Category Archives: Education

Remembering Angela Cockfield And Joel Zabin

Two people who contributed greatly to Westport life died earlier this month.

Angela Cockfield had battled cancer. She was a passionate, dedicated librarian in the Westport school system for many years, and a lifelong advocate of education.

Her Staples High School colleagues remembered her as “dedicated, and committed to many causes…. a lovely lady who did great things when no one was looking.”

The daughter of a college English professor, Angela and her husband Raiford Cockfield — an IBM vice president — had 3 children (with a pair of Stanford MBAs).

Angela Cockfield, with her family.

Joel Zabin was well known to generation of Westport children and teenagers. He died at 86.

For years, Paul Zabin’s — his family’s store in Colonial Green — was the go-to place for back-to-school clothes.

Besides that iconic shop, he also worked at The Campus Shop, Macy’s and Brooks Brothers.

Joel is survived by his sons, Joshua Zabin (Valerie) of Monroe, Jonathan (Tracy) of Hamden, and 3 grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Jewish Senior Services,

Cynthia Gibb’s Triple Threat For Aspiring Actors, Writers, Dancers

As Westport teens and tweens settle down to life in a pandemic, they’re learning how to learn online.

Academics and extracurriculars are all done virtually now. But it’s one thing to learn math or history that way, or do your judo or piano lessons.

What about all those theater kids? When Mickey Rooney said “let’s put on a show!” he wasn’t talking to himself.

Cynthia Gibb rides to the rescue.

The 1981 Staples High School graduate sure has the credentials. She’s starred in “Search for Tomorrow” and “Fame”; played Karen Carpenter in her biopic; starred with Shirley Jones, Dick Van Dyke, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Burt Reynolds, and been on “Law and Order/SVU” and “Criminal Minds” too.

Cynthia Gibb earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in “Gypsy,” with Bette Midler.

Cynthia worked with Oliver Stone, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. Her credits include 13 features, 3 network series, 24 TV movies, countless TV pilots, commercials, voiceovers and print work.

A decade ago she returned to Westport, and opened Triple Threat Academy. It’s nurtured and inspired hundreds of young and adult actors, singers and dancers. Many have gone on to schools like Tisch and Carnegie Mellon, and careers on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Cynthia Gibb, at the “Fame” reunion in Italy.

When the coronavirus pandemic turned “Contagion” into reality, acting teacher Nick Sadler (“True Grit,” “Scent of a Woman”) brainstormed how to keep youngsters — so many of whose shows were canceled just days before opening night — engaged. It had to be more than a watching-and-waiting scene study class.

Cynthia had an idea: a pandemic monologue play.

Students could journal about their experiences during this crazy time, and craft a monologue. At the end of 6 weeks, it will be performed via Zoom. With Triple Threat’s help, actors might take the resulting play to a real stage or screen — even on tour — once people can congregate again.

Westport native Jamie Mann (right) and Josie Todd (middle), last summer in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. The pair will perform together again — this time virtually — in Triple Threat Academy’s upcoming online plays. 
(Photo/Diane Sobolewski)

Cynthia’s “Monologue and Play Development Class” meets for 6 weeks, starting next week (high schoolers on Wednesdays, middle schoolers on Tuesdays, from 5 to 6 p.m.).

Monologues will be good, bad, fearful funny. (Remember, “A Chorus Line” started out as monologues too.) Enrollment already includes teenagers with extensive — even professional — experience.

“Art always reflects what is going on in life,” Cynthia says. “Just think about ‘Rent’ and the AIDS crisis. We now have an opportunity to find the light in dark times, the humanity behind the grim news, and the positivity to push forward — all through the powers of creativity, collaboration and storytelling.”

Meanwhile, Nick has organized a hybrid of traditional radio theater and today’s podcasts. (Remember when Americans huddled around the radio, listening to plays? Hey — we’re back huddling together.)

Nick Sadler (center) with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Scent of a Woman,” starring Al Pacino. Sadler landed this supporting role shortly after graduating from Juilliard.

His “Virtual Play Series” will teach students how to stage a fast-paced play (or two). Each week the cast will meet via Zoom to read, rehearse and ultimately “release” the play to an online audience.

Students will take on multiple roles, challenging them to invent a variety of characters. It’s a collaborative effort — just like all great theater. (An adult version is in the works too.)

It runs for 7 Sundays, from 3 to 4 p.m. for high schoolers, and 5 to 6 p.m. for middle schoolers. The first session is this Sunday (March 29).

Meanwhile, the third part of Triple Threat — dance — heads online too. Kim Porio offers a class this Sunday (10:45 to 11:45 a.m.) for young actors and singers. It’s “Bring a Friend Day,” so even those not enrolled can try it out.

It all should be quite a show.

(For more information about Triple Threat Academy’s offerings, including registration, click here, email, search on Facebook, or follow @TripleThreatAcademy on Instagram.)

Pic Of The Day #1067

(Photo/Janet Gomez Duffield)

Janet Gomez Duffield reports: “My children’s teachers at Christ & Holy Trinity Preschool have been creating amazing videos and reading stories, sharing ideas of things to do, etc.

“Yesterday, my son’s 3 class lesson was about planting seeds. The teachers delivered the seeds and dirt to our mailboxes/doors (adhering to social distancing). Here is a photo of my kids and dog, and their super-excited teacher delivering the items.

“They were so happy to see each other. We are very lucky and grateful to have teachers who care so much.”

Pics Of The Day #1066

Westport copes with the coronavirus …

Solitude at Grace Salmon Park (Photo/Jo Shields)

Empty parking lots on a weekday downtown … (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

… at the train station, and on I-95 (Drone photo/Patrick Sikes)

The message has gotten through. Teenagers stay in their cars, practicing social distancing — but hang out together at Longshore. 

A mid-March late afternoon dip at Old Mill Beach (Photo/Robin Tauck)

Lindsay Blaivas, her daughter Kenzie and dog Ruby went for a neighborhood walk. Along the way, they left some messages. “Getting creative and staying connected!” Lindsay says.  Here’s one.

Two weeks ago, you’d say “huh?” Now you say, “Where’d you get it?!” (Photo/Darcy Hicks)

Santa Claus comes early to Stop & Shop (Photo/Chip Stephens)

Unsung Heroes #138

This one’s a no-brainer.

If you are anyone who, over the past couple of weeks, has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are an Unsung Hero.

Perhaps you:

  • Man and woman the Westport Health District — performing coronavirus tests, administering aid, answering questions, soothing nerves
  • Serve in emergency operations with the police, fire, EMS departments — or anyone else in government called on to plan, execute, render assistance or in any other way help the town
  • Work in a medical practice, helping some patients who may have been infected and many more with their usual ailments, knowing all the while you had more contact with, and less protection from, sick people than anyone else

  • Are teaching students online, while at the same time soothing nerves, offering non-school advice, and ensuring continuity of education despite having never done so before
  • Are a school custodian or maintenance worker elsewhere who put on a mask and gloves, and spent days deep cleaning every square inch you could find, and did it well, despite your very real fears and anxieties
  • Own a business, and decided (or had to) to shut down, for the good of the community, and despite all your fears, still worry more about your employees and customers
  • Work in a store or market overrun by panicked customers; despite your low pay and own fears you stocked shelves, worked registers, answered questions, and did it all with grace and courtesy
  • Ditto all those restaurant workers who are adapting to a rapidly changing environment, preparing and serving food while observing new rules and regulations, and doing it with enormous care and concern
  • Reach out through your religious institution or civic organizaiton– even though its doors are closed and meetings canceled — to someone in need

Temple Israel is one of the many religious institutions now conducting services, classes and programs virtually.

  • Are suddenly thrust into the role of teacher, in addition to the disruption of having to work your own job remotely, or worry about what was going on at the office because you had to be home
  • Calm a child’s nerves, bring food to an elderly neighbor, or help a stranger figure out what to do now that the library, Senior Center, YMCA, Town Hall — and every other gathering place — is closed
  • Or are doing anything else to help someone else during these unprecedented days.

Thank you for helping make this town a “community.”

We’ll need you — and everyone else — to keep doing it for a while.

No one knows what’s ahead. But with all these Heroes in our midst, we’ll get through all this.

There’s no other choice.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email to let us know!)


Distance Learning Begins: A Message From Staples’ Principal

In his first year as Staples principal, Stafford Thomas has earned high grades for his quick understanding of the school, his warm and upbeat manner, and his care and concern for all students.

When he was hired last summer, he never imagined one task would be overseeing distance learning.

Today — with schools closed at least through March 31 due to the coronavirus — the Westport district begins “distance learning.” It means different things for different grade levels.

There are bound to be questions. Administrators in the central office and each building have been communicating with students and parents about what it all means. It is still — as it is nationally — a work in progress.

Staples students have a better idea now though, after a video from their principal.

He begins — as he often does on the announcements — with shout-outs to students. Then he explains what distance learning is, and why it’s important. He ends with some tips on staying healthy (teenage style).

Click below to see how Westport’s high school students are beginning a difficult — but important — part of their educational journey.


(Hat tip to Staples media teacher Geno Heiter, who produced the video. It’s part of “70 North,” the high school’s great media platform. Click here for many other videos.)

Westport Mom: As College Students Return, We Must Keep Them Home

A Westport mother of a college-age student emailed me about the dilemma she and her young adult face. She requested anonymity, because she speaks for many. She writes:

There are many layers and ripple effects of the coronavirus, on all of us.

The most important is staying healthy and safe. But the list goes on: small businesses struggling, hourly wage employees suffering, education impacted, special life-shaping milestone events canceled and postponed.

And now, thousands of college kids in Westport will suddenly be thrust back into their childhood homes without warning.

Most of these college kids were about to enter the peak of their academic year. Spring is upon us, with all of the energy and excitement it brings to college campuses — parties, events, coming out of dorm hibernation, hanging outside on the quad.

Many of these college students were about to go on spring break. Those plans were abruptly canceled. Worst of all, seniors everywhere were heading into their final lap of glory, ready to savor their last few months of “childhood” before graduation.

What college students expected this spring …

Now those months were taken away from them. Even worse, so will likely be the pinnacle event of their young lives: college graduation.

The psychological impact of these “losses” cannot be undermined. This is very real, very sad and difficult. We need to acknowledge that, somehow.

Now families — still struggling to form some semblance of a routine with their younger children and spouses spending all waking hours together — suddenly have to deal with their miserable adult-aged child, who does not want to be back home, thrust back into their bedroom and into their parents’ kitchen.

These “kids” have been independent (most likely not financially, yet) in their social and academic lives. They are used to making their own schedules, studying where, when, and how they wish to, eating what and when they desire, and being with their friends whenever they wish to — all without their parents knowing or wanting to know.

Now, having their glorious spring semester of freedom cut drastically short, without any time or ability to process their departure and what may lie ahead, or even to say goodbye to dear friends before their parents were mandated to urgently scoop them up before dorms closed, they return home with heavy, confused hearts, and a truckload of hastily packed belongings.

Now — here’s the kicker — we have to keep them home on top of all of this.

… and what they’ve got.

They cannot visit their friends from Staples. They cannot hop in the car and be comforted by visiting local college friends.

They cannot blow off steam after taking online classes all day from their bedroom, and grab a bite with friends for dinner. They cannot study with friends at Starbucks.

And we are expecting them to listen to their parents?!

We all have to be the bad guys here. It will be very uncomfortable.

Parents of elementary-age kids are struggling to say no to sleepovers and play dates. Now we have to say “no” to our 20 year old “kids,” and keep them away from all of their friends who also were exposed to thousands of people from their colleges and communities.

It isn’t going to be easy, and it is counterintuitive in every ounce of our parenting bodies.

But we have no choice. If our goal is to protect our families, our health, our normalcy, our daily routines, and our community at large, we all must stay home.

Even the cranky giant college-aged toddlers we are about to feed 3 meals a day to, yet again.

May the force be with us!

Pics Of The Day #1061

Today was the 2nd day of  “indefinite closure” for the Westport schools.

This scene in the Mastrocciolo home — with Bedford Middle School 6th grader Bianca and Coleytown Elementary 1st grader Justin — was no doubt similar to many others around town.

(Photos/Stephanie Mastocciolo)

Meanwhile, early spring-like weather — and the TGIF end of a very stressful weak — drew a large crowd to Compo Beach.

Alert “06880” reader Jo Shields Sherman reports there were many people walking between Elvira’s and the entrance gate. Some gathered in small groups to talk — being careful to keep “social distance.”

The sight took her breath away (in a good way!) “Aha!” she thought. “This is where everyone is. Friendliness and kindness seem to abound. And of course the dogs are happy.”

(Photos/Jo Shields Sherman)

Closings, Cancellations, Postponements: A Partial List

COVID-19 has knocked out everything from the NBA to Broadway.

Westport is not immune. Here’s a list of what’s happening, alphabetically. Feel free to add your organization or event in the “Comments” section below.

A Better Chance of Westport: The Dream Event gala is postponed to May 1 (6 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club, Wilton).

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Closed for 2 weeks. No meetings, church events or classes will be held on the property.

Closing a religious institution is very rare.

EarthplaceClosed until further notice. Trails are open.

Maker Faire: The April event is postponed. A new date will be announced.

MoCA WestportThe gallery and all classes are temporarily closed. The April 25 gala is postponed to a later date.

Positive DirectionsOffering teletherapy options for safe, convenient counseling. Call 203-227-7644.

Wakeman Town Farm: Closed for public events until further notice.

WTF? Everything is closed!

Westport Country PlayhouseCanceled: “the Pout-Pout Fish” (March 15); Connecticut Dance School benefit (March 20); Broadway Method Academy gala (March 21). No decision yet to cancel or postpone events after March 21.  

Westport Library: The library is closed. It will reopen at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 16.

Westport Museum for History & Culture: The museum is closed, and all programming has been suspended through March. Exhibitions are available for viewing online.

Westport Weston Family Y: The Y will close at 10 p.m. today, until further notice.

Westport Public Schools, including Staples Players’ “Seussical”:  All public school buildings and activities are closed, until further notice.

School District Offers Initial Information On Effects Of Closure

As the Westport Public Schools join other districts in the state and country in navigating fast-moving, uncharted waters, assistant superintendent Anthony Buono and interim director of pupil services Ann Leffert sent this information to all families:

Our district has been actively planning for COVID-19 and the possibility of a prolonged school closure. As of Thursday, March 12th, all district schools will be closed until further notice.

School Closures and Continuity of Learning

This week, state officials provided districts with information regarding short-term school closures (up to 2 weeks).

At that time we were informed that if districts were to decide to close schools for up to 2 weeks, they would be required to make up lost days by adding days to the school calendar and/or changing vacation days to school days.

Adding back lost school days would enable the district to meet its obligations concerning state and federal laws, including those associated with special education services. Any closure beyond two weeks would require further consultation with the Connecticut State Department of Education.

If the decision is made to close school beyond a few days, activities, to the extent possible, will be provided to students and families that would allow for continuity of learning and to help students transition back to school.  These activities are encouraged, but not required.  Activities are intended to:

  • keep students academically active;
  • reinforce and sustain current learning; and
  • preview curricular content.

These activities will not be graded, and students will not be required to submit completed work. There are many opportunities for students to engage in appropriate learning activities through their Chromebooks (grades 3 through 8), which all students in those grades should have at home.

Special Education

Many students receiving special education and related services will be able to access the learning materials that are being sent home from classroom teachers.  Some work has been modified for specific student learning needs.

In addition, where appropriate, related services providers (occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech/language pathologists, social workers and school psychologists) have provided activities that can occur at home. None of these learning materials are meant to replace instruction; rather, they are provided to engage students while they are home.

Once school reopens, student services will resume. School days missed will be made up as described above.

Future Communication

We will continue to share pertinent information with regard to this rapidly evolving challenge. In the interim, we encourage all families and staff members to take part in everyday preventive practices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and maintain healthy school environments.