Category Archives: Education

School Daze

It’s midterm time at Staples High School — so how about a pop quiz for everyone?

The subject is “Westport schools.” The answers are below. No cheating though — and no Googling!

  1. How many students were in Staples’ first graduating class? And what was special about them?
  2. Edward T. Bedford provided the funds for Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High. But he also helped build another Westport school. Which was it?
  3. If you went looking for the old Burr Farms Elementary School, what would you find there today?
  4. True or false: The Doors, Eric  Clapton, Rascals and Rolling Stones all performed at Staples.
  5. Name 2 predecessors of Greens Farms Academy.
  6. If a sneaker brand was associated with Bedford Middle School, what would it be?
  7. A longtime principal of the original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street shares the same last name as the founder of one of Westport’s first private academies. What is that name?
  8. The 2nd principal of Staples High School has a parkway in Connecticut named for him. Who was he?
  9. Two  Staples High School athletic teams practiced in the basement of the old school, on Riverside Avenue. Which teams were they?
  10. Many decades ago, the Westport Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum. Why?
Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.

Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.

Before I give the answers, here’s the reason for today’s quiz:

On Sunday, January 29 (3 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts a reception for its new exhibit.

“Westport School Days: 1703-Present” offers a wide and fascinating look at the evolution of education here in town. From the first formal class (on “Green’s Farms Common”), through the growth of private academies and public schools, to today’s nationally renowned system, there’s a lot to learn.

Maps, photos and memorabilia — report cards! a bench from the original Adams Academy! — make for intriguing viewing.

Whether you went to school here or not — and whether you were an A student or spent all your time in the principal’s office — this is one exhibit not to be absent for.

And now, your test results:

  1. There were 6 students in Staples’ first graduating class. All were girls.
  2. Edward T. Bedford helped build both Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High — and also Greens Farms El.
  3. Burr Farms Elementary School is now the site of large homes, on Burr School Road. The athletic fields are still there, however.
  4. False. All of those acts actually did appear at Staples — except the Stones.
  5. Greens Farms Academy’s predecessors include Mrs. Bolton’s School and the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School.
  6. A sneaker brand associated with Bedford Middle School would be Nike. The school is built on the former site of Nike missile silos.
  7. Both the boys and girls rifle teams practiced in the basement of Staples High School, when it was on Riverside Avenue. There was a shooting range down there.
  8. Dorothy Adams was the longtime principal of Saugatuck Elementary School. Ebenezer Adams founded Adams Academy. Both buildings remain. Saugatuck is now elderly housing on Bridge Street; Adams Academy is a historic site on North Morningside Drive.
  9. The Wilbur Cross Parkway is named for Staples High’s 2nd principal. He went on to become a distinguished professor at Yale University — and the governor of Connecticut.
  10. The Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum because they believed it would have little value for Westport students.

(For more information on the Westport Historical Society exhibit, click here.)

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue ...

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue …

... and the school today.(Photo/Julie Mombello)

… and the school today. (Photo/Julie Mombello)

Remembering Glenn Hightower

Glenn Hightower — a longtime Westport Public Schools administrator and community volunteer — died over New Year’s weekend. He was 76.

Glenn Hightower

Glenn Hightower

Hightower came from Oklahoma, as principal of Bedford Junior High School. In his several decades in the district, he also served as director of continuing education.

He spent an enormous amount of time in activities ranging from Little League softball to the United Methodist Church.

He and his wife Beverly — who died in 2015, at 72 — raised 3 daughters here: Holly, Julie and Heather.

A full obituary, and information on services, will follow soon.

Young Animator Draws On Her Talent

For as long as Olivia Porretta can remember, she’s loved animation.

“You can make a character very simple, but still get a powerful emotional response,” the Staples High School junior explains. “People can connect to just 2 eyes and 1 mouth — it’s a universal face.”

She also likes the fact that animation is done completely by hand. Every frame is created by a real person.

In 5th grade at Saugatuck Elementary School, Olivia designed storyboards for a made-up character — without even knowing what storyboards were. Her younger brother liked them, so she did more.

Olivia Porretta

Olivia Porretta

At Staples, Olivia honed her illustrating and writing skills in the Animation Club. Using Cintiq — an interactive pen device similar to a big iPad — and programs like Photoshop and TVPaint — her passion grew.

Except for a summer session at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Olivia is self-taught. She’s also a self-starter.

When she met Kimson Albert — a noted animator — she showed him her work. Last year, he invited her to join the Amaze Project. That’s a fun, engaging video series teaching tweens and teens about health and safety, including sexuality, gender identity, relationships, friendships and puberty.

Each short film is written, designed, animated and produced by different people. Olivia was hired — and paid — for a video about online safety.

“I wanted kids to be empowered, not scared, by information,” she says. So her animation delivers its message in the voice of a child. Staples students Chloe Adda and Jake Watzman provided 2 of the voices. Olivia also added her own.

It took several hours each night — for many weeks — for Olivia to complete her 4-minute film. It was released last month. Reaction has been great. Click on the video below, to see for yourself:

Soon, Olivia will be back at work, creating new animations. Meanwhile, she’s enjoying Staples — especially (of course) her English elective class.

It’s called Visual Literacy.

(Hat tip: Sean McGee)

School Days Stuff Sought

If there’s one thing that connects every Westporter, it’s education.

Some of us went to school here. Others have kids in school now. All of us pay taxes to support our schools.

Next month, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit called “Westport School Days: 1703-Present.” It examines public and private schools — and through the centuries, there have been a lot more than anyone realizes.

The Cross Highway District School (above) was built in 1878.

The Cross Highway District School (above) was built in 1858.

It sounds very cool. But it won’t happen without our help.

The WHS needs photos. Buildings, class photos, teachers events — anything that shows the wide range of “education” through the years.

The Historical Society also wants school memorabilia: banners, decals, logowear, invitations to events, report cards, lunch boxes, whatever. If there’s a Westport schools connection, they want to see it.

Items can be dropped off at the WHS, across from Town Hall. Photos (JPEGs or scans) can be sent to rwmailbox@aol.com. Please provide as many details — names, dates, etc. — as possible.

The Historical Society also plans tours of Adams Academy on North Morningside Drive. Built in 1830 as the Greens Farms Congregational Church School, it was sold to Ebenezer Banks Adams 7 years later. He operated a private school, preparing students for college. Later, the one-room building was called the East Long Lots District School.

If you remember going to school there, the WHS would really like to hear from you.

So would the Guinness Book of World Records.

Adams Academy has stood on North Morningside for nearly 200 years.

Adams Academy has stood on North Morningside for nearly 200 years.

A Very Merry Bridgeport Christmas

It started with a small request.

Kathy Mahieu — a Westporter who teaches in a Bridgeport elementary school — asked if I could write about the differences between our school district and theirs. I had a better idea: I’d post her 1st-person account. Her words would be far more meaningful than mine.

A Tale of 2 School Districts” provoked a powerful response. Dozens of commenters offered thoughts. Many wondered what they could do to help.

The answer: Plenty. And here’s where this story really gets good.

Catherine Walsh called Kathy, and provided cartons of paper for the Read School. That simple gesture solved an enormous need.

Simultaneously, Jimeale Hede and Carolyn Russo got involved. Using Facebook, they installed “room moms” in every pre-K through 3rd grade classroom. The women published wish lists on their grassroots Brighter Lives for Kids Foundation website. Classroom supplies poured in.

Kathy Mathieu in her Bridgeport classroom. Very few teachers have whiteboards.

Kathy Mathieu in her Bridgeport classroom. Very few teachers have whiteboards.

In just one week this month, over $71,000 was raised. Much of that came from a Cushman & Wakefield fundraiser. The money will pay for the purchase of 90 Chromebooks with educational programs, as well as field trips and a soccer program.

“06880” readers — and others in an ever-widening circle — volunteered to address other needs. Teachers are identifying students who need shoes or a backpack, for example, as well as requesting items like rugs, headphones and books for their classrooms.

Help is on the way Cesar Batalla Elementary School too.

Read Elementary School

Read Elementary School

Watching the generosity unfold brought Catherine to tears. Westport and surrounding communities rallied around the needy school. Importantly, she says, they’ve “committed themselves long-term” to aiding these children and their families.

One of the Westporters who helped with Pamela Long. She heard about a toy drive for the Cesar Batalla and Read Schools. She bought some, but was chagrined to learn that donations were slow.

She asked “06880” for help. Again, I was happy to help. Again too, I asked for the story in her own words.

Pamela was eloquent. “These kids are in desperate situations — the highest poverty brackets, shelters, you name it. 100% of these children are fed breakfast and lunch at school,” she wrote. “Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

“Westport:  We can do better. Every child deserves the joy of opening a gift this season. We’ve got 4 more days to come together as a community and show our compassion, by helping those who do not have our good fortune. Open your hearts and your wallets — and get shopping!”

Westporters — and readers far and wide — responded instantly. Taking advantage of an Amazon link — and thanks to a generation donation from locally based/internationally known toymakers Melissa & Doug — they blew past the goal.

Plenty of people also helped with the logistics: wrapping, transporting, and making the toy magic happen.

Some of the presents that poured in to the Read and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools.

Some of the holiday gifts that poured in to the Read and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools.

So — when it’s almost time for boys and girls all over America to enjoy the wonder of Santa Claus — let’s pause to thank the men and women (and kids) of our “06880” community (real and virtual) who helped bring smiles to kids a few miles away.

And let’s vow to keep helping the boys and girls of Bridgeport every day in the coming year.

Staples Students Buck Centuries Of Tradition

Harriet Tubman notwithstanding — in 2020 — US paper currency has long been filled with old white guys.

You or I can’t do anything about that. But Carla Eichler’s Advanced Design and Technology students can.

Every year, the Staples High School art class creates posters for events like the Candlelight concert, library programs and more. They also study packaging and marketing concepts.

But the most creative part of the course is a major project, which changes each time. This year, Eichler asked her class to redesign the dollar bill.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler's class.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler’s class.

It was not easy. First the students studied the history of American currency. Then they looked at other countries’ money.

They realized that, by comparison, ours is dull — in both color and content. While some nations celebrate their cultures and values, ours honors (it bears repeating) old white guys.

Eichler’s assignment had certain requirements. New designs must incorporate traditional elements, like the Federal reserve seal. But other than that, the sky — literally — was the limit.

Some students kept familiar characteristics: the flag, the eagle, even the green and gray color palette.

Others changed colors, iconography and themes.

Senior Gabe Holm took the “sky’s the limit” charge seriously. The front side of his design — which cleverly rises vertically — shows an astronaut floating in space. The reverse side includes the Apollo 11 rocket blasting off for the moon, and Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step…” speech.

“My philosophy was to honor achievements, rather than people,” Gabe says. “That avoids any controversy over gender or race. And the moon landing is one of America’s greatest achievements.”

gabe-holm-dollar-redesign-space

Sophomore Ben Matteson wanted a person of color on his bill. He chose Martin Luther King — “a man who changed America. He made a big impact on what our country is today.”

Ben chose one of King’s lesser-known quotes for the front. The back shows the Lincoln Memorial. It was the site of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech — while also honoring a president who had an enormous impact on equal rights.

ben-matteson-dollar-redesign-mlk

Jacob Stanford selected a white guy for his bill — but one of far more recent vintage, to “modernize” our currency. John F. Kennedy is “iconic,” the sophomore says. He then found an iconic color photo of the president, his finger jabbing at a press conference, but made it black-and-white.

Jacob juxtaposed JFK in front of the New York City skyline — a city he calls “the most iconic place in America.” But on the back of his design — in place of the usual Washington buildings and monuments — he offers a nod to traditionalism: a soaring eagle.

jacob-stanford-dollar-redesign-jfk

Perhaps the most intriguing departure from the same-old same-old came from Alyssa Domenico. The senior — born in China, adopted by American parents — wanted to portray this nation’s diversity and multiculturalism.

She researched Ellis Island, and studied the languages we speak here today. The result: a beautiful design incorporating the storied immigration center, the Statue of Liberty, American flags on the front and back — and “one dollar,” rendered in over a dozen languages.

alyssa-domenico-dollar-redesign-immigration

As part of the assignment students wrote artist statements, reflecting why and how they chose their designs. They also critiqued each other’s work, and used that feedback in their revisions.

This is Eichler’s 12th year teaching Advanced Design and Technology. Many of her students have gone on to careers in graphic arts, marketing, art education and animation.

Perhaps others will one day actually redesign our U.S. currency.

We sure need it.

A Very Cool Kids’ Kindness Week

On a national level, our rhetoric may be white-hot.

Despite that — or maybe because of it — here in Westport, our kids are playing nice.

Long Lots Elementary School has developed a Caring Council. Last week, students and their faculty advisors, Lori Grindrod and Cecilie Schachte — with the full support of principal Jeffrey Golubchick — rolled out an important event for the entire building.

kindness-week-monday-sign

“Kindness Week” included:

  • Make a Difference Monday
  • Thoughtful Tuesday , during which Caring Council students gave hot chocolate to bus drivers
  • What Can I Do to Help? Wednesday
  • Thank You Thursday
  • Friendship Friday, with a special friendship-themed “super recess.”
Long Lots bus drivers enjoy Kindness Week treats.

Long Lots bus drivers enjoy Kindness Week treats.

The Westport school system has embraced “kindness with sincerity” as a guiding principle. Is it naive to ask if some of our leaders in Washington could follow suit?

(Hat tip: Amy Chatterjee)

Long Lots 3rd graders made this quilt, showing what kindness means to them.

Long Lots 3rd graders created this quilt, showing what kindness means to them.

Young Dentists Bond Together

Dentistry can be an isolating profession. Sure, there’s your office — with assistants, hygienists, office staff and maybe a partner or two — and of course patients. But most dentists rarely get the chance to learn from, and socialize with, other dentists.

In a profession that’s changing so rapidly, that can be frustrating.

Fortunately, a group of young area dentists have figured out a solution.

Dr. Alexander Volchonok

Dr. Alexander Volchonok

Alex Volchonok has taken the lead. Born in Moscow, he grew up in Philadelphia and south Jersey. At Lehigh and the University of Pennsylvania dental school, he learned the importance of collaboration.

After finishing his periodontal training at Columbia last year, he was hired as an associate with Dr. David Gottlieb, a longtime Westport resident. He’s helped bring the team approach to Dr. Gottlieb’s Norwalk office.

But Volchonok wanted to do more. He found a kindred spirit in Dr. Emily Driesman, who practices with Scher Orthodontics in Westport.

They formed a study group, as a way to network with other young professionals. “We want to grow together, using the benefits of technology and social media,” Volchonok says.

The diverse group includes oral surgeons, periodontists, orthodontists, children’s dentists and other specialists.

Dr. Emily Driesman

Dr. Emily Driesman

In addition to Driesman, Westport dentists in the group of about 20 include Drs. Steve Cagliostro, Sasha Drexler, Lindsay Gadzik, Alison Kudish, Hannah Ahn and Steve Smullin.

The common denominator: All are in their first 5 years of practice.

The group meets once a month, at different offices. They discuss a specific topic — cosmetic dentistry, laser treatment, something new in sedation or easing patient anxiety. Of course, there’s food and wine.

“As dentists, we spend our days confined to our offices,” Volchonok notes. “Even the professional societies meet just 2 or 3 times a year. Getting together every month really builds collaboration and bonds.”

Dentistry is “exploding,” Volchonok says. There are new methods, approaches — and especially technologies.

“A lot of it is in the digital realm,” he explains. “We’re comfortable with that. We’ve grown up with it. It’s a very dynamic field.”

You might call it wide open. And these young area dentists open wide to embrace it.

The young dentists' group. Check out those smiles!

The young dentists’ group. Check out those smiles!

Taylor Harrington Speaks Strongly For Those Who Can’t

For some Staples High School students, club rush is a chance to grab candy, as organizations try to lure in new members.

For Taylor Harrington, it was a life-changing event.

As a freshman in 2011, she discovered Best Buddies. The organization — which fosters 1-on-1 friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their classmates — grew to be a passion.

As a junior, Taylor was paired with Wyatt Davis. Though they shared similar interests — sports, music and food — and had attended Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools together, they did not know each other well.

Their relationship grew quickly. They attended Staples games together. Wyatt invited Taylor out on his family’s boat. They attended a “Walk the Moon” concert in New York.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game…

Their friendship has lasted beyond high school. Wyatt has gone to Penn State — where Taylor is a sophomore — for a football game. She showed off the school she loves, and hit the Waffle Shop for eggs and pancakes.

For years the 2 friends have sat in Wyatt’s kitchen, watched his dad Brett cook, and chatted. “He makes the best food!” she says.

Wyatt — who has cerebral palsy — communicates using an iPad attached to his wheelchair. He has a great sense of humor, Taylor notes.

“I love being Taylor’s friend,” Wyatt — now a student at Gateway Community College — says by e-mail. “She makes things easy when we hang out. When she comes over, she’s like part of my family. She is incredibly genuine and sincere.”

“We are all way more similar than we are different,” Taylor notes. “Too many people judge Wyatt and other people with disabilities just because of their medical condition.

“That’s not fair. Wyatt doesn’t let his disability define him, which I love. Any time I think I can’t do something, I think of Wyatt’s attitude. I tell myself, ‘I can do this — just maybe not in the easiest way, or the first way I think of.'”

...and on Wyatt's parents' boat.

…and on Wyatt’s parents’ boat.

Last year — her first in college — Taylor realized how much she missed Best Buddies. She noticed that fellow students who had not gone to school with students with disabilities felt disconnected from them. She also wanted to learn more herself.

That led her to minor in disabilities studies. This semester she’s taking a course with a blind professor. She’s learning how blindness affects the woman’s life, and is asking questions she could not get from a textbook.

Last year, a Deaf Culture class helped her understand hearing impairments as a difference, not a disability.

Taylor’s major is advertising. Her other minor is entrepreneurship. All of those subjects converged in September, when Project Vive — a small State College-based start-up that makes communication devices for people with cerebral palsy and ALS — hosted a poetry night at their workspace.

A 70-year-old woman named Arlyn shared her poetry with an audience, for the first time ever. Because her speech is slurred, she used Project Vive’s Voz Box.

Project Vive's Vox Box.

Project Vive’s Vox Box.

The Box is a speech generation device. It’s customizable — Arlyn operated it with her foot; others use a hand — and at $500 it costs far less than the $16,000 average of similar devices.

Taylor was excited to hear Arlyn — and eager to help.

Soon, she was hired as Project Vive’s marketing intern. She runs social media accounts, promotes events, and creates innovative ways to expand the company’s network of supporters.

She also runs an Indiegogo campaign.

That’s necessary, because even though the Voz Box is a lot less expensive than other speech generators, it’s still out of reach for many.

Her goal is $10,000. But she has less than 24 hours to reach it. The campaign ends tonight (Thursday, December 8) at midnight.

Taylor Harrington, Wyatt Davis, Arlyn the poet and Project Vive have one voice. Through it, they speak loudly and clearly: “Please help!”

Click here to contribute.

Deb Sawch Teaches The World About Education

Chances are you won’t read Educating for the 21st Century: Perspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World.

It’s a scholarly book, thick with macro and country-specific perspectives on teaching today, plus “granular/classroom based approaches to what it means to educate in our complex, technological, interconnected world.” Contributors hail from Japan, Singapore, Kuwait, China, Finland, South Korea, Australia and the US.

Fifty Shades of Grey it ain’t.

But if you curl up by the fire with this 490-page, $119 tome, you’ll find Chapter 10 fascinating.

deborah-sawch-book-coverTitled “Exploring the Transformative Potential of a Global Education Framework: A Case-Study of a School District in the United States,” it focuses on a place called “Westfield.”

That’s the thinly disguised alias of Westport.

Our district’s inclusion in the book is not happenstance. One reason is that one of the 4 editors is Deb Sawch. An independent education consultant and faculty member of Columbia University’s Teachers College, she spent 3 years as a Staples High School English instructor (after beginning her career in the private sector).

Sawch is married to Staples alumnus Chris Sawch. Their kids are Staples grads too.

The 2nd reason that Westfield Westport is featured in the book is that our school district is doing some pretty noteworthy stuff, 21st-century-education-wise.

Sawch knows all about it. Through Teachers College, she’s been involved with “Westport 2025.” The K-12 initiative — launched in 2010, with 65 teachers and administrators — aims to develop students’ critical thinking, creative, communication and problem-solving skills.

Non-cognitive (emotional) skills, including ethical thinking, have since been added to the program.

Deb Sawch

Deb Sawch

“Westport is a forward-thinking district,” Sawch explains. “Educators here really want to share ideas about what it means to be a fully engaged global citizen.”

Our town’s journey through that 2025 initiative is at the heart of Chapter 10.

Sawch’s book has taken several years to edit. Re-reading it today, she realizes the importance of the role of educated, interconnected citizens. “There’s no going back now,” she says.

Sawch recently returned from Singapore, where she gave a presentation about collaboration by international students.

On December 13 she gives another talk — this one at nearby Sacred Heart University.

All over the world — from Asia to Westfield Westport — Deb Sawch is educating all of us for the 21st century.