Category Archives: Education

“State Of The Town” Meeting Set For Sunday

Presidents have their State of the Union addresses. Governors deliver (oddly named) “State of the State” talks.

This Sunday (January 26, 2 p.m., Westport Library), 1st Selectman Jim Marpe will discuss the “State of the Town.” He’ll be joined by Board of Education chair Candice Savin.

They’ll look back at town and school accomplishments over the past year, and preview upcoming initiatives.

There’s audience participation too. A question-and-answer session will be led by RTM deputy moderator Jeffrey Wieser.

The event is sponsored by Westport’s 2 Rotary clubs.

Remembering Gene Cedarbaum

Quietly, but for decades, Gene Cedarbaum was an important force in Westport life. He died yesterday, at 77.

WestportNow.com Image

Gene Cedarbaum

Gene’s contributions were broad and varied. He served on the Board of Education, Representative Town Meeting, Citizens Transit Committee, Commission on Senior Services, Westport Transit District, and as a justice of the peace. He was the town’s fair housing agent too.

He was a board member of United Way, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Westport Arts Center, Westport Historical Society and Temple Israel. He also served in the House of Delegates of the Connecticut Bar Association. He helped formed and represented A Better Chance of Westport.

Gene was a member of the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club. Active in Democratic town politics, he served as a delegate to state conventions

He was a graduate of New York University, where he was elected student body president, and Columbia University School of Law. He started his legal career as an Army lawyer. He moved with his family to Westport, and entered private law practice in 1973

He is survived by his wife Carol, his children Mark and Deborah Cederbaum Jones, and grandchildren

A service for Gene is set for tomorrow (Monday, January 20, 1 p.m., Temple Israel. Friends are invited to the family home, 57 Partrick Road, on Monday and Tuesday (4 to 8 p.m).

Youth Concert Brings China To Westport

Years ago, the Westport Youth Concert began as an opportunity to enrich students’ cultural awareness, through music.

As the school district’s emphasis on global understanding has grown, so has the Youth Concert. It’s evolved into a cross-cultural, collaborative event involving not only music, but Westport Public Schools’ visual arts and world language departments.

Outside organizations like the Westport Library, Westport Public Art Collections and PTA Cultural Arts have signed on as community partners.

A scene from last year’s Youth Concert.

This year’s event exemplifies the music department’s mission. “Music of China” features Staples High School musicians, the award-winning Middle School Percussion Ensemble, and guest artists from the New York Chinese Cultural Center. They’ll perform a lion dance and musical piece using a pipa, guzheng and erhu — with mini-lessons about each instrument.

The feature performance is Tuesday, February 4 (7 p.m., Staples auditorium). On that day, and February 6, in-school educational concerts for 3rd through 6th graders will complement the public concert.

It’s a huge undertaking. Youth Concert planning begins at the start of the school year. Coordinator Candi Innaco creates a classroom guide. It introduces the theme, and includes links to resources and classroom instruction.

Leading up to the event, teachers at Greens Farms, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School had students design China-related art: hanging lanterns, wish kites, brush paintings, Ming Dynasty vases and the like.

Westport student art: Ming Dynasty vases.

All elementary music instructors are teaching the tune and lyrics to “Jasmine Flower.” At the concert, students will sing it from the audience — led by Staples’ Orphenians.

Staples’ world language department is involved too. Mandarin students will emcee the concert, and photos taken by teacher Chris Fray on his recent visit to China will be shown.

WestPAC, meanwhile, is displaying art and photography from China at their traveling pop-up galleries, at every school.

In March, the Westport Library will bring the same guest artists from the New York China Cultural Center, to perform again.

China lion dance, performed by members of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

The public is invited to the free February 4 evening performance. For more information about this event and the Westport music program, click here.

Friday Flashback #175

In 1925, Edward T. Bedford contributed most of the funds to build Greens Farms Elementary School. The handsome building on the corner of State Street (Route 1/Post Road) and South Morningside was designed by architect Charles Cutler. (He also built Westport Bank & Trust, now Patagonia.)

It brought together pupils from 3 schools: East Long Lots, West Long Lots, and Lower Greens Farms.

That “lower” school was located at 37 Clapboard Hill Road — with funds previously donated by Mr. Bedford. It started as 2 rooms; he later added 2 more. In 1916 it looked like this:

According to Kitty Field Graves, who grew up in the house (and lived there from 1944 to 1960), for several years after the new school was built, the Clapboard Hill property became “a kind of boarding house or single room occupancy.”

During the Depression, an interior designer purchased the house and incorporated stained glass windows, crystal chandeliers, mahogany paneling and more from the demolished Wendell Mansion in New York.

The building still stands, as a private residence. It’s a bit larger than when it was a school. But it’s just as graceful — 21st-century style.

Thanks to alert “06880” reader/amateur historian Seth Schachter, for the postcard of the school, and today’s image via Zillow.

Staples Students: “JSA Changed My Life”

Charlie Effman’s first speech at Junior State of America was a nervous, mumbled mess.

Still, the audience applauded loudly.

Participating in JSA has helped Charlie immensely. Now co-president of Staples’ chapter of the national, non-partisan, student-led organization, he has learned about political debate, government, civic engagement, leadership and activism.

Debating ideas, at a JSA meeting.

He’s grown comfortable speaking in public. Last spring, no one told him he had to give an opening statement at the Northeast Electoral Candidate Forum. He nailed it — on the fly.

Vice president Elana Atlas entered high school convinced that everyone was judging her, and her voice was not welcome. Nervous and quiet, she went to her first JSA meeting.

The day before her first overnight convention, she panicked. But she went — and fell in love with it. Debates, speakers, knowledgeable students, fun — it all drew her in.

Convention by convention, Elana progressed from hesitantly asking questions to confidently leading her group.

“It was a place where I found my people,” she now says. “I realized my opinions were valued, and worth sharing.” In fact, she says, JSA has defined her high school life.

Lending support to a JSA friend.

At meetings, members debate everything from whether the US should get involved in military intervention, to whether or not dinosaurs would have been cool pets. They address complex, serious issues without scaring away newcomers.

“Meetings are safe places where students debate, discuss and learn, without being judged,” Charlie notes. “JSA is the perfect haven for young people to form their political understandings and beliefs.”

Convention speakers come from across the country — and along the entire political spectrum. Topics have ranged from free speech on college campuses to immigration. There are also activism workshops on topics like reproductive rights and gun legislation — again, allowing for a wide variety of opinions.

Charlie has written bills for the Winter Congress, clerked in a mock House of Representatives, run for elective office, and served as a mid- and high-ranking bureaucrat on the regional cabinet.

He’s learned to get endorsements, describe his platform, and win over voters. He’s found out how to talk about important issues with people he disagrees with — and how to take action. He’s discovered the highs and lows of politics, while having fun with friends.

Staples’ JSA contingent last year, at the Washington, DC convention.

Elana — now a convention coordinator for JSA’s entire Northeast State — debates “loudly, proudly, and most importantly, respectfully.” She runs meetings where she reaches out to students who remind her of her own freshman self.

“JSA taught me how to speak, and how to listen,” she says. “It taught me about different viewpoints, and allowed me to refine my own. JSA was life-changing.”

Club members attend 3 overnight conventions a year. The next is in February, in Washington, DC. It’s a great opportunity — but not everyone can afford to go.

JSA has set up a GoFundMe page. They’re already halfway there. To help the next generation of concerned citizens, click here.

Photo Challenge #261

Pierrepont’s building is well known.

The school itself is not.

Last week’s Photo Challenge showed a bit of handsome Mediterranean architecture. A slew of “06880” readers knew immediately that it was the building at the foot of Sylvan Road North, by Post Road West.

Some identified it by name. Others just noted the location.

It’s been home to Pierrepont School since 2002 — 3 years after the private school’s founding. With just 159 students in grades K-12, a 3-to-1 student/teacher ratio, and a rigorous yet flexible curriculum, it’s Westport’s best-kept educational secret.

Before Pierrepont, the building served for many years as international headquarters for Lindblad Expeditions. Andrew Colabella — the first reader to correctly identify the photo — calls it “the old Colgate building.” I’ve never heard that before, and have no idea if it refers to the toothpaste, the college, or something else entirely.

Peter Barlow says it’s the “Post House” — named for the builder, a man named Post.

Besides Andrew and Peter, other correct responses came from Jonathan McClure, Fred Cantor, Rich Stein, Michael Calise, Seth Braunstein, Mary Ann Batsell, Torrey Brooks, Susan Siegelaub Katz, Diane Silfen, Linda Amos, Carol Hanks, Daryl Styner-Presley, Darcy Sledge, Tom Ryan, Stephanie Ehrman, Christine Freeman, Seth Goltzer, Jessica Newshel and Karen Root. Click here for the photo (and all the wrong guesses too).

Last week’s Photo Challenge came courtesy of Amy Schneider. She shot this week’s image too, making her a rare back-to-back Photo Challenger. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

Middle School Hearts Dave Parise

Dave Parise — part of a longtime, well-known Westport family — was born with a genetic heart defect.

Obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was not noticeable when he was young. He wrestled, ran, and played football and baseball while growing up.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1976 he helped coach there, and joined the custodial staff. But in his early 40s he went on medication. A defibrillator was implanted. He developed blood pressure problems and a heart murmur. He took 9 medications, twice a day.

This past April, Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Chemo and radiation exacerbated his heart condition.

In early October, while walking his dog at Southport Beach, David passed out. He was taken to Bridgeport Hospital.

Dave Parise, in the hospital.

On October 18 he underwent open-heart surgery. An adverse reaction to his blood thinner kept him in the hospital for 12 days.

Back home, he was in excruciating pain. He had pericarditis — an inflammation near the heart — and then complications from bleeding. He endured a second open-heart surgery, this time in New York.

It’s been a rough year for Dave and his wife Anne.

But the day before Thanksgiving, he got a call from Paul Coppola, assistant principal at Trumbull’s Madison Middle School. David’s been a custodian in that town for the past 5 years.

Students and staff have been uplifted by his friendliness, generosity and vibrant personality. He loves kids, and knows virtually every Madison student well.

The youngsters wanted to know where “Dr. Clean” had been. (His other nicknames: Mr. All-American Red White and Blue, and Dr. Patriot.)

One morning, Coppola called. They were  having a pep rally for him, he told Dave. They were singing songs and cheering — all via FaceTime.

Dave beamed. His spirits soared.

He can’t wait to get back to his school, his staff and his kids, and make his building shine again.

Dave Parise, flanked by his daughter Mary and wife Anne.

(Hat tip: Jack Backiel)

Longshore Kids’ Wall Resurfaces At Library

Nearly 20 years ago, 1,400 Westport middle school students created what is believed to be the largest piece of public art in Fairfield County.

Designed by students in their art classrooms — with help from noted artists Katherine Ross and Miggs Burroughs — the “Kids’ Wall” rose 8 feet high, and stretched 44 feet wide.

Costing $18,000 — donated by dozens of individuals and organizations — it included 1,500 pounds of tile and adhesive, 1,000 pounds of “Wonder Board” (tile backing), and 200 pounds of grout.

There are 64 panels, 500 pieces of broken tile, and other objects on each panel. That’s 32,000 individual pieces on the mural, give or take a few.

Each panel was completed in one 50-minute art class. There were 64 classes, covering every 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.

The Kids’ Wall, at Longshore.

The approval process took 2 years. The Planning & Zoning Commission, Architectural Review Board, Parks & Recreation Department, Public Works, Police Department, Conservation Commission, RTM, Arts Advisory Council and Board of Selectmen all weighed in

Finally, it was done. The Kids’ Wall was unveiled near the Longshore pool on May 28, 2000.

It’s still there.

But it’s also at the Westport Library.

Just inside the upper parking lot entrance, there’s an exhibit celebrating the 20th anniversary. It includes a 1/3-scale banner of the wall, plus newspaper stories and more.

The Kids’ Wall exhibit at the library.(From left): Artists Miggs Burroughs and Katherine Ross; outgoing Library exhibits director Chris Timmons; incoming exhibits director Carol Erger-Fass.

Somehow, this enormous public art project never got the publicity it deserved. If you go to the Longshore pool or sailing school, you see it.

But no one else does — or even knows about it.

The “transformed” library opened 3 months ago. Perhaps this exhibit will transform the little-known Kids’ Wall into an artistic treasure, known far and wide.

Or at least beyond Longshore.

KIDS’ WALL BONUS: Click below for a video on the making of the mural:

“We The People”: Staples’ Constitutional Champs

Congress is bitterly divided. Government norms are under attack. Some Americans wonder whether our Constitution can survive.

If you worry that so much negativity will turn an entire young generation off to politics: Have no fear.

Just talk to Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Government and Politics class.

The 23 students examine questions like: How did the framers create the Constitution? How have our Constitutional values and principles shaped American institutions and practices? What challenges does our democracy face in the 21st century?

The Staples juniors and seniors do more than discuss these issues. They compete against other high schools in a simulated congressional hearing, before a panel of actual judges, college law professors, state senators and attorneys.

The local teenagers do it very, very well. Last weekend, they finished 1st in the statewide “We the People” competition.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

The victory broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place. And it earned Staples a spot in April’s national “We the People” event, in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Westporters have qualified before, as 2nd-place wildcard finishers. This is their first year guaranteed a spot, as state champs.

More than 20 years ago, as a student at Shelton High, Kammerman herself participated in “We the People.” It was so powerful, she helped introduce the course to Staples.

Students spend hours outside of class forming teams, researching questions, developing answers, then arguing them in front of prestigious, difficult judges.

At a time when many Americans throw up their hands about government, it’s good to know that a great group of Westport teenagers embrace it.

(“We the People” winners include Surya Balaji, Taha Banatwala, Lucy Belknap, Brian Campbell, Violet Cooper, Lars Djuve, Michael Farnen, Dylan Goodman, Grace Katz, Kashvi Kumar, Brett Levy, Gary Lu, Natalia Maidique, William Matar, Tadeo Messenger, Neha Navrange, Maximus Pace, Samuel Powell, Claire Redmer, Andrew Spangler, Nicholas Suarez, Rachel Suggs and Samantha Webster.)

The Constitution

Looking Back At An Unsung Hero: Snow Day Edition

Alert “06880” reader and native Westporter Seth Van Beever writes:

The unsung hero of every child in Westport on a snow day was John La Barca at WMMM. We listened closely to the alphabetical school closings announcements.

A snow day was all about going to Birchwood Country Club to go sledding.

Oh yeah. I remember. Every 10 minutes or so, John would start: Ansonia, Amity Regional, Bethel…

It was an agonizing wait. Who cared about Our Lady of Fatima? Did it even exist?

But then — right after “Weston…” we would hear “Westport.”

And all would be right with the world.

In addition to Birchwood, Winslow Park (pictured this past March) and Greens Farms Elementary School are great sledding spots. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)