Box is a lot less expensive than other speech generators, it’s still out of reach for many.

Her goal is $10,000. But she has less than 24 hours to reach it. The campaign ends tonight (Thursday, December 8) at midnight.

Taylor Harrington, Wyatt Davis, Arlyn the poet and Project Vive have one voice. Through it, they speak loudly and clearly: “Please help!”

Click here to contribute.

Deb Sawch Teaches The World About Education

Chances are you won’t read Educating for the 21st Century: Perspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World.

It’s a scholarly book, thick with macro and country-specific perspectives on teaching today, plus “granular/classroom based approaches to what it means to educate in our complex, technological, interconnected world.” Contributors hail from Japan, Singapore, Kuwait, China, Finland, South Korea, Australia and the US.

Fifty Shades of Grey it ain’t.

But if you curl up by the fire with this 490-page, $119 tome, you’ll find Chapter 10 fascinating.

deborah-sawch-book-coverTitled “Exploring the Transformative Potential of a Global Education Framework: A Case-Study of a School District in the United States,” it focuses on a place called “Westfield.”

That’s the thinly disguised alias of Westport.

Our district’s inclusion in the book is not happenstance. One reason is that one of the 4 editors is Deb Sawch. An independent education consultant and faculty member of Columbia University’s Teachers College, she spent 3 years as a Staples High School English instructor (after beginning her career in the private sector).

Sawch is married to Staples alumnus Chris Sawch. Their kids are Staples grads too.

The 2nd reason that Westfield Westport is featured in the book is that our school district is doing some pretty noteworthy stuff, 21st-century-education-wise.

Sawch knows all about it. Through Teachers College, she’s been involved with “Westport 2025.” The K-12 initiative — launched in 2010, with 65 teachers and administrators — aims to develop students’ critical thinking, creative, communication and problem-solving skills.

Non-cognitive (emotional) skills, including ethical thinking, have since been added to the program.

Deb Sawch

Deb Sawch

“Westport is a forward-thinking district,” Sawch explains. “Educators here really want to share ideas about what it means to be a fully engaged global citizen.”

Our town’s journey through that 2025 initiative is at the heart of Chapter 10.

Sawch’s book has taken several years to edit. Re-reading it today, she realizes the importance of the role of educated, interconnected citizens. “There’s no going back now,” she says.

Sawch recently returned from Singapore, where she gave a presentation about collaboration by international students.

On December 13 she gives another talk — this one at nearby Sacred Heart University.

All over the world — from Asia to Westfield Westport — Deb Sawch is educating all of us for the 21st century.

$100 Award Pays Millions In Dividends

Staples High School’s Class of 1943 had a less than joyful year.

In the midst of World War II, students with last period free left school early. Some worked for local industries, making items needed for the war effort. Others harvested crops on local farms, replacing older men who had been called up to serve.

Bill Torno’s shop classes built rifle racks, each holding 32 guns, for the Westport Defense Training Unit. He also taught welding. Miss Ossi’s home economics students made nearly 100 cotton hospital bags.

Boys headed to the YMCA every Tuesday for mandatory Commando training. Instruction included diving from the side of a burning ship, and swimming underwater while oil burned on the surface.

When they graduated in June, 10 students — exactly 10 percent of the entire class of 100 — were not there. Stars next to their names meant they had already left school, for the armed forces. The yearbook was dedicated to them.

Amid all the grim news, one announcement stood out. Valedictorian David Hughes received several awards: a DAR citizenship medal, the RPI math prize and a $10 English prize.

He also earned a $100 scholarship from the Staples PTA. That was the very first gift from the organization now known as Staples Tuition Grants.

David Hughes' writeup in the 1943 Staples yearbook.

David Hughes’ writeup in the 1943 Staples yearbook.

Hughes made the most of his award. He went to Harvard; married Janet Brandon of Staples’ Class of 1944, and became Mason Professor of Music at his alma mater. He traveled widely, and retired to coastal Maine.

In the more than 7 decades since Hughes’ scholarship, STG has grown into one of Westport’s most important community groups. Today they award college and trade school tuition grants of up to $6,000 a year, to Staples seniors. Scholarships — which are strictly need-based — can be renewed each year during college.

Last year, STG provided $300,000 to 115 deserving Staples seniors and alumni.

Staples Tuition Grants has provided literally tens of millions of dollars in scholarships. That’s been life-changing for thousands of students.

Some of the awardees at last year's Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

Some of the awardees at last year’s Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

The men and women who make up the STG committee perform some of the most important volunteer jobs in town. They scrutinize applications. They interview applicants. And they raise all those funds.

It’s not easy to ask Westporters — and Staples alums — to contribute to Staples Tuition Grants. The perception is that everyone here can afford college.

That’s certainly not the case. The thank-you notes — and heartfelt speeches during the awards ceremony every June — testify to the value of what STG does.

The holiday season — with so many competing demands on time and money — is also not the easiest time to ask for money. But STG believes that now is when donors will realize how far their funds will go.

Many awards honor specific individuals (click here for that list). A newly named award — the Westport Families  Scholarship — is a great way to honor favorite teachers.

Staples Tuition Grants new logoSTG is reaching out to former awardees for donations. The board also wants to hear stories of how their scholarships have helped. If you received a grant — any time from the 1940s to today — email, and let them know what it meant.

Meanwhile, David Hughes’ legacy lives on. The first Staples Tuition Grants honoree died last year. But his daughter lives in Queens. She has been invited to the annual ceremony next spring.

There, she will see the magic that began 74 years ago — in some of America’s darkest days — continues brightly.

(Click here to contribute to Staples Tuition Grants. You can also mail a check to Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159. On Christmas Eve, STG members and recipients will wrap gifts at Barnes & Noble, in exchange for tips. For more information on STG, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor.)

Photo Challenge #100

Last week’s photo challenge was hiding in plain sight.

Only Leigh Gage and Linda Amos knew that the wagon wheel photographed by Seth Schachter stood next to the stone steps at Adams Academy. (Click here for the photo, and all the guesses.)

Seth also sent along a fascinating history of one of Westport’s early 1-room schoolhouses:

“The formidable Ebenezer Adams ran his private Academy from 1837-1867 offering a comprehensive classical curriculum. The academy was a highly regarded educational institute and a credit to the Town. Adams had purchased an existing academy from the Greens Farms Congregational Church after graduating from Yale University.

“He attracted hundreds of students from near and far, the majority of whom continued on to Yale, his alma mater. Many of his students, including E. T. Bedford, went on to attain fame and fortune. Bedford founded the Karo Sugar Company and helped contribute the building of the Westport Library, the YMCA and funds for public schools. Another Adams Academy graduate, William Marcey was United States President Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of State.”

Here’s this week’s photo challenge — our 100th!

(Photo/Jo Shields)

(Photo/Jo Shields)

If you know what Jo Shields’ photo shows — and where she took it — click “Comments” below.



Jim Hood: It’s Time To Face Our Addiction Crisis

For the past 4 years, the Hood family has celebrated a different Thanksgiving than many Westporters. On Thursday, the Huffington Post published this story by Jim Hood.

It generated immediate — and heartfelt — responses, from all across the country.

Jim says:

Almost every day a parent shares with me the loss of their child, and asks what we can do about this horrific crisis.

What we can do is to create a movement — as has happened with every other major health issue in our country — where millions of people say, “enough is enough.”

They decide to volunteer, speak out, write letters to the editor, walk/swim/bike, send money or whatever.  But they realize they must do something if they want this crisis to end.

No such movement has ever been created in the addiction space, likely because of the stigma and shame. That is what this piece is about.

Here is Jim’s Huffington Post story.


Today marks the 4th Thanksgiving with an empty chair at our table. It also marks my son Austin’s 25th birthday. But he won’t be joining us, because he died of a drug overdose 4 years ago. A part of me died that day, too. My life, and my family’s, will never be the same because addiction ravaged us just as it ravages millions of families – of every color, religion, education, economic status and moral code.

Austin Hood

Austin Hood

Austin began using alcohol when he was 14. By 15 he had moved on to marijuana and by 16 was using prescription drugs. From there it only got worse. Throughout our journey with Austin’s addiction – through countless therapists, interventions, therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness programs and ER visits – we were terrified and lost.

We were uncertain where to turn next, because there was no road map. Instead, there was a profound sense of hopelessness and helplessness. And, of course, the staggering expenses. Also through it all there was the stigma…and shame. Austin was ashamed he suffered from addiction, and could not overcome its grip. It is imponderable and so very sad to imagine someone being ashamed of having a serious illness.

After nearly 6 years, Austin was in a much better place. Finally, his life seemed settled, and there was a real sense of optimism and purpose. There was talk of a bright future…finishing college and on to grad school. And then I got the phone call that brings any parent to his or her knees: my beautiful boy was dead of a drug overdose. Even though we talked or texted every single day, I’m sure my son was too ashamed to call me and say, “Dad… I’m struggling again and I need your help.” And so, ours is just another sad story, and my son is only a memory.

Austin Hood (left) and his siblings, at their Compo Beach home.

Austin Hood (left) and his siblings, at their Compo Beach home.

Our country loses nearly 150,000 people – mostly young adults – each year to alcohol and other drugs. And then there are the more than 20 million who suffer every day from addiction. And only 1 in 10 ever receives any treatment. Can you imagine if only 1 in 10 people suffering from cancer or diabetes ever received treatment? I suspect you can’t…because it is unimaginable…and unconscionable.

Last week the Surgeon General issued a history-making report on the addiction crisis in America. His message was clear: Addiction is a chronic illness, not a matter of moral failing. He told us addiction is preventable, addiction is treatable, and recovery is possible. But the Surgeon General also said science tells us how to solve this problem. Now we need to marshal the resources and will to address addiction in our communities. How we respond to this crisis is a moral test of America.

We all view the world through our own lenses, and too often we see and hear only the facts that reinforce our worldview. But just like going to the eye doctor, lenses can be changed. And when they are, we suddenly see the world differently. And that opens possibilities.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Because of the Surgeon General’s report, we have a new lens.

· Now we can see addiction for what it really is – an illness – and not a matter of moral failing. This changes everything.

· Now that we can see that people suffering from addiction are hurting and in need, rather than weak, everything changes.

· Now that we understand addiction demands a health care response, not a criminal justice response, it changes everything.

We need to see the people who are suffering from addiction for who they really are — our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, friends, neighbors and co-workers — people who did not ask or want to become ill, and who simply want and deserve our love and support on the journey to getting better and living their lives. If we all see addiction through this new lens, it truly changes everything.

Facing Addiction logoFacing Addiction is proud to be partnering with the Surgeon General to turn the tide against addiction in America, but to succeed we need to build a massive movement of people who will help fight this fight. Not just people who are concerned about the addiction crisis, but people willing to step up and do something about it. To accomplish the tremendous amount of work that is needed in education, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, we need tens of millions to lend their help and financial support – just as they do every day with other major health issues such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so on. We absolutely can defeat addiction, but we all need to do our part.

There is much to be thankful for this and every Thanksgiving. But there is also much to be concerned about. There is a health and human rights crisis that is crippling our nation and stealing our youth. With one in every three households impacted by addiction, everybody knows somebody whose life has been turned upside down – or worse.

If there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is (or might be) struggling, don’t be afraid to show your love and compassion. It’s the first step in helping someone get better…and maybe even saving a life.

That first, small step is how we can all do our part to begin Facing Addiction in America. God knows…it’s time.

Jim Hood is co-founder and CEO of Facing Addiction. For more information, click here.

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.


Dylan’s Touchdown [UPDATE: Video Added]

Dylan Curran is a Staples High School freshman. Like many teenagers, he loves sports.

At the beginning of the school year — through the encouragement of quarterback Jake Thaw and his family — the special education student was invited to be the team’s assistant manager. He helped carry the med kit and water, and aided the coaches and team in countless ways.

Dylan had a wonderful time. He attended practices and games, wearing street clothes and a borrowed jersey.

Last night was different.

In the locker room before game time, the team helped Dylan get dressed in full football gear: pads, cleats, and of course a helmet.

Coach Drew Smith and Dylan Curran.

Coach Drew Smith and Dylan Curran.

He was thrilled. But there was more to come.

Dylan Curran (#29) and his teammates, before the game. (Photo/

Dylan Curran (#29) and his teammates, before the game. (Photo/Chris Greer)

Coach Drew Smith, fellow Staples freshman coaches Jared Smith, Ty Guarante and Chris Jerome — and their Greenwich High counterparts — arranged a special play.

On the Staples field — under the lights — Dylan scored a touchdown!

Dylan scores! (Photos/

Dylan scores! (Photo/Chris Greer)

The Wreckers ran over. They high-fived, hugged him, and chanted “Dylan! Dylan! Dylan!”


(Photo/Chris Greer)

Staples lost the football game, 34-13.

But they sure won the game of life.

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.

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #97

The letters shown in last week’s photo challenge — “GF” — narrowed the prospects considerably. Clearly, they were somewhere in Greens Farms.

But where?

Only one “06880” reader — Susan Huppi — knew they could be found on Greens Farms Elementary School. Not Greens Farms Academy, the post office or anywhere else nearby, as others guessed. (Click here for the photo, and all the comments.)

Wrong readers were consoled by this great info, posted by Seth Schachter (who also took the photo). He wrote:

The building that is presently Greens Farms School was built in 1925 by Charles E. Cutler, a hands-on architect. It is the only Tudor Revival school building in Westport, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. It was originally designed for a student population of around 200.

Charles Cutler built several notable buildings in town including Westport Bank and Trust (now Patagonia), the “Lindbergh house” on Long Lots (they only spent a summer there), Governor Lodge’s houses and several Beachside homes.

Additions to GFS were done in the 1950s and then the ’90’s. As with the older Greens Farms School on Clapboard, philanthropist Edward T. Bedford helped fund the new school (in addition to Bedford Elementary School on Myrtle Avenue, currently used as Town Hall).

In 1983, due to declining student enrollment, GFS was closed as a school and converted into a home for the Westport Arts Center and Senior Center. In the early 1990’s, with an increase in student population, Westport spent over $16 million to renovate and expand the building. In 1997, GFS was reopened for school use.

So now you know.

And now on to this week’s photo challenge:

(Photo/Peter Tulupman)

(Photo/Peter Tulupman)

If you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

Here’s a hint: Peter Tulupman took this gorgeous shot on a morning walk.

ADL Honors Anita Schorr, Brett Aronow, Keith Stein

Anita Schorr was one of Westport’s most remarkable citizens. The Holocaust survivor who survived slave labor, 2 concentration camps and the loss of her entire family, then educated countless area residents (especially students) about the dangers of hate and the power of positive thinking died last April at 85.

Anita Schorr lived through some of history's most horrific times.

Anita Schorr lived through some of history’s most horrific times.

Her memory lives on. And on Sunday, November 6 (5:30 p.m., the Warehouse in Fairfield), the Anti-Defamation League honors that memory with a “Step in and Be a Hero” award.

Funds raised will support the organization’s education programs for teachers and students, and help ADL respond quickly to incidents of hatred.

She won’t be the only Westporter feted. Brett Aronow and Keith Stein will be honored too, with the Distinguished Community Leadership Award. It recognizes outstanding citizens who contribute to building strong communities open to people without regard to race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Keith Stein and Brett Aronow.

Keith Stein and Brett Aronow.

Brett served on the Board of Education, where she championed social, civic and ethical education; been an active member of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural committee; and is a former member of Positive Youth Development, the Youth Commission, SpEd Parents and the Fairfield County Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse.

Brett’s husband Keith served the Westport Democratic Town Committee in many roles, including chair; been a board member of the Friends of Parks and Recreation and the Westport Weston Health District, and was commissioner of Westport Little League.

Brett and Keith were both heavily involved in PTAs. They moved to Westport in 1993. With 3 children in college, they’ll spend the next months traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Northern California.

Very quietly, the ADL is one of our area’s true forces for good. How great that next Sunday, they recognize a few of Westport’s real good folks.

(For more information or tickets, click here.)