Category Archives: Education

Staples Grad Turns Chess Rookies Into Kings And Queens

Earlier this year, Marian Edmonds — a teacher at Price Middle School in Atlanta — won a district-wide award. Her prize: She could attend any educational conference she wanted.

Instead, she used her prize money to bring 5 students to the US Chess Federation’s National Junior High Championship in Grapevine, Texas.

They’d been playing less than 2 years. But that was enough time for Edmonds — the former Marian Warshafsky, a 1978 Staples High School graduate — to introduce them to the game.

And to inspire, motivate, and coach them well enough to compete at a national level.

Marian Edmonds, and her Price Middle School chess team.

It all began in the fall of 2017. Edmonds — on cafeteria duty — had a chessboard. Several kids seemed interested. She taught them the basics.

They told their friends. Soon, Price had a chess team.

Chess offers many benefits, Edmonds says, like critical thinking skills, improved confidence and concentration, and the life lesson that every move you make has consequences.

“Chess makes us all equal,” Edmonds told the Atlanta public schools’ website. “All you need is the opportunity and the motivation.”

She sure gave them that. This past April, her team placed 6th in the state tournament.

Marian Edmonds with one proud Price chess player …

Then came Texas. The selection process for the 5 players included writing an essay about the game’s impact on their lives.

Chess “made me a better person,” Cierra Patton wrote. She said she now feels “like I’m a knight.”

The national tournament was the big leagues. Most of the Price kids’ competitors had been playing for years — some with professional coaches.

“Our students had to learn how to simply play a board game: how to compete, take turns, manage frustration, lose gracefully, and persist through losses,” Edmonds said.

“Yet here we were, at the same competition, facing those same chessboards.”

Like any great coach, Edmonds inspired her team.

“That kid wouldn’t last a single day at Price Middle School,” she’d say. “You’ve GOT this!”

They sure did. Her team finished 16th overall — and Aquantis Clemmons took 5th place individually.

One of Marian Edmonds’ chess players exudes confidence at the national tournament. (Photos courtesy of Purpose Built Schools Atlanta)

That was exciting. Unfortunately, the team was not at the awards ceremony. Their flight home had been booked for the same time.

No matter. Tournament officials were so thrilled at the Price youngsters’ performance, they delivered the trophies to them at the gate.

“Victoriously, the Price chess team boarded their plane with trophies in hand,” the Atlanta schools’ website reported.

“Their fellow passengers cheered them on. Aquantis, Keylon, Corey, Montayo and Cierra beamed from ear to ear.”

(For the full story on Edmonds and her chess team, click here. Hat tip: Laurie Woog.)

Pics Of The Day #781

In just 4 years, the Westport Schools’ Music Department Pops Concert has become one of the true highlights — and must-have tickets — of the spring.

The choruses, bands and orchestras are phenomenal. The Levitt Pavilion locale is stupendous. The evening is warm — in both the weather and community senses of the word.

It’s a sure sign that summer is almost here.

And that this is a town that loves and supports music, in all its forms.

A variety of chamber groups entertained early arrivals…

… as did the very talented Middle School Percussion Ensemble, playing traditional rhythms of Senegal.

A small part of the large Levitt Pavilion crowd.

The Westport Police Department color guard. (Photo/Tomas Curwen)

Symphonic and jazz band leader Nick Mariconda retires this year, after 41 years with the Westport schools. He was honored at his final concert.

Three of Mariconda’s former students — Jon Owens ’86, Andrew Willmott ’85 and Michael Ances ’90 — came back. They played trumpet — Mariconda’s instrument — on “Bugler’s Holiday.” All are now music educators.

Between sets, Staples musicians hung out by the river.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey and former Staples High School principal/Pops emcee John Dodig enjoyed the show.

The Orphenians wowed the crowd with selections like “And So It Goes” and “Unclouded Day.”

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg.

Another view of the great crowd. (All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.

Food For Thought

At Staples High School, students choose English electives like “Myth and Bible,” “Rhetoric and Persuasion,” and “Shakespeare.”

They can also take “Food in Literature.”

Sounds like a gut.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest courses in the entire school.

Also the tastiest.

The semester class — which meets back-to-back, for 2 periods — includes reading a smorgasbord of activities. There’s reading, writing, even community service (volunteering at the Westport Farmers’ Market).

A Food in Literature demonstration at the first Farmers’ Market of the season last month.

And of course, cooking.

It’s intense. It’s demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

The class is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary teacher/chef Cecily Gans. They developed the curriculum together, balancing the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many selected foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others selected vegan or paleo diets. One focused on desserts.

Pakistani food. The course even includes tips on food photography.

A boy chose “college cuisine” — dishes that college students can make — after he learned that his older sister was eating cereal for dinner.

Another boy — whose kitchen skills were limited to “eggs and ramen” — said he needed an English credit to graduate. “Accidentally,” he learned to cook.

The core text this semester was “Like Water for Chocolate.” After reading and discussing that food-based novel, students had to compose an ode to an ingredient. The ideas ranged from coffee and coffee cake to jalapeño.

They read food memoirs, then wrote about their own memories and associations. They followed that up by cooking those dishes.

Summer home fries look great!

Other writing assignments include research and interviews that lead to profiles of noted area chefs like Bill Taibe, Anthony Kostelis, Chris Scott, and Staples graduates Becca Nissim and Matt Storch. In the kitchen, they created something inspired by the chef they interviewed.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

One student’s notes on how to write a strong chef profile.

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

The highlight of the semester is Menu Wars. Using craft and creativity — while linking to their themes — students cook and create cohesive 3-course meals. They also have to write clearly and coherently about it.

Just before seniors left for their internships, the class headed to the Farmers’ Market. In teams of 4 they demonstrated recipes, based on local and seasonal foods. They spoke about what they were doing — because presentation skills are equally important in English and culinary class.

The course is as exciting for the teachers as the students. “I love working with such a wide range of experiences,” says Gans, who often teaches advanced classes.

“Two kids are going on to culinary college next year. But seeing the growth of those with no cooking background at all made me so excited.”

This English course will make you very hungry.

One of those boys wanted to drop out early. He felt out of his depth.

Gans asked him what food inspired him. “He realized he had a story to tell,” she says. “He ended up making chocolate croissants from scratch. That’s so much work!”

Gans also appreciates spending time in Herzog’s classroom. “It’s awe-inspiring what goes on there,” she says.

Kim Herzog (left) and Cecily Gans, with chef Chris Scott. The “Top Chef” finalist — who recently opened Birdman Juke Joint in Bridgeport — spoke to their class.

Herzog, meanwhile, loves collaborating with Gans. “Seeing students in a different, unique, powerful way — and how she gets so much out of them — is invigorating,” the English instructor says.

The course is now a mainstay of the curriculum. But — because every class is  filled with students with different backgrounds and interests — each semester has a different flavor.

Talk about a recipe for success!

(Click here for the Food in Literature class website. It includes links to each student’s personal page, plus all the chef interviews and restaurant reviews. And click below for a couple of bonus videos from the class. These kids do it all.)

Koskoff Family Endows A Scholarship With A Difference

When a prominent Westporter dies, it’s not unusual for the family to set up a scholarship in his or her name.

What is unusual — at least in Westport — is for that scholarship to be at a place like Howard University of School of Law.

But that’s exactly where the Michael Koskoff Scholarship has been established.

And it’s exactly in keeping with the way the nationally known, socially conscious Westport lawyer lived his life. Koskoff died in April, age 77.

Why Howard?

As his children Josh, Sarah, Julie and Jake write:

As you know, our father had a lifelong commitment to civil rights. He represented members of the Black Panthers, he helped integrate the police and fire departments in Connecticut. He idolized Thurgood Marshall so much he wrote a movie about him.

Michael Koskoff

One of our father’s final cases took on Harvard University. He spoke of their $40 billion endowment with disdain. Harvard, he believed, denied its racist past and used its great wealth to cherry-pick the best students, remove them from their communities, and indoctrinate them in a culture that served Harvard’s own interests.

A scholarship for Howard Law students, in contrast, will represent who our father has always been: unpretentious, egalitarian, unintimidated by powerful institutions, and a passionate believer that character determines success, not pedigree.

The people at Howard asked us: Do we want a minimum GPA required to receive the scholarship? We said, “Absolutely not!” Our father didn’t believe in limiting opportunity to those who are already on the path to success. He believed that what makes a great advocate isn’t good grades or high test scores — it’s a boldness to take on the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable, armed with the tools that the constitution provides.

Please consider giving to this scholarship — it will carry his name for generations, providing opportunities to future lawyers who will fight for civil rights, criminal justice, equal opportunity, environmental protection, public health and safety, and all else that we, as a society on the brink, depend on great legal advocates to achieve.

The endowment goal is $1 million. Click here to donate online. Checks can be made out to “Howard University School of Law,” with “Michael Koskoff Scholarship” written in the memo line, and sent to: Howard University, Box 417853, Boston, MA 02241-7853.

Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.

One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.

The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.

Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.

Young Nick Zeoli.

He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.

He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.

After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.

Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.

They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.

Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.

He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.

He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.

In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.

Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.

There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.

He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.

(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)

Portables Put In Place

They don’t look like much.

But they don’t have to.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Four portable (aka modular) classrooms arrived at Bedford Middle School today.

Four more are on their way.

They’ll be fully installed and hooked up soon — well in time for the start of the next school year.

All Coleytown Middle School students will be together again, at BMS.

Friday Flashback #142

The Westport Farmers Market opens next Thursday (May 23). The Imperial Avenue parking lot will be filled with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, honey, ice cream, even pet food.

Musicians will play. Food trucks will serve pizza and tacos. It’s a wonderful part of Westport — organic, sustainable, (mostly) healthy and fun.

We have Paul Newman (in part) to thank. Back in 2006, he and chef Michel Nischan created the first Westport Farmers Market, at the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot.

But that was not the actor/automobile racer/lemonade, popcorn and salad dressing king/philanthropist’s first farm stand experience.

For years, he was a customer at Rippe’s. Westporters pretended to be cool as cucumbers as they saw Newman — then “only” an actor — and his wife Joanne Woodward casually checking out ears of corn, or putting apples in a bag.

Rippe’s Farm Stand, in its early years. It later grew into a more substantial building. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann, via Mrs. George Rippe Collection)

Rippe’s was one of several farm stands in Westport. Produce came from orchards behind it — stretching eastward, from Turkey Hill North to behind Long Lots Junior High — and fields on North Avenue, behind Burr Farms Elementary School.

The North Avenue farm is gone (so is Burr Farms School). In its place is a private road — the strangely named Greystone Farm Lane. In a nod to the past, a few of the homes include silo-like architecture.

The Post Road orchards and stand are gone too. They’ve been replaced by what — at the time — were Westport’s first and only condos.

In another nod to the past, they’re called Harvest Commons.

August Laska: A True “Broadway Bounty Hunter”

When he was in Staples Players, audiences knew August Laska as an actor. His roles included “Guys and Dolls,” “Little. Shop of Horrors,” “West Side Story” and “A Chorus Line.”

But — like many members of the high school drama program — he learned about many other aspects of theater. He directed a studio production, “Museum.” He headed up the publicity team. He watched his friends take on projects like fundraising and outreach.

After graduating in 2013, August majored in film and media at Middlebury College. He learned how to communicate with mass audiences, and discovered the connection between movies and Broadway.

August Laska

While many of his classmates joined the “Middlebury to Goldman Sachs pipeline,” he headed to Los Angeles. He worked for Snapchat and loved the West Coast, but realized technology was not for him.

A bit over a year ago, August joined Disney Theatrical Productions in New York. He enjoys his marketing work there immensely.

Thanks to his college internships in Broadway offices, an outside job recently came his way. Though he’s still in his mid-20s, August is now a co-producer.

He’s working on “Broadway Bounty Hunter.” The Off-Broadway musical — written by Tony-nominated writer (“Be More Chill”) Joe Iconis — is set to open in July.

So after his full-time, daytime gig, August spends his nights raising money to make sure that happens.

Every show needs money. There are directors, designers and creatives to hire; space to rent; sets to build — all before one ticket is sold.

There is no handbook or Wiki article on how to be a producer. August is learning by doing — and watching those who have already done it.

Fortunately, co-producing fits his skill set. And he appreciates growing up in a community that values the arts.

He’s contacting some of those Westporters right now, while raising capital for “Broadway Bounty Hunter.” (He’s also involved a Broadway show opening this summer — but he can’t share those details just yet.)

“Investing in theater is risky,” August admits. “Not every show is ‘Hamilton.’ But when it is, you make back your investment big time.

“It’s a long journey though. Its not a one-time lottery ticket.”

Show people are special people. Not everyone can act on stage.

August Laska did, at Staples. Now his action takes place behind the scenes.

But co-producers get awards beyond tickets to opening night.

“You know all those people you see on stage at the Tonys?” he asks. “They’re producers. They get a statuette too.”

Emerson Lovell: ABC Grad Earns Historic Law School Honors

Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, A Better Chance of Westport has had many success stories.

Graduates of the program — through which academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated young men of color attend Staples High School, live together with house parents on North Avenue, and give back as much to the town as they get — have gone on to top colleges, and careers in law, finance, business, medicine and the non-profit world.

“06880” has joyfully chronicled many of those achievements.

Add Emerson Lovell to that remarkable list.

Yesterday in Washington, DC, the 2012 Staples and 2016 Duke University political science graduate did something no Howard University School of Law student has done in nearly 10 years.

He graduated first out of 137 students in his class, with the highest academic honor distinction: summa cum laude. The few Howard Law students who earned the same distinction include Goler Teal Butcher in 1957, and Ritu Narula (2010).

At Howard, the Harlem native was vice president of his class, a senior staff editor for the Howard Law Journal, and a student attorney for the Investor Justice and Education Clinic.

“It seems to me it would be difficult to remain humble and quiet and just do your work,” says associate dean of academic affairs Lisa Crooms-Robinson. “But that’s exactly what he did. So unless you were paying really close attention, it’s like ‘surprise!’ I’m incredibly happy for him. He earned every single point.”

“This is a moment of pride for the entire law school community,” adds Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of Howard Law.

“Emerson dedicated himself for 3 years to achieve this goal. His tremendous commitment and talent have paid off. The Howard Law community celebrates this moment with Emerson and his family.”

Emerson says the people around him gave him what he needed to earn the top spot in his class.

“My professors challenged me to be great both inside of the classroom and in life,” he said. “My colleagues ignited my competitive nature and cheered me on. The faculty members always provided a listening ear to help soothe my mind when the challenges of the real world felt like too much.”

Emerson Lovell, during his ABC days in Westport.

He notes the importance of a support group. It should be diverse, and include “colleagues, mentors inside and outside of the field, and family.”

ABC was part of that support group. David and Lori Sochol — Westporters who have long served in leadership roles in the organization — were in Washington yesterday, proudly watching Emerson’s hisoric graduation.

The next step: he has been hired by Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, the global firm specializing in financial law. He’ll work in their New York office.

Congratulations and good luck, Emerson.

And kudos to your ABC family too!

(For more information on A Better Chance of Westport, click here.)