Category Archives: Education

Bassick Band Needs Music Men (And Women)

In Westport, our schools’ stellar music program is a given.

Just a few miles away in Bridgeport, it’s a gift.

Bassick High School struggles with the basics. Recently, administrators found enough money to hire a band leader. Jon Garcia is eager to teach students, who are just as eager to learn.

But they can’t play without instruments. The band closet was almost empty.

Bassick High School band director Jon Garcia.

When Westonite Martha Deegan heard about the situation, she called a meeting with her Sky’s the Limit Foundation board of directors. They voted to take on the project.

They ask area residents with instruments languishing in closets, attics and basements — in other words, plenty of Westporters — to donate them to the Bassick marching band.

The foundation will clean them, and replace cork, pads and valves — whatever is needed to get the instruments in working order.

It would be great, Martha says, to get donations to buy new ones. But that’s expensive: a new tuba costs up to $7,000. So they’re concentrating on used, semi-forgotten but desperately needed instruments.

She has a personal desire to provide saxophones: Her father played sax with Stan Kenton and the Paul Whiteman Orchestrsa, back in the day at Cedar Point, Ohio.

Martha will pick up any instruments — anywhere in Connecticut. She’ll also reimburse shipping costs from out of state.

She’s off to a great start. A lawyer friend called, and offered an accordion, violin, sax, conga drum and cymbals from foreclosed houses that are being cleaned out.

Donations have already begun: trombones, trumpets, woodwinds, keyboards, euphoniums, electric guitars, and a clarinet, banjo and grand piano (!) from Westporters, and a flute from a Weston family.

Local residents involved include Dr. Jennifer Baum Gruen, opera singer Lucia Palmieri, “What Up Westport” founder Marcy Sansolo, Sue Connors, Shirley Hwang, Sue Daly and Kristana Esslinger.

Bassick High School band members.

Norwalk’s AAA Band Rentals shop — owned by Weston resident Mike Spremulli — has offered to recondition (free!) all donations.

Members of the “Bassick Big Band” will play at Barnes & Noble on Saturday, November 9 (3 to 5 p.m.). They’ll accept contributions (of money and/or instruments). The store will donate a portion of its profits from sheet music and music books to the school’s program.

Still needed:

  • 4 flutes
  • 1 obe
  • 1 clarinet
  • 4 alto saxophones
  • 3 tenor saxophones
  • 1 baritone saxophone
  • 5 trumpets
  • 2 French horns
  • 5 trombones
  • 2 baritone euphoniums
  • 1 tuba
  • 1 concert bass drum
  • 1 concert snare drum
  • 1 pair of crash cymbals
  • 1 timables
  • 1 pair of congas
  • 1 pair of bongos
  • 2 electric bass guitars
  • 1 electric guitar

“The Good Book teaches us to ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the lands,'” Martha says. “This is my holiday wish and mitzvah for the Bassick High School marching band.”

(To donate, email marthadeegan@rocketmail.com)

 

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Youn Su Chao

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Democratic Board of Education candidate Youn Su Chao. Saugatuck Elementary School PTA member Jen Berniker conducted the interview. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Lee Goldstein

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Democratic Board of Education candidate Lee Goldstein. Saugatuck Elementary School PTA member Jen Berniker conducted the interview. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

“Westport Together”: It Takes A Village To Raise Our Kids

As long as there have been teenagers, adults have worried about them.

In 1996 the United Way organized 2 townwide forums on youth issues. They led to the formation of Positive Youth Development: a collaborative effort to support youngsters and their families in their homes, at school and throughout the community.

The goal was to prevent risky behavior by providing parental education and support, rather than correcting challenges after something happens.

PTAs helped too.

Dialogue between groups resulted in new programs, including Toquet Hall, Community Service Corps, school psychologist meetings, Suniya Luthar’s research, a schoolwide substance abuse survey, and Risky Behavior Forums.

Now, 20 years after its formation, Positive Youth Development is being revitalized. Teenagers face new challenges (along with the old ones). Town organizations and non-profits have changed.

Information comes at us all in a firehose. In a torrent of emails, meeting notifications and online platforms, it’s easy to miss important ideas.

It’s time for the community to help its young people in different ways.

This morning, at Human Services’ 23rd annual breakfast for mental health professionals, the department will launch “Westport Together.”

It’s a new alliance that advocates for resilient youth, healthy families and strong communities; provides education through programs, presentations and resources, and enhances connections among families, schools and the entire town.

The PYD philosophy remains the same. But Westport Together hopes to enhance links between town and school programs; improve communication among partners and community members, and increase participation and information sharing.

A new website brings a number of youth, parenting and community programs together in one place. There are also pages for upcoming events, and a rich array of resources.

Westport Together alliance members include:

  • Westport Public Schools
  • Westport PTA
  • Town of Westport (Human Services, Police, Fire, Parks & Recreation)
  • Earthplace
  • Westport Library
  • MoCA
  • Positive Directions — Center for Counseling and Prevention
  • RULER (parent group)
  • Wakeman Town Farm
  • Westport Museum for History and Culture
  • Westport Prevention Coalition
  • Westport Weston Health District
  • Westport Family YMCA

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker

Second selectman Jen Tooker helped lead the project, along with Human Services director Elaine Daignault, youth services program director Kevin Godburn and school district coordinator of psychological services Valerie Babich.

Tooker says, “This is more than a revitalization of PYD. It’s a declaration of our commitment to, and prioritization of, the health and well-being of our youth.

“We want Westporters to know this is not an easy topic to tackle. We understand it takes a village to support this initiative. The village is ready and working!”

Back in the day, Daignault adds, “when a kid walked through town, people knew him and looked out for him. There was less chance of risky behavior.

“With Westport Together, we hope to get back to that time when everyone looked out for our kids — together.”

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Liz Heyer

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Republican Board of Education candidate Liz Heyer. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

Good Will Hunting: Herrera Has A Great Target

Three years ago, Will Herrera was cleaning the Staples High School guidance suite. The hard-working custodian was on his usual 3 to 11 p.m. shift.

A poster caught his eye. It advertised Norwalk Community College‘s Summer Bridge program.

Will had tried college once before. But he was young; the pressure of studying, while juggling work to pay tuition, was too much.

No one in his family had gone to college. His parents had not even finished 5th grade, in their native Colombia. But a relative’s wedding gift of 2 plane tickets to New York gave them a foothold here.

They arrived with green cards in 1985. They worked hard — in New York, Detroit, Florida and Connecticut — while constantly emphasizing to Will the importance of education.

Will Herrera, in the Staples High School library.

Will attended a magnet school in Bridgeport. He dreamed of becoming a teacher, like those who were influencing him. But he too had to work — he began cleaning YMCAs when he was 15 — and in 2013 was hired as a custodian at Bedford Middle School. He moved to Staples 3 years later.

That guidance poster for NCC marked a turning point in his life. He decided to give college another shot.

Caring admissions officers helped him through the admission and scholarship process.

Will took courses in English, math, environment, pyschology, creative writing, philosophy, computer science and public speaking. He got involved in extracurricular activities, like planting trees at Veterans Park.

All the while, he worked the 2nd custodial shift at Staples.

He considered dropping out just short of graduation, when his mother — who had battled breast cancer twice before — was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But she urged him to persevere.

This past May, Will graduated from NCC — with a 3.51 GPA, and cum laude honors.

His goal of becoming a teacher grew stronger than ever.

Will applied to Sacred Heart and Southern Connecticut State University. He was accepted to both.

Though SHU is much closer — just 2 miles from the home he bought in 2015 — he chose Southern. Its education program and resources are better suited to his needs, he says.

This semester, Will takes 4 courses, in the morning and early afternoon: Teachers, Society and Communities; Introduction to Special Education; Math for Elementary Education, and Health.

Meanwhile, he continues to work the 3 to 11 p.m. custodial shift at Staples.

Oh, yeah: He’s also a board member for the custodians’ union.

Will Herrera works at Staples — as a student observing teachers, and as a custodian on the second shift.

Part of his coursework involves classroom observation. He’s doing that at Staples — the same school where, a few hours later, he cleans classrooms.

Observing science and world language classes, he’s intrigued by how teachers handle their work: creating lesson plans, leading discussions, handling a wide variety of learning styles, and doing the thousands of other things educators do every day.

“Education is stressful,” he says. But he notes that everyone in a school — teachers, counselors, custodians — deals with stresses. There are issues of time management, collaboration, priorities — you name it.

Staples world language teacher Julia Svec has loved having Wilson observe her Spanish and Italian classes.

“I knew him from working here,” she says. “I saw how bright and enthusiastic he is, with a great personality.

“He is very aware of different learning styles. He established great rapport with the students. They really appreciate him.”

She is impressed with the way he handles his demanding job, his studies and his observations. “It takes courage and perseverance,” she notes. “He is so inspiring.”

Will’s dream is to be a secondary school Spanish teacher. An administrative or leadership position might follow, at some point.

He’ll earn his bachelor’s degree from Southern in 2021, and will have completed his student teaching.

He’ll apply then for jobs.

If there’s a position open in Westport, I know many people at Staples — in the  classroom, and on the custodial staff — will be honored to recommend him.

Jake Sussman Fights For “The Forgotten Child”

Imagine yourself as the child that always smiled
You were wild, you were beguiled —
Until the day you were profiled.
This is the story of the forgotten child.

Jake Sussman delivers those words clearly, directly and powerfully. Like many guys in their early 20s, he’s got scruff and exudes confidence.

But he is “The Forgotten Child.”

Now, he’s making sure that educators around the world do not forget any other Jake Sussmans out there.

There are many.

Growing up in Westport — and diagnosed with a learning difference — Jake had a “great experience” at Coleytown Elementary School.

Middle school was different, though.

“It wasn’t working for me,” Jake says. He transferred to The Southport School, then the Forman School in Litchfield for high school. After graduating in 2014, he headed to Roger Williams University.

It was the only college he applied to with no academic support system.

Jake Sussman

“That was fine,” Jake says. “In life, there’s no special corner for employees with learning differences.”

He directed his energy and charisma toward creating a Hillel on the Rhode Island campus. By the time he left for his senior year at the University of Hartford — for its program in communications and business — there were 30 attendees at Shabbat dinners.

As a junior, he took part in a campus poetry slam. “The Forgotten Child” was all about overcoming adversity, and being true to oneself.

Negative labels are destructive
Counter-productive and obstructive
This forgotten child refused to acknowledge
“You will never go to college.”

Speaking those words out loud, Jake felt empowered. He told his story — but he was not alone.

“Everyone learns differently,” he notes. “I may be 3 grades behind in reading, but I’m the best artist in the class. Teachers have to be able to tap into that.”

He realized his poem spoke for “anyone not seen or heard.” Learning differences, sexualities, physical disabilities — whatever adversity students have to overcome, Jake included them. They too are “forgotten children.”

At boarding school, Jake had met Harvey Hubbell V. The Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker — who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 1960s, and in 2013 produced “Dislecksia: The Movie” — was intrigued by Jake’s passion. And his poetry.

Beginning last May, they collaborated on a video. Last Thursday — in the middle of Dyslexia Awareness Month — they launched “The Forgotten Child” on Facebook. In it, Jake implores:

Don’t ever give up your shot
Our minds are all we’ve got!

Within 2 days, it had 25,000 views worldwide. And dozens of very favorable comments.

He hopes it reaches the right audiences: people with learning differences, and those who work with them.

“I’m not a teacher, a psychologist, a researcher or a parent,” he says. “I am a student. I represent all those who are not seen or heard, just for the way they learn.”

“The Forgotten Child” is just one of the ways Jake is speaking out about his own educational life, and those of so many others.

On Monday night, he was at a Decoding Dyslexia meeting in Salt Lake City.

I’m not sure whether he presented a talk or a poem.

Either way, I have no fear.

His message was heard loud and clear.

(For more information, email bookings@jakesussmanlive.com)

Jacob Sussman, filming his video.

 

Pic Of The Day #906

Greens Farms Elementary School softball field (Photo/Tim Woodruff)

Arrow Restaurant Shares In Nobel Prize

You don’t win a Nobel Prize without a great work ethic.

And for generations, teenagers learned how to work at the Arrow restaurant.

It paid off for countless local youngsters. Including Billy Kaelin.

The Fairfield youth — and his 3 brothers — all worked there as busboys.

Yesterday, Dr. William G. Kaelin Jr. was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. William Kaelin, and his prize.

Kaelin — a professor at Harvard Medical School — shared science’s greatest honor with 2 others. They researched how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability. The work has implications for cancer and other diseases, such as anemia, myocardial infarction and stroke.

Tommy Nistico — a member of the legendary, beloved family that owned the Saugatuck institution for years (originally on Saugatuck Avenue, then located at the current site of Mystic Market) — posted the news on Facebook.

He noted that Kaelin and his 3 brothers all attended Duke University. The younger siblings are now lawyers.

The Arrow restaurant nourished decades of hungry Westporters. Along the way, it also fed the hunger of a young boy to work hard, and make his mark on the world.

Kaelin will receive his Nobel Prize in December, in Stockholm.

Too bad the Arrow is no longer around to cater the event.

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Danielle Dobin: Middle School Views Posted Today Are My Own

Today’s post on Westport’s middle schools generated plenty of comments. The author of the piece — Danielle Dobin — writes:

I wrote this opinion piece. It represents my personal views, not those of the Planning & Zoning Chairman, or any other Planning & Zoning commissioners or P&Z department staff.

The October 22 session will be a meeting of the PZC’s Plan of Conservation & Development High Level Review Subcommittee, to hear public comment regarding Chapter 14: Address Community Facility Needs. Click here to find the 2017 Plan of Conservation & Development.