Category Archives: Education

Westport School Calendar: A Work Of Art(s)

In 1976, Westport artists honored America’s bicentennial with a special calendar.

Howard Munce, Hardie Gramatky, Randy Enos, Al Willmott, Ward Brackett, Stevan Dohanos and others contributed sketches of Old Mill Beach, the Compo cannons, old Town Hall, the railroad station, even the revered Minnybus.

Proceeds helped fund Bicentennial events in town, and the purchase of artwork for the Bicentennial art collection.

Hardie Gramatky’s illustration of Old Mill, for the 1976 Bicentennial calendar. The original is being donated by his daughter, Linda Gramatky Smith, to the Westport Public Art Collection.

Inspired by that project, the Long Lots PTA launched a Westport Schools Calendar in the early 1980s. Student artists submitted work. Filled with dates of key school and district activities, it quickly became a major fundraiser.

In 2018 we’re a lot closer to the Sestercentennial than the Bicentennial. But the Westport Schools Calendar is stronger than ever.

In 2015, the LLS PTA handed the project over to Friends of Westport Public Art Collection. Proceeds now support the amazing collection that hangs in every school, and many town buildings.

This year, over 200 local students — from kindergarten through 12th grade — submitted art for the calendar. A committee chose a colorful image by Greens Farms Elementary School 1st grader Jack Steel for the cover. GFS 4th grader Kasey Feeley’s homage to the district as a thank-you to teachers graces the inside cover

Jack Steel’s 2018 cover art .

Each of the 13 months features wonderful student work — in full color.

The young artists were inspired by their schools, sports teams, activities and nature. Like their professional predecessors in 1976, their images relate powerfully to Westport.

“In an era when we all keep our calendars on electronic devices, the Westport Schools Calendar is a wonderful throwback,” says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

“You can see a whole month’s events spread out in front of you, accompanied by fun student art.”

Marpe’s daughter graduated from Staples years ago. But he still uses the calendar to keep up with school events.

Staples High student Will Roschen’s image of his building is the March illustration.

The 2018-19 Westport Schools Calendar can be ordered here online (scroll down). Click here to print out the form, and mail it in.

Calendars will also be on sale at all Back to School nights, and later this month at Saugatuck Sweets and Athletic Shoe Factory.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

New GFA Head Stresses Balance, Purpose, Community

Greens Farms Academy has had just 3 headmasters in the past 45 years.

As the successor to Jim Coyle, Peter Esty and Janet Hartwell, Bob Whelan has big shoes to fill.

Fortunately, he’s well on his way. He’s 6-5, and a former basketball player and coach.

Even more fortunately, he’s got a strong, eclectic background. Whelan graduated from Brown University in 1991 with a double major in American civilization and philosophy. He spent several years as a founder, singer, songwriter and director of a rock band that recorded with Atlantic Records and toured extensively.

Bob Whelan

He returned to school, earning a graduate degree in education, policy and management at Harvard, then embarked on a career in development, teaching and administration at 2 leading day schools.

Coupled with his profound understanding of the challenges facing today’s students, Whelan is the perfect educator to lead the Beachside Avenue private school into the future.

Brown challenged him to think about his passions, he says. His band, Angry Salad (“despite its name, we were not mad and had no agenda”), was a joyful time. He was surrounded by “talented, artistic, creative people.”

After 6 years in Brown’s development office he taught ethics and writing, coached boys and girls basketball, and rose to associate head of school at Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, New York.

Whelan’s most recent position was headmaster at 130-year-old Lake Forest Country Day, with over 400 pre-K to 8th grade students just north of Chicago.

There he developed innovative spaces, did cutting-edge work with social and emotional thinking, created a more diverse and inclusive community, and reinvigorated faculty and staff morale.

Bob Whelan, working with young students.

When a search firm approached him about GFA, he was intrigued.

“I’d always associated Westport with creativity and the arts,” Whelan says. “It’s a beautiful community, engaged in local life and the world.”

As he learned more about the school, he realized its students, faculty and mission aligned with his own sensibilities.

He accepted the position last fall. Since then, Whelan has worked with parents and alumni — and been mentored by Hartwell, the departing head.

Whelan is spending this summer meeting individually with staff members, alumni and alumni parents. He feels like an anthropologist, discovering how Greens Farms Academy got where it is, and how it heads into the future.

Before Greens Farms Academy students return in the fall, the new head of school is learning all he can about them. (Photo/Yoon S. Byun)

“I’ve always enjoyed the relationship between teachers, kids, parents and ideas,” Whelan says.

“There are surprises at every turn: learning that the school is coming off its most successful spring in its athletic history, and seeing how the performing arts help students raise their voices. I’m having a lot of fun in this process.”

Whelan is also digging deep into Westport. He’s finding “great energy everywhere” — during an early weekend here, he was amazed at the Fine Arts Festival —  and is thinking about ways to open GFA’s doors to the town.

“There are opportunities for everyone to come in and learn. A school like this has a responsibility to leverage access to a community like this, that’s dedicated to education. It’s important to bring folks behind the stone wall.”

Greens Farms Academy

Being head of Greens Farms Academy — with its beautiful facilities, excellent faculty, strong endowment and high-achieving students and parents — is a great opportunity.

But Whelan is well aware of the challenges.

“The world is evolving,” he says. “As we think about the tools we want our children to have, we also want them to be people of character, who can express themselves articulately. How do we help develop not only those skills, but also help them lead a fulfilling life of purpose, as they contribute to their community? How do we model that here?”

He knows that social media and technology are “incredibly compelling. How do we make the real world relevant to them?”

But, he adds, “kids are kids. Whether it’s the 1960s, ’80s or 2010s, it’s important to preserve childhood. We can’t lose sight that developing skills is not mutually exclusive with developing a sense of balance in life.”

Whelan takes over a school that traces its founding back 93 years. Greens Farms Academy, its new head says, is “more dedicated than ever to deepening its roots in the community. As the school reveals itself to me, I look forward to seeing it reveal itself to those who don’t know it.”

Bob Whelan will be an active leader. Those big shoes will soon be everywhere.

Hey, Einstein!

John and Melissa Ceriale are giving, generous Westporters. They’re involved in a host of philanthropic organizations and endeavors, and epitomize the best of Westport.

Melissa is particularly passionate about Montefiore Health Systems. The other day, she opened up her Greens Farms home — and breathtaking 8 acres of gardens — for an informational session. Two doctors from the Einstein campus gave fascinating talks about their specialties: addiction and depression.

I learned a lot, and was inspired to learn more — about those subjects, and Montefiore Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Just before she asked for questions, Melissa introduced a special member of the audience: Bill Morse. “He actually knew Einstein!” she said.

If that’s not a perfect “06880: where Westport meets the world” story, nothing is.

A couple of days later, I called Bill. The educational consultant — a Westporter since 1988 — has stories to tell.

They start with his father, Marston Morse. A noted mathematician, he spent most of his career on a single subject: Morse Theory (a branch of differential topology, and a very important subject in modern mathematical physics, such as string theory).

In 1935, Marston Morse was invited to join the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. His colleagues included Einstein, and Robert Oppenheimer.

Bill Morse was born in 1942. From the age of 4 until 13 — when Einstein died — the boy watched the world’s most famous scientist walk past his house, nearly every day.

“I would be playing or rollerskating,” Morse recalls. “He would shuffle past, in sandals and that long hair.”

Then Einstein would turn the corner, and walk past Oppenheimer’s house. (He may have been the most brilliant man on the planet. However, Einstein never learned to drive.)

Morse’s mother Louise was 20 years younger than his father. When she was  just 30 years old, she was assigned to sit next to the physicist at an Institute dinner.

Einstein learned of the arrangement, and was worried. What, he asked others, could he possibly talk to her about?

Morse’s mother heard of Einstein’s concerns. She said, “And he thinks he’s got a problem?!”

Einstein heard her quip — and loved it. For the rest of his life, he always requested that she be seated next to him.

That story got plenty of mileage. Louise died a year and a half ago — at 105.

Bill also told me about the time Einstein said to Marston, “I don’t understand modern mathematics. Do you?”

Bill’s father did not reply. “It would have been crazy,” he told his son.

You don’t have to be an Einstein to write an “06880” post like this.

But it sure helps to know someone who knew him.

Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

The campaign to lessen plastic straw use in Westport no longer sucks.

The Whelk, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Amis, Viva Zapata, Dunville’s and the Black Duck have all joined in. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the process of phasing them out.

Now comes news that a place that serves many more customers a day than all of these combined — well, maybe not Dunkin’ — has joined the crusade.

RTM member Andrew Colabella tells “06880” that he heard from Deborah VanCoughnett, director of dining services for Chartwells, the company that runs food services for the Westport schools.

Andrew says they’ll severely limit plastic straw use when school starts later this month.

None will be on display. However, students who need one — for example, those with physical disabilities — can simply ask a cashier.

Andrew thanks fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, school superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer, Bedford Middle School principal Dr. Adam Rosen and student Michael Rossi Pontoriero, and VanCoughnett for their work on this project.

It’s an important step forward. But bigger issues lie ahead.

Like plastic bottles.

Yesterday, I got an email from Samantha Henske.

Last year — as a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — she started a drive to eliminate single-use water bottles. She and her Workshop grouop sold reusable BPA-free water bottles to 400 KHS students. With the money raised, they bought a water filling station for the school.

Samantha Henske, and plastic bottles.

As she worked on the project, Sammi learned not only about environmental effects of plastic bottles (one year of manufacturing uses enough oil to fuel a million cars; a bottle in a landfill takes up to 450 years to decompose; plastics that get into fish and other sea creatures can end up as microplastics in our bodies), but that chemicals in BPA can lead to neurological difficulties and increased growth of cancer cells.

Now — as she enters Coleytown Middle School — she’s moving forward, townwide. Next month, she meets with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Green Task Force.

This is a sibling effort. She’s doing the research; her sophomore brother Spencer is working on design and technology.

The result is a Change.org petition. The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in all of Westport. To sign — or learn more — click here.

1177 Post Road East Meets The Beach

Westporters have watched with interest as 1177 Post Road East — the new 4-story, 94-unit apartment complex — nears completion.

It’s hard to miss: It takes up much of the land between North Morningside and North Turkey Hill, directly opposiste Greens Farms Elementary School.

Which means it’s nowhere near the water.

An artist’s rendering of the 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

That’s not stopping its marketing company.

A website showing off the property is — let’s say, “interesting.”

The headline reads “11/77 Greens Farms” (or perhaps “Greens 11/77 Farms” — it’s hard tell).

Technically of course the building is not in Greens Farms. The Post Road is the dividing line. Children moving into the new apartments will go to Long Lots Elementary School, not Greens Farms.

But okay, the Greens Farms neighborhood starts right across the street. Perhaps that’s why the marketing materials boast of “a coastal enclave rich with history and character.”

Without mentioning it by name, the website touts “Westport’s oldest neighborhood, lined with old stone walls weaving between pre-war colonial homes and beautiful estates, vast open meadows and saltwater marshland.”

There are no architect’s renderings of what the apartment building will look like.

There are, however, beautiful photos of:

  • A stand-up paddleboarder
  • Sherwood Mill Pond
  • A beautiful bedroom, and
  • What appears to be a woman wearing a comfy fall sweater.

A screenshot from the marketing website.

Besides “11/77,” there is one nod to the Post Road. It’s this, tucked away in a headline that once again references the water (the closest beach is Sherwood Island — 1.9 miles away, according to Google Maps):

“Combining Westport’s coastal charm with the convenience of shops, restaurants and services of the Post Road.”

The website says that studio apartments rent “from the $2000s,” while 1-bedrooms begin at $2,850. Extended-stay options are available for business travelers.

(Of the 94 units, 29 — 30% — are considered “affordable” under state 8-30g regulations.)

Want to know more? Or just curious how “11/77 Post Road” is being marketed to the world? Click here!

(Hat tip: Greens Farms Association and president Art Schoeller)

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, is underway.

The program provides new backpacks and gift cards (Staples Office Supply, Walmart, Target) to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Cash donations to the program are welcome too.

Last year, scores of youngsters received assistance. Director of Human Services Elaine Daignault estimated the number as equivalent to 10 classrooms of kids.

“A growing number of Westport families face the burden of financial hardship,” she notes.

“Back-to-school time can be particularly stressful on a family budget. Thanks to generous Westporters, our department provides discreet assistance to families who want to give their children the best possible start to the school year.

“Parents can share in the excitement of back-to-school shopping with their children. And donors can be confident that 100% of their donations benefit their Westport neighbors.”

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations of any amount made payable to “Families in Need Fund” (memo: “Backpacks”), as well as gift cards, can be sent to: Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

New backpacks can be dropped off at the department offices, Room 200 in Town Hall, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., now through August 20.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, contact Margaret Piheiro at 341-1050, or email emilton@westportct.gov.

Historical Society Shines A Light On Westport’s Troubled Past

Iron shackles. Burned timbers. “Negro child.”

They’re not the usual things you see at the Westport Historical Society.

But this is not the usual WHS exhibit.

Slave shackles, on exhibit at the Westport Historical Society.

“Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport” opened in May. It’s one of the most creative and compelling shows ever mounted at Wheeler House. (Which, the exhibit notes, sits across Avery Place from a building that may have been built by slaves.)

It’s also one of the most important.

I attended the opening reception. It was packed. I talked with people who recalled some of the important events, like Martin Luther King’s visit to Temple Israel, and the fight over bringing Bridgeport students to Westport through Project Concern.

But it was too crowded to really see the artifacts and photos, or read the texts.

So the other day I returned. The Sheffer Gallery was quiet. I had time to study the exhibit.

And to think.

I learned a lot. I’m a Westport native and lifelong New Englander. But I never knew, for example, that slavery was not fully abolished in Connecticut until 1848. (The decades-long process spared white farmers the loss of free labor while they were still alive.)

Some of Westport’s biggest names — Coley, Nash, Jesup — were slave-owners. The property deeds — as in, these human beings were their property — are right there, for all to see.

A 1780 payment voucher for a black patriot soldier who bought his freedom, and immediately enlisted.

We see too a recreated hearth, from a Clapboard Hill home. It’s cramped and dark — and it’s where a young slave girl might have slept.

The reconstruction of sleeping quarters in a crawl space, from a Clapboard Hill Road home.

I did not know that black Westporters fought for the Union in the  Civil War. Nor did I know that an unknown number of slaves are buried in unmarked graves in Greens Farms Church’s lower cemetery.

I did know — on some level — that African Americans have a long history here. But I had not thought about what it meant for them to work on our docks, in our homes, or at our farms.

Black Westporters were domestics, chauffeurs and seamstresses. But they were also, the exhibit notes, teachers, artists, physicians, activists and freedom fighters.

The exhibit includes a 1920s painting by J. Clinton Shepherd, “The Waffle Shoppe.” It may well be based on an actual restaurant on Main Street.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Great Migration drew millions of African Americans north. Westport — offering work on farms and estates — was one destination. Black families lived on the Post Road, Bay Street — and 22 1/2 Main Street.

I have known for years that that address — set back in an alley that later became Bobby Q’s restaurant — was the site of a boardinghouse, where dozens of African Americans lived.

I knew that in 1950, it burned to the ground. Arson was suspected.

Photos and text about 22 1/2 Main Street.

But until the WHS exhibit, I did not know that a few months earlier, black Westporters had asked to be considered for spots at Hales Court, where low-cost homes were soon to be built. The Westport Housing Authority grudgingly agreed — but only after veterans, and others “with more pressing needs,” were accommodated.

Was that a cause for the fire? The exhibit strongly suggests so.

(Nearly 70 years later, construction at the old Bobby Q’s has revealed charred timbers — vivid testimony of that long-ago tragedy. It’s worth a look.)

I have long been fascinated by this photo, of one African American standing apart from everyone else in the Shercrow School photo. The WHS exhibit gives her a name — Anna Simms — and notes that she may have been a student or teacher.

The exhibit pays homage to African Americans like Drs. Albert and Jean Beasley, beloved pediatricians; Martin and Judy Hamer, and Leroy and Venora Ellis, longtime civic volunteers, and educator Cliff Barton.

It also cites the contributions of white Westporters like Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (arrested with Dr. King in St. Augustine, Florida); Board of Education chair Joan Schine, who fought for Project Concern, and artists Tracy Sugarman and Roe Halper, staunch supporters of the civil rights movement.

Roe Halper presents woodcuts to Coretta Scott King. The civil rights leader’s wife autographed this photo. The artwork was displayed in the Kings’ Atlanta home for many years.

But ultimately, “Remembered” remembers the largely forgotten men, women and children who helped shape and grow our town. Some came freely. Others did not. All were, in some way, Westporters.

In the foyer outside the exhibit, a stark wall serves as a final reminder of the African Americans who lived quietly here, long ago.

It lists the 241 slaves, and 19 free blacks, found in the Green’s Farms Congregational Church record books between 1742 and 1822. Most were listed only by first names: Fortune. Quash. Samson.

Some had no names at all. They are called only “Negro Child,” or “Negro Infant.”

The wall does not carry the names of all the white people listed in the church books during those 80 years. Many are well known to us, centuries later.

And most of them, the exhibit notes, owned the men, women and children who are now honored on that wall.

(For more information on “Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport,” click here. The Westport Historical Society, at 25 Avery Place, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors. Members and children 10 and under are free.)

(WHS is also memorializing the names of over 200 Westport slaves, through bricks in the brickwalk. The $20 cost covers the brick and installation. To order, click here.)

In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at the 5th anniversary of the dedication of Temple Israel. He autographed this program.

Charles Adler Gets His Degree

The last time “06880” checked in with Charles Adler, the 1992 Staples High School grad was a co-founder of Kickstarter.

Since 2009, 6.4 million users have used the online platform to pledge over $2 billion, funding more than 75,000 creative projects in areas ranging from film, music and stage to comics, journalism, video games, technology and food.

Adler left Kickstarter in 2013. Five years later — still in his early 40s — he’s the recipient of an honorary degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

That’s impressive.

Even more impressive is that this is his only college degree.

That’s right: Adler is a college dropout.

He left Purdue University — where he was studying mechanical engineering — to co-found Subsystence (an online music, photography, art, poetry and fiction site), and the design and technology studio Source ID.

Then came Kickstarter — and Forbes’ designation of Adler as one of the 12 Most Disruptive Figures in Business.

Since 2013, Adler created and developed Lost Arts, an interdisciplinary laboratory, workshop, atelier, incubator, school and playground occupying 25,000 square feet on Chicago’s Goose Island.

Now comes the honorary degree from IIT — a doctorate, no less — in recognition of Adler’s “outstanding contributions to the field of design.”

Charles Adler, with his honorary degree.

Growing up in Westport more than 25 years ago, Adler recalls, he was interested in architecture — and passionate about electronic music, punk rock, skateboarding and cycling.

College was not right for him. He tried a second time — because he needed an undergrad degree before entering a graduate design program that interested him — but again he dropped out.

So, parents of Westport students who may not be taking a traditional path during or after Staples: Don’t worry.

Your kid too might one day earn an honorary degree, even if he or she lacks a college diploma.

They just might need a kick start.

Photo Challenge #183

Westport still has a 1-room schoolhouse.

It’s not used anymore — but Marguerite Webb’s photo of a handsome part of the old building was last week’s Photo Challenge.

The school is Adams Academy, on North Morningside Drive. Madison Malin, Jacques Voris and Mary Palmieri Gai were the “06880” readers who identified it.

The town of Westport now owns the Greek Revival structure, which has official historic designation.

As well it should. From 1837 to 1867, the magnificently named Ebenezer Adams ran an eponymous coed prep school there. During his tenure, 637 students graduated. None were refused admission to college.

In 1868, Adams sold his academy and its 1-acre property to the Green’s Farms Association. They operated the school — less successfully — for the next 14 years.

A bank foreclosed the mortgage in 1882. Wealthy Long Lots resident Robert Martin bought it. The West Long Lots school district operated it as a public school until 1898.

It later became the home of grades 1-3, for the consolidated West Long Lots, East Long Lots and Green’s Farms districts.

The academy was abandoned in 1917, shortly before Greens Farms Elementary  School opened on South Morningside.

It’s been used as a town park, a home for the needy, offices for the town guidance department, and headquarters for the Westport Historical Society.

Now restored, it is one of our town’s most hidden — and historic — treasures.

(Click here for last week’s Photo Challenge. Thank you, Woody Klein, for that background information. To learn more about Adams Academy, click here.)

Patricia McMahon provides this week’s Photo Challenge. It’s a gorgeous image, and very intriguing.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

 

Do Know Much About History

Sure, STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — gets lots of education headlines.

But history is alive and well in Westport schools too.

Two Staples High students recently finished 8th in the nation.

Meanwhile, 4 Bedford Middle Schoolers landed in the national top 4.

Stapleites Shea Curran and Kate Enquist were students this past year in Drew Coyne’s sophomore US History Honors course. He asked his students to find a National History Day topic on the theme of conflict and compromise.

Initially, Shea admits, “Kate and I were not really looking forward to NHD. We imagined it was filled with history nerds and crazy parents.”

But as they searched for ideas, they found an article on Westport’s Nike missile sites on (ta da!) “06880.” They got hooked — and realized history can be interesting, exciting (and cool).

Nike missiles on display.

They spent months researching the topic, using old newspapers and other material — some of it previously classified. They also interviewed people who were there.

The process was not easy, Kate says. But it was rewarding.

Shea and Kate were amazed to learn that missiles were once stored on the current site of Bedford Middle School. They were stunned to discover how close the US came to nuclear war.

The project “opened our eyes to today’s society,” Shea says. “We realize the importance of civilians being able to voice their concerns, suggestions or opinions.”

During the Cold War, she notes, “if civilians did not speak up, the results of the Nike missile sites would be much different.”

Shea Curran and Kate Enquist

The entire National History Day experience has sparked Kate’s interest in government and history. She’ll volunteer in those areas this summer, and will take AP Government in the fall.

(To view Shea and Kate’s project online, click here.)

At the junior level, Bedford’s Jason Chiu-Skow, Jordan Chiu-Skow, Johann Kobelitsch and Lyah Muktavaram worked since October — during their lunches — with teacher Caroline Davis. They also spent hours together after school, and on weekend.

Their topic was “How the Treaty of Versailles Ended the Great War.” They chose it because they realized that compromise is not always fair.

The Bedford Middle School National History Day team, at the national competition.

As part of their project, the Bedford students learned how to do research, present a convincing argument, answer judges’ questions, and work as a team.

They finished 3rd in Fairfield County, then first in Connecticut, before earning 4th place at the national competition (which also included Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Singapore, South Korea and South Asia).

The National History Day winners will be honored — and their exhibits shown — at a reception on July 14 in Connecticut’s Old Sate House.

There certainly is a lot of history there.