Category Archives: Education

Roundup: Tarry Lodge, Fenway Park, Ukraine …

In late July, “06880” reported that Tarry Lodge looked closed.

The property was unkempt; there had been no life there for days.

But the website was accepting reservations. A phone recording announced “new hours.”

Readers commented. Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell said he’d spoken to the new manager, who “looked forward to the Slice of Saugatuck and will be one of the sponsors of the event.”

Clark Thiemann added: “Tarry Lodge had a sign on the door they were closed for vacation this week and will be back at the beginning of August.”

It’s now mid-August. Either the restaurant’s vacation has been extended for quite a while — in the middle of outdoor dining season — or plans changed.

Or perhaps management was, you know, lying.

The website still uses Open Table for reservations — though today, none were “available.”

More telling is the paper that covers the windows.

Then again, maybe that’s just part of Tarry Lodge’s “vacation” plans.

Tarry Lodge, in July. (Photo/Patti Brill)

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It wasn’t a mountain. But Julia Marino looked equally at ease Sunday night, on the Fenway Stadium mound.

The Olympic snowboard silver medalist — and Westport native — threw the first pitch, as the Boston Red Sox hosted the New York Yankees.

Julia’s mother Elaine watched proudly from just to the left of the visitors’ dugout — “serious Yankee fan territory,” she says.

Julia had a blast. So did the Sox: They won 3-0.

Julia Marino, on the Fenway mound.

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Speaking of sports: Saugatuck Rowing Club won the women’s points trophy on Sunday at the USRowing Masters National Championship in Sarasota, Florida.

Points are awarded throughout the 4-day regatta for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes. Multiple medals contributed to the win.

Back row (from left):) Coach/general manager Scott Armstrong, Barbara Phillips, Liz Brennan, Kate Weber, Vicki Lopez, Suzanne Dodge, Ellen Knapp, Carrie Mioli, Susan McInerney, Caroline Gill. 2nd row: Susan Quinn, Beth Bass, Linda Mandel, Liz Turner, Wendy Woolf, Bobbi Liepolt, Annamari Mikkola, Front row: Patrice Foudy, Joanna Moody, Silvia Durno, Izzy Sareen, Katie Derose, Kathleen Davis, Celeste McGeehan.

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The last day for lifeguards at Burying Hill Beach is this Sunday (August 21).

Compo Beach will be staffed by lifeguards through September 5.

Beach stickers are required through September 30.

Burying Hill Beach lifeguards’ last day is Sunday. (Photo/Yvonne O’Kane)

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There’s only one day each year when visitors to Sherwood Island State Park can stay past sunset.

It’s Shorefest — Friends of Sherwood Island’s annual fundraiser. This year’s event is set for September 9 (6 to 9 p.m., main pavilion).

Guests enjoy an evening of food, live jazz piano, silent auction — and of course, a spectacular sunset. Catered by Westfair Fish & Chips, dinner options include lobster, steak, salmon, or vegetarian. Burgers and hot dogs are available for kids. Appetizers, salad, beverages and dessert are included.

All proceeds support habitat restoration, education and advocacy. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Longtime Coleytown Elementary School physical education teacher Pearl Marcus died peacefully at home in Westport last week. She was 99 years old.

Her family calls Pearl “a Gigi, Momma and Mom. What a wonderful and beautiful life she lived. She had a fantastic group of friends and a loving family. She was always there for all of us. She will always remain the anchor of our family.”

In addition to decades of teaching at CES, Pearl was involved in the Westport community. She enjoyed traveling, entertaining family and friends, theater and tennis.

She was predeceased by her husband of 64 years, Marc (Melvin) Marcus. She is survived by 2 daughters and their spouses, 5 grandchildren and two spouses, and 4 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Quick Center for the Arts, 1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield, CT 06824, or Baltimore Squashwise, 2801 Sisson Street, Suite 100, Baltimore, MD 21211 (Pearl’s great-niece is executive director).

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Nearly 200 people watched live and remotely last night, as 2 Westporters reported on their efforts to aid Ukraine.

Brian Mayer recently returned from his third extended visit to the war-torn nation, where he was joined by Ken Bernhard. Mayer co-founded UkraineAidInternational.org, a non-profit offering humanitarian relief and refugee rescue.

The pair discussed the importance of their work, and the challenges they face. They noted that tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Ukraine Aid International, 88 Partrick Road, Westport, CT 06880, or made via Venmo: @ukraineaidinternational. (Hat tip: Dave Matlow)

Brian Mayer (left) and Ken Bernhard, on the Westport Library stage. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

Meanwhile, some Westporters headed to Georgetown last night, for a special show featuring Jackopierce at Milestone restaurant. The show did not disappoint.

The sold-out crowd included members of Staples High School’s Class of 1987. That’s when Cary Pierce — half of the popular duo, and a Westport native — graduated.

Jackopierce is based in Dallas. A couple of fans from there were at the show too. They enjoyed seeing the singer/guitarists in an intimate setting.

Cary Pierce (right) and Jack O’Neill: Jackopierce, at Milestone. (Photo/Rick Benson)

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Dan Johnson captured today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo, in the sky above Imperial Avenue:

(Photo/Daniel Johnson)

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And finally … 53 years ago today, Woodstock was in its second epic day.

Among the memorable performances:

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(From Woodstock to Jackopierce, and Ukraine to Fenway Park, “06880” delivers a daily Roundup. Please click here to help support this blog.)

Ted Diamond’s Legacy

Kerstin Rao retired in 2021, after 2 decades as a teacher in Bedford Middle School’s gifted program.

Among her many wonderful experiences was the chance to meet World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator Ted Diamond. He died on Tuesday, at 105.

The longtime Westporter — who (among many other accomplishments) served 3 terms as 2nd Selectman — made quite a mark on Kerstin’s students.

And on her. She writes:

When I read on “06880” that Ted Diamond had passed, I found my heart filled with gratitude for the brief times I got to know him during his Veterans Day visits, when I taught at Bedford Middle School.

For at least 2 decades, possibly longer, Bedford’s 8th grade social studies teachers have organized visits by local veterans each November. The impact of these visits is often profound. Students would come into my classes the rest of the week bringing up points the veterans had talked about, wondering what they would have done if they were in the same situation, and curious about ways to serve the country.

Kerstin Rao and Ted Diamond.

My classroom was usually the gathering place as veterans arrived. The PTA would put together a breakfast, and the vets used that morning time to catch up with longtime friends. There was plenty of talk of grandchildren, ailments, and some razzing between the branches of service. However, I also observed how the older vets were genuinely curious to hear from the younger service members about their experiences.

Whenever I could, I brought my sketch journal. I quietly sat in the back of different classrooms as the vets shared their stories. Some years I made drawings of the men and women as they spoke, jotting down the insights that moved my heart. I’m glad I captured a sketch of Ted and some of his thoughts in my journal.

In 2016, Ted told how some men in his unit held deep racial biases. But when they were pinned down and the Tuskegee Airmen saved their lives, those biases were obliterated.

Kerstin Rao’s 2016 journal includes a sketch of Ted Diamond, and some of the important ideas he shared with Bedford Middle School 8th graders.

In 2017, he brought a photo of his unit. He pointed to a few faces, saying this one was from Michigan, this one was from Colorado. He said he could have brought photos of his wing shot off, or the engine of the plane across the way on fire, but to him, this was the single most important picture. He wanted the students to understand that no matter where we are from, we are one country, working together.

A photo Ted Diamond (top row, 2nd from right) shared with the students.

Ted Diamond stood out to me because every year, without fail, his stories focused on our shared humanity. He had a graciousness and gentle humor that made his listeners lean in. He took us into the moment during pivotal times of his World War II battle experiences. He always left us with the message that we have far more in common than we realize, and this is where the true promise of our country resides.

In my lifetime, I’ve never witnessed such bitter division in America as we have lived through these past few years. Nationally and locally, I am troubled to notice a greater willingness to violate the rights of others, speak in inflamed rhetoric without a willingness to listen, and openly expressed innuendo that violence could be inevitable.

Violence is not inevitable.

Discord is not inevitable.

When we pause a moment, we realize that we dishonor the legacy of our veterans if we allow our country to erode from within. I heard this expressed by several veterans over the years. If Ted has left us a call to action, it is this: Each of us has a choice. We could pull further apart, or we could strengthen our country by working together. We can choose integrity, understanding, and connection which becomes a service to our country.

For this message which guides my own path forward, I am truly grateful. Thank you, Ted.

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Ted Diamond’s family is still preparing his obituary. But they sent along a few photos. Here is a century-plus, of a well-lived life.

Ted Diamond is the youngest child in this photo.

Ted Diamond, as a World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator.

Ted and Carol Diamond’s wedding. They were married for 75 years.

Ted and Carol Diamond, and their 2 sons.

Carol and Ted Diamond.

Ted Diamond, looking pensive.

Ted Diamond, with his great-grandson Peter.

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Corey Hausman’s Safety Bill Goes National

Four years ago, Corey Hausman died after falling from his skateboard on a steep path at the University of Colorado. A freshman, he had graduated from Staples High School just 3 months earlier.

His parents and 2 older siblings mourned the loss of the bright, energetic runner and skier.

Then — determined to make something good out of the tragedy — they went to work.

They formed College911. The non-profit helps prepare college students for medical emergencies, while improving campus safety.

Corey’s mother Nanette spearheaded an effort in the Connecticut General Assembly to make universities safer, by ensuring that serious incidents are included in their safety reports.

Corey Hausman and his mother Nanette.

Now the initative has gone national.

Connecticut Representatives Jim Himes and Joe Courtney introduced House Bill 8406 this year. The “COREY Safety Act of 2022” would require colleges nationwide to report campus accidents that result in the serious injury or death of students.

They include “transportation incidents (on foot, bikes, scooters, skateboards, longboards or cars), ground level and high height slips and falls, alcohol or drug overdoses and choking or drowning,” ABC News says.

The bill’s name is an acronym for the College Operational Reporting of Emergencies Involving Teens and Young Adults. Of course, it’s also an homage to Corey Hausman.

Last week, it was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

The Hausmans say that CU knew the area where Corey was skateboarding was unsafe. In addition, he was taken to a community care center after his accident — but died 7 hours later. A transfer to a Level 1 trauma facility was not considered.

Nanette Hausman says that right now, colleges are required to report only crimes and fires. However, accidents are the leading cause of college deaths.

(Click here for a full story from ABC News. Click here for more information on the bill. Click here for the College9111.net Medical Emergency Checklists for parents and college students. Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

(“06880” is a reader-supported blog. Please click here to donate.)

Corey Hausman (center) with his brothers Lucas (left) and Casey.

3, 4 Close The Door

Like many Westporters, Jordan and Karen Schur were happy to join the 3, 4 Open the Door family.

The Wilton Road preschool had a great reputation. Since opening in 1994, owner Cyndi Zeoli created a warm, welcoming environment, with a creative curriculum, low student/teacher ratios, and a stable, caring staff.

The Schurs’ son and daughter were happy. Jordan spread the word; several friends enrolled their own kids there.

3, 4 Open the Door (Photo courtesy of Yelp)

On May 12, Zeoli invited every family to an important meeting 4 days later. Quickly, she moved it up, to 6 p.m. the next day.

Families that could not attend in person logged on virtually that Friday. Zeoli told them that the school had been sold to Chabad of Westport, next door on Newtown Turnpike. The sale would close July 1.

The last day would be June 3 — 3 weeks away. She agreed, however, to remain open 2 weeks beyond that — though only until 4 p.m., 90 minutes earlier than the usual 5:30 closing.

Parents were upset — and angry. The contracts they had signed with the school required 60 days’ notice before withdrawal. Zeoli gave them just over half that — at a time when nearly every preschool had already enrolled students for the coming year.

Many parents were counting on 3, 4’s summer program for their youngsters. Suddenly, they scrambled to make plans.

One parent said that Zeoli had lied just days earlier, responding to questions about spots for the upcoming fall.

Others — who had paid in advance for a a full year — said she had taken their money, despite knowing that the school would close.

Zeoli circulated a list of preschools in the area. Unlike 3, 4 Open the Door, only one was open all day, like 3,4. Many of those with morning sessions had just one or two openings left.

On Monday, Schur called Chabad. He wanted to se if there was any flexibility for the 30 or 40 families about to lose child care.

Director Dina Kantor was “great,” Schur recalls. He learned a couple of interesting things.

Chabad did not need the building until the end of August — not immediately, as Zeoli implied.

And Chabad had a couple of empty classrooms. Perhaps the preschool could use them during the summer.

Schur also broached the subject of Chabad renting back the Wilton Road facility to 3, 4, for use until September.

Chabad of Westport — formerly the Three Bears Inn.

He emailed what he’d learned to a 3,4 teacher. The staff too was scrambling, for employment.

The next day, Zeoli’s son Robert — the business manager — emailed Schur. He said:

It has come to my attention that you spoke to the Chabad regarding the sale of the school and the timing if [sic] its closure. We have no intention of changing the closing date of 3, 4 beyond June 17th.

If you want to speak to the synagogue about enrolling your kids in their program, that is your business, but do not involve us, the other parents at 3,4, or our staff in any way.

If you want to pursue this further, I suggest you speak to our attorney.

The final 3 weeks were difficult. Zeoli removed playground apparatus, and many toys (yet still charged full price).

She did not allow parents to attend “graduation,” saying, “one of our fathers has stirred up a tremendous amount of animosity amongst the parents. I can’t selectively tell parents to attend so as a consequence no Parents are invited to attend.”

A mother arranged for an ice cream truck on the final day, so families could be together one last time. Zeoli allowed the gathering, but said it had no connection to 3,4 Open the Door.

The truck got stuck in traffic, and never arrived. Parents trooped across Wilton Road to the Country Store, and bought popsicles for the kids.

“That sort of sums up the end of the year,” Schur says.

For nearly 30 years, 3, 4 Open the Door operated on Wilton road.

He knows kids are resilient. He knows too that he and his wife are fortunate to have secured spots at Old Hill School, which opened their doors to families needing coverage, and teachers needing jobs. Create in Wilton did the same.

Schur has moved on, from anger to sorrow.

“3, 4 was a Westport institution for 25 years,” he says. “This should have been a fond farewell, sending Cyndi into a well-earned retirement. She took care of kids for all those years.

“Instead, to me, she ignored 30 or 40 families at the end. She left a stain on her legacy.”

(Cyndi Zeoli did not respond to a request for comment.)

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Wynston Browne: Autism Does Speak

Helen Keller lived for many years in Easton.

A few miles away in Westport, Wynston Browne is a 21st-century Helen Keller.

The Staples High School rising sophomore is severely autistic. He does not speak.

From his diagnosis before he was 2 years old, to just a year or so ago, everyone — including his parents and 4 siblings — thought he was intellectually disabled. His IQ was believed to be 60 or so. The books read to him were 1st-grade level.

With his detached look and inability to focus, he was assumed to be off-the-charts disabled.

Last week I spent a couple of hours with Wynston and his parents, Lynda Kommel-Browne and David. It may have been the most astonishing, eye-opening afternoon of my life.

Research shows that for Wynston and others, the inability to speak is not cognitive. It’s muscular.

He cannot make connections between his brain, and his mouth, jaw and tongue. But Wynston’s brain is spectacularly active.

And it always has been.

Using a spelling board — a simple, low-tech device with letters and numbers he points to — and working with an extremely gifted, dedicated and professionally trained communication partner named Elisa Feinman, Wynston has made great progress in the past year.

Wynston’s low-tech spelling board. Pointing to letters is easier than typing, for someone without fine motor skills.

But in the last month, his parents say, his growth has been phenomenal — about 10 years’ worth of progress. They now know he can graduate from high school, and go on to college.

He might even follow the path blazed by Dan Bergmann, a non-speaking Harvard Extension School graduate, who gave his school’s commencement address.

Or the co-valedictorian at Rollins College, Elizabeth Bonker,

Wynston might follow 2 top University of California-Berkeley undergraduates, one of whom graduated with a 4.0 GPA. He’s headed to Vanderbilt, to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

Or UCLA’s first non-verbal graduate,who earned summa cum laude honors.

During the pandemic, Lynda and David heard about organizations promoting the idea that non-speakers had motor — not intellectual — differences. Wynston began working with the letter board about a year ago.

He points to the letter he wants, to spell out words. It’s easier than typing. Because of motor difficulties, when non-verbal people make typos, it’s assumed they lack intelligence.

Elisa holds the board for Wynston. But what he does with it is amazing.

It’s inspirational. And life-changing.

Wynston and Elisa, at work with his spelling board.

In the past month, Wynston’s parents have watched in wonder as he not only answers questions and does math problems, but demonstrates abstract thinking. He expresses his emotions — something it seemed he was never able to describe — and answers open-ended, personal questions.

On Fathers Day, Wynston spelled out, and Elise wrote down, a card to his dad.

“I like to give my dad hugs,” he said. He wanted to honor his father by being “the best person I can.” He vowed to work hard “to increase my skills like communication.”

His spelling board, he added, makes him feel “happy.”

Wynston’s Fathers Day card. He spelled out the answers to Elisa Feinman’s questions; she wrote them down.

Suddenly, Wynston’s world has been unlocked. It’s not unlike Helen Keller spelling “water” for the first time with Anne Sullivan.

There were several books on Wynston’s table. I chose a biography about Temple Grandin — the scientist, animal behaviorist and autism advocate.

I read a few pages out loud. Wynston did not make eye contact; it looked like he was not even listening.

But he sure was.

Wynston Browne learned — and remembered — everything about Temple Grandin.

When I was finished, Elisa asked him some questions. Where did Grandin earn her master’s? (Arizona State). What was her major? (Animal science.) What was her highest degree? (Ph.D.).

He did the same with a book about the atom bomb, which Elisa had read to him a couple of days earlier. He remembered Lyman Briggs (head of FDR’s Uranium Committee — a name and group I’d never heard of), He spelled every word correctly — including “physicist,” which trips up many people.

And he did it all despite never having had a formal spelling lesson.

For years, Lynda says, “He was learning basic math. Because he couldn’t express how easy it was, he exhibited extreme behavior” — rocking and other motions. “That reinforced for others that he did not understand basic math. Bur really, he knew much more than that.”

Elisa held up a board with numbers. Wynston quickly went through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems well beyond “basic math.”

Then it was time for a chess lesson. The game demands many types of intelligence: pattern recognition, thinking ahead, analytical skills, long-term memory.

Wynston made his moves quickly and confidently.

Scenes like these excite and hearten his parents — and make them angry and wistful too. They rue the nearly 15 years they held low expectations for him. They wonder what he felt all those years, with so much intelligence bottled up inside, and no way to express it.

Wynston Browne (3rd from left), with his parents and 4 siblings.

“I get goosebumps,” Elisa says, her voice breaking. “I feel we wasted so much time. But now he will excel. and we will push him as far as we can.”

“Wynston is not non-verbal,” Lynda emphasizes. “He is non-speaking.”

She notes one small sign of Wynston’s abilities to think deep thoughts, and express them well. The other day, she asked him which dog he preferred: his service animal, or the family pet.

He chose the one with “a calm temper.”

On the outside, Wynston may not seem calm. He rocks, makes repetitive motions, and is in constant motion.

It took nearly 15 years for the people closest to him — his parents — to realize that his brain was moving just as rapidly. He had thoughts, ideas and feelings — but no way to “speak” them.

Now he does.

Wynston Browne is non-verbal. But he’s not unintelligent.

Far from it. He’s learning how to communicate well. He’s learning many things people thought he never could.

And the rest of us are learning that he may very well be gifted.

(Hat tip: Jill Johnson Mann)

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“06880” Podcast: Diederik van Renesse

It’s summer, so let’s talk about … college.

The season doesn’t really matter. In Westport — and communities around the country like it — college admissions is a year-round interest obsession.

And it starts long before the summer before senior year.

This newest “06880: The Podcast” features a very interesting chat with Diederek van Renesse. His 24 years as a teacher, admission director and private school college counselor have served him well as a senior partner at Westport’s Steinbrecher Educational Advisors.

He works with families around the world on college, boarding and day school, and therapeutic treatment placements. He’s got a fascinating, 360-degree view of admissions processes, and he shared them the other day in our chat at Westport Library’s Verso Studios.

[OPINION] Middle School And Rowing: The Race Defines Us

Summer is in full swing. School is already in the rear view mirror.

But before we lose it completely, let’s look back on the year. Weston Middle School 8th grader Owen Bernheim answered the call to submit a graduation speech.

His wasn’t selected. But his mom Jennifer thought the parallels between life at school, and with his Saugatuck Rowing Club teammates, was worth sharing.

I agree. Take it away, Owen!

Hello everyone!

It’s been a crazy few years filled with Zoom calls, new experiences, laughter, lessons learned, and COVID tests. Walking in to middle school on the first day, I thought “wow, this is going to be great.” New friends, new teachers, new school.

Owen Bernheim

I don’t like change, but I knew something was going to be different. Let’s just say this is not the type of different I was expecting.

Halfway through 6th grade, we were sent home. Just a quick break from school, nothing to worry about. Well, 2 weeks turned into a month, a month turned into 2 months, and from there, we all know what happened.

However, people took up new hobbies during the pandemic, all from home. Most of them continued back in person. Some opportunities were life-changing. The big one for me was rowing — the sport famous for early practices, grueling cardio work, and athletes with no social life.

Middle school isn’t too different from rowing. During the spring season we focus on a 2k. Spring is a sprint-race season. You go all out, as fast and hard as you can, for 6 to 9 minutes. A 2k is broken down into 3 chunks: the first 500 meters, the middle 1,000 meters, and the last 500 meters.

The first 500 is all about getting out on top, while still maintaining energy. That’s pretty comparable to sixth grade, right? Light work.

The middle 1,000 meters is all about staying where you can push, but still keeping a certain level of comfort so as to not burn yourself out, without settling too much. Seventh grade was like that, but I think we were all a little bit burnt out after seventh grade.

The last 500 meters is all about fighting for speed, and the win. It’s where your lungs and everything else starts to hurt. It consists of trying to keep your head above water (metaphorically, of course). It also consists of a sprint, which all sums up 8th grade.

Owen and his Saugatuck Rowing Club teammates, at the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Florida. They finished 6th in the U16 8+ category.

What people don’t realize about rowing though is that it’s a team sport. You’re not doing a 2k alone; you never go through anything alone because there is always someone to guide you along the way. A friend, a coach, an older teammate. I think this is a lot like middle school.

And what people don’t realize about middle school, something that I think we all forget, is that you’re not alone. There will always be friends and teachers to support you, even when you’re struggling. Middle school is much like a team. I think it’s important to notice that and to embrace your team, because without friends, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, and many others, none of this would be possible.

Owen Bernheim at the USRowing Youth National Championships.

Everybody plays an important part in this journey. Without just one of these people, the puzzle wouldn’t be complete. There will be some struggles along the way, but that’s part of life, just like catching a crab while rowing.

A crab is when a person’s blade flips underwater, causing it to get stuck and occasionally throwing you out of the boat. Other times, your oar gets flung out of your hands. However, it isn’t about the crab itself, but how you recover. This is much like getting a bad grade on a test, or handling school during COVID. It’s also like making a split-second decision, which could determine a good grade, a bad grade, a win, or a loss.

When we make a wrong decision, it should never define us. What should define us is how we recover from those mistakes. How we change our future, try to do good, and help others. These are all things that we should be defined by. Everyone makes mistakes, but what is truly important is how we pull ourselves out of that crab that wants to suck us in. How we handle ourselves in the face of adversity is what we should take note of.

Now is the time to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. But now is also the time to be smart and not let what you do negatively impact your future.

Sometimes people hesitate to try new things in fear of mistakes and failure. However, you would be surprised how many people have been greatly successful after trying something new.

I have a small podcast where I interview CEOs and entrepreneurs about their businesses. It’s called The Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast. One thing that every interviewee has told me is that they wish they had not gone into things so hesitantly. They wish they had taken more chances sooner, because without taking calculated risks, success would not have followed.

Trying new things right now in this phase of our lives is important, because you’re only a teenager once. You’re surrounded by a big team who is truly committed to you: teachers, family, friends, coaches, and your community.

So, let’s make these next 4 years of our lives count, because after high school, we’re all going to go different ways, to meet different people, and experience new things. As I end this speech tonight, I don’t just want it to mean the end of middle school. I want it to mean the beginning of a new part of our lives. Four years that will be unforgettable — but hopefully in a different way than the last few. Thank you.

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Unsung Hero #244

“06880” reader and grateful mom Alia Afshar writes:

I would like to nominate Saugatuck Elementary School 5h grade teacher Valentina Tran for the Unsung Hero award.

Though she is relatively new to teaching, Ms. Tran is extraordinary. She has gone above and beyond for my daughter, and I am sure many other SES students too.

Like many COVID refugees, my daughters and I landed in Westport a year ago. It’s hard being the new kid, especially a girl in 5th grade. Everything was different from her school in Brooklyn.

From Day 1, Ms. Tran took my daughter under her wing. She made sure she always had someone to sit with, eat lunch with, and even ride the bus with on field trips.

During the early spring, Ms. Tran organized a playdate after school for my daughter and a former student (now in 6th grade) who she thought my daughter would click with. This was her first school playdate, so you can imagine what that meant.

Toward the end of this school year, we realized my daughter would miss her moving up ceremony due to a planned trip. She was disappointed, but once again Ms. Tran went the extra mile for her.

She organized a surprise graduation last week with her entire class. She had her own graduation program printed. Classmates sang to her, gave speeches, gave her an award and flowers, even a homemade bracelet.

Valentina Tran, at the special moving up ceremony.

Needless to say, I was in tears. It meant the world to my daughter to feel accepted, part of her 5th grade community, and frankly, special.

Ms. Tran orchestrated all of this brilliantly, on top of all of her end of school year duties and taking great care of 20+ children. I am in awe of her dedication, kindness, thoughtfulness, and willingness to go the extra mile for her students.

We are so lucky to have Ms. Tran in the Westport school system. She is a true hero to my family and I’m sure many others too.

So many Westport educators go the extra mile for their students. Ms. Tran is one of many. But we’re honored to honor her today, as “06880”‘s Unsung Hero.

If you know an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com.

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Tim Harman’s Milestone

In these polarized days, there is little that Westporters agree on.

From national issues like reproductive rights and our leaders, to local ones like the Cribari Bridge and affordable housing, battle lines have hardened.

But there is one thing all “06880” readers know: We love Tim Harman.

You’ve seen him — always smiling — bagging groceries at Stop & Shop.

Tim recently celebrated 30 years an an employee there. He started as part of Staples High School’s work/study program. For 3 decades, he’s been one of the supermarket’s most loyal employees. 

Tim’s sister-in-law Karen writes proudly about other parts of Tim’s life:

In addition to Stop & Shop, Tim — who is now 51 — works at the wonderful Prospector Theater In Ridgefield. Its mission is to  offer work opportunities to residents with special needs.

Tim Harman, working at the Prospector Theater …

Tim is also a longtime member of Our Vision. The organization’s mission is to enrich the lives for persons with disabilities by providing social, cultural and recreational activities which foster enduring friendships, and expand their potential through teamwork and training in Special Olympics.

But Tim’s greatest gifts are his infectious smile, and that he knows almost everyone in town —  from everyday shoppers to teachers and coaches, and the town firefighters who come in almost  daily.

In fact, he is an honorary firefighter, riding in the fire truck every Memorial Day parade.

… riding in the Memorial Day parade …

Every new customer is a new friend. The next time you meet him, he will remember your name. You can’t go anywhere without him knowing somebody.  Some refer to him as the unofficial Ambassador of Westport.

Tim is a life-long Westporter. He attended Westport schools as a special education student, all the way, from Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools, through Staples High. Tim was a member of the Wreckers swim team, and a manager for the baseball team.

His sports talent is evident at annual Connecticut Special Olympics competitions. He has run, swum, and even tried shot putting this year.

He’s pretty good. He has won close to 100 medals over the past 45 years ,including 3 last month. Tim doesn’t even count his  ribbons.

… starring at Special Olympics …

Ask him about his favorite teams. He is a long-suffering fan of the Mets, Knicks and  Giants. He can tell you the scores of each team’s games the next day.

Tim’s parents, Gail and Jim Harman, moved to Westport in 1963. Gail spent many years as a paraprofessional at Staples. Jim is well known as the proprietor of the garage next to The Porch @ Christe’s. Tim’s brother Jim lives locally, while his sister Liz  calls New York City home. Both went through Westport schools, as did Tim’s niece Chase Harman Burke and nephew Andrew Harman.

Tim is a proud and loving uncle to 6 adults, and grand-uncle to 7 little ones.

… and with a great-nephew.

Congratulations, Tim, on your 30 years at Stop & Shop. And thank
you for making Westport a better place, every day!

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Tim Harman (bottom row, center) with his family.

 

Roundup: Mariangela Lisanti, Maserati, Staples Class of ’52 …

In 2001, Mariangela was a Staples High School rock star.

The senior won the national Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition. And the Intel Science Talent Search (where she met President Bush). Each came with a $100,000 scholarship (!).

But she did not stop there. Mariangela was captain of the Staples math team, founder and captain of the engineering team, concertmaster of the Chamber and Symphonic Orchestras, and the recipient of honors in Italian and Spanish (both of which she is fluent in.) Of course, she was valedictorian.

Then, at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in San Jose, California, the Harvard-bound graduate was awarded the Glenn Seaborg Nobel Prize Visit Award — earning a trip to the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm.

So what is Mariangela up to these days?

She earned a Ph.D. from Stanford in 2010, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. She’s been on the physics faculty at Princeton University since then.

A theoretical particle physicist by training, her research focuses on the nature of dark matter. Mariangela’s interdisciplinary work incorporates ideas from astrophysics and data science. Currently, she’s focusing on how variations of the Cold Dark Matter paradigm affect galactic and sub-galactic scale observables.

So why today’s “06880” shout-out?

She’s just been named a Simons Foundation Investigator. This too is a very big deal.

The Simons Investigators program supports outstanding theoretical scientists in their most productive years, when they are establishing creative new research directions, providing leadership and mentoring junior scientists.

Simons Investigators are appointed for 5 years, renewable for another 5. Each Investigator receives research support of $100,000 per year. An additional $10,000 per year is provided to the Investigator’s department

Congratulations, Mariangela. You continue to make Staples, and Westport, proud.

Keep rockin’ the world! (Hat tip: Steve Stein)

Mariangela Lisanti

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Speaking of Staples: Sunday’s “06880” Roundup gave a shout-out to the Class of 1962. They celebrated their 60th year reunion at the Ned Dimes Marina.

But they’re mere children, compared to the Class of ’52. Let’s hear it for them!

Nine alums just enjoyed their 70th (!) reunion at Rive Bistro — not far from their old high school, on Riverside Avenue. (Today it’s Saugatuck Elementary).

Ed Backus — a 1948 graduate — joined them, making them feel very young.

The class has met every 5 years since graduation day: Friday the 13th, 1952. “Our Staples ties are strong!” says Jess Thompson Huberty.

They are indeed. Hail, Staples! Hail, Class of ’52!

Staples High School Class of 1952 at Rive Bistro: Seated (from left):Lu List Morris, Susan Stokes. Middle row: Roxanne Gette Martin, Barbara Hendricks Chamberlain, Jess Thompson Huberty, Sonja Messelt Ziluca, Don Switter, Ed Backus. Rear: Bill Gault. Sending regrets: Bev Breault, Lynn Lucke Lutkin, Steven Miller, Concetta Palazzo Fedak, Mary Ellen Kottgen McKenna.

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The Maserati owner figured he’d be okay on Sunday. His car stuck just a yard or two past the “No Parking” sign on Hillspoint Road, coming from Compo Beach toward Old Mill.

The sign is there for a reason. It’s a dangerous spot. This happened next:

(Photos/Jerry Kuyper)

But that’s not the end of the story.

As of yesterday afternoon — 72 hours later — the very expensive convertible was still there.

(Photo/John Richers)

And debris from its body still littered the road.

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Speaking of parking, how about this trifecta near Gaetano’s?

The driver is:

  1. Facing the wrong way
  2. Next to a “No Parking” sign, which is right by a …
  3. Fire hydrant.

Must have been a deli emergency!

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The Westport Journal has a new executive editor. Thane Grauel succeeds Jarret Liotta in the top post at the year-old online news site July 1. Liotta will focus on photography and video projects.

Grauel has been a reporter at the Westport News, managing editor at the Westport Minuteman and editor of The Hour, among other publications.

“The news business is so different now,” he told “06880.” “At the Westport News we had 5 guys covering Town Hall, plus sports, business, entertainment and real estate. The chains have gobbled everything up. People are not being served like before.”

However, Grauel says, “Westport is one of the best-covered towns in Connecticut, online. People here are really engaged. They want to know what’s going on.”

Grauel is a 4th-generation Westporter, though after Kings Highway Elementary School his family moved to Milford. He graduated from the University of Connecticut, and is a Navy veteran.

Thane Grauel (Photo courtesy of Westport Journal)

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Speaking of writing:

Bilingual journalist and writer Camila Vallejo earns the first-ever Writer-in-Residence prize from Fairfield County Story Lab, the shared workspace in Saugatuck for creative types.

Vallejo covers housing and social justice issues for Connecticut Public Radio and WNPR, and is a member of Report for America. She has been a part-time producer for All Things Considered (read and hear some of her stories here).

The FC Story Lab’s Writer-in-Residence prize is for early-career writers. Vallejo’s residency will enable her to work for free at the Story Lab in Saugatuck. The Lab will install a new media suite, so she can record radio pieces there. While she reports statewide — including pieces on housing disparities in Fairfield County — she often files stories from a closet at home.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual today,” says FC Story Lab co-founder Carol Dannhauser.

“Many media companies have trimmed their newsrooms and all but eliminated their bureaus. This means that young reporters, especially, can’t experience the alchemy that happens in a newsroom, where people bounce ideas off of each other and offer suggestions when stories hit a dead-end.”

During her 6-month residency, Vallejo will host 2 events for students and recent graduates interested in a career in journalism or media.

Camila Vallejo

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So how many jellybeans were in the Staples Tuition Grants contest?

41,330. The winning guess of 41,472 — off by just 142 — was by Emerson Watkins. In second place (41,501) was Sean Wagner. Both will receive gift certificates to their favorite Westport restaurant.

Hundreds of people entered the contest. Guesses ranged from 540 to 751,000.

STG plans to continue the contest next year. It’s another great (and fun) way to help raise some of the $400,000 that was given in scholarships to Staples seniors and alumni this year.

As you can see, there were 41,472 jellybeans here.

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Last summer, dozens of Fleishers Craft Butchery employees at 4 locations walked off the job after CEO John Adams removed Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride signs that workers had put in windows at the Westport store.

Though they had been there for months, a customer had only recently complained.

After the walkout, most employees quit. The shops remained closed until March, when one in Brooklyn reopened. Now it — the final store in what was once hailed as “the mecca of the good-meat movement,” with “rock star butchers” — has closed too.

New York magazine says that after the Westport incident — and the effects of COVID on, particularly, the Upper East Side location — “Fleishers never again found its footing.” Though owner Rob Rosania apologized and offered employees raises to return, the company was cooked.

With the final closing, you can put a fork in Fleishers. (Click here for the full New York magazine story. Hat tip: Tom Prince)

The Fleishers signs. (Photo courtesy of Chloe Sorvino, for Forbes)

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One store closes, another opens: Westport’s newest business is Wash The Dog. Angela Koza’s “self-service dog wash” just opened at 375 Post Road West.

There are 6 stainless steel tubs, so people can wash — and blow dry — their dogs. Full service grooming also available.

The grand opening is this Saturday (June 25). Arf!

Wash the Dog!

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Speaking of creatures, Dave Lowrie writes:

“I’ve been waiting to capture the right ‘Westport … Naturally’ photo. I think I have it: an early visitor to my compost pile.”

Bingo!

(Photo/Dave Lowrie)

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And finally … in honor of Mariangela’s galactic work (story above):

(Across the universe — well, across “06880” — readers contribute to keep us going. Please click here to help.)