Category Archives: Education

Westport Mom: We Need Armed Guards At Schools

A Westport mother of middle school students writes:

As I watch the news in tears this morning, I see kids running out of a high school in Florida away from an active shooter. I think about the parents and friends who lost loved ones. So I wonder: Are we doing enough?

As a mom, my main job is to keep my children safe. When I put them on the bus in the morning I’m worried, afraid, just not sure if they are going to a safe place. I know some of these events are not preventable but still I ask the question: Are we doing enough?

I have often thought it’s time we place an armed guard at the entrance to our schools. I’ve wanted to ask this question for years but been afraid to, because I know it sounds drastic. But when is the right time?

(Bramhall/NY Daily News)

These events are tragic, and happening more frequently. So I’m not afraid to ask this question anymore. It’s time to start the discussion. There have been 18 school shootings this year, and we are not even 2 months in. I think drastic response and change is absolutely necessary.

The guard at our middle school is the nicest, sweetest person but he is in no way prepared to protect our kids against a shooter. Nor are the locked doors if it’s a person someone knows. An armed guard gives our children a fighting chance. Aren’t they worth it? We place armed guards at banks, national monuments, train stations. Why not our schools?

Also, what is the protocol if someone is concerned that a student is going to act out? We often hear that the perpetrator was a troublemaker, bullied or depressed. We need a way for kids to express their concern if they fear someone is on the brink of doing something destructive. It needs to be anonymous and easy; otherwise kids won’t do it.

I think the process should start at middle school. Then there should be a plan to address the concern with the parents — mental health counseling, understanding if they have access to weapons, social media observance, etc.

Is there something like this in place, and I don’t know about it? Perhaps at the high school?

I’m tired of watching news stories like this. I’m sure our government will not act to solve this issue, which makes it more important that as a town we take it upon ourselves to do something more — to be a model for others. I don’t know what the answers are, but I can’t just sit back and wait. I’m angry, worried and tired!

Are we doing enough?

Superintendent, 1st Selectman React To Florida Shooting

This morning, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer sent this message to families of all Westport students:

Yesterday, waves of shock and profound sadness permeated all schools in our country as again we heard about another school shooting. One official reported in the press that this was the 18th school shooting in 2018, and it was one of the most deadliest in terms of loss of life.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the community of Parkland, Florida as it grieves the loss of its loved ones and struggles to come to terms with this horrific event.

Schools are the heart of any community, housing its most vulnerable citizens when in operation. On any given school day, we have 21% of our Westport residents sitting in our classrooms. Ensuring that our schools are safe and secure for our students and staff remains our preeminent goal.  Nothing supersedes keeping your children safe – nothing.

With the level of emotional upset felt in our community by the recent news in Florida, there have been some parent inquiries about our school security. While it would not be appropriate to share details of our overall plans in this communication, it is important to know that our District has comprehensive safety and security plans in place at each of our schools that have been reviewed by our first responders. We work in a strong partnership with all of our first responders, and Chief Koskinas and I regularly communicate, as we did last evening, whenever there are events that can have a ripple impact in our community.

Our District trains staff how to be prepared and to keep our students safe in any event that we may encounter, from a high-impact weather event to an active shooter situation. Every school routinely conducts lock down drills and other emergency drills. Ironically, Staples High school had informed its students earlier this week that in homeroom today the school would be reviewing its lock down procedures for a scheduled drill after the break. The school will continue with its preparation for this drill, but has modified the presentation to be sensitive to recent events.

We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, District security staff, both our Police Chief and Deputy Chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers. SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives. We are constantly seeking to assess every aspect of our security program. Our safety plans don’t just sit on a shelf, but are discussed, reviewed, and improved on an ongoing basis as we gain new information.

While much of our work on school safety and security is behind the scenes, we never stop seeking to improve our approaches, protocols, and training to support the well-being of our students and staff. In response to parent requests for more information, we will provide a presentation on school security in the upcoming weeks.

Please do not hesitate to contact your student’s school administrator if you have specific questions or concerns related to the safety of our schools.

In addition, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement:

On behalf of all Westport residents, I would like to offer my heartfelt prayers and condolences to the residents of Parkland, FL. The senseless mass shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School has devastated dozens of families. It has also vaporized the dreams, hopes, and futures of so many promising teenagers who were lost. All Westporters are terribly saddened and heartbroken over the tragic events.

Unfortunately, gun violence such as this can happen anywhere, as the 2012 Sandy Hook school tragedy constantly reminds us. Parkland, FL has a population size similar to Westport, and was recently named one of Florida’s safest cities.

In Westport, our police department continues to take proactive measures, in coordination with the Westport Public Schools, to protect the safety and security of our students and staff.  Our police officers and school staff regularly receive training to prepare for, and respond to, similar crises.

But that is not enough. Congress must pass legislation that protects our youth and all citizens with reasonable and common sense gun regulations consistent with Second Amendment rights. There is absolutely no excuse for our national leaders to ignore this problem again.

 

Celebrating 75 Years Of Staples Tuition Grants

In 1943, the Staples High School PTA gave $100 to a group of Westporters. They in turn found a worthy recipient, who would otherwise be unable to attend college.

With that donation, Staples Tuition Grants was born.

In 2017 — nearly 75 years later — the organization provided $300,000 in assistance to over 100 recipients. They were graduating seniors, and college students who had received previous grants. They’re attending public and private universities, junior colleges and vocational schools.

They supplement their grants with jobs. They work hard. They’re grateful that college — exponentially more expensive than ever — can be a reality.

Some of the awardees at the 2015 Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

STG is rightfully proud that for three-quarters of a century, they’ve provided millions of dollars to tens of thousands of students.

So they’re throwing a party. The theme — naturally — is “75 years of college.”

Set for Saturday, March 10 (7 p.m., Branson Hall at Christ & Holy Trinity Church), the casual, fun event features college-ish food (pizza, burgers), drink (keg beer, wine) and music from (most) attendees’ college years. There could be ping pong and foosball too.

Party-goers are encouraged to wear their school colors or logowear. A 1955 recipient has already RSVP-ed. Organizers hope other former recipients will attend too.

The cost is $75. (It’s a fundraiser, obviously.) Organizers are soliciting 75 business sponsors, at $100 each (in honor of that first-ever grant).

Gault Energy and Melissa & Doug have signed on as lead sponsors.

Igor Pikayzen — a 2005 Staples grad, and STG recipient — will play. Westport filmmaker Doug Tirola — whose father was on the STG board — is making a special video. Former STG recipients Ned Batlin and Trevor Lally will give brief remarks. So will Miggs Burroughs, who designed the logo.

Everyone — Staples grads, and those of every other high school; college alumni and people who never went; anyone who ever got a scholarship, and anyone who did not — is invited to the 75th anniversary celebration.

Let’s make sure that Staples Tuition Grants is still doing great deeds in 2093 — 75 years from now.

(Click here for tickets to the 75th anniversary celebration, and more information. If you’re a former recipient and would like to be taped for a video, or are interested in helping sponsor the event, email poley@optonline.net.)

Remembering Jack Stahl

Jack Stahl — a longtime biology teacher at Bedford Junior High and Staples High Schools — died Sunday in Durham, Connecticut. He was 87. 

Suzy Thompson — a 1988 Staples graduate who now is a marriage and family therapist in the Bay Area, and is starting a transitional housing program for foster youth 18-21 — recalls her former instructor with fondness and honesty. She writes:

Jack Stahl was my biology teacher at Staples in 1987. Among the many good teachers at Staples, he was truly one of the great ones.

Mr. Stahl authentically engaged every day with his students — making the more challenging ones (like me) even pay attention.

Jack Stahl

Every class started with a few minutes of banter, usually about sports. It always included some friendly teasing, acknowledgement of our athletes in class who had performed well in a game the day before or his review of the school play.

Occasionally he would grace us with wisdom passed along courtesy of Mrs. Stahl. It was a nice 5 minutes he gave of himself before each class started while we settled down.

His devotion went beyond the 4 walls of his lab. 1987 was the last year smoking was permitted in the courtyard for students. Mr. Stahl saw me out there one day puffing away. Through the glass walls of the cafeteria our eyes locked.

A former smoker, he walked right over to me. He took the cigarette out of my hand and smashed it into his palm, saying, “You are too smart for this. Don’t ever let me see you smoking again.” He handed me the smashed cigarette and walked away.

I did not find my inner student or appreciation for school until much later in college, courtesy of a long overdue, unknown in 1987 diagnosis of a learning disorder. Somehow, I even made it through graduate school and have worked for 25 years with kids who had similar struggles.

Suzy Thompson

I was hard to contain in high school, with this undiagnosed issue making it difficult for me to focus and succeed. At a school like Staples, surrounded by my honor roll group of friends, my self-esteem was very low. Disengaging from class was my only defense. My own teaching stint many years later (AP Psych and World History) made me that much more aware and appreciative of Mr. Stahl’s firm, but caring and patient, interventions with me. He was funny too.

One day, during one of my routine “bathroom” trips, he came out to find me. He and I both knew I was not going to the bathroom. He caught me smooching my boyfriend in the science building. He said, “Ms. Thompson, this is not the kind of biology you need to be engaged in right now.” He marched me right back to my seat.

For me, teachers were annoying and even scary; people to avoid as much as possible because I knew I couldn’t give them what they wanted from me. I had long since stopped even trying. Mr. Stahl never scared or annoyed me in the slightest.

In fact, I really liked him a lot. That made me want to try hard for him. He was one of the very small handful of teachers who kept me engaged through the tiny crack of hope in the door. He did this in his mildly unconventional way, but it worked. I accepted my hard-earned C with pride.

I wish I had gone back to find him to tell him how I felt about him, and what his nearly miraculous accomplishment with me was. I hope Mrs. Stahl and family read this, so at least they know about this one challenging kid he reached.

That kid — me — grew up to reach hundreds in a similar manner to Mr. Stahl. I’m a little unconventional myself. Like Mr. Stahl, whatever it takes.

It’s easy for a good student to pay tribute to a teacher, but not so much for a poor one who was afraid of and avoided teachers at all cost. I can’t even think of another teacher I would honor in this way. Just the great Mr. Stahl.

Rest in Peace.

Staples, Cesar Batalla Students Cook Up Friendship

Stacey Henske is a dedicated volunteer. She’s involved with many worthy causes — including Westport PTAs.

But she and several other Westporters also serve as room moms at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport. Through the Brighter Lives For Kids Foundation, they help provide opportunities and experiences to city children that will enrich their education.

Stacey works with Melody Curran’s 2nd grade class. The other day, she helped organize a visit to Alison Milwe Grace’s Culinary 1 class at Staples High School.

“The Staples students were fantastic with the kids,” Stacey reports. The high schoolers helped the youngsters bake chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms. They learned to measure ingredients, crack eggs and use a mixer.

They already knew how to eat cookies, Grace notes.

The field trip was a Henske family affair. Learning Through Lighthouse — a Staples club that her freshman son Spencer is involved with — paid for the bus.

And her daughter Samantha — a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — was there too. As the 2nd graders’ adopted “room sister,” she often helps a little girl in a wheelchair.

No word yet on what’s next for the Staples/Cesar Batalla menu.

Staples and Cesar Batalla students. Chef Alison Milwe Grace is at right.

Friday Flashback #78

Back in the late 1970s, Long Lots Junior High School published a cookbook.

It was a fundraiser. Teachers submitted their favorite recipes. Some were legit. Others — well, let’s say a few staff members had their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

The other day, alert “06880” reader Kathleen Fazio found a copy in her mother’s house.

You may remember some of the teachers. You may or may not want to try some of their recipes.

Social studies teacher Lloyd Stableford

Phys. ed teacher Pete Benedetti and band teacher Jack Adams

Science teacher Marty Tafel

Social studies teacher Tom Marshall

Industrial arts teacher John Day

Greens Farms Dares Other Elementary School: Take The ALS Pepper Challenge!

Every holiday season for years, Greens Farms Elementary School students, staff and parents have raised money to purchase gifts and necessities for needy Westport families. One of their major fundraisers is a Walk-a-Thon.

Patty Haberstroh — the Department of Human Services program specialist in charge of the town holiday giving program — has always supported the Walk-a-Thon, and all of GFS’ efforts, fully and enthusiastically.

Each year, she tells the kids how wonderful their contributions are, and how much they’re helping neighbors in need. She inspires everyone, of all ages, to do as much as they could.

Now Patty’s been diagnosed with ALS. And Greens Farms El is supporting her just as energetically as she’s done for them.

The other day, students, teachers, administrators and parents — some of whom no longer have children at the school — came together.

The event was the #ALS Pepper Challenge. Principal Kevin Cazzetta, assistant principal Christopher Breyan, phys. ed teacher Lisa Thomas, music teacher Suzanne Propp and seven parents ate hot peppers — after, of course, soliciting funds to do it. Money raised will benefit ALS research.

In the video below, parent Melissa Levy explains how much Patty means to Greens Farms. Then parent Kathryn St. Andre mentions the song the Walk-a-Thon participants always sing with Ms. Propp: “I Wish.”

The highlight comes at the end of the video. Greens Farms students challenge all the other elementary schools in town — well, the staff and parents there, anyway — to take the ALS challenge in honor of Patty.

Game on!

(Click here for the Haberstrohs’ hot pepper challenge donation page.)

Staples Counselors Offer Resilience Tips

When I was a Staples High School student — back in the previous millennium — the annual ritual of selecting courses for the next year was not a high-stress activity.

We were allowed to choose our teachers — first-come, first-served — so that was a big factor. So was making sure we picked courses we were genuinely interested in.

If we were smart, we chose AP level. If we were bright but not brilliant, we chose A level. If we were lower on the IQ charts, we chose B, C or even D levels.

As I recall, I spent as much time selecting courses as I did deciding whether to eat at Dairy Queen or Carrol’s.

These days, course selection — which starts in 8th grade, not 9th, because freshmen are now in high school — is an activity filled with anxiety and fear.

What will colleges think? Do I have enough APs? Is Honors-level good enough? What happens if I get a tough teacher and end up with a B+? I wish I could take another art or music course, but I really need that science. Sure, all those courses are a lot of work on top of my sports, but what else can I do?

Choosing the right courses can be stressful. So can being stuck in the wrong ones.

Somehow, in some insidious way, choosing classes has joined the list of new pressures weighing on Westport teenagers. It’s there every day, along with social media and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), drugs and alcohol, and the treacherous relationship terrain that now includes sexting, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

This week marks the start of the scheduling process for next year. Staples students — and 8th graders — begin meeting with school counselors. They’ll attend Curriculum Nights, and pore over course brochures.

They — and their parents — have tons of questions. They’re fearful of making the “wrong” decisions, which they then fear may impact the rest of their lives.

The Staples Resilience Project tries to ease those fears.

Working with teachers, parents and the community, the Resilience Project is a guidance department-led effort to help students find balance, strength and direction on their journey to becoming well-adjusted, thriving adults.

As part of the Resilience Project, Staples High School offers stress-easing activities during exam periods. “Pound fitness” is a full-body cardio jam session, perfect for de-stressing.

The other day, the Resilience Project sent an email to parents. It said:

It’s not easy to help our children to strike the best balance between appropriately challenging academics, their extracurricular activities, enjoying family and friends, and managing to re-charge their batteries with the 8-9 hours of sleep that teenagers are recommended to have! We’ve been wrestling with these concerns for years.

Included was a link to questions and answers about the course selections:

How much should I push to ensure that my child takes the most demanding course load that he can? Let your child take the lead. He or she is the one walking the hallways, and understands the work entailed. The guidance department helps students find the right match.

Will my child be in over her head if we override her teacher’s recommendations? It happens. Some students override and do well. Many do not, and find themselves stuck in a class that is far too difficult for them — while unable to move to the level that is truly appropriate for their learning style.

Do colleges prefer to see a B in an AP class, or an A in a regular level class? Nobody really knows. Many colleges will say that they want to see all A’s in AP classes — even when, according to all our data and experience, that doesn’t accurately represent the academic records of their admitted students.

Will my child get into a “good” college if he doesn’t have x number of honors and/or AP classes on his transcript? Yes. But much of that depends on how narrowly you define “good.” There are many hundreds of good colleges in the US. Great educations are achieved by millions outside of the most highly selective colleges.

What do I do if my child insists on a course load that is too heavy for her? You are the guardian of your child’s health and well-being. The academic portion of her life has to leave space for her physical, social and emotional development. Your child still needs time to sleep, relax, have fun with her friends, and connect with you (over anything but school!).

Those are great recommendations!

I give them all an A+.

Social Venture Partners Tackle Inequality Gaps

If you’re looking for one end of the economic inequality scale, you’ll find it right in Westport. The opportunities available here are vast — and astonishingly greater than those found just a few miles away, in places like Bridgeport.

But if you’re looking for organizations that address that gulf, you’ll also find them in Westport.

One that flies far below the radar — but has an outsized, and growing impact — is Social Venture Partners Connecticut.

Based at the Innovation Hub in Saugatuck, the state chapter is one of 43 such groups in the US and abroad. First formed in Seattle by Microsoft executives, Social Venture Partners harnesses the talents of volunteers — community leaders, philanthropists and entrepreneurs — to bridge yawning opportunity gulfs.

And if there are 3 things Westport has plenty of, it’s community leaders, philanthropists and entrepreneurs.

Of Social Venture Partners Connecticut’s 72 “partners” — their term for volunteers — 1/3 are from Westport. They contribute money to a grant-making pool. Funds are then awarded to innovative local groups that address 2 key elements of the inequality gap: education and workforce development.

But SVP’s partners do much more than give money. They also donate time, energy and expertise.

And if there are 3 things Westporters have, it’s time, energy and expertise.

Well, maybe not time. Still, they manage to find it.

Mark Argosh

Mark Argosh is executive director of SVP Connecticut. He’s got more than 30 years experience as a senior advisor, investor and partner to Fortune 500, mid-size companies and non-profits. His passion for community entrepreneurship was honed at Brown University, where he majored in social change; his business chops were sharpened at Stanford, where he got his MBA.

Argosh cites 3 recent projects as emblematic of Social Venture Partners’ power and reach. They piloted a program at NCC aimed at improving the entire community college system in Connecticut. They’re partnering with Housatonic Community College to build a center that will train 1,000 people a year for advanced manufacturing jobs. And they’re working in Stamford to help immigrants integrate into community — and find jobs.

An SVP investment committee evaluates a number of non-profits. The group picks 3 to 5, then donates $25,000 a year to each, for 3 years.

Grants have been made to groups like the Carver Foundation in Norwalk, and programs like Horizons National, a summer enrichment program for disadvantaged youths (coincidentally, is headquartered in Westport).

In addition, SVP volunteers work with those organizations, offering innovative business principles to maximize the impact of the monetary donations.

Argosh calls his 72 partners “an amazing collection of people who want to move the needle on inequality. It’s a lot easier to do it together than alone.”

Social Venture Partners is “very un-hierarchical,” he explains. “Anyone can get involved however they want. People take on responsibility very quickly.”

Argosh says that SVP volunteers “get a real sense of meaning. People in this area work very hard. They try to be involved, but they can feel disconnected from the community — their home town, and especially a community next door in need. This is true involvement.”

After working with companies all over the world, Argosh says “this is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s the most fulfilling too. Every single thing we do helps individuals and non-profits directly.”

He welcomes new SVP partners. To learn more about the Connecticut chapter, click here. For the national organization, watch the video below.

Bedford Backs Leah’s Birthday Bash

Pirate costumes, swords, crowns and scepters; a life-size Glinda the Good Witch cutout; Alice in Wonderland costumes for this spring’s production — all that and more is moving from Bedford Middle School to Kolbe Cathedral High.

Bedford is happy to give it up. The props and costumes are headed to a photo booth at “Leah’s Birthday Bash.” The annual carnival — raising thousands of scholarship dollars — is one of the most important dates on the Bedford calendar.

Leah Rondon

The event honors the memory of the 6-year-old daughter of longtime science teacher Colleen Rondon. When Leah died in a tragic accident 2 1/2 years ago, Bedford teachers rallied to hold the first carnival. The middle school staff will be in full force this Saturday (February 3, noon to 4 p.m.).

Current and former BMS students, including Jamie Mann and Jasper Burke, perform too.

Visual arts teacher Lynne Karmen, library media specialist Kelly Zatorsky and costumers Paula Lacey and Elisa Smith Pasqua are all helping with the elaborate production — complete with tripods and LED lights.

Science teacher Jason Frangenes and math teacher Laurie Gray again runs the ping pong toss. Last year, Frangenes provided hundreds of goldfish as prizes.

Theater teacher and stage director Karen McCormick — who helps supervise the moving of all those props and costumes to Kolbe — says the Bedford faculty dives in to help because they believe so strongly in the event.

“We all want to support Colleen,” McCormick adds. “It’s a great way to keep her daughter alive.”

Rondon’s husband Henry is Kolbe’s principal. The carnival’s proceeds benefit the Leah Rondon Memorial Scholarship Fund.

(Kolbe Cathedral High School is at 33 Calhoun Place, Bridgeport. For more information on the carnival, click here.)