Category Archives: Education

Wakeman Town Farm Raises The Roof

Back in the day, when a farmer needed help his neighbors rallied round.

In 2016, Westporters do the same for Wakeman Town Farm.

The working farm that offers educational programs, hands-on workshops and Community-Supported Agriculture — among many other sustainability efforts — was the site last night of an old-fashioned barn-raising.

Wakeman Town Farm is a place of growth and healthy living. But the farmhouse itself needs repairs. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Wakeman Town Farm is a place of growth and healthy living. But the farmhouse itself needs repairs. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Nearly 250 people gathered for the 7th annual Harvest Fest, to “raise the roof.” The Cross Highway property needs new shingles, interior and exterior renovations, and a new kitchen classroom, to better serve its stewards — the Aitkenhead family — and the 10,000 students and adults who pass through the farm every year.

Robin Tauck pledged a major gift. Others gave plenty too  — including $100 “shingles.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen (center) were at last night's Wakeman Town Farm Harvest Fest, along with Kelle and Jeff Ruden.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen (center) were at last night’s Wakeman Town Farm Harvest Fest, along with Kelle and Jeff Ruden. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Area purveyors like Greens Farms Liquors, Rothbard Ale + Larder and AMG Catering donated appetizers and libations for the cocktail hour. DaPietro’s, Harvest Wine Bar, Wave Hill Breads and Saugatuck Sweets were among those providing fantastic, locally sourced dinners.

This was not your typical fundraier food! (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

This was not your typical fundraier food! (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Dining inside the farmhouse tent. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Dining inside the farmhouse tent. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

It was all served and poured by big-name volunteers: heads of non-profits like Bill Harmer (Westport Library), Tony McDowell (Earthplace), Jeff Wieser (Homes With Hope) and Sue Gold (Westport Historical Society).

Staples students — many from the Environmental Studies courses — pitched in too.

Environmental Studies students volunteered to serve too.

Environmental Studies students volunteered to serve at Harvest Fest. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The WTF roof is a lot closer to be raised, thanks to last night. But you can still help — 2016-style. Click here to contribute any amount.

These were just the appetizers. (Photo/Dan Woog)

These were just the appetizers. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Wakeman Town Farm Committee co-chairs Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

60 Years Later, Elmo Morales Can’t Forget Westport

Earlier this month, Greg Wolfe and Nancy Lewis dropped their daughter Emily off for her 2nd year at the University of Michigan.

After dinner, the couple passed a tiny t-shirt shop near campus. As they looked at merchandise set on the street, the owner came out to chat.

Elmo Morales designed this t-shirt for Jim Harbaugh's return as Michigan football coach.

Elmo Morales designed this slogan for Jim Harbaugh’s return as Michigan football coach. (Photo/Ryan Stanton for The Ann Arbor News)

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Westport, Connecticut,” they said.

He was stunned. “You’re the first people I’ve ever met here from Westport!” he said.

And then Elmo Morales told his story.

In 1957 he was an 11-year-old living in Washington Heights. The Fresh Air Fund arranged a week in Westport. He stayed with the Petrucci family. They owned a liquor store, and had a son around Elmo’s age.

His eyes welled up as he told Greg and Nancy his story.

On the way home after picking Elmo up at the train station — with his clothes in a shopping bag — the Petruccis took him to a toy store. They told him to pick out anything he wanted.

He chose a Mattel 6-shooter. “I never got anything, except at Christmas,” he says. “And then it was pajamas.”

It was the first time Elmo had seen carpeting in a house, or a TV in a bedroom. There was orange juice every morning. Every day, they went to the beach.

Most importantly, Mr. Petrucci talked with Elmo about college, and what he wanted to do with his life. It was the first time the boy had thought about his future.

“They broadened my horizons,” Elmo says. “I was able to see the rest of the world. Everything grew from that little seed.”

Elmo went back to Washington Heights. A shared love of jazz cemented a friendship with a youngster named Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Elmo earned a track scholarship to Michigan. He stayed in Ann Arbor, and became a teacher.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

About 40 years ago, he opened Elmo’s T-Shirts as a sideline. For years it was on Main Street. Not long ago, he moved to East Liberty Street.

This is one of those great “Westport meets the world” stories I love so well.

But don’t just read it and smile.

Every year, Staples sends at least a dozen graduates to the University of Michigan. So, students and parents: Head to 404 E. Liberty Street.

Buy a t-shirt or souvenir.

And then tell Elmo you’re from Westport.

This Morning’s Hit-And-Run

A Bedford Middle School parent forwarded this email, sent today by principal Adam Rosen:

This morning, BMS bus #21 (morning run) was involved in a minor fender bender; the bus was rear-ended by a hit and run driver. This occurred at the intersection of Cross Highway and Weston Road.

Westport Police, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Palmer and Director of Transportation Mrs. Evangelista arrived on the scene to assess the situation. While no injuries were reported at the scene of the fender bender, out of an abundance of caution, upon arrival to BMS at 8:20 AM, all students were individually assessed by our health team and counseling team for physical and/or emotional injuries.

At this time, I can share with you that there were no injuries to our students. We are using all of our tender loving care at Bedford to take excellent care of your children.

The parent was pleased to receive the prompt email. But, he wonders — and so do I — what kind of driver has a hit-and-run with a SCHOOL BUS?!

School bus 1

One Small Step For Mental Health Awareness

A few days after the Sandy Hook massacre, Max Eigen was in Florida with his family.

Walking the beach on vacation, he and his brothers thought of a small way to help. They collected shells, threaded them with string and beads, then brought them home to sell.

That tiny gesture raised more than $5,000 for Sandy Hook families.

A few months ago, Max was in Florida again. This time, it was the aftermath of 3 suicides: a Staples High School student, Staples teacher and Westport police officer.

Once again, Max wanted to make a difference.

He collected more shells. Once again, he raised $5,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

“It’s hard to sit in Westport and watch all of this,” the Staples sophomore, lacrosse and basketball player, and Service League of Boys (SLOBs) member, says.

“At first I thought there was nothing I could do. But there is.”

He’s talking to the school’s outreach counselor Ed Milton, and Department of Human Services’ Elaine Daignault. He wants them to help organize a club, to keep the issues of mental health and suicide in the forefront of students’ minds.

It’s still in the planning stages. But twice already, Max Eigen has proven he gets to work.

And gets things done.

High School Tutors Expand Scope, Services

Top Hat Tutors could rest on its reputation.

The after-school service — conceived of and created by Staples High student Charlie Jersey, then sold for $1 to Nick Massoud and, after him, Vig Namasavayam — is thriving. Nearly 40 Stapleites help a few dozen clients. The tutors are sharp, and relate well with their tutees.

But this year’s senior owners — president Jay Mudholkar and vice president Evan Feder, who purchased Top Hat for the now-traditional $1 from Vig — are doing more. They’re expanding their business: reaching out to students as young as elementary school; offering more areas (like computer science and music), and moving beyond Westport (to Fairfield, Norwalk, even Greenwich).

Jay and Evan — friends since 6th grade, who spent most of the summer fine-tuning Top Hat — point with pride to a 4th grader who loves sports. He’s now working with a tutor who shares that interest — and is a great role model, for both books and balls.

“It’s not only about getting an A on a test,” Jay says. “We also want younger kids to connect with older ones.”

Eric Feder and Jay Mudholkar take a break from organizing tutors.

Evan Feder and Jay Mudholkar take a break from organizing tutors.

Two elementary school brothers love chess. Top Hat found a chess-playing tutor — and another excellent role model.

“Anything we do at Staples, we can provide a tutor for,” Evan says.

Not everyone can be a Top Hat tutor. Sixty students applied for positions this summer. Only 38 were chosen.

Some clients are tutored weekly. Others call for one session — when, for example, there’s a big test ahead.

Tophat Tutors logoWhatever they need, Top Hat can help — with a special Staples touch.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Jay says. “We don’t want a stressful environment. We think we’re pretty chill.”

Though Top Hat is headed in new directions, one thing has not changed. The standard rate of $40 is the same as when Charlie began several years ago.

And when Jay and Evan sell their expanded company next spring, the price will once again be just $1.

(For more information, click on www.tophattutors.com, or email tophattutors@gmail.com)

Arts Lovers: You May Not Want Wells Fargo As Your Bank

Wells Fargo thought they were being cute. A new series of ads — promoting “teen financial education day” — showed (of course) happy young people.

One headline read: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Another: “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.”

The idea — that to become successful one should jettison the arts, and focus on something much more STEM-related — was not cute. It was idiotic.

Josh Groban, Anthony Rapp, and tons more folks — famous and not — pounced, on social media.

Almost as quickly, Wells Fargo apologized. The company said they were “deeply committed to the arts,” admitting that ads intended to “celebrate all the aspirations of young people…fell short of that goal.”

No word on whether the Post Road branch plans to make a nice contribution to the Westport Arts Center.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

FUN FACT: There’s another area connection to this story. Remember the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song in “The Music Man”? That show is Staples Players’ fall production. Enjoy!

(Hat tip: Lee Scharfstein)

Custodians’ Kudos

Thousands of Westport students return to school this week. They’ll be greeted by hundreds of administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals who work hard to help our youngsters grow into wise, empathetic and confident adults.

Those students and staff work every day in buildings that are maintained with skill and care by men and women we always see, but seldom acknowledge. Often, we look right past — or through — our custodians.

David Johnson did not. A retired administrator from upstate Connecticut, he has spent the past 7 summers traveling to Westport to run a certification coach for area middle and high school coaches.

The other day, he wrote to Staples principal James D’Amico:

I have come to enjoy my journey to Westport. I am also enriched by being able to share important knowledge and information with those working with our student-athletes. What I have come to look forward to the most, however, is my interaction with your custodial staff directed by Horace Lewis.

Staples' popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

Staples’ popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

I travel to numerous high school facilities to teach these classes throughout the year. Nowhere is there a custodial staff as professional and welcoming as the one at Staples. I am always greeted with a smile, which makes me feel like I am visiting family.

Horace is there to meet my needs, making sure I have whatever is necessary. Then he asks what more he can do. He and/or one of his staff check and make sure we are ready to go. He checks with us during the class, and also at the end.

It is not easy to go into someone else’s facility and use unfamiliar equipment. But I never have a concern at Staples. I always know I have the support of Horace, Tom Cataudo and their staff.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

We have no problem complaining when something is not right or does not go well. Therefore I feel we have an obligation to recognize work that goes “above and beyond” the  call of duty. After 35 years in public education, I know that these individuals (especially a custodial staff like yours) are the lifeblood of the school community. You are most fortunate.

Thank you again for not only sharing your facility with us, but also for sharing such professional staff as well. Best wishes for a great school opening, and an even better school year.


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Ev Boyle: Reporting From 2 Conventions

If you’re like me, you spent the past couple of weeks processing everything you saw and heard during the Republican and Democratic conventions.

If you’re like Ev Boyle, you did that too — but with a special perspective. The 2001 Staples High School graduate was on the scene — including the floor — in both Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Ev’s official title is associate director, University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He organizes programs and events in government, journalism and technology.

Ev Boyle (left) never knew who -- or what -- he'd see next. This was outside the Republican National Convention.

Ev Boyle (left) never knew who — or what — he’d see next. This was outside the Republican National Convention.

But he’s also a political junkie. So working with Annenberg professors like David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson, Nixon’s son-in-law) and Geoffrey Cowan (former director of the Voice of America, author of a recent book on presidential primaries) is a dream come true.

Ev brought 6 student-journalists to the 2 conventions. “We pushed our students to go in with open minds and hearts. We wanted them to talk to as many people as they could.” They — and Ev — did exactly that.

They reveled in breakfasts with delegates, the controlled chaos of floor sessions, and random sidewalk meetings with everyone from Katie Couric and Samantha Bee to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and UK Brexit leader Nigel Farage (who knew either of them were at the conventions?).

Ev realized that being on the floor was interesting and special — but it was also cramped, hot, and hard to know what was happening. “You could see and hear a lot better on TV,” he notes.

Marjorie Margolies — a former Pennsylvania congresswoman, and Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law — helped arrange a meeting with former presidential candidate John Kasich. The Ohio governor famously stayed away from the convention in his home state — but he met the Annenberg group for a long, insightful conversation.

Ev Boyle (3rd from right) and David Eisenhower (next to Ev) heard political insights directly from Governor (and former presidential candidate) John Kasich (4th from left).

Ev Boyle (3rd from right) and David Eisenhower (next to Ev) heard political insights directly from Governor (and former presidential candidate) John Kasich (4th from left).

Texas Republican congressman Pete Sessions — chair of the House Rules Committee — was especially “kind and accommodating” to the group, Ev says.

Delegate breakfasts were particularly intriguing. At California’s — on the 1st day of the Democratic convention — Ev and his students heard the thunderous boos from Bernie Sanders supporters that greeted Nancy Pelosi and others. That incident did not get a lot of press, but it presaged the California delegation’s actions through the rest of the week.

Ev and his group learned something everywhere they went. In Cleveland, 100 congressional pages — ages 15 to 24, from all 50 states — gathered. When asked how many had supported Donald Trump from the beginning, no hands were raised.

Two other questions: How many were Trump supporters now? How many were “Never Trump”? Ev says they were split 50-50.

Republican and Deomocratic symbolsEv helped his young student journalists seek out interesting stories. They interviewed hotel workers, female Trump supporters, a delegate who at 17 years old was younger than they, and Democratic officials who switched parties to vote for Trump.

The 2 conventions provided “an eye-opener into the process of politics,” Ev says.

And stories he can tell through the 2020 election.

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, begins Monday (August 8).

The program provides gift cards to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Families can then buy new backpacks and school supplies together.

Last year, 152 kids from 102 families received assistance. That’s almost 8 full classrooms of kids.

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations — of any amount — made payable to “Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs” (memo:  “Back to School”) can be sent to, or dropped off at, Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

Gift cards of any amount to stores like Target, Walmart, Old Navy, Staples, etc. are appreciated too. They can be dropped off at Room 200 of Town Hall weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4;30 p.m.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, call Elaine Daignault: 341-1050.

“Footloose” Dances Onto Black Box Stage

Westport’s very talented Cynthia Gibb — herself a Staples High School grad — has been hard at work this summer, molding a teenage Continuing Education troupe into a foot-stomping cast.

“Footloose” — the dancing/rock musical — will be performed tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday (July 28-29), at 7 p.m. in Staples’ Black Box theater.

Tickets are available at the door.

The "Footloose" cast.

The “Footloose” cast.