Category Archives: Education

See The Solar Eclipse With Westport “Stars”

Though the full total solar eclipse next Monday (August 21) is visible along a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina, Westporters can enjoy 70% of the event.

The Westport Astronomical Society is opening the Rolnick Observatory (182 Bayberry Lane) to anyone who wants to watch. They’ll provide solar telescopes and safety glasses. Experts will be on hand to provide commentary and insights.

The eclipse runs from 1:24 p.m. to 4 p.m. The maximum eclipse is at 2:45 p.m.

The Astronomical Society is not responsible for clouds.

 

 

Remembering Eleanor Craig Green

Eleanor Craig Green — a longtime Westporter whose books about working with troubled children influenced generations of educators, therapists and parents — died Monday. She was 87.

Her 1st book was P.S. Your Not Listening — and its subject was as fresh as its misspelled title. (It quoted a note from a student.)

In 1965, many youngsters with special needs were sent to programs or institutions, segregated from mainstream schools. Green volunteered to teach Connecticut’s pilot class, bringing “socially and emotionally maladjusted children” to an ordinary elementary school.

Despite community resistance and student defiance, her class demonstrated the social and educational benefits of “mainstreaming” kids with special needs.

P.S. Your Not Listening was published in 1972. It contrasted classroom drama with her other lives: Westport mother of 4 young children, and wife of an aspiring writer. (William Craig, her 1st husband, wrote bestselling World War II histories and suspense novels, including The Fall of Japan.)

Eleanor Craig Green

Writing as Eleanor Craig, she published 2 more books about her work with troubled children: If We Could Hear the Grass Grow and One, Two, Three: The Story of Matt, a Feral Child.

Her 4th book — The Moon is Broken — chronicled her relationship with her eldest daughter. Ann Craig was a performance artist who earned a cult reputation at Lower East Side dance clubs, before her death in 1987.

In 1978 Eleanor Craig married fellow Westporter Paul Green, a magazine publisher. Their Old Mill Beach home was the busy center of a large blended family, and an extensive network of devoted friends.

Paul Green– now 93 — remains an activist against Parkinson’s disease. With his wife’s help, he credits rowing with adding years to his life. She did not retire from her family-centered therapy practice until last year.

Eleanor Craig’s survivors also include her children and stepchildren Richard Craig of Arlington, Virginia; William Craig of Thetford Center, Vermont; Ellen Perlwitz of Putnam, Connecticut; Andrew Green of Oakland, California; Alex Green of Oakland, California; Doug Green of Washington, DC; Katherine Appy of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Peter Green of Westport; 20 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren, and her siblings Claire Megan of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and John Russell of Hull, Massachusetts.

A memorial service is planned for August 31 (11 a.m., St. Luke’s Church). In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut.

Saugatuck Rowing Club Sets Sights On Horizons

Rowing is a great sport.

It’s demanding, but healthful. It teaches discipline, teamwork and goal-setting. It instills self-confidence, self-control and pride. Plus, nothing beats being out on the water at 5 a.m., in a driving rain.

But rowing also has a stigma: It’s expensive, and elitist.

For the past 4 years, Saugatuck Rowing Club has defied that stigma. The Riverside Avenue facility throws open its doors — and provides a place in its boats — to a special group of teenagers.

And the kids have given back as much as they’ve gotten.

Thanks to a partnership with Greens Farms Academy’s Horizons program — a national project that provides underserved children with academic, social, emotional learning and enrichment programs — SRC welcomes more than a dozen 8th graders for 6 weeks each summer.

Three afternoons a week, the Bridgeport children clamber off buses and into the sprawling clubhouse. Very quickly, it becomes their home.

“Our mission is twofold,” says Diana Kuen, a beginner/intermediate SRC coach who oversees the program.

“We want to introduce them to a sport would never otherwise have a chance to experience. And it’s our responsibility to chip away at the socioeconomic barriers that exist in our own backyard.”

They start like many beginners. Some are terrified of the river. None ever touched an oar.

Under Kuen’s direction, they row on an ergometer. When they’re ready, they step into a boat and onto the water. Figuratively — and literally — they jump into the deep end.

Diana Kuen, and a Horizons rower.

Kuen and co-coach Bridge Murphy watch closely. They figure out which kids will work best where, and who is comfortable going out alone.

The new rowers are like boys and girls everywhere. They’re quick learners. They want to succeed. They love to compete.

And they sure have fun.

“These kids bring joy and levity with them every day,” Kuen says. “They are genuine, authentic and happy.

“Each afternoon is filled with laughter, pride and a sense of purpose. When they step into the club, they light everyone up.”

Another day, with Horizons rowers on the Saugatuck River.

None of that comes easily. The coaches demand that these youngsters — just like any new rowers — step out of their comfort zones.

One girl was terrified. The first victory was getting her out on a launch, with the coaches. Gradually, she eased into a boat.

At the end of 6 weeks, Kuen says, “she was an outstanding rower.”

One boy was so successful at rowing with 7 teammates that he asked if he could scull alone. Once he pushed off from the dock however, he froze.

Kuen swam out to get him. “We tell them we will never let anything bad happen. We will do whatever we can to help.”

Every day throughout the Horizons program, the coaches and kids talk.

“They’re great communicators,” Kuen says. “They understand that this is about so much more than rowing.”

On the final day, each 8th grader spoke from their hearts about what the program meant. Kuen and Murphy listened, with tears in their eyes.

That final session ended with a pizza party. An SRC member — someone who’d witnessed the kids’ transformation, and appreciated the can-do attitude they brought every day — bought ice cream cakes for everyone.

On the way out, SRC general manager Suzanne Pullen overheard 2 girls talking.

“I’ll miss this place so much,” one said.

But not as much as the Saugatuck Rowing Club will miss them.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

The Bridgeport Horizons group poses proudly.

Werner Liepolt Picks Up Painting

Some folks retire with no clue what comes next.

Werner Liepolt was not one of them.

After 42 years as an English teacher at Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools, he knew immediately what he wanted to do.

His daughter Jordan — a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, working now as director of design for an international textile company — had left boxes of art material in her parents’ home.

She thought no one would use them.

But Liepolt — whose previous art experience consisted of doodling during English department meetings — did not want the supplies to just sit there.

He pulled out 2 boxes of pastels, and enrolled in Tom Brenner’s course at the Silvermine Arts Center.

Liepolt drew upon his Bridge Street neighborhood, his garden, his hiking experiences in Maine and the Adirondacks, and boating on Long Island Sound. He loved those places, and wanted to show them to others.

The Bridge Street Bridge inspired this work by Werner Liepolt.

Early recognition came at Seven Arts Gallery in Ridgefield. Fellow Westport teacher Paul Fernandez included 5 of Liepolt’s botanical illustrations in a show.

Liepolt — a longtime visitor to Mount Desert Island — submitted several pastel works to a juried competition sponsored by the Rockefeller Land & Garden Preserve there. Two were accepted. They’ll be shown starting Tuesday (August 8).

Great Marsh in Acadia National Park, by Werner Liepolt.

He also participated in an invitation plein air “Paint the Adirondacks” conference with 80 top artists at Lower St. Regis Lake.

Underneath his daughter’s boxes of pastels, Liepolt found water colors. Last spring, he began studying with Kristie Gallagher at Silvermine.

He notes, “I’ve had the good fortune to teach in a community that supports good education. I’ve found a receptive audience for my plays and screenwriting, and am enjoying the rewards of expressing my take on the world through visual expression.”

Werner Liepolt at work.

As an undergraduate, Liepolt heard John Cage speak. The composer cautioned students not to succumb to a corporate job.

“What will you do when there is no one to tell you what to do?” he asked.

Perhaps paint.

Werner Liepolt painted his son fishing in the Rockies.

Unsung Hero #9

In 2004, Brendan and Jenna Baker moved to Westport from London.

They’ve got 4 children. The youngest son – 8-year-old Henry — is battling leukemia.

Brendan and Jenna Baker with (from left) Henry, Riley, Mary and Shea.

First diagnosed at 2, he endured 40 months of chemotherapy — and beat it.

But last October, Henry suffered a relapse. He’s in the midst of 24 more months of chemo.

He spent most of last year at Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven. But he was home schooled, and looks forward to moving on to 4th grade at Saugatuck Elementary School this fall.

Yet Henry’s dad is not nominating him as our “Unsung Hero” of the week — though he is certainly heroic in our eyes.

Instead, Brendan writes about a “Team Henry” party the family hosted recently, at Compo Beach. It was the Bakers’ way of thanking everyone in the community who supported them through a very difficult time: family, friends, neighbors, and so many people at Saugatuck El.

As part of the celebration, the Bakers hired Phil and Tom Ice Cream — “the Good Humor Men” — to treat all the kids.

“Joanne and Peter Topalian were absolutely fantastic,” Brendan says. “They happily served almost 150 ice cream treats to a lot of happy kids.”

Peter and Joanne Topalian, with one of the many “Team Henry” guests.

A couple of weeks ago — at 8 p.m. — the Bakers’ doorbell rang.

In the driveway were Joanne, Peter, and their gleaming white Good Humor truck.

“They stopped by simply because they wanted to do something nice for Henry,” Brendan says.

“They were touched by his story. They said they constantly think of him, and had stopped by a few times since the party. Unfortunately we weren’t home.”

Henry and his sisters were beyond excited to go outside, and pick out a treat from the truck.

Peter and Joanne Topalian and the Baker family

Peter and Joanne, and the Baker family.

“They did not have to do this,” Brendan notes. “It is a wonderful local business, run by genuinely good people who simply want to make a difference in the life of a young Westport boy fighting cancer.”

The timing was perfect.

The next day, Henry headed to New Haven for an afternoon of tests and chemotherapy.

A few nights later, the Topalians were back again.

Thanks, Joanne and Peter — aka “Phil and Tom, the Good Humor Men” — for a tiny gesture that meant a ton.

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

Another Staples Reunion — With A Twist

Every winter, a bunch of retired Staples folks get together for a mini-reunion in Florida.

Still, after spending so many years working in Westport, they know there’s no place like “home.”

So last Thursday, the 1st-ever “Staples Retiree Reunion” was held at the picnic area near the Longshore marina.

Former staff members — teachers, administrators, secretaries, nurses, you name it — gathered to socialize, reminisce and laugh.

Front Row: Alice Addicks (grade level assistant), Jyl King (secretary), Elaine Haner (secretary), Camy Rando (secretary). : Rear: Bill Brookes (science), Alan Jolley (math), Ernie Harrington (science) Geza Taranko (secretary), Amedeo Cannone (dean), Jeff Lea (French).

The crowd included spouses, and one “retiree-in-training.”

Former vice principal Lee Littrell organized the event.

They stayed as long as they wanted. There were no bells.

Front Row: Joanne Kalif, Todd Kalif (dean) Lee Littrell (vice principal). Rear: Drew Strauss (science), Carol Burgess (nurse). (Photos/Bruce McFadden [science])

FAA Pilots A Drone Course

One of the highlights of last April’s Maker Faire came when a Federal Aviation Administration official awarded Staples High School sophomore/aspiring drone operator Ryan Felner his Remote Pilot Airman certificate. (For the back story on how it happened — after Ryan thought his life was ruined — click here.)

This month, Westport is once again on the FAA’s radar.

From July 24-28, the agency will help sponsor the nation’s 1st-ever Unmanned Aircraft Systems Aviation Career Education Academy.

That’s ACE for short. And “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” is government-speak for “drones.”

Brandon Malin’s drone view of the Staples High School pops concert at Levitt Pavilion.

The course is designed for 16-20-year-olds. Students will learn how to safely fly a drone, through hands-on instruction and more.

Hopefully, they’ll then pass the FAA Remote Pilot Certification test (July 31 and August 1).

The course will be held at Staples High School. Tuition of $200 covers all materials. The certification test is an additional $150.

And no, you do not have to own your own drone. They’re provided.

For more information or to sign up, click here; call Mark Mathias at 203-226-1791 or email mark@remarkablesteam.org.

(In addition to the FAA, the course is co-sponsored by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, Remarkable STEAM, Westport Public Schools and the Westport Library.)

David Pogue’s drone.

Jennifer Tooker Runs For #2

When Avi Kaner decided to forgo a 2nd run for 2nd selectman, it did not take Jim Marpe long to name Jennifer Tooker as his running mate.

The Dallas native and University of Notre Dame graduate lived in Chicago and London while she and her husband Mo worked for GenRe. (They met in a training class.)

When they were transferred to corporate headquarters in Stamford, they did the usual: searched for the right town (and commute) in Fairfield County.

Tooker says they fell in love with all of Westport, including historic home on North Sylvan.

“The commitment to public education, the beach — we felt a great vibe right from the start,” she notes.

Jennifer Tooker

Realizing this was her family’s final move, she decided to act on her long desire for public service. Tooker was appointed to the Conservation Commission — an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of local and state government.

In 2011 she ran for the Board of Education. Talk of “Westport 2025” intrigued her. She believed that her experience overseeing a global department was a good fit for the 21st-century skills the board was examining. Her financial background could help too.

Voters agreed, and elected her.

“In local politics, it doesn’t matter if there’s an ‘R’ or ‘D’ after your name,” she says. “The goal is to figure out how to get things done for all the people you serve. I’m proud that on the Board of Ed we took a pretty non-partisan view.”

Two years later, Tooker ran for the Board of Finance. She cited her knowledge of the education budget process, and ability to bridge communication gaps between the 2 important town bodies.

Juggling her job, public service and a household with 3 kids was not easy. In 2013 she resigned from GenRe.

“I really enjoyed my government work,” Tooker says. “I wanted to devote all my time and energy to it.”

But she found time to join local non-profits too. She is particularly proud of her work with the Adam J. Lewis Preschool in Bridgeport. “I’m passionate about doing what I can to bridge the achievement gap in education,” she says.

Jennifer Tooker, with her family: husband Mo, daughter Riley, son Jack and daughter Nicole. 

So why is Tooker leaving the finance board — with its important power — to run for 2nd selectman?

“With all that’s going on with the state budget, we’re in for tough times,” she warns. “I think this is the right time for someone with my breadth and depth of experience, and my business principles, to step in and help the town stay vibrant and wonderful.”

And, she adds, “I can’t pass up the opportunity to serve with Jim. I admire his character, his accomplishments and his vision.” The pair worked together on the Board of Education.

She hopes to “help this administration achieve its goals, while navigating turbulent economic times and still maintaining the quality of life in Westport.”

Pointing to the model Marpe used with Kaner and 3rd selectman Helen Garten, Tooker says the 1st selectman can “figure out the best way to use all of our skill sets to keep Westport unique and vibrant.”

There’s plenty of campaigning ahead. But, Tooker says, she loves to kayak, paddleboard and go to the beach with her kids. Those too are parts of her summer plans.

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 37.3% 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.