Category Archives: Education

Smart Song For A Smart Walk

Despite the efforts of parents, teachers, the media and others, there’s still a stigma attached to learning disabilities. Youngsters who learn differently are still called lazy and stupid.

The 1st annual Smart Walk for Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities is set for this Sunday (12 p.m., Sherwood Island State Park).

The event celebrates the strengths and talents of young people with learning disabilities and ADHD. It rejects stereotypes, empowers kids and parents, and raises awareness and funds for educational programs, youth mentoring, parent networking and resources to help families find support for their children.

Smart Kids founder Jane Ross is a beloved figure in Westport. When her son was diagnosed with dyslexia in 4th grade — after years of frustration — she panicked. Would he ever learn to read? Could he ever go to college?

She educated herself on how best to help her son. After earning his masters degree from the Columbia University School of Architecture, he is an architect in New York City. He designed the house his parents are now building.

Teams, families and individuals will walk a scenic 1.5-mile route at their own pace. There’s a photo booth, plus children’s crafts, games and face painting,

Oh, yeah: The inspiring song “This is Me” will be sung proudly on Sunday.

The “Greatest Showman” tune is an anthem for everyone who is different. And it was co-written by Justin Paul — a 2003 Staples High School graduate.

He won’t be at Sherwood Island on Sunday. But his music will help everyone at the Walk for Kids with Learning Disabilities celebrate some very special young people.

(To register, click here. The entry fee is $15; children under 5 are free.)

Unsung Heroes #69

The other day, alert “06880” reader Melissa Shein nominated several women as Unsung Heroes. For 4 years they’ve volunteered with her at Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School. Together, they’ve helped a 9-year-old learn to read.

The boy was born at 24 weeks, weighing just over 1 pound. His twin brother is blind, but learns with ease. This youngster — who loves to play and learn — has shown language and learning difficulties, not easy solved.

He’s made good use of the resources provided. But more is needed. Melissa fears he’ll fall through the cracks. He’s already begun to doubt what he can achieve.

Westport women have joined to help this Cesar Batalla School student.

“Given his level of determination, receptivity to instruction and genuine love of learning, it is easy to imagine him developing academic and personal resiliency in a supportive, academically rigorous environment that addresses his specific needs and unique learning style,” she says.

So she went to work. Marjorie Almansi provided many contacts of people to do evaluations, to help get him into the Southport School for students with language learning differences.

Jill Greenberg did that full evaluation free of charge. She put the boy’s mother in touch with numerous resources. Robin Hellman did a full occupational therapy evaluation, and offered support.

The Southport School tentatively agreed to take him. The group — including other volunteers like Gwen Cohen and Sherri Gordon — is working on making that happen now.

Melissa and the other women are determined to turn around the life of one young Bridgeport boy. They deserve our Unsung Hero accolades — and awe.

Unsung Heroes #68

This week’s edition of “Unsung Heroes” comes courtesy of several Coleytown Middle School parents. They do not want to be named, because they say they speak for many families. They write:

Two weeks ago the administrators, teachers, paras, nurses, custodians, counselors, food service employees and secretaries at Coleytown Middle School began to deal with a crisis. Staff and students reported illnesses, leading to a temporary closing of the school. It quickly morphed into a relocation.

Change can be challenging. But in the face of great change the adults at CMS have shown tremendous flexibility, leadership, and support for the children and families of the Coleytown community.

Familiar, smiling faces greet Coleytown students at Bedford and Staples every day.

As Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Colleen Palmer recently said, “A school is not just the building. A school is the staff. A school is the counselors, the administrators. It’s all the caring adults.”

CMS families sent our children off to different schools — Bedford Middle for 6th and 7th graders, Staples High School for 8th graders. Knowing they were heading to the caring adults they have come to know calmed nerves.

Knowing they were heading to caring communities eased minds too. Hearing that the world language teachers at SHS moved classrooms, that the BMS nurses and secretaries made space for the CMS nurses and secretaries proved that, at the end of the day, we are Westport Public Schools. Separate buildings may divide us physically, but not in spirit. 


Coleytown Middle School security guard Terry Morgan is always ready with a smile and fist bump. That has not changed, despite moving to new digs at Staples High.

Parents and students alike wonder about extra-curricular activities. There is great optimism that they will continue. CMS principal Kris Szabo said that clubs and activity advisers will communicate with families and students regarding schedules and locations.

Coleytown Company’s production of “The Lion King” had already begun meeting. They were entering auditions and rehearsals when the shutdown and move were announced.

Director Ben Frimmer and company manager Sarah Webster wasted no time getting things up and running after the move. The production is scheduled to open as planned. “I think it’s important to try to provide the students in our community as much normalcy as possible in light of the upheaval they’re going through,” Mr. Frimmer said.

Sarah Webster and Ben Frimmer are making sure the Coleytown Company 6th graders can jump right back into “The Lion King.” Other extracurricular activities will start soon.

The crackerjack team of custodians, led by Joe DiPalma, has been spread out, still caring for CMS while assisting at BMS and SHS. Their dedication and busy-ness makes it hard to pin them down for a photo, but families are singing their praises for their dedication to the community.

School is about learning — and one of the things we are all learning is resilience. To handle adversity and the unexpected with grace and without compromise is one of the most valuable skills a person can have in life. The adults of Coleytown Middle School have always modeled these skills for our children, but never more so than now.

This modeling is evident in high school students asking 8th graders they know how things are going. At BMS, students look out for the “new” kids in their hallways, pointing the way to classrooms when needed.

People in town have begun referring to the BMS building as Westport Middle School, and the 8th grade wing at Staples as “The Academy.” Whatever the future holds, we are thankful to all — especially to all the Coleytown Middle School staff. They have not skipped a beat.

Honorable mentions are in order for the caring adults at Bedford and Staples who have opened their doors and spaces to Coleytown Middle School, the bus drivers who shepherd our kids to their new spaces, and the myriad others behind the scenes who may have escaped mention here — but who care no less for our children and their ability to learn in a safe, supportive environment.


And — in the aftermath of last night’s powerful near-tornado storm — here is a Bonus Unsung Hero story. It comes courtesy of Brian and Lisa Power:

I’d like to nominate Alex Ducruet as an Unsung Hero this week. Last night during the severe rainstorm, my car stalled in a flooded area a half mile from our home.

As my husband and I tried to quickly figure out the best thing to do, we received a knock on our car window from a neighbor, Alex Ducruet. We had never met Alex, but he quickly became our hero!

He not only offered to help, but did so gladly. He went above and beyond by helping my husband push our car the half mile up a hill to our home. My husband said this was one of the most physically grueling things he’s ever done (and he recently finished his first Ironman Race!). He said there was no way he could have done this without Alex’s help.

We were so grateful for Alex’s assistance in our time of need, and couldn’t thank him enough. His response to us was simple: “I’m a neighbor. This is what we do.”

When my husband and I insisted we wanted to do something to show our gratitude, his only request was that we spread the word about his business. So: When your windows need washing, please contact Alex Ducruet at Gold Coast Window Washers. No doubt Alex will go above and beyond for you — just like he did for us.

A thousand thanks to Alex Ducruet for being our hero!

Photo Challenge #196

Two weeks ago, Peter Barlow stumped nearly everyone with a photo of a spire that — until it was knocked over in a hurricane — stood with a dozen others atop the Compo Beach bathhouse.

Last week’s Photo Challenge also came courtesy of Peter. This one was much easier: the cupola at Kings Highway Elementary School.

Though they showed different images, and were orders of magnitude apart in difficulty, they share one thing.

As Peter notes, the 4 spires at the base of the cupola are very similar to those once on the bathhouse. Both structures date from the late 1920s and early ’30s. (From its opening through 1958, Kings Highway served as Bedford Junior High School.)

Congratulations to Victor Belyaev, Elaine Marino, Tom Ryan, Wendy Cusick, Michelle Saunders, Jacques Voris, Michael Calise, James Weisz, Jonathan McClure, Lawrence Zlatkin, Eva Pastor, Jill Turner Odice, Mary Cookman Schmerker, Ritu Johorey, Bonnie Bradley, Sharon Paulsen, Dede Fitch and Mary Palmieri Gai — some of whom are proud BJHS or KHS graduates. (Click here for last week’s photo.)

Is this week’s Photo Challenge as tough as the bathhouse spire, or as easy as the Kings Highway cupola?

We’ll find out. If you think you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

 

Paul Ferrante: “The Beatles Must Die!”

Paul Ferrante was in 2nd grade when President Kennedy was killed. That’s his first real memory.

The second is from a few months later: The Beatles performing on “Ed Sullivan.”

More than 50 years later, Ferrante is a 7th grade language arts teacher at Coleytown Middle School. His students are only a few years older than he was then, huddled around a black-and-white TV “like the rest of America,” he says.

Kids today have gazillions of channels to choose from. Rock ‘n’ roll has given way to rap, hip hop, EDM, emo and more.

Paul Ferrante

But, Ferrante says, kids still love the Beatles.

He includes the band in his poetry curriculum. His students look at lyrics. They watch videos. They talk about the American culture, then and now.

When graduates come back to say hi, they ask if Ferrante still teaches the Beatles.

So it’s no surprise that the Fab Four are the subject of Ferrante’s most recent book. In addition to teaching, he’s a noted young adult author. His T.J. Jackson Mysteries series follow the paranormal investigations of 3 ghost-hunting teenagers from Gettysburg to New Orleans (with a stop in Fairfield County).

His 7th book — “The Beatles Must Die” — is as different from those mysteries as John, Paul, George and Ringo are from the Andrews Sisters.

The novel follows Marnie, a fan in Memphis who must make a choice between the group and her conservative community, after John Lennon’s famous “We’re more popular than Jesus” remark results in banned and burned records, even death threats.

John Lennon’s 1966 “Beatles are more popular than Jesus” quote drew a belated — but fierce — backlash.

As Ferrante notes, there are countless books about the Beatles’ music and lives. His is a rare piece of historical fiction, aimed at teens and older readers.

Why are kids still interested in the group, whose 2 surviving members are both well over 64?

“The music holds up,” Ferrante says. “They hear it from their parents. They still think it’s great stuff.”

Plus, he says, “they’re fascinated by the videos of all the girls going crazy.”

His students are intrigued to hear about a time before the internet, when most families had only one television and music came through transistor radios.

That’s why Ferrante — in his 19th year at Coleytown — sees kids in class wearing Beatles t-shirts.

He researched his book well. He read books, and watched the “8 Days a Week” video about their tours.

He built his story around real events — like the actual KKK death threat against the Beatles at their Memphis show. (They played anyway.)

Ferrante also gave his protagonist a strong character. She understands the importance of free speech, and the value of sticking up for herself.

“I’m a teacher, after all,” Ferrante says with a smile.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Pic Of The Day #525

Today could have been tough. With their building closed due to possible mold issues, Coleytown Middle School 6th and 7th graders moved to Bedford Middle School. Eighth graders headed to Staples High. No one knew what to expect.

The day went great. Staff adapted. Students smiled. There were warm welcomes all around.

And it started even before the Coleytown youngsters entered their new schools. This sign outside Bedford said it all.

(Photo/Michelle Howard)

[OPINION] As Coleytown Moves: Be Adaptable, Flexible, Welcoming

Marcy Sansolo is the administrator of What Up Westport. Usually, she and the 3,000-plus members of her Facebook group share comments and photos about life in Westport. There are notices about upcoming events, observations on life at Whole Foods, and quirky photos.

Marcy is an upbeat, glass-half-full woman. What Up Westport mostly steers clear of controversy.

But as Coleytown Middle School 6th and 7th graders prepare to move today to Bedford Middle School, and 8th graders to Staples High, for about a month — while experts explore whether mold or mold remediation has caused dizziness, nausea, itching and headaches — they’ve faced another issue: pushback from some parents at the host schools, concerned about the impact on their own buildings.

Coleytown Middle School

Marcy did not want to post anything that would fan the flames. But she did not want to downplay the situation either. What she wrote deserves the broadest audience possible. So, with her permission, I’m re-posting it here.

S— happens. Kids who are faced with adversity will become more resilient kids and eventually resilient adults.

This is my free advice, and you don’t have to take it.

If you have a student who is in one of the 3 schools, have them look at this as an adventure.

An opportunity to meet new people, to experience a new setting, to be a host, to help thy neighbor.

Children are incredibly accommodating and figure things out quickly.

They will take their cues from you. You stay positive, understanding, friendly and flexible, and so will they.

For those students who require more emotional or physical support, their support team is there for them.

Have faith in your kids and those making the decisions.

Bedford Middle School 2

Bedford Middle School

Reaction was quick, and largely positive.

“Amen!” one woman wrote. “Kids adjust much more easily than adults. Parents, give your kids the chance to deal with a problem, disappointment, and adversity. Make this a positive and they will be better for it.”

Another noted: “Westport has a history of coming together and making things happen — big and small — from buying the Longshore Club to banning plastic bags in stores. As someone who sells this wonderful town to new residents, I love sharing these stories. This can be one more of them. We control the narrative about how we come together as a community and handle this.”

A third said: “This is one town, these kids are kids, they adjust, they are resilient, they are friends in their swim teams/ basketball/ ballet/theatre, they will be in Staples together, their moms take the same spin classes at the Y. This is ONE town. Let’s just all show love and not scare these kids with our own negativity, because they know better.”

It won’t be easy for the Coleytown students, as they move to a new school (for the 6th graders, their 2nd in a month). It will be hard — but certainly less difficult — for those at Bedford and Staples.

It will be a learning experience for all — staff as well as students. Let’s hope the lessons of welcoming and adaptability are taught everywhere — not just in school.

Staples High School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Remembering Corey Hausman

Corey Hausman graduated from Staples in June. This month, he died in a tragic accident in Colorado.

Corey and his older brothers, Lucas and Casey, grew up in Westport, and were excellent athletes. Corey ran cross country and outdoor track for 4 years at Staples High School. He was a 2-year varsity skier too.

His parents, Joel and Nanette, and his brothers have written this tribute to Corey:

Corey Hausman was a 2018 graduate of Staples High School who had just started his 3rd week at University of Colorado-Boulder when suddenly he was physically taken from this Earth. A simple yet fatal accident occurred September 12 while he was riding his skateboard across campus to a friend’s house after class on a Tuesday afternoon. It is still too shocking and soon to comprehend this loss or answer the begging question: Why Corey?  Those closest to him are focusing on the spontaneous joy that he brought to the world and that, as a freshman just beginning his most exciting journey, he had hit a personal high note.

If Corey considered you a buddy, you were in for a treat. As the stories from brothers, friends, neighbors, teachers and Staples teammates bubble up, it is clear that Corey had a gift: making people laugh. His range of material was broad including hysterical impersonations, physical gyrations, facial expressions and classic sarcastic quips.

His audiences included all ages and personalities.  Whether it was a shy 3-year-old boy who struggled to make eye contact or the senior citizen having trouble opening a car door at Stop & Shop, Corey would find a way to cheer them up, and to get under people’s skin and produce a smile or laugh. Simple, yet so powerful; it was Corey’s way of giving a little joy to the world.

Corey Hausman (center) with Lucas (left) and Casey (right): “The Brothers.”

Like many Staples students, Corey had excellent grades, scores and credentials enabling him to attend several formidable colleges. But once he heard from CU, all other admission letters remained unopened. He had found his home for the next 4 years; end of conversation.

Far far away from the comforts of home, Corey was outside absorbing all that Boulder has to offer, jamming on his guitar with his roommate ‘til all hours of the morning, making new friends and impressing his professors with his proactive approach to his studies. All of this with the back drop of the Rocky Mountains still covered with snow at the tippy-tops.

Corey was overjoyed with his new day-to-day routine and the anticipation of ski season when he could freestyle with an old teammate from Mt. Snow-Vermont. Corey beamed during the Facetime calls home to just “check in.” Without a doubt, he was the happiest person in the world.

It is unbelievable to think that Corey’s story on Earth ended so abruptly. All of the lingering questions will never be answered. Especially, for his family and many close friends, when will the sadness and longing pain stop?

Experts insist that it is critical to mourn for a loved one that passes. Beyond honoring the deceased, acceptance and mourning is needed for survivors to eventually move forward with life. What would Corey want?  “Sure,” you can hear him say, “a little mourning would be OK – but, please, not too much.”

Why? Because he was able to hit the high note at 18 years old. He was the happiest person on Earth, and he was able to bring his joy to others. Corey would want us to honor him by following in his footsteps — find personal happiness every day, and bring joy to the world by simply making others smile and laugh.

(Services will be held at the Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road, Westport, on Saturday, September 29, at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Environmental Defense Fund. For a web tribute to Corey, click here.)

Andrea Dutton’s Research: In The Eye Of A Hurricane

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, meteorologists and scientists talk about its nearly unprecedented strength and power.

Andrea Dutton thinks she knows why.

The 1991 Staples High School grad is an assistant professor of geology at the University of Florida. She also co-leads an international working group investigating the geological record of changes in sea levels and ice sheet mass, to better predict future sea level rise.

Dr. Andrea Dutton with a fossilized coral reef in the Florida Keys — another area affected by sea level changes. (Photo/Joshua Bright for Redux)

Specifically, Dutton reconstructs sea level over thousands of years, establishing the behavior of sea level and ice sheets during previous warm periods.

According to Rolling Stone, Dutton has shown the mid-Atlantic to be “a particular hotspot for sea-level rise.” Between 2011 and 2015, that coast saw increases in sea levels 6 times faster than the global average. The higher the ocean level, the bigger the storm surge.

However, the story continues, the North Carolina legislature has outlawed considering sea-level rise as part of the state’s coastal management strategy.

Dutton says, “No need to mince words here. The outrageous coastal development practices need to change. Unfortunately, this storm might just be the one to squeeze the insurance market enough to make that happen. Especially on the heels of Irma, Maria and Harvey, which have already stretched the available resources.”

(For the full Rolling Stone article, click here.)

Unsung Heroes #64

Last month, the Perseid Meteor Shower filled the sky. It was an awe-inspiring sight.

It was even better to see — and understand — the show with the help of experts from the Westport Astronomical Society.

Volunteers were on hand — as they have been, at least once a week for 40 years — at the Rolnick Observatory on Bayberry lane.

A Norwalk resident was one of those who took advantage of the experts. “They were special,” she says.

Two were at the telescope inside the dome. Two more were on the platform. They talked about the night sky. They answered questions. They gently quizzed the children who were there.

Last year, the Westport Astronomical Society hosted hundreds of people for an eclipse.(Photo/Frank Rosen)

Their new admirer says, “they were so generous with their time. They were so knowledgeable. They welcomed every question from anyone, without pretension. They did not laugh or snicker when someone said something potentially silly.”

She adds, “They have made the Rolnick Observatory accessible to anyone, even if they’re disabled.”

Heroes come in many forms. The Norwalker nominates the members of the Westport Astronomical Society as Unsung Heroes. They certainly are this week’s “stars”!

(To visit the Westport Astronomical Society’s superb website, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)