Category Archives: Education

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark Next Weekend

The 8th annual Maker Faire gallops into Westport this Saturday (April 27).

Part science fair, part country fair, part carnival, it’s an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and commercial exhibitors.

They show off what they’ve made, share what they’ve learned, and geek out with a few thousand other like-minded folks.

Over 100 makers have signed up already. They include:

  • “Game of Drones” (sponsored by Sacred Heart University Engineering): flight simulators, plus drone building, training and programming
  • “The Future is Now” (David Adam Realty): home automation, electric vehicles (and a live band)
  • “STEM on Wheels” (University of Bridgeport): Connecticut’s first mobile laboratory bus, with robotics, coding, imaging systems and more
  • “The Great Duck Project” (Westport Sunrise Rotary): Help build the world’s largest 3D printed duck!
  • “Nerdy Derby” (Stanley Black & Decker): Build, decorate and race a custom car
  • “Sustainable Pathways”: Hands-on activities and exhibits, geared to making sustainability part of daily life.

Makers will be joined by artists, musicians, stage performers, speakers, entrepreneurs — and of course food trucks.

(The Maker Faire takes place this Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Veterans’ Green and in the Baldwin parking lot. Opening ceremonies take place at 10:45 a.m. Admission is free. For more information click here, email mark@remarkablesteam.org, or call 203-226-1791.)

The Maker Faire’s “Game of Drones”

Unsung Heroes #94

Earlier this month, the Learning Community celebrated the national Week of the Young Child.

On “Friendship Friday,” children at the Hillspoint Road preschool and kindergarten participated in activities with buddy classes. They also helped youngsters at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.

Many children there depend on the school as their primary source of food. School breaks — like this one — mark a week of food insecurity.

So throughout the Week of the Young Child, Learning Community families donated healthy snacks and drinks. The children made signs, and helped organize the food into categories.

At the end, every boy and girl helped fill 131 huge bags with granola bars, applesauce, pretzels, crackers, milk and juice.

The bags were delivered to Cesar Batalla before the end of the school day. It was a true group activity.

Thanks to the Learning Community kids, for helping their less fortunate peers.

Congratulations too to the Learning Community staff and parents — led by kindergarten teacher Valerie Greenberg — for instilling the values of care and compassion, and emphasizing the importance of volunteerism, in Westport’s youngest citizens.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

If you saw “Curtains” last month — or any other Staples Players production over the past 6 decades — you were awed by the acting, dancing, sets and lighting.

But back in the day, Staples Stage and Technical Staff was separate from Players’ actors. SSTS had their own director, officers, traditions — even their own t-shirts.

Mark Groth was a proud SSTS member. He was president in 1968, the culmination of a 3-year career in which he helped construct a set with moving turntables, another that jutted out into the audience, and multimedia projectors for the original show “War and Pieces,” which ended being part of a cultural exchange program with the USSR.

Staples Stage and Technical Staff member Al Frank working backstage, from the 1967 yearbook.

Groth had 2 wonderful mentors at Staples. Both were faculty directors of SSTS.

Steve Gilbert was “brilliant,” Groth says. “He led us places we’d never even thought of. He let us come up with ideas, and do lighting, sound and staging that was way beyond high school.”

When Gilbert was on sabbatical, Don Budy took over. He was a Staples art teacher — his first job after graduating from college in his native Colorado. He was quieter than Gilbert, but equally as talented and inspirational.

Groth learned well. He and fellow SSTS member Steve Katz did all the lighting for the legendary concerts — the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals — on the Staples stage.

Don Budy (1967 Staples High School yearbook photo)

Gilbert and Budy’s influences were profound. Groth headed to Rockford College in Illinois — attracted primarily by their state-of-their-art, $12 million theater.

He majored in technical theater (and in New York one Thanksgiving break, did the lights for a Hell’s Angels-sponsored Grateful Dead concert).

Groth spent 3 1/2 years with the Army’s 101st Airborne, and the next 40 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry. Groth videotaped residents’ sessions through a one-way mirror, as part of their training. It was a fascinating career.

Meanwhile, when his son was in high school Groth attended their production of “West Side Story.”

“It was terrible,” he says. He offered to help the director.

For the next 10 years, he volunteered for 20 shows. Then, after he protested the administration’s censorship of one play, he was told the school’s drama program was “going in another direction.”

A month later, Kella Manfredi — whom Groth had worked with 10 years earlier — called. With a master’s in theater education, she was now the theater director at Bear Creek High School in Englewood. Would he be interested in helping?

Sure! So, for the past 10 years, Groth has worked with a high school theater program that sounds like “the Staples Players of Colorado.” They’ve done “Cabaret,” “26 Pebbles” (about the Sandy Hook massacre), and just closed “Be More Chill” (they got the license when it was still off-Broadway).

The great set for Bear Creek High School’s production of “Grease.”

Which brings us back to SSTS.

Thirty years ago, Groth’s grade-school daughter performed in a concert at Cherry Creek High School. As he set up his tripod to videotape, a staff member came over.

They looked at each other.

“Mark Groth?!” the man said.

“Don Budy?!” Groth replied.

They rekindled their friendship. Budy — now a professional sculptor, in addition to working with Cherry Creek — comes to as many of Groth’s shows as he can.

He was there a few days ago, at “Be More Chill.” More than 50 years after they first met, Budy still supports his old student.

Don Budy (left) and Mark Groth, after Bear Creek High School’s “Be More Chill.”

Groth enjoyed his academic job, and loves working with high school students. He started with a professional-type troupe at Staples, and he’s with a similar one now in Colorado.

There’s only one difference. At Bear Creek, his tech crew remains separate from the actors.

“We’re like Ninjas,” Groth says proudly. “I tell them: ‘Be swift. Be silent. Be invisible.'”

And — as Steve Gilbert and Don Budy taught Mark Groth all those years ago: Be great.

 

Staples Books Its Own March Madness

Last year, as Villanova battled its way through March Madness to the NCAA basketball championship, the Staples High School English department conducted its own bracket.

To Kill a Mockingbird beat out fellow Final 4 contenders Pride and Prejudice, The Diary of Anne Frank and 1984 to win the first-ever Favorite Book Ever tournament.

Mary Katherine Hocking

‘Nova did not repeat as 2019 champs. Nor did Harper Lee’s classic novel.

In the case of the Wildcats, they weren’t good enough. But for the books, they changed the rules.

This year’s contest — organized by teachers Mary Katherine Hocking and Rebecca Marsick, with help from Tausha Bridgeforth and the Staples library staff — was for Best Book to Movie Adaptation.

Thirty-two contenders were chosen. Voting was done online. Large bracket posters near the English department and library kept interest high.

As always, there were surprises. Some classic book/film combinations — like The Godfather — fell early. Others that Hocking expected to be less popular (Twilight, Little Women) battled hard.

The field ranged far and wide, from Romeo and Juliet and Gone With the Wind to Lord of the Flies and Frankenstein.

Hocking’s email updates to students and staff were fun to read. Before the final — after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone crushed The Hunger Games, and The Princess Bride edged The Help — she wrote: “The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Westley versus Weasley, Vizzini versus Voldemort, Humperdinck versus Hermione.”

We’ll let Hocking announce the winner.

She wrote:

The Princess Bride has taken a rogue bludger to the head, losing to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With a final score of 94-49, this year’s House Cup, Quidditch World Cup, Triwizard Cup all go to Harry Potter and Queen JK.

Remember, one can never have enough socks, and one can never have enough books to fill the time.  Please check out any or all of these books from your local library as we head into spring break.

She and Marsick are already planning next year’s contest.

Wahoo!

Unsung Hero #93

Alert “06880” reader Tracy Porosoff nominates this week’s Unsung Hero. She writes:

Nina MacMillan stands at the front door of Greens Farms Elementary School every day. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, she greets every child with a smile and a friendly hello.

Nina MacMillan

Nina has suffered through bouts of bronchitis without complaining.

She is there for early morning orchestra, chorus, band and gym. She never scolds kids when they’re late.

She starts their school day with kindness, friendship, and a sense that they are welcome and eagerly awaited.

To have our kids receive such warmth each and every day is truly a gift for which we are grateful.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Anthony Buono Named Acting Schools Superintendent

Anthony Buono

Anthony Buono — Westport’s assistant superintendent of schools — will serve as acting superintendent, Board of Education chair Mark Mathias said tonight.

Colleen Palmer will be on medical leave until August 1, the Westport News reports. That’s when her retirement — announced last month — officially begins.

Buono came to Westport last July from Branford, where he was associate superintendent of schools.

[OPINION] Historic Importance Of South Morningside Is Huge

Between the ospreys and education issues, Westporters’ attention has recently been diverted from the long-running saga of Morningside Drive South. But the Historic District Commission meets Tuesday (Town Hall, 7 p.m.) to discuss a planned development there. “06880” reader Aurea de Souza writes:

Before Walter and Naiad Einsel bought their home and studio, 26 Morningside Drive South was the home of  Charles B. Sherwood. Yes, that’s the same Sherwood family remembered today through Sherwood Island State Park, the Sherwood Island Connector, even Sherwood Diner!

Charles B. Sherwood was given 7 acres of land by his father Walter in 1853.  That same year, he built his house. It was sold in 1864 to John B. Elwood, who owned it until 1920. The Einsels bought it in 1965, after vacationing in Westport for 4 years.

In 2005 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their home. In 2007 their home and property were designated a Local Historic District.

The Einsels’ house on South Morningside Drive.

Anne Hamonet and her husband Alberto bought what used to be the barn of the Sherwood property in 2002. They have since restored it, respecting its historic value. Today their home is a Greens Farms sanctuary, cherished by the neighborhood.

The Hamonets raise chickens that run freely through the property. Anne brings fresh cage-free organic eggs to everyone at our neighborhood meetings. They also keep horses on the property. It’s almost like a movie set.

Because of the Hamonets, we all enjoy rooster and chicken noises, horses that can be seen from the street, and the beautifully restored barn.

This is what their bucolic backyard looks like today, right next to the proposed development.

This is an approximation of what it will be when the southwest block of the 16 3-bedroom, 32.5-foot high condos is built, just 15 feet from their fence.

The historic importance of 20-26 Morningside Drive south is huge for Westport.  It is about to be destroyed by a developer who purchased property in a historic district. He was well aware of the limitations, but is taking advantage of the 8-30g “affordable housing” statute which can take precedence over historic districts and flooding issues.

The homes will be built on top of wetland setbacks on already flood-prone Muddy Brook – which this week caused the collapse of Hillandale Road bridge.

There is also a safety issue. Westport requires a 400-foot distance from a school driveway for any driveway cutout. Plans for this development shows their driveway directly across from Greens Farms Elementary School.

The developer has presented drawings of the individual groups of homes, but at the Architecture Review Board hearing on March 26, failed to present any documentation on how it will look as a whole.

A Greens Farms United member who is an architect put all of their documentation together in a rough section of what it will actually look like (These do not account for any land modifications; it is simply an illustration of what has been made public).

The house in yellow is the current home, which the developer plans to transport to a new location much closer to the road.

Westport currently enjoys a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g developments, having met the state requirements. This proposal was submitted before the moratorium took effect.

Staples Science Olympians Win States, Head To Nationals

Staples’ Players, musicians, Inklings newspaper staff, athletes and robotics teams all earn statewide and national recognition.

Add one more to the list: the high school Science Olympiad team.

The “A” team snagged first place Saturday, in the Connecticut State Science Olympiad competition, at the University of Connecticut. Science teacher Karen Thompson’s squad beat out 48 other teams, and won 12 medals. That’s more than half of the 23 events contested.

The Staples “B” team won one medal too.

The win vaults Staples into national competition. But they won’t be alone. Last month, Bedford Middle School won its state event. Both teams advance to the 35th annual national Science Olympiad at Cornell University on June 1.

To prepare for the state competition, many Stapleites worked closely with the middle schoolers. The older Olympiads visited Bedford to work on labs, build various contraptions and study for test events.

Congratulations to the “A” — really, the A+ —team: Emma Alcyone, Justin Berg, Hannah Even, Zach Katz, Angela Ji, Sophia Lauterbach, Annie Liu, Augustin Liu, Aniruddha Murali, Nishika Navrange, Neha Navrange, Samuel Powell, Sirina Prasad, Anisa Prasad, Carter Teplica, and Derek Ye. 

The Staples Science Olympiad A and B teams.

For Coleytown Company, The Show Must Go On. And Boy, Did It!

First, Coleytown Middle School’s Company lost their stage.

Then they lost their lead.

But the show must go on. This weekend, it did.

Big time.

With great cooperation from Bedford — where Westport’s 2 middle schools now share space, following the closure of CMS last fall due to mold — Coleytown Company was deep in rehearsals for “42nd Street.”

Andrew Maskoff (tie) with (front row, left to right) Drew Andrade, Melody Stanger, Anna Diorio. Rear: Lucy Docktor, Jordyn Goldshore, Kathryn Asiel and Demitra Pantzos. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

On Tuesday, director Ben Frimmer learned that Andrew Maskoff — the 6th grade lead — had to go on vocal rest. He could not talk or sing until the show.

Frimmer was determined to get him on stage. In the meantime, he needed a fill-in for rehearsals — and the possibility that Andrew could not perform at all.

There were 3 possibilities.  Frimmer could recruit his son Jonah — a 7th grader in Weston who has done 3 Equity productions. He could go on himself. Or he could ask a Staples High student to step in.

Frimmer chose the third. He called Staples Players director David Roth, who suggested Max Herman. The senior had just completed a fantastic run in “Curtains.”

Frimmer knew Max well. They’d worked together on 3 CMS shows.

The director called him at 1 p.m. An hour later, Max was at Bedford rehearsing.

He rehearsed all week — including following behind Andrew, who walked him through the blocking.

Andrew Maskoff (center) helps Max Herman with his blocking. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Andrew went on Friday night. But it was clear that 2 more shows would be too much. Max took the stage Saturday, so Andrew could close out the run on Sunday.

“I have never seen a student make as mature a decision as Andrew,” Frimmer says.

Having survived Saturday night, the cast was excited yesterday to have everyone back on stage.

Suddenly — just 30 minutes before the curtain rose — another supporting lead was struck with a migraine.

Staples freshman Nina Driscoll — another Coleytown Company alum who had served as assistant director — immediately offered to step in.

In just half an hour Frimmer and his assistants ran her through her songs and dances, and highlighted her script. Ten minutes before showtime, she announced she was off book — she knew the script — and was ready to go.

Nina Driscoll (3rd from left) with (from left) Sacha Maidique, Callum Madigan and Maggie Teed.

That’s show business.

And that’s why Westport loves Ben Frimmer, Staples Players — and especially Coleytown Company.

(Hat tips: Tami Benanav and Nick Sadler)

Drew Andrade dances, accompanied by (from left) Eliza Walmark, Rima Ferrer, Emma Schorr. Cece Dioyka, Drew Andrade, Ava Chun, Kathryn Asiel, Keelagh Breslin. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

“42nd Street” dancers (from left) Vivian Shamie, Kathryn Asiel and Demitra Pantzos. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Saugatuck El’s “Willy Wonka”: Scrumpdiddlyumptious!

This month, Greens Farms Elementary School staged its first-ever musical.

Now it’s time for Saugatuck El’s (star) turn.

When the curtain rises on “Willy Wonka” this Friday and Saturday (March 29 and 30), it will be the culmination of a true community effort.

It takes a special kind of person to stage an elementary school show. Second grade teacher Katie Bloom was just back from maternity leave. But she’s a theater veteran — from age 8 through Hofstra University — and hey, there’s a special kind of people known as “show people.”

In less than a month Bloom helped form the Saugatuck Theater Club. Casting began. Anyone who tried out was promised at least a small part.

She hoped for enough children to fill every role. She got 120.

That number was impressive. The talent: even more so.

Some of the “Willy Wonka” leads.

The 3 rounds of callbacks demonstrated, Bloom says, how much the SES students wanted the program.

Bloom was aided by an army of parents. Jen Berniker, Miriam Young and Carole Chinn led the charge. Working with principal Beth Messler, they created a Movie Night fundraiser.

John and Pam Nunziato — parents of one of the leads — own a branding and design firm. They created Wonka and STC logos, developed projection backdrops (parents took up a collection to buy the screen), signage, Wonka Bars and a playbill.

The “Willy Wonka” Imagination Room.

The Caricato family donated printing costs. The Greelys spent hours making enormous sets. Melissa Crouch Chang designed and sewed costumes for every cast member (including 60 Oompa Loompas).

Other parents supervised rehearsals, worked backstage or simply spread the word.

Middle school youngsters helped with choreography, stage management, lighting and sound.

Professional photographer/SES dad John Videler gifted every cast member with a head shot.

Then there was Saugatuck El mom Megan Bolan. A Broadway performer, teacher and choreographer, she worked with the cast on major numbers.

The entire school got in the spirit. Guess what book they chose for their annual “One Book, Two Schools” event? And thanks to the art department, “candy art” now blankets the halls.

“This has engaged faculty, students and parents,” says principal Messler. “It’s created new opportunities for our community to connect with one another. It’s been a one-of-a-kind experience.”

The show is just under an hour (very kid-friendly!).

Of course, there will be chocolate. Doors open 45 minutes early, so theater-goers can visit the candy shop (featuring hand-made Wonka Bars, commissioned by a local chocolatier).

Five lucky winners at each show will open their bars to find a golden ticket. One gets a scrumpdiddlyumptious grand prize.

So what will the Saugatuck Theater Club do for an encore?

I have no idea. But they’re already making plans for next year.

(“Willy Wonka” will be performed Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 each; click here to order.)