Category Archives: Education

Kids Around The World Enjoy Westport Playgrounds

Compo Beach is home to Westport’s biggest and best known playground. It’s jammed in summer — and well used the rest of the year too.

But it’s not the only one in town.

Every elementary school has a playground too. They’re used at recess, sure — but after schools and weekends as well.

Playground aficionados will be delighted to know that this year, both Kings Highway and Saugatuck Elementary raised funds for new playgrounds. They’ll be installed before schools begins next fall.

One element of the new Kings Highway Elementary School playground.

They’re ADA compliant (of course!). Also (of course!) they use recycled content, and are made to high environmental health standards.

The new playgrounds are “designed for social interaction and cooperative play,” says Lauren Turner, a Kings Highway parent involved in the project.

They include interactive climbing blocks, slides, spinning elements, quiet areas and more. All elements provide “physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation.” Play is (of course!) a key to children’s development.

But what happens to an old playground?

Kings Highway 2nd graders enjoy their “old” playground …

Kings Highway and Saugatuck El have partnered with Kids Around the World. The organization helps children and families affected by war, poverty, illness and natural disasters.

The 2 schools’ current playgrounds will be donated to a third world country, where such things are luxuries.

Turner is glad that youngsters there too will be able to play — and grow.

She hopes this project helps Westport kids understand the impact they can have on other children’s lives, around the globe.

… and so do 5th graders.

KHS and SES are reinforcing that message through a few programs. Youngsters will write letters to be sent with the old playground. Turner hopes this leads to a pen-pal program.

Kings Highway Principal Lou DiBella will open the library once a week in July and August, so children can write journals about the playground.

And on July 21, all of Westport is invited to help break down the old playgrounds. Kids Around the World will refurbish it, then ship it overseas.

You don’t have to be a Kings Highway family to help. Just click here.

Then — if you’re a kid — stop staring at this screen.

Go outside and play!

Making The “Case” For Saugatuck El

Last night, Staples Tuition Grants handed out $304,000 in scholarships to 113 high school seniors, and graduates already in college.

The event marked 75 years of STG financial help. It’s always uplifting and warm — a celebration of promise, purpose and community.

As usual, the Staples library was packed with recipients, donors, and proud family members and teachers.

But this time, there were younger faces.

The first-ever Saugatuck Elementary School Community Award was given. It’s a project of the school’s Caring Council — 4th and 5th graders who volunteer for philanthropic causes — and they were there to see “their” honoree.

They and their classmates walked a combined 2,501 miles this year, in a fundraising effort. They mapped their miles “across the USA,” with “stops” at universities attended by their teachers.

Caring Council members who attended last night’s ceremony were thrilled to meet awardee Case Videler. An SES graduate himself — now headed to the University of Delaware — he embodies the Caring Council mission.

Case Videler, and members of the Saugatuck Elementary School Caring Council.

Saugatuck El and Staples Tuition Grants share even more ties than Case, though.

This year’s 13th annual walk-a-thon kicked off with a speech by DARE officer Ned Batlin — a former STG recipient.

And a powerful video celebrating the organization’s 75th anniversary was created by Westport’s own Doug Tirola — a former SES parent.

It was a night that the 113 scholarship recipients will always remember.

And one that some future grads — members of Staples High’s classes of 2025 and 2026 — won’t forget either.

(For more on Staples Tuition Grants, click here.)

“The Hate U Give” Brings Schools Together

There’s tons of talk about the vast gulf between school districts in Connecticut. Westport and Bridgeport — just a few miles apart — offer particularly stark differences.

Much of the time, it’s only talk.

But a collaboration involving 2 schools, 4 English teachers, and 95 students this year showed what happens when people try to bridge the gap.

The project began with Staples High School librarian Colin Neenan. He thought The Hate U Give — a popular young adult novel about a girl who becomes an activist after witnessing the police shooting of her unarmed friend, and exists in both her urban neighborhood and a wealthy private school — would be a great vehicle to bring suburban and city students together.

Danielle Spies and Barb Robbins — who teach 3A and 2 Honors English respectively at Staples — were selected from among several volunteers. Neenan and co-librarian Tamara Weinberg connected with Fola Sumpter and Ashley LaQuesse, Harding High teachers who were enthusiastic about the collaboration.

First, Westport students went to the Bridgeport school. They met their counterparts, and discussed the first 26 pages of the novel.

One of Robbins’ students was nervous about meeting new, “different” people, the teacher says.

After the first session though, she told Robbins, “They’re just like me. We had so much to talk about.”

Staples literacy coach Rebecca Marsick — who was also involved in the project — adds, “They’re all teenagers!”

Staples and Harding High School students work easily together.

A dramatic reaction came from a Westport girl. She was stunned to hear Bridgeporters say that nearly every day they heard of a friend treated unfairly by police — and at least once a month, someone they knew was shot by an officer.

“I couldn’t think of even one person who had a really negative interaction with the police,” she said.

“I never doubted that people of color constantly face racism. I just never heard about it face to face. It’s crazy to me that I can live a town away from them, and have such a different life experience.”

The next step involved Flipgrid, a video education platform. For 6 weeks the teenagers exchanged videos, posted questions about the novel, and shared responses.

They also read articles about race relations throughout history, explored current events, and studied pop culture and poetry. The common thread was themes that both unite and divide communities.

After 6 weeks, the Harding students came to Staples. They gathered in the library for lunch, free-wheeling discussions, and a special activity.

They created “body biographies”: mapping out what various characters from the novel held in their heart and backbone, for example, and what their eyes focused on.

Collaborating on a “body biography.”

They dug deep — and shared their own lives and experiences too.

“The book is not easy. There are some hefty topics,” Robbins says. “But the interactions were sensitive, and very respectful.”

Then they all posed for a group photo.

The final project was to write stories about current events, and share them with everyone.

Some students said the project was the most important experience they’d ever had in high school. One called it “the most important event of my life.”

“It opened our kids’ eyes to their opportunities here,” Robbins says. “But they also saw how much they have in common with the Bridgeport kids.”

Last fall, two Staples girls wrote research papers on inequality in educational opportunities. To actually see that gap with their own eyes, they told Robbins, was “really compelling.”

The Staples instructor echoes her students’ reactions.

“It took a lot of work. There were logistical issues, and tons of preparation. But this is one of the best things I’ve ever done as a teacher. I learned so much!”

Fola Sumpter — one of the Harding teachers — adds, “This project gave my students confidence as readers, writers and collaborators. They have a new perspective on people, and I am seeing them operate as thinkers on a whole new level.”

A group shot, in the Staples library.

The collaboration may not end. Among other ideas, students from both schools talked about forming a book club.

That’s a great idea. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“In Westport, if we want to add a book to our curriculum, we pretty much can,” Robbins says.

“In Bridgeport, they have a tough time even funding the books they already study.”

Jackson Delgado Wins Staples Key

In the crush of end-of-sch00l-year news, a big announcement like the winner of the Staples Key often gets overlooked.

It shouldn’t.

The Key is the high school’s highest honor. Presented annually for decades — courtesy of the Westport Kiwanis Club — it goes to a senior who combines academic excellence and community service with the respect of teachers and peers.

“The Key winner is our vision of what a Staples graduate should be,” says principal James D’Amico.

“And because the 3 nominees are selected by the staff, and voted on by students, it’s especially meaningful.”

This year’s winner — announced last night, at the school’s annual awards ceremony — is Jackson Delgado.

Jackson Delgado

He’s president of both Student Assembly and the debate team. He tutors for Caroline House in Bridgeport, and Top Hat Tutors in Westport. He’s also a drummer in a percussion ensemble.

“I’m not sure there’s a common link. But I enjoy everything I do,” Jackson says.

In debate, he notes, “there are never right or wrong answers. It’s cool to construct an argument, use it against your opponent, and then have to see the other side.”

Student Assembly — the school government — allows Jackson to help plan schoolwide events, while tutoring is personally fulfilling. Caroline House serves youngsters in Bridgeport, while Top Hat is for Westporters. In both roles, Jackson enjoys talking about concepts he finds interesting, while helping others understand them too.

He has a host of favorite Staples classes. Advanced Placement Chemistry, Calculus BC and Multivariable Calculus appeal to his problem-solving mind. It’s intriguing, he says, to realize that different paths can lead to the same solution.

English Language and Rhetoric helped him dissect arguments — a valuable tool in debate — while Economics connected him to “the real world.”

Jackson’s educational influences stretch back to Saugatuck Elementary School (Peter von Euler) and Bedford Middle School (Anitha Bolar and Kathryn Sicbaldi). At Staples, he cites Heather Wirkus (Biology), Will Jones (Chemistry), Noreen McGoldrick (English Language), Drew Coyne (Economics), Robert Papp (Multivariable Calculus) and Robin Sacilotto Hurlbut (Calculus).

But, he adds, “every teacher I’ve had has been important in different ways. I could name 50 of them.”

Though Jackson has earned a host of honors — National Hispanic Scholar, National AP Scholar, National Merit Commended Student, Connecticut Governor’s Scholar Semifinalist, and awards from Harvard, Brown, Fairfield University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — he says he never chose classes with grades in mind. He took those that interested him.

Asked to give advice to younger students, he says, “It’s important to focus on academics. But it’s just as important to surround yourself with good people, and be happy. Staples is a great place to find out what you enjoy. And it’s true: Four years go by fast.”

In previous summers, Jackson has interned at a Yale lab, attended the Haw Chong Asia-Pacific Young Leaders Summit, and studied engineering at the University of Michigan. He’s doing his senior internship closer to home: at Bedford, with his former math and science teacher Ms. Sicbaldi. It’s a nice way to complete his Westport educational career.

Oh, yes: There’s another big honor for the Harvard University-bound senior. He’s already been named valedictorian.

Which means you can hear him in action, giving a graduation address on June 22.

(“06880” would love to hear the stories of previous Staples Key winners. If you’re a past recipient — or know someone who was — please let us know. And add a few details of post-Staples life!)

[OPINION] School Start Time Discussion Should Consider End Times Too

For several months, a committee of school officials and parents has been discussing possible changes to school start times. One proposal would push Staples High’s day back by almost an hour. Other changes would affect middle and elementary schools.

It’s part of a national movement, based on data about teenagers’ sleep habits.

But the issue is not black-and-white. An email rocketing around town offers counter-arguments, focused on Staples — based not on the start time, but rather the end of the school day. Here is an edited version:

Greenwich instituted a change last year, and suffered some negative effects by not sufficiently considering the end time. They “solved” this problem by decreasing instructional minutes of every class, and adding an end-of-day “opportunity block.” Students can work on school pursuits, or be excused early for athletic or other after-school commitments.

A new start time for Staples High School?

Will Westport make a similar change, cutting back the academic focus for our students in the name of more sleep?

The obvious benefit of the proposal is that students get more sleep, alleviate stress and are more productive during the day.

The detriment is the compressed afternoon schedule, which provides students 1 less hour of post-school time every day. Many believe students will stay up later to accomplish all they need to get done during the day.

Athletes will be released early more often for games, resulting in missed classes. In Greenwich the number of early releases in the fall increased by 147%. The total number of missed classes increased 233%.

Because some teams practice and play on fields without lights, schedules are already extremely tight. Impacts would be felt not only for high school teams, but for youth programs (lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, etc.) that use those fields after Staples teams.

Staples has many time-intensive activities, including Players, Inklings, Orphenians, Model UN, Science Olympiad and others. Asking advisors to stay an extra hour might be impossible; they have their own families and lives. The alternative is to shorten the amount of time students spend on these activities, severely curtailing their excellence.

Hundreds of Staples High School students are involved in sports, music, after-school clubs, and activities like Staples Players. Changing the start time would also affect the end time of school — and the timing of those activities. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Many Staples students participate in non-school activities, like Saugatuck Rowing Club, dance, youth orchestras, religious youth groups and Scouting, along with programs like driver’s ed. Some might be able to change their schedules; other cannot. As with other commitments, the result is either less time, or ending an hour later — which would push homework and other evening activities back too.

That’s also true for after-school jobs too, like babysitting, tutoring and others.

A Greenwich report notes that 44% of students said the new start time negatively impacted their school-related extracurricular activities — and 58% of students said the same about their extracurriculars outside of school.

Regarding stress, 40% of students in Greenwich reported a “very negative or negative effect.” 36% reported “no change,” while 22% described a “positive or very positive effect.”

The Greenwich High principal noted that “the well-intended focus on the beginning of the day now needs the same attention to the end of the day.”

What do you think about possible changes to the beginning and end of the school day? Click “Comments” below.

Pics Of The Day #400

Talented Bridgeport artist Cleiton Ventura painted this mural, at Long Lots Elementary School. He worked on it with assistance from 5th graders.

He also painted this, at the newly opened Chabad of Westport — the former Three Bears restaurant.

Bedford Science Olympians Score At Nationals

Olympics are not just for athletes.

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team finished 1st in the state last month — earning them the right to represent Connecticut at the 34th annual Science Olympiad national tournament

It was held last weekend at Colorado State University.

So how did our guys and girls do?

Here are 2 reports. The first — from parent Danielle Teplica — sets the scene:

It was a fantastic experience — a deep and extreme immersion into a much higher level of science competition than they had yet been able to fathom, let alone experience.

They had the chance to feel what it’s like to respect awesome competition, and perform their best against it.  It was a non-stop, fast-paced 4 days, packed with parades and pageantry, bright lights, loud music, big arenas, learning how to run from one event to another across a university campus, high altitude, little sleep and lots of science.

Plus live tarantulas, turkey costumes, CalTech professors — a lot to take in.

Hannah Even and Anja Gubitz represent Connecticut, at the opening ceremonies.

The team bus arrived at BMS Monday around 2 a.m. None of them had napped on the plane or bus. They were still excited by what they’d just done.

What had they done? Read this report, from parent chaperone Trudie Gubitz:

They performed exceptionally well. The team brought home 2 medals: 6th place for Mystery Architecture, and 1st place for Rollercoaster! In the 34 years of Nationals competition, no Connecticut team had won a gold.

Overall, Bedford finished 25th out of 60 teams — the highest ever for a team from our state. That’s a wonderful achievement — especially because BMS had competed at nationals only once before (in 2015). Most of the top 20 teams are regulars.

For me, the most inspiring thing was the team’s cohesion. These kids have  worked, built and studied for this event for almost a year. Over this time they have created a bond that is hard to describe in words.

They laugh and play while working to a common goal. They support each other when things do not go as planned, celebrate each other’s successes, and pick each other up from disappointments.

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team.

Fifteen children competed in the 23 diverse events: Microbe Mission, Hovercraft, Dynamic Planet and Road Scholar, to name a few.

Another 9 students and their parents also formed part of the team as alternates, showing enormous support.

The support extended further to BMS alumni, who came from Staples to help during preparations. One was even there at 2 a.m. to cheer the returning team bus.

Staples High School Science Olympiad students — and Bedford Olympiad alums — sent this encouraging photo to the BMS team in Colorado on the morning of the competition.

The children had a wonderful time. That speaks to the amazing guidance provided by the 3 teachers who support this program: Arthur Ellis, Dr. Daniel Cortright and Kathryn Nicholas.

Thanks too to all the Westporters who donated to help get the team to Colorado (and back).

Now get some sleep. 

And then get ready for next year!

Coach Art Ellis

Buy One, Give One: The Meloria Model

Tutoring is big business. Westport youngsters from kindergarten on spend untold hours honing their reading, writing, math, science, singing and sports skills. They — okay, their parents — pay big bucks for the opportunity.

Of course, not everyone can afford a tutor — not even in a group setting.

Meliora Education is doing something to help. The Westport-based college prep company, provides SAT, ACT and academic tutoring with a twist. Every hour purchased buys an hour for Bridgeport-area juniors and seniors.

Meliora offers the service through Fairchild Wheeler. The magnet school on the Bridgeport-Trumbull line is actually 3 high schools: aero/hydrospace engineering, biotech/zoology and information technology. There are 500 students in each.

Tuck Northrop

Tuck Northrop teaches literature at the engineering school. A Westport native who left investment banking for a more fulfilling career in education, he loves both his job and his school.

“The kids here are really smart,” he says proudly. “And you can’t learn aircraft design and naval architecture at other schools.

Fairchild Wheeler has been recognized as a Magnet School of Excellence. Graduates go on to Ivy League and other top schools.

But getting ahead is a constant struggle. The gap between the haves (like Staples) and the have-nots (like Bridgeport schools) is enormous. That’s where Meliora rides to the rescue.

Founder Yearsley Winkler — a baseball and soccer star at Staples, who after graduation in 2003 earned degrees from Yale and in England — hired Northrop as Fairchild Wheeler’s first after-school SAT tutor.

Northrop recruited others. They now teach 2 sessions each afternoon. Students attend two per week.

It’s tough. But, Northrop says, “it gives students a chance they otherwise would never have.”

Tuck Northrop and his students.

The classes are free. Students do pay $20 for an SAT prep book (a $24 value). If they do not miss a class, they get their money back.

Meliora’s buy one/give one model does not cover all the costs. A recent $25,000 grant from the Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Memorial Foundation funds the rest.

Results are very encouraging. Northrop worked with one class that scored very low on the first diagnostic test, and one that scored high. Both improved dramatically during the program.

Bridgeport students took the SAT last month. Scores are not yet in. But they felt good about their preparation, and comfortable knowing what to expect.

Meloria will run the course again next year. And in the fall — thanks to the Culpepper grant — they’ll help the soon-to-be-seniors with their college essays and applications.

For 15 Years, “Ceremonies And Celebrations” Help Teens Graduate

As high school and middle school graduations approach, many Westport students worry about what’s ahead.

Some have more immediate concerns: having the right clothes for the ceremony, and the festivities that surround it.

For 15 years, Westport’s Human Services Department has eased those fears. Its “Ceremonies and Celebrations” program helps purchase new clothing for graduates who cannot afford them.

Last year, 32 Westport students were able to purchase “special event” wear.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault says she always receives “heartfelt notes of thanks, and photos of the proud young people as they walked across the stage or stood with their relatives on this memorable day.”

In the grand scheme of things, the right clothes for graduation might not seem like much. To a teenager, it can be the biggest thing in the world.

Tax-deductible checks (payable to “DHS Families Program”; memo line: “Ceremonies”) may be sent to the Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport CT 06880, or dropped off in Room 200 of Town Hall daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Gift cards of any amount (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Trumbull Mall/Westfield Shopping Center) are also gratefully accepted.

Human Services notes that donations honoring a teacher or special person in a student’s life will be acknowledged with a letter to the honoree.

If you know people who could benefit from this program, contact Patty Haberstroh (hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069).

 

Bedford Actors Take “Higher Ground”

On May 11 and 12, Bedford Acting Group will present a controversial play about bullying in middle school. It’s a hot topic now, all over the country.

Co-directors Karen McCormick and Ryan Smith have planned “Higher Ground” for a while.

It’s not the first time they’ve addressed the issue.

In 2010, then-8th grader Will Haskell played the lead. He’s now running for a state senate seat — and will speak to the cast during rehearsals.

Will Haskell, in Bedford Middle School’s 2010 production of “Higher Ground.”

The play deals frankly with important issues like body image, race and sexuality. Characters are taunted for various reasons, before banding together and standing up in the end.

One boy is teased, harassed and assaulted after he shrugs off a misunderstanding about whether he is gay or straight. Other students are bullied for their weight, ethnicity, dress, interest in academics and being in special education.

“Higher Ground” was written in 2008 by Sherwood, Oregon middle school teacher Jennie Brown. Her principal called it “too mature,” and ordered it rewritten. Students countered that it depicted middle school life accurately, and refused to perform if it was censored.

The show was canceled. But the community rose in support, and “Higher Ground” enjoyed 3 sold-out performances at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

Eight years ago McCormick found the script online. With the full support of BMS administration, the play was presented. It earned raves.

Brown has updated the play to reflect today’s technological and social media environment. But the message remains the same.

And it’s one every Westporter should see.

(“Higher Ground” will be presented on Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 p.m. in the Bedford Middle School auditorium. Click here for tickets.) 

Top row (from left): Ryan Porio, Alex Waterworth. Bottom row: Sydney Gusick, Quinn Mulvey, Isabella Roberts.