Category Archives: Education

Mat Jacowleff’s Pints: The Sequel

Last month, “06880” shined a spotlight on Mat Jacowleff. The 2015 Staples High School graduate — now a Northeastern University junior — has encouraged dozens of his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers to donate hundreds of pints of blood to Boston Children’s Hospital.

But that’s hardly the end of the story.

Evan Sheiber is a young boy born with only 1 pumping chamber in his heart. Like Mat, he too is a Westporter.

Evan had a blood transfusion during open heart surgery a year ago. He’ll need another in his next operation. When Evan’s mom Britt saw the “06880” story, she posted a thank-you on Mat’s Facebook page. (Like Mat too, Evan was featured on “06880,” last spring.)

Evan is also the star of an inspiring video, produced this past summer by Boston Children’s Hospital.

The video inspired Mat and his fellow blood donors to write cards to Evan.

Last week, Mat delivered them.

There were over 100. All, Britt says, were “incredibly thoughtful and sweet.”

A few of Evan’s many cards.

One young man wrote: “Hey Evan. I’m a student at Northeastern. Just wanted to say I’m rooting for you buddy. Thank you for showing me what courage is. Much love buddy. Chris Li. ”

Another said, “Dear Evan, You are an inspiration to all the brothers at Northeastern in Delta Tau Delta. Keep Fighting. “

A third read, “Surf’s Up. Ride the wave to greatness.”

And this: “ While we’ve never met in person, you’ve left a lasting impact on me. You inspire me to give back and help every day.”

Britt read each one to her son. He’s only 1 1/2 — not yet old enough to fully understand the words — but he loved the colorful drawings.

Evan enjoys his cards.

Britt put them in Evan’s safe-keeping box. She’ll read them to him again, when he is 3 or 4 — before his next open heart surgery.

“I know they will encourage him to be brave, and to fight. Some will make him laugh,” she says.

“I am deeply touched by these college students. This is such a selfless act. These college students took time away from their crazy schedules to write thoughtful notes to my heart warrior, my son Evan.”

Britt and her husband Brett (!) have 3 boys (including Evan’s twin James), and 1 daughter.

She will be “incredibly proud” if her 4 children grow up to be the kind of fine young adults who give back to their communities.

You know — just like those inspired by her and Evan’s fellow Westporter, Mat Jacowleff.

The Little Red Gingerbread On Long Lots Road

It’s one of the most recognizable houses in Westport: the red “gingerbread” house at 55 Long Lots Road, just east of Hall-Brooke.

For the first time in 60 years, it’s on the market.

As befits a home built more than 150 years ago, it’s got a back story.

Plus a bit of mystery.

According to Tad Shull — a current co-owner and musician/writer in New York, who spent his childhood there — it was constructed as a caretaker’s cottage or gatehouse, elsewhere on Long Lots.

It was moved to its present site in the 1870s by William Burr, who inherited it from his father. Additions were built in the 1920s and ’60s. From the street, it still looks much like the original.

55 Long Lots Road. The entrance to Hall-Brooke is on the left.

It may (or may not) have served as a 1-room schoolhouse. But it has a definite connection to education: Burr Farms School opened in 1958 a few yards away. (It was demolished in the 1980s; all that remains are athletic fields.)

The most intriguing tale is this: Shull’s parents bought the house in 1957 from Elaine Barrie — the 4th (and last) wife of John Barrymore.

Shull had heard that the actor used the house as a “love nest.” It’s uncertain whether Barrymore lived there; Barrie bought it after he died in 1942.

Shull also heard rumors that Barrymore had an affair there with a married woman,  Blanche Oelrichs, who published poetry under the name Michael Strange. Shull found a book of her poems — with her handwritten annotations — on his mother’s bookshelf last fall.

More lore: Stevan Dohanos’ famous “Thanksgiving” painting may have used the red Long Lots house as its model/inspiration. (“06880” posted that possibility last year; click here, then scroll down for several comments confirming it.)

Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting. Recognize this house?

And, Shull adds, he heard from Tony Slez — who once owned a gas station at the foot of Long Lots, where Westport Wash & Wax now stands — that his Polish relatives worked as onion pickers on the road.

Shull says that as a youngster he was teased for living “next door to a mental institution.”

But he calls his boyhood “a paradise. There were plenty of kids around. We had a pond with frogs. It was a great place.”

His family hopes that whoever buys the house will preserve it. And — even if only part of its history is true — the red gingerbread that everyone passes on Long Lots has quite a past.

Zoe Brown Has A Job. Or 7.

Zoe Brown loved Staples High School.

Before graduating in 2015 she served as editor-in-chief of the school paper Inklings, and president of the Teen Awareness Group. She was on Student Assembly, in Student Ambassadors, and played field hockey.

She learned a lot about herself. She made friends who, she says, “have made me a better person.”

The University of Southern California was her dream school. She loved the journalism program, the “Trojan Family” spirit, the beautiful campus, the weather, football games, party scene, and the fact that it was different than any place she’d ever lived.

When she got there though, Zoe realized there were 2 things she did not love: its size, and how far it was from her home and family.

She felt she could not get as involved as she’d been at Staples. She lost her confidence and her passion. And, she says, “I lost myself.”

Zoe Brown

For those reasons — and issues involving mental health — she needed to take a step “to the left.” (That’s the name of her blog post by the same name. Click here for her very honest insights.)

In early August, Zoe chose to take care of herself and her body, by spending the upcoming semester at home.

But she knew she had to stay active. Which is how she now has 7 jobs.

You read that right. Zoe is working at 7 jobs.

First, she was hired as a hostess at Pearl at Longshore.

She then joined Two Oh Three — the zip code-named lifestyle brand — as a communications intern.

Zoe picked up some babysitting and tutoring work too.

Then she became a seasonal worker for Challah Connection, the kosher gift company.

Zoe Brown, at Challah Connection.

She also started helping jewelry designers Allison Daniel and Devon Woodhill.

That’s not all. Zoe is starting a greeting card/poster business with her best friend from Staples, Olivia Crosby — a graphic design student at the University of Connecticut.

Once Zoe finishes her USC classes from last semester, she’ll start tutoring with Freudingman & Billings.

No wonder her business cards say simply: “Zoe Brown — A li’l bit of everything.”

Each job is different. Pearl and babysitting are the most tiring. Pearl and Two Oh Three are the most fun.

But every job involves people. Zoe loves everyone she works with — everywhere –and has learned a lot from all.

She thinks she’s learned the most overall from being a hostess: about people and communication, especially.

Zoe plans to return to USC, and graduate in December 2019. Then — why not? — she’ll head to massage therapy school.

She’d like to work on a yacht or cruise ship, traveling for free before going back to Los Angeles to become a personal assistant to a producer, or work for a production company.

At the same time, she hopes to complete her own screenplays. She’s started one already.

Which means Zoe Brown is actually working 8 jobs right now.

I guess she’s too busy to count them all right.

 

Nick Massoud’s Spizzwinks Circle The Globe — And Find Westport

There are nearly 20 a cappella groups at Yale University.

With his strong musical background at Staples High School, Nick Massoud could have auditioned for any. But he was drawn to the Spizzwinks.

The group offered something unique: During each member’s 3 years, they tour all 6 inhabited continents. And they perform in each member’s hometown.

Nick Massoud

Music was always part of Massoud’s life. He played in Betsy Tucker’s Long Lots steel band. He sang in musicals at Bedford Middle School, and with Staples Players.

Orphenians — the high school’s elite singing group — became his family.

Two years ago, director Luke Rosenberg’s group was invited to San Francisco. They sang at Chanticleer’s National Choral Festival. As they drove around the city and out to the redwood forest, they kept singing.

Massoud — who was also involved in Wreckers InTune, the debate team and JSA, and served as president of Top Hat Tutors — realized he could not give up music in college.

Spizzwinks are no part-time commitment. Last year they performed 97 concerts, at schools, nursing homes, churches and clubs. The non-profit choir is entirely student run. Members plan international tours, raise money, and handle logistics.

The Spizzwinks sing for Joe Biden and John Kerry. Nick Massoud is in the center — wearing a blue Yale tie.

“I saw an opportunity to use a lot of the skills I picked up running Top Hat, in a musical setting to facilitate 2 things I love: traveling, and singing with friends,” Massoud says.

Now, as a junior majoring in global affairs — with a concentration in international development — he is the group’s business manager.

He’s performed with them in China, Europe, New Zealand, Indonesia, Iowa, Hawaii and Alaska. They’ve sung for Joe Biden, John Kerry, the Italian prime minister, China’s vice premier, Lady Gaga and Melania Trump.

The Spizzwinks and Lady Gaga snap a selfie.

This year they’re scheduled for Morocco, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

This month, he brings the Spizzwinks to Westport.

Sure, every member hosts the group at some point. But Massoud thinks the concerts in his home town are special.

“Having met so many people in college, I realize that growing up in a place that supports the arts so significantly is rare,” he says.

“Thinking back on it, it’s crazy that we could sell out the Staples auditorium 7 or 8 times for shows. It says a lot about our community. I’m excited to show my closest college friends the support Westport gives to the arts.”

The Westport schedule is packed. There’s an evening concert at Assumption Church (details in the poster above), a performance and master class at Bedford, and a session with the Staples choir.

That does not allow much time for Massoud to show off Westport. However, he will make sure to take the Spizzwinks to Sherwood Diner.

That’s where he and his fellow Players headed after every show — often in full makeup.

Massoud has traveled the globe with his group. However, he says, “bringing the Spizzwinks to my home, and showing them my community, feels like the most important thing I’ve done with them.

“I can’t wait to introduce them to some of my friends, and to the amazing, inspiring arts teachers in our schools.”

(Click here for the Spizzwinks’ new album, “Hometown.” Click below for their version of “Cry Me a River” — featuring Nick Massoud.)

 

Stop The Presses! Kids Walk To School!

If you were anywhere near Kings Highway Elementary School this morning, you saw an unusual sight:

Kids walking to school.

Ella Turner and Silvia Snow enjoy the fall sunlight.

The newsworthy activity comes courtesy of International Walk to School Day. Begun in 1997, it’s now a movement in over 40 countries. Students (and teachers!) walk and bike to school on the same day. The goal is to highlight the need for safe routes.

This is the 4th year Kings Highway has participated.

First Selectman Jim Marpe joined welcomed the crowd — and gave a shoutout to Officer Ned Batlin, who kept everyone safe.

On a perfect fall day, over 200 youngsters took part.

And, of course — this being 2017 — everyone who walked to school got a certificate.

Micah Turner shows off his reward.

Mercy!

Twenty years ago, when Tammy Barry moved from New Jersey to Westport, her neighbor — a nun — suggested she get involved with Mercy Learning Center.

The Bridgeport organization — providing literacy and life skills training to low-income women — was run by nuns.

Today it’s a secular non-profit. It serves — and changes the lives — of hundreds of women a year.

Tammy Barry

Barry has been intimately involved since she moved here. She now runs Mercy’s mother/child reading program. After each session — which includes singing and parent education — everyone goes home with a new copy of the book they’ve read.

With her 3 children grown and graduated from Staples High School, Berry also tutors English and life skills.

Barry calls her group — 5 native Spanish and Portuguese speakers, in their 30s through 50s — “incredible. I love them. They have such energy, and are so eager to learn. They ask great questions, and help each other out so well.”

A 53-year-old gets up at 5:30 every morning, to get her kids ready for school. She works 5 days a week — then goes to Mercy, working on her GED.

“I’d be exhausted,” Barry says. “But she’s so happy to be there. She’s a role model for all of us.”

All of the women, Barry says, are “driven, grateful, and always smiling.”

Tammy Barry (center), and her hard-working but always-smiling students.

Mercy Learning Center is wonderful. It fills a gaping need, just a few miles from Westport.

But with over 100 women on the waiting list, it needs more volunteers.

“You don’t need to be a teacher,” Barry explains. “The curriculum tells you exactly what to do. You don’t have to speak a 2nd language, either.”

Tutors come from all over Fairfield County. They’re all ages — from retirees to young people who leave work early, or go in late.

They teach English, math, science, civics, technology and computer skills. They help prepare their students for high school equivalency and US citizenship exams, and for college and careers.

Tutor coordinators and a curriculum manager help volunteers who have questions or concerns.

Twenty years after she started volunteering at Mercy Learning Center, Tammy Barry is more committed than ever.

Now she wants you to commit to Mercy too.

(For more information or to volunteer, contact Lynn Gabriel or Erica Hoffman: 203-334-6699; lynn.gabriel@mercylearningcenter.org; erica.hoffman@mercylearningcenter.org)

Photo Challenge #144

The 1st of all 143 photo challenges to show an aerial view of a Westport scene proved to be the easiest of all 143.

A whopping 24 “06880” readers quickly — and correctly — guessed that the image was of 90 Hillspoint Road, from the air. (Click here to see.)

But was it Hillspoint Elementary School? A Child’s Place preschool? The Learning Community? Children’s Community Development Center?

All were correct. The architecturally daring, functionally absurd school opened in 1960 (and promptly closed, when a large glass panel fell into a classroom).

After it closed in the 1980s, it became home to 3 daycare/childcare/preschool programs. All operate under the umbrella of the Parent Child Center.

Congratulations to every “06880” reader who was not fooled by the top-down photo: Christopher Buckley, Fred Cantor, Amy Day, Jerry Kuyper, Susan Schmidt, Joyce Barnhart, Seth Schachter, Iain Bruce, Andrew Colabella, Beau James, Phil Rubin, Joseph Weisz, Linda Amos, Craig Clark, Scott Brodie, Tammy Barry, Jacques Voris, Kathleen Burke, Stephanie Ehrman, Seth Braunstein, Rebecca Wolin, Darryl Manning, Amee Borys and Diana Sawicki.

We’re back on the ground this week. If you know where in Westport you’d find this — and what it refers to — click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Mark Bates)

 

Westport Schools’ Innovative Innovation Fund

The Westport Public Schools want students to think creatively and innovatively; to approach problems in ways no one else conceives of. That’s an important part of education — and crucial for success in the 21st century.

To do that, teachers must model that type of thinking.

And to give everyone extra encouragement, the district is putting its money where its mouth is.

Literally.

A $50,000 Innovation Fund is available to all students, faculty and staff. The goal is to encourage exciting ideas, foster new ways of thinking, and nurture an ongoing culture of creativity.

It’s not a new concept — districts like Wilton, Trumbull, Chappaqua and Scarsdale — have similar funds. But they’re usually run by third parties, such as foundations.

But, according to director of elementary education Julie Droller and technology director Natalie Carrignan, the Westport district wanted to select the best ideas itself. Board of Education member Mark Mathias was an early proponent of the fund. Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer was also a strong advocate.

“We’re looking for solutions to problems that we otherwise would not have the equipment, time or resources for,” Droller says. “We know there are lots of great ideas out there.”

Just a couple of weeks after the fund was created, applications are pouring in.

Proposals include new ways of using technology, novel activities and requests for physical devices.

Drones are fun. They can also be educational.

One example: enhancement to the middle school STEM curriculum by using drones and coding software to solve real-world challenges.

Another: Teachers using technology to help them reflect on how they’re doing in the classroom. It’s similar, Carrignan says, to coaches who use game film to analyze performances.

The Innovation Fund is available to anyone in the district. One 3rd grade parent asked for more information, for her child.

A committee meets this week to review the first batch of requests. To learn more, click here.

The Little Rock 9: 60 Years Later

Steve Parrish has lived in Westport for 27 years. Now retired, he and his wife Diane raised 2 Staples High School graduates, Amanda and Clay.

Steve Parrish

In September 2007, Steve was invited to the 50th anniversary commemoration of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock. Before he left, he was surprised to learn that some Westporters did not know the story of the Little Rock 9.

His visit to Arkansas was very moving. When he returned to Westport, he wrote about it. Today — on the 60th anniversary of that desegregation day — he shares his thoughts with “06880” readers.

September 25, 2007. I am standing near the steps of Central High School in Little Rock with Tina Walls, my friend and colleague of almost 20 years. There are hundreds of other people on the grounds. Many are smiling and laughing. Most of them are black.

September 25, 1957. Central High School in Little Rock. Hundreds of people were there. None were smiling, and almost all were white. The crowd was there to prevent 9 African American students — 6 girls and 3 boys—from entering.

The 1957 school year was supposed to begin on September 4, But when it became known that a group of black students planned to attend, “citizens councils” were formed.

These groups demonstrated, and threatened to physically block any African American student from entering Central High. When the identities of the black students became known, their families were harassed. They received death threats.

The Little Rock 9, with leader Daisy Bates.

On September 23, the 9 black students were slipped into school through a side door. When members of the mob learned what happened, they threatened to storm the building.

The next day, President Eisenhower ordered members the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army to Little Rock. On September 25 — carrying bayonet rifles — they escorted the 9 black students into Central High School.

Adults taunted teenagers trying to go to school.

The Little Rock 9 are together again today, September 25, 2007, at Central High School. It is the 50th anniversary of the desegregation. They are on a stage built at the foot of the same steps they climbed half a century ago.

Carlotta Walls LaNier was only 14 years old that day the 101st Airborne escorted her into Central High School. Her mother Juanita also is here today. She looks beautiful, elegant and proud.

The commemoration program begins. There are speeches by the mayor, the president of the Board of Education and the governor. But it is The Little Rock 9 everyone wants to hear.

I’m not sure what I expect them to say, but I am struck by what they don’t say. They are not bitter. They are not angry.

Elizabeth Eckford tells the crowd that she has forgiven, that she doesn’t need an apology to forgive and move on. Gloria Karlmark speaks about faith, caring and sharing. She describdes the story of the Good Samaritan. Melba Beals quotes Gandhi, and says that we must be the peace we wish to see in the world.

The Little Rock 9 at Central High School — 50 years later.

When it is Carlotta’s turn, she talks about the importance of her family to her journey. She speaks of hope, and the promise of freedom for everyone. She says that The Little Rock 9 did not set out to change the world (although they did). They “just” wanted what they believed the Constitution gave them: the right to an education.

As Carlotta speaks, I look at her sister Tina and mother Juanita. I try to imagine what it must have been like for them. I try to put myself in Juanita’s position.

Could I have put my daughter in that car with the soldiers on September 25, 1957, not knowing what would happen? Could I have persevered through the profane phone calls, the death threats, the assaults on my child?

Now it is time for the keynote address. Bill Clinton — former Governor of Arkansas, former President of the United States — talks about the courage of the Little Rock 9 and their families. He says we should be grateful for what they did.

After speaking at the 50th anniversary commemoration, former President Bill Clinton gets a hug from a current Central High School student.

President Clinton tells us that is easy to have an opinion. It is easy to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone did something to change things.”

But, he continues, “these 9 people didn’t just have an opinion. They didn’t just say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if someone did something to change things.’ These 9 people and their families stepped up and said, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’ ”

I look at Tina. She is crying. I look at Juanita. She is smiling — half proudly and half sadly, it seems to me.

I look at Carlotta up on that stage. Her hands cover her mouth as she tries to maintain her composure.

Carlotta Walls LaNier: recently, and in 1957.

Then it is over. The 50th anniversary commemoration ceremony concludes. The Little Rock 9 pose for more photographs, perhaps their last ever as a group.

The crowd begins to leave. Tina and I still stand in front of the stage.

I am overwhelmed. I’m not sure what to say or what to do.

And then Tina takes me by the arm. She, Juanita and Carlotta escort me up the steps and through the front door of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Central High School, 60 years ago. Despite decades of progress, race remains a deeply divisive issue in America today.

Mat Jacowleff’s Pints

Mat Jacowleff hates needles.

But his desire to help people is stronger than that fear.

The 2015 Staples High School graduate is a junior business major at Northeastern University. He’s also community service chair at his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta.

When he saw a “Give Pints for Half Pints” sign at Boston Children’s Hospital, his next project was born.

Within days, he pitched a blood donor idea to his 100 brothers. Dozens responded.

Mat jacowleff (right) and a fraternity brother, with a commendation from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Mat was especially touched by a friend who approached him after the meeting. He said his younger sister had a disease that required frequent hospital stays — at Boston Children’s.

“Having someone I personally know say that to me really put things into perspective,” Mat explains. “It’s hard to imagine how much of an impact one donation can make if you don’t need it, or someone you love doesn’t need it. Having someone bridge that gap made me even more determined to make this event happen.”

The hospital responded as enthusiastically as Mat and his frat brothers have. The first day, the donors got pizza — in a room decorated in Northeastern’s black and red colors.

They were excited — and told the rest of the house. The next night. 20 more guys showed up.

“The best part is watching the impact this has had on my friends,” Mat says. “They come in hesitant and nervous. But they walk out with the biggest smiles on their faces, and they’re ready to book their next appointment.”

A hospital rep is impressed. “Planting the seed for long-term donation is key,” says donor recruitment team member Cynthia MacKinlay.

“People come once and they feel great. But once they come 2, 3 and 4 times, it becomes a habit.”

Mat continues to recruit donors. Already, another fraternity and one sorority have set up donation nights.

“If you are in a position of influence — as small as it may be — and you arent’ using it to make an impact, it’s a waste,” Mat says.

“I’m hoping this goes big. If donating blood becomes a trend at Northeastern, then it can spread to other schools in Boston and so on. There’s really no limit.”

(Hat tip: Gaetana Deiso. To read a fuller story from Boston Children’s Hospital’s blog, click here.)