Category Archives: Education

Say “Thank You.” Please.

It’s a big, important — and time-consuming — part of a Staples guidance counselor’s job: writing college recommendations.

With 45 to 55 seniors a year — and each one taking 30 minutes to 2 hours to compose, based on feedback from the student, teachers, coaches, music and drama directors, community members and others — that’s a lot of work.

Because their school days are full, counselors often write recommendations on their own time, at home.

However, writing college recs is not part of a Staples teacher’s (or coach’s, or other staff member’s)  job description.

Officially, that is.

But students often ask. And — because their job is helping teenagers succeed — those teachers often oblige.

On their own time.

The most popular teachers are asked to write dozens of recommendations (and other references — for scholarships, summer programs, etc.) — a year.

You’d think that students would show their thanks with a note — or at least a heartfelt email.

You’d also think that students would eagerly share their acceptances — and final college decisions — with the folks who played at least a tiny role in helping them get in.

Some do.

But nowhere near as many as you think.

Victoria Capozzi

Victoria Capozzi — a longtime Staples guidance counselor, who like her colleagues works hard to craft every recommendation to each student’s personality, accomplishments and goals — talked recently about the ins and outs, ups and downs, rewards and disappointments of college rec writing.

“Kids may not realize, but adults are truly invested in them, throughout the entire process,” she said.

“The teenage brain doesn’t see it that way. They just see it as a checklist item on their college application.”

Once a student completes the application, Capozzi explained, “the teenage brain shuts down. It’s done.”

It’s important, she noted, for adults to remind students of the importance of “a gracious thank-you.” Email is “the minimum.” The best option is a handwritten note, delivered in person.

Those are “old school values,” Capozzi admitted. But they exist for a reason.

She showed an example of a great note. It meant so much, she stuck it on her file cabinet.

But a thank-you like that is rare. Capozzi had 48 seniors this year — young men and women she started with as freshmen. Only 8 wrote notes.

“I don’t need accolades,” Capozzi stressed. “I’m their counselor. I know where they’re going. But teachers pour their hearts and souls into their letters. It’s just common courtesy to let them know where you’ve decided to go.”

She added, “I don’t want to sound negative. These are great kids, and great families. I just want to stress the importance of this.”

Staples’ guidance department tries to educate students and parents about the value of this courtesy. It’s in the PowerPoint presentation made during junior and senior years. Counselors also mention it in face-to-face meetings — including the senior “exit interviews.”

“Don’t forget to thank your teachers!” they say.

Sadly, many do.

Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

Connecticut teachers can retire with maximum benefits after 37.5 years of service.

When Al Jolley retired this month — for the 2nd time; he taught 1 or 2 classes a year since his 1st retirement 5 years ago — he’d been an educator for nearly 52 years. That’s 19.5% longer than nearly any other retiree.

I used Google to figure out that percentage. If I’d had Jolley as a math teacher — and he had already taught for several years when I was a Staples High School student — I could have done that calculation in my head.

Jolley is a self-proclaimed dinosaur. He spent his entire career at Staples. He never wanted to go anywhere else — nor did he want to earn more money as an administrator.

Al Jolley in 2011…

The man who grew up with a slide rule took to new technology grudgingly. First he warmed to calculators — though he still frowns on the fancy graphing ones. Then he learned to use a computer (he still doesn’t care for them).

He never adopted smartboards. He still uses a blackboard — with actual chalk.

“I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

Jolley does not apologize for his prehistoric predilections. They’re simply who he is. He doesn’t change much, and that’s fine with him.

He knew as young as age 12 that he wanted to teach. He did not take education courses at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey. But he turned down Harvard grad school to enroll in Wesleyan University’s excellent Master of Arts in Teaching program

“God orchestrates everything,” Jolley says. “He sent me there, and then he sent me to Westport.”

Wesleyan assigned Jolley to Staples — a school he knew nothing about. In 1966 he was given 5 classes.

When it came time to apply for a full-time job, Jolley applied here, and a few other districts. “Staples kept this young whippersnapper on,” he says.

… in 1968 …

Those were exciting days. He and many other young teachers rented homes at the beach. They represented every department. Because of the physical layout of the school — 9 separate 1-story buildings, with active courtyards in between — staff members knew each other well.

But the math department was Jolley’s special home. It was a collaborative family. He says it still is, half a century later.

“We treasure each other’s company. We help each other out,” he notes.

In the beginning, Jolley’s office desk was in the back of a math classroom. He learned his craft by observing other teachers.

Like any instructor though, he developed his own style. He posted inspirational quotes around the room, and planned his lessons meticulously.

“I’m a concrete/sequential thinker to the extreme,” he admits. “I always had lots of detailed notes.”

… and 2000.

Jolley’s philosophy is simple: “I want kids to enjoy math. I always taught different levels. My goal was for kids to find success at their appropriate level. If they succeed, they’ll work harder.”

After his original retirement 5 years ago, Jolley taught Algebra 2C. Those students will not become mathematicians. But their teacher wanted them to see the same beauty and excitement in numbers that he always has.

Over the years, new ideas — about what to teach, and how to teach it — have come and gone. Jolley never paid much attention to cycles. He was too busy teaching the way he wanted to. It worked for him — and for thousands of students.

He interacted with many of them — including those he never taught — in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Jolley organized Staples’1st ultimate Frisbee team. They played in what is believed to be the 1st coed interscholastic sports event anywhere in the country. In 2015 he and several players were inducted into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago. Buckley and Davis played on Jolley’s first teams.

Jolley also led a bible study group at the United Methodist Church, and served the Boy Scouts as an assistant scoutmaster.

When Jolley and his wife bought their house, a sapling stood in the yard. Today, it’s 18 feet tall.

“When God put me at Staples, I was a sapling,” Jolley says. “My roots there grew so deep. Like that tree, I can’t be transplanted anywhere else. I can’t imagine working in any other school. I never wanted to, and I never did.”

He may volunteer with an organization like Mercy Learning Center. He’ll continue to run Staples’ SAT testing.

But — after nearly 52 years — Alan Jolley has picked up his last piece of chalk.

Go figure.

Emma Charleston: Ready To Rock Rockwood

When Emma Ruchefsky was at Staples — singing with Orphenians and performing onstage with Players — everyone predicted great things.

After graduating in 2015, Emma headed to Berklee College of Music. She’s a professional music major, with a concentration in performance and songwriting. That’s just about the best place for anyone looking to achieve — well, great things.

This Saturday (June 24, 8:30 p.m.), Emma Charleston — that’s her professional name (and her mother’s) — makes her New York debut at Rockwood Music Hall. She follows in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, Jessie J,and  Mumford & Sons.

Emma will perform 9 songs — 6 originals and 3 covers. Drummer Joe Zec is a fellow 2015 Staples grad — and a Berklee classmate.

She’s never seen a show at Rockwood. It’s 21 and over, and Emma is just 19. But she and her mother — noted singer Rondi Charleston — went down to the Lower East Side recently, to scout it out.

The age limit means most of Emma’s friends are too young to see her professional debut. But on Saturday, Rockwood will be packed with her parents, and plenty of family friends.

Yet that’s not all the Emma news. She’s released 4 singles, all original songs backed with Berklee musicians. They’re on Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud — just search for Emma Charleston. An EP is coming Friday.

 

Then — if you’re 21 or over — you can watch her live in New York, on Saturday night.

(For tickets to Emma Charleston’s Rockwood Music Hall performance, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #66

School is almost out — and these Greens Farms Elementary graduates Matthew Bukzin and Aiden Schachter could not be happier. (Photo/Seth Schachter)

Weston Grads Get Their Beach

The Weston High School Class of 2017 is now history.

After last night’s graduation came an all-night mystery trip.

The last stop — just after 5 a.m. — was breakfast at Compo Beach.

As a couple of hundred happy — and exhausted — Trojans piled out of their buses, photographer Ted Horowitz was there too. He was capturing the sunrise.

He offered to take a group shot. So Ted climbed on a lifeguard stand …

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

… and snapped the group’s final “class photo”:

(Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Congratulations, graduates!

 

Staples Interns Rock The Real World

Once upon a time, Staples High School 12th graders marked the month before graduation with boredom, pranks and trouble-making.

Now they build homes and websites. They help bakers make cakes, and bankers make money. They work in corporate offices, on sustainable farms, in recording studios and dance studios.

They use the math, writing, analytical, computer and common sense skills they’ve honed during a dozen years of school. For perhaps the first time in their lives they solve real-world problems with bosses, colleagues and clients.

They learn how to communicate — and how to commute.

On Friday, over 400 Staples seniors completed their 5-week internships. They work hard, at real work. They learn a lot, met new people, and (for the most part) had fun. Many call the program one of the most valuable experiences in their entire school careers.

On Thursday, they graduate.

Thanks to their teachers, administrators, coaches, club advisors and counselors — and their Staples Senior Internship — they’re as ready for the real world as they can be.

Colin McKechnie and Hallie Lavin capped their internship at the Weiser Kitchen by preparing and hosting a delicious party.

Claudia Lagnese does environmental work at Harbor Watch.

Alice Sardinian with a young patient at Village Pediatrics.

During their internship at Oliving Experience — a builder of energy-efficient luxury homes — Josh Berman and Teddy Lawrence worked on spreadsheets and handled social media. They also did lots of manual labor.

Faiza Qureshi gets into position at Kaia Yoga.

Becky Hoving and Jillian Stefani get into the mood for the Long Lots School field day.

Grace Wynne at Whittingham Cancer Center.

 

Remembering Art Marciano

Westport has long been an educational pioneer. From the 1950s on, our school district’s many assets included its high number of superb — and highly respected — male elementary school teachers.

One of the most well known — to thousands of students, and their grateful parents — was Art Marciano.

Beginning in 1959, and for over 3 decades, he taught 4th through 6th grades. Marciano died Monday, at 88.

Art Marciano

A Waterbury native, and the youngest of 7 children, he owned a flower store before entering the military. He attended Central Connecticut State College on the GI Bill, then earned 2 master’s degrees from Columbia University Teachers College.

After being hired by the Westport school district, Marciano supplemented what were traditionally low teachers’ salaries by working at Ed Mitchell’s.

But those were the days when many teachers — even men — lived in Westport. He and his wife Suse — a German native — raised 2 sons, Martin and Tristan, here. He passed on his love of classical music to them.

Marciano and Suse were married for 56 years. Long after retirement, when they walked at Compo Beach, former students would rush up, talk, and say thank you for all he had done for them, many years ago.

He cherished those students, and his long friendships with colleagues. His obituary singles out Sid Birnbaum — another in Westport’s outstanding list of male elementary school teachers.

A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated for Marciano on Saturday, June 24 (11 a.m.), at St. Luke Church. A reception follows, in the community room.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to Staples Tuition Grants or St. Luke  Church Community Outreach Fund.

Missed The Pops Concert? It’s All Here!

It’s hard to top last Friday’s Westport schools pops concert at Levitt Pavilion.

But Jim Honeycutt’s video comes close.

The former Staples High School media teacher led a camera crew that captured all the music, passion and joy from the instantly-sold-out event.

You don’t need to fix a picnic and spread out a blanket to enjoy this great video.

But it sure wouldn’t hurt.

Unsung Hero #2

Pat (Vaast) Workman was born and raised in Westport. She graduated from Staples High School, then Bay Path College.

For over 30 years, she has taught at Greens Farms Nursery School. It’s not easy working with 4-year-olds — but her patience, love and wonderful ways with young children has prepared hundreds to head off to kindergarten.

It is easy to forget your nursery school teacher. But wherever Pat goes in Westport, kids run up to say hi.

And their parents. She’s taught a surprising number of moms and dads of children she now has.

Pat and her husband Jim have been married for 47 years. He happily shares her with her students. She spends countless hours at home, working on projects to help inspire them.

Congratulations, Pat — you’re “06880”‘s Unsung Hero of the week!

Artemis Society Reacts To “Feminism Wall”

The Artemis Society — which calls itself “a feminist organization that aims to empower women, and encourage and teach gender equity to Westport’s future generations” — took note of yesterday’s “06880” post about reactions to a project undertaken by Staples High School’s Women in History class.

In response to the students’ open letter to the school community, Artemis posted its own open letter to the class:

We are the Artemis Society. We are your mothers, your sisters, your parents’ friends. We are the women you see every day. We will not go back.

We will not stay silent while any person attempts to silence the voices, or impede the rights of trans or cisgendered women, or their allies. We believe in intersectional gender, religious, sexual, and racial equality. We aim to bring awareness to our children, and to educate them through peaceful activism and protest. For your future. For these reasons, we are compelled to state the following in response to the sexist, degrading and misogynistic response to the “Feminism Wall” in the Staples cafeteria.

The Artemis Society posted its own message to Staples’ Women in History class, outside the cafeteria.

To the “Women in History” students and those students who made and contributed to the Feminism Wall: You are courageous. Social progress is often the natural consequence of struggle and discomfort. Don’t be afraid, and don’t back down.

Gender inequality is real. Congress is comprised of 83 congresswomen out of 435 representatives, and 21 women out of 100 senators. Women earn 23 cents less for every dollar earned by a man who has the same job. Women who work in the household earn $175,000 per year in imputed income, which is neither recognized nor valued by the majority of society.

This is insufficient. Shout it from the rooftops. You have the power to change this, and you have already begun to do so. Your “Feminism Wall” will eventually help dismantle the institutional walls of sexism in Westport, and wherever your voice takes you.

It has already started a townwide conversation. Be proud. Speak up for more marginalized groups who do not share some of your privilege.

And despite the common misperception that it must have been girls who made this wall, Artemis acknowledges there are strong male feminist allies who may have contributed as well. Your wall was defamed with vile comments, defaced, and sexualized. You have them on the run. Go get ’em!

Westport is filled with dynamic, intelligent and educated women. Don’t buy into the sitcom stereotype, because underneath our white jeans and our yoga clothes, we wear armor! We are your sisters, and we stand beside you.

The “Feminism Wall,” Phase 3.

To the students who defaced the Feminism Wall: You proved sexism exists at Staples.

There is still time to learn and change. Don’t be afraid. Be better. Ask yourself why this wall made you so uncomfortable. Was it fear? Was it social pressure? Do you truly believe the things you wrote?

To the boy who wrote the girls in his engineering class are not his equals: You are correct. They are your superiors. But you can be equals if you conquer your bias and insecurity.

When we tell young feminists to fight, it is not to fight against you; they must fight for themselves. You must fight to learn for yourselves.

To the students who sexualized the wall by simulating body fluid with moisturizer: Women and girls are not objects for the benefit of your gaze or pleasure. We vow to remind our daughters they will not be subjugated or intimidated by such acts. Feminism is not a dirty word.

Some of the earlier Post-Its on the Feminism Wall.

Some of you wrote that feminism is “retarded” and “gay” and “autistic” and “cancer.” There is nothing bad about being delayed, gay, autistic, and seriously  — cancer?

These are your peers. These are your equals. Respect them! If feminism is a waste of paper, you would not have wasted the paper to say so.

Our young women of Westport will “go back to the kitchen,” for a lovely meal you prepared to congratulate them on earning that promotion, winning that election, and shattering that glass ceiling.

Finally: If you are a parent or guardian, talk to your children about the importance of social equality. The Westport schools should absolutely teach gender equality and gender studies at every age level, in age-appropriate ways. The Westport schools vow to teach emotional and social awareness; kindness with sincerity; principled thoughts and actions, and a love of learning.

Let’s do this!