Category Archives: Education

Bedford Middle School Students, Staples Freshman Make History

I’ve covered the accomplishments of Westport’s National History Day  competitors before.

I’ve used the headline “Do Know Much About History” too, so I can’t do that again.

However, earlier this month 5 Bedford Middle School students and 1 from Staples proved Sam Cooke wrong. They do know a lot about history.

The 8th graders — already state champions — placed 5th in the national event in College Park, Maryland. Freshman Ishan Prasad — a Bedford National History Day alum — placed 2nd in the High School Individual Paper category, for his work: “Shah Bano and India’s Post-Colonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.”

Bedford Middle School National History Day competitors, with club advisor Caroline Davis (rear) and their project.

The Westport program is only 5 years old. But what a history it has!

When Caroline Davis moved here from New Jersey, she brought a dozen years’ experience as a middle school National History Day Club faculty adviser. She asked if she could start one here.

Principal Adam Rosen welcomed the idea. A year later, Bedford qualified for the national competition. They repeated in 2017, ’18 and ’19 — all 3 times as state champs. Last year, they finished 4th in the country.

Davis calls her students “incredibly motivated. They want to explore outside of Goggle and readily available sources.”

She’s not kidding. Last year — delving into the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court interracial marriage case — one group tracked down and interviewed the Lovings’ attorney.

Chris Fields, in the famous photo by Charles Porter IV.

Another group made a website about the Oklahoma City bombing. They found — and interviewed — Chris Fields, the firefighter in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from that 1995 day.

(I know — to many “06880” readers, that’s a “current event.” But it happened a couple of decades before the current BMS kids were born. So history it is.)

The club meets twice a week. Students bring their lunch to Davis’ classroom, eating and working together. She helps them stay on course. But finding sources, organizing information, laying it out, offering peer reviews — that’s all on the students.

The national competition in Washington, DC was a fantastic educational and fun experience. In addition to teams from all over the US, the BMS students (and Ishan) met others from South Korea, China and Guam.

They also met Senator Richard Blumenthal, who spoke with them about the importance of history.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the US Capitol with some of Bedford’s National History Day team.

This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy.” The BMS team — Rhea Choudhury, Sharmila Green, Emma Losonczy, Malika Subramanian and Lucia Wang — researched and presented the career of Lise Meitner.

Never heard of her? Neither had I.

She’s a Jewish Austrian physicist who helped discover nuclear fission in the late 1930s. She never received credit, though — and was even excluded from receiving the Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, the Bedford students (and Ishan) got their prize. Congrats to them, to Caroline Davis and Westport 6-12 social studies supervisor Lauren Francese.

Take that, Sam Cooke!

David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

The other day, reader David Gusick took this pre-prom picture, and sent it to “06880.”

. (Photo/David Gusick)

Tomorrow, more than 450 seniors graduate from Staples High School.

Today — inspired by the prom, the rest of the graduation activities, and the upcoming commencement — he addresses his son Sam, and the rest of the Class of 2019:

You may think this is your day. But it’s our day too.

I am not the class valedictorian, nor do I wear any fancy robes or caps to indicate that I am a man of letters. But reaching certain milestones, no matter who you are, is a good time to gather thoughts, reflect and write them down.

So I did. And so should you.

Sorry, kids. This speech is for your parents. But you may still want to listen. You might learn something.

Staples graduates listen to Dave Gusick’s speech. Or at least, the Class of ’18 listened to someone last year.

While you may think this day is all about you — and to a certain extent it is — I’m here to help educate you that today is just as much about us parents, and the blood, sweat and tears we shed to help get you here today.

Almost every parent here today should agree that you, our children, are our crowning achievement. The greatest thing most of us will ever create. To see you successfully pass this milestone is just as much a testament to our hard work as it is for yours.

Even before you were born, “the worry” began. With each phase of your life, new worries begin. Because with every opportunity comes risks.

As newborns, you gave us a literal wake-up call (typically at 2 a.m.) that our lives no longer belonged to just us.

As babies you relied on us for everything. Your survival literally depended on us.

As toddlers we had our introduction to the “great letting go,” as we exchanged our control for your independence.

In a late-summer ritual, this eager group of Caccamo Lane and Juniper Road kids waited for the first bus of the year. (Photo/Pam Long)

That is the time we moved to Westport from New York. It was shortly after 911, and just before our son’s 2nd birthday.

Like many of you, we moved here for the schools. Westport schools always rank near the top in the state and nation. Plus, Westport had Bar Method classes, which my wife didn’t think existed outside of Manhattan.

We made new friends quickly with other parents who were also new to the area.

When kindergarten started, our playgroups scattered to the 5 elementary schools. While we remained friends with some families, our attention focused on families who attended our elementary schools.

Having children that age and younger is perhaps the closest your family will ever be. You go everywhere and do everything together. You are a team.

While certain children are easier than others, raising any child is never easy. Having children forces us to be our better selves. Whether you like it or not you are now their teacher, coach, mentor and role model.

Elementary school activities are perhaps the most difficult to watch as parents. The orchestra sounds like a beached whale begging to be euthanized.

The first year kids pitch in youth baseball is mostly watching them walk around the bases as pitchers futilely try to avoid hitting the backstop and batter.

For generations, a rite of growing up.

You attend these recitals, games, tournaments, performances year after year after year. At first their progress is so incremental you barely notice their advancement.

Then comes the middle school phase. The kids keep getting better and better, accelerating with seemingly no end in sight. Next thing you know, they’re going to the Little League World Series!

Finally, high school.

We come back together. One school, one community: Staples. Now our lives, schedules and friendships are driven by YOUR activities, practices, rehearsals.

This message is for parents and students.

To be a healthy and happy adult, it is important to understand closure. Having unfinished business — especially with your parents — will stunt your future growth. You can blame us for any of your problems, but know this: We did the best we could with what we had to work with. We did what we thought was best. As did our parents before us. As will you, too.

A parent’s job — and joys — never ends.

Only understanding, acceptance and closure will prepare us for our next chapter, and our continued growth.

Parents are no longer the gods you saw us as when you were little. We are flawed. To maintain that pretense would be a disservice to you.

I love the annual ritual of Staples’ Back to School Night. It a reunion of sorts for us parents. I jokingly refer to it as “back together.” Many of the couples we knew starting out are no longer together. But for one night we return to the way things used to be.

Now there is a weariness, from years of work and worry. For ourselves and our children, that took a toll.

And so it goes.

As you become upperclassmen, you make some sort of invisible leap.

Part of the payoff for Dave Gusick: Watching his son Sam (3rd from left) in Staples Players’  “Twelve Angry Men.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

The musical ensembles are now pitch perfect. You sound like a single instrument. Your performances are infused with so much emotion that it brings grown men to tears. Seeing a Staples Players production is almost always better than seeing a Broadway show. The quality and standards are so high, and they are performed by our kids, for our town.

Just last week people posted prom pictures. Kids I hadn’t seen since nursery school have grown into such handsome and beautiful young adults!

You are now quicker, stronger, faster, sharper, more inquisitive and engaged than we are.

It is natural to feel nervous and scared about what comes next. I know I am. We have worked 18 years to help you be the best person you can be. To equip you with the skills you need to take care of yourself, and cope with all of the challenges life will throw your way.

To the graduating seniors: You are no longer children. Yet no matter how old you become, even when you are in your 50s and  60s we will refer to you as “our children.”

When each of you walk up to accept your diploma, there will be a community of people extending beyond your parents who have quietly rooted for you and your success.

So that brings us to today. Take a moment to forgive your parents for any mistakes you think we made. Thank us for the innumerable sacrifices you never saw. No matter how you feel about us, your happiness and growth have always been our #1 priority. In return, we asked for almost nothing.

Finally, to the parents: Our job will always be to listen. And to love.

Thank you.

Pic Of The Day #785

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story on High Point Road. In the midst of highlighting all the joys of the longest dead-end street in town — the road I grew up on — I complained that kids there no longer rode bikes to school, the way my friends and I did.

Maybe — because I regularly pass so many parents waiting for their kids’ buses on nearby North Avenue (and don’t get me that they drive to the beginning of roads like Adams Farm and Greystone Farm Roads to pick them up, aaaargh!) — I just assumed that High Point parents did the same.

My bad.

Biking to school from High Point is alive and well. Here’s a shot of Long Lots Elementary the other day:

(Photo/Tally Jacobs)

When they’re older, many youngsters walk from High Point to Bedford Middle School too.

“This time outdoors is an important part of the kids’ day,” says High Point parent Tally Jacobs.

“It says so much about Westport that kids take advantage of their proximity to the schools, the fresh air, the independence and community feeling that results from walking and biking.”

Of course, walking to Staples — directly behind homes on the west side of the road — is a different story. Most High Point kids with their licenses drive to high school — even though it takes longer.

I’m can’t make fun of them for that.

I did the same thing, waaaaay back in the day.

(Hat tip: Amy Hochhauser)

Staples Grad Turns Chess Rookies Into Kings And Queens

Earlier this year, Marian Edmonds — a teacher at Price Middle School in Atlanta — won a district-wide award. Her prize: She could attend any educational conference she wanted.

Instead, she used her prize money to bring 5 students to the US Chess Federation’s National Junior High Championship in Grapevine, Texas.

They’d been playing less than 2 years. But that was enough time for Edmonds — the former Marian Warshafsky, a 1978 Staples High School graduate — to introduce them to the game.

And to inspire, motivate, and coach them well enough to compete at a national level.

Marian Edmonds, and her Price Middle School chess team.

It all began in the fall of 2017. Edmonds — on cafeteria duty — had a chessboard. Several kids seemed interested. She taught them the basics.

They told their friends. Soon, Price had a chess team.

Chess offers many benefits, Edmonds says, like critical thinking skills, improved confidence and concentration, and the life lesson that every move you make has consequences.

“Chess makes us all equal,” Edmonds told the Atlanta public schools’ website. “All you need is the opportunity and the motivation.”

She sure gave them that. This past April, her team placed 6th in the state tournament.

Marian Edmonds with one proud Price chess player …

Then came Texas. The selection process for the 5 players included writing an essay about the game’s impact on their lives.

Chess “made me a better person,” Cierra Patton wrote. She said she now feels “like I’m a knight.”

The national tournament was the big leagues. Most of the Price kids’ competitors had been playing for years — some with professional coaches.

“Our students had to learn how to simply play a board game: how to compete, take turns, manage frustration, lose gracefully, and persist through losses,” Edmonds said.

“Yet here we were, at the same competition, facing those same chessboards.”

Like any great coach, Edmonds inspired her team.

“That kid wouldn’t last a single day at Price Middle School,” she’d say. “You’ve GOT this!”

They sure did. Her team finished 16th overall — and Aquantis Clemmons took 5th place individually.

One of Marian Edmonds’ chess players exudes confidence at the national tournament. (Photos courtesy of Purpose Built Schools Atlanta)

That was exciting. Unfortunately, the team was not at the awards ceremony. Their flight home had been booked for the same time.

No matter. Tournament officials were so thrilled at the Price youngsters’ performance, they delivered the trophies to them at the gate.

“Victoriously, the Price chess team boarded their plane with trophies in hand,” the Atlanta schools’ website reported.

“Their fellow passengers cheered them on. Aquantis, Keylon, Corey, Montayo and Cierra beamed from ear to ear.”

(For the full story on Edmonds and her chess team, click here. Hat tip: Laurie Woog.)

Pics Of The Day #781

In just 4 years, the Westport Schools’ Music Department Pops Concert has become one of the true highlights — and must-have tickets — of the spring.

The choruses, bands and orchestras are phenomenal. The Levitt Pavilion locale is stupendous. The evening is warm — in both the weather and community senses of the word.

It’s a sure sign that summer is almost here.

And that this is a town that loves and supports music, in all its forms.

A variety of chamber groups entertained early arrivals…

… as did the very talented Middle School Percussion Ensemble, playing traditional rhythms of Senegal.

A small part of the large Levitt Pavilion crowd.

The Westport Police Department color guard. (Photo/Tomas Curwen)

Symphonic and jazz band leader Nick Mariconda retires this year, after 41 years with the Westport schools. He was honored at his final concert.

Three of Mariconda’s former students — Jon Owens ’86, Andrew Willmott ’85 and Michael Ances ’90 — came back. They played trumpet — Mariconda’s instrument — on “Bugler’s Holiday.” All are now music educators.

Between sets, Staples musicians hung out by the river.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey and former Staples High School principal/Pops emcee John Dodig enjoyed the show.

The Orphenians wowed the crowd with selections like “And So It Goes” and “Unclouded Day.”

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg.

Another view of the great crowd. (All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.

Food For Thought

At Staples High School, students choose English electives like “Myth and Bible,” “Rhetoric and Persuasion,” and “Shakespeare.”

They can also take “Food in Literature.”

Sounds like a gut.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest courses in the entire school.

Also the tastiest.

The semester class — which meets back-to-back, for 2 periods — includes reading a smorgasbord of activities. There’s reading, writing, even community service (volunteering at the Westport Farmers’ Market).

A Food in Literature demonstration at the first Farmers’ Market of the season last month.

And of course, cooking.

It’s intense. It’s demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

The class is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary teacher/chef Cecily Gans. They developed the curriculum together, balancing the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many selected foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others selected vegan or paleo diets. One focused on desserts.

Pakistani food. The course even includes tips on food photography.

A boy chose “college cuisine” — dishes that college students can make — after he learned that his older sister was eating cereal for dinner.

Another boy — whose kitchen skills were limited to “eggs and ramen” — said he needed an English credit to graduate. “Accidentally,” he learned to cook.

The core text this semester was “Like Water for Chocolate.” After reading and discussing that food-based novel, students had to compose an ode to an ingredient. The ideas ranged from coffee and coffee cake to jalapeño.

They read food memoirs, then wrote about their own memories and associations. They followed that up by cooking those dishes.

Summer home fries look great!

Other writing assignments include research and interviews that lead to profiles of noted area chefs like Bill Taibe, Anthony Kostelis, Chris Scott, and Staples graduates Becca Nissim and Matt Storch. In the kitchen, they created something inspired by the chef they interviewed.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

One student’s notes on how to write a strong chef profile.

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

The highlight of the semester is Menu Wars. Using craft and creativity — while linking to their themes — students cook and create cohesive 3-course meals. They also have to write clearly and coherently about it.

Just before seniors left for their internships, the class headed to the Farmers’ Market. In teams of 4 they demonstrated recipes, based on local and seasonal foods. They spoke about what they were doing — because presentation skills are equally important in English and culinary class.

The course is as exciting for the teachers as the students. “I love working with such a wide range of experiences,” says Gans, who often teaches advanced classes.

“Two kids are going on to culinary college next year. But seeing the growth of those with no cooking background at all made me so excited.”

This English course will make you very hungry.

One of those boys wanted to drop out early. He felt out of his depth.

Gans asked him what food inspired him. “He realized he had a story to tell,” she says. “He ended up making chocolate croissants from scratch. That’s so much work!”

Gans also appreciates spending time in Herzog’s classroom. “It’s awe-inspiring what goes on there,” she says.

Kim Herzog (left) and Cecily Gans, with chef Chris Scott. The “Top Chef” finalist — who recently opened Birdman Juke Joint in Bridgeport — spoke to their class.

Herzog, meanwhile, loves collaborating with Gans. “Seeing students in a different, unique, powerful way — and how she gets so much out of them — is invigorating,” the English instructor says.

The course is now a mainstay of the curriculum. But — because every class is  filled with students with different backgrounds and interests — each semester has a different flavor.

Talk about a recipe for success!

(Click here for the Food in Literature class website. It includes links to each student’s personal page, plus all the chef interviews and restaurant reviews. And click below for a couple of bonus videos from the class. These kids do it all.)

Koskoff Family Endows A Scholarship With A Difference

When a prominent Westporter dies, it’s not unusual for the family to set up a scholarship in his or her name.

What is unusual — at least in Westport — is for that scholarship to be at a place like Howard University of School of Law.

But that’s exactly where the Michael Koskoff Scholarship has been established.

And it’s exactly in keeping with the way the nationally known, socially conscious Westport lawyer lived his life. Koskoff died in April, age 77.

Why Howard?

As his children Josh, Sarah, Julie and Jake write:

As you know, our father had a lifelong commitment to civil rights. He represented members of the Black Panthers, he helped integrate the police and fire departments in Connecticut. He idolized Thurgood Marshall so much he wrote a movie about him.

Michael Koskoff

One of our father’s final cases took on Harvard University. He spoke of their $40 billion endowment with disdain. Harvard, he believed, denied its racist past and used its great wealth to cherry-pick the best students, remove them from their communities, and indoctrinate them in a culture that served Harvard’s own interests.

A scholarship for Howard Law students, in contrast, will represent who our father has always been: unpretentious, egalitarian, unintimidated by powerful institutions, and a passionate believer that character determines success, not pedigree.

The people at Howard asked us: Do we want a minimum GPA required to receive the scholarship? We said, “Absolutely not!” Our father didn’t believe in limiting opportunity to those who are already on the path to success. He believed that what makes a great advocate isn’t good grades or high test scores — it’s a boldness to take on the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable, armed with the tools that the constitution provides.

Please consider giving to this scholarship — it will carry his name for generations, providing opportunities to future lawyers who will fight for civil rights, criminal justice, equal opportunity, environmental protection, public health and safety, and all else that we, as a society on the brink, depend on great legal advocates to achieve.

The endowment goal is $1 million. Click here to donate online. Checks can be made out to “Howard University School of Law,” with “Michael Koskoff Scholarship” written in the memo line, and sent to: Howard University, Box 417853, Boston, MA 02241-7853.

Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.

One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.

The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.

Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.

Young Nick Zeoli.

He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.

He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.

After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.

Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.

They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.

Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.

He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.

He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.

In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.

Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.

There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.

He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.

(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)

Portables Put In Place

They don’t look like much.

But they don’t have to.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Four portable (aka modular) classrooms arrived at Bedford Middle School today.

Four more are on their way.

They’ll be fully installed and hooked up soon — well in time for the start of the next school year.

All Coleytown Middle School students will be together again, at BMS.