Category Archives: Staples HS

Bedford Middle School Students, Staples Freshman Make History

I’ve covered the accomplishments of Westport’s National History Day  competitors before.

I’ve used the headline “Do Know Much About History” too, so I can’t do that again.

However, earlier this month 5 Bedford Middle School students and 1 from Staples proved Sam Cooke wrong. They do know a lot about history.

The 8th graders — already state champions — placed 5th in the national event in College Park, Maryland. Freshman Ishan Prasad — a Bedford National History Day alum — placed 2nd in the High School Individual Paper category, for his work: “Shah Bano and India’s Post-Colonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.”

Bedford Middle School National History Day competitors, with club advisor Caroline Davis (rear) and their project.

The Westport program is only 5 years old. But what a history it has!

When Caroline Davis moved here from New Jersey, she brought a dozen years’ experience as a middle school National History Day Club faculty adviser. She asked if she could start one here.

Principal Adam Rosen welcomed the idea. A year later, Bedford qualified for the national competition. They repeated in 2017, ’18 and ’19 — all 3 times as state champs. Last year, they finished 4th in the country.

Davis calls her students “incredibly motivated. They want to explore outside of Goggle and readily available sources.”

She’s not kidding. Last year — delving into the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court interracial marriage case — one group tracked down and interviewed the Lovings’ attorney.

Chris Fields, in the famous photo by Charles Porter IV.

Another group made a website about the Oklahoma City bombing. They found — and interviewed — Chris Fields, the firefighter in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from that 1995 day.

(I know — to many “06880” readers, that’s a “current event.” But it happened a couple of decades before the current BMS kids were born. So history it is.)

The club meets twice a week. Students bring their lunch to Davis’ classroom, eating and working together. She helps them stay on course. But finding sources, organizing information, laying it out, offering peer reviews — that’s all on the students.

The national competition in Washington, DC was a fantastic educational and fun experience. In addition to teams from all over the US, the BMS students (and Ishan) met others from South Korea, China and Guam.

They also met Senator Richard Blumenthal, who spoke with them about the importance of history.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the US Capitol with some of Bedford’s National History Day team.

This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy.” The BMS team — Rhea Choudhury, Sharmila Green, Emma Losonczy, Malika Subramanian and Lucia Wang — researched and presented the career of Lise Meitner.

Never heard of her? Neither had I.

She’s a Jewish Austrian physicist who helped discover nuclear fission in the late 1930s. She never received credit, though — and was even excluded from receiving the Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, the Bedford students (and Ishan) got their prize. Congrats to them, to Caroline Davis and Westport 6-12 social studies supervisor Lauren Francese.

Take that, Sam Cooke!

David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

The other day, reader David Gusick took this pre-prom picture, and sent it to “06880.”

. (Photo/David Gusick)

Tomorrow, more than 450 seniors graduate from Staples High School.

Today — inspired by the prom, the rest of the graduation activities, and the upcoming commencement — he addresses his son Sam, and the rest of the Class of 2019:

You may think this is your day. But it’s our day too.

I am not the class valedictorian, nor do I wear any fancy robes or caps to indicate that I am a man of letters. But reaching certain milestones, no matter who you are, is a good time to gather thoughts, reflect and write them down.

So I did. And so should you.

Sorry, kids. This speech is for your parents. But you may still want to listen. You might learn something.

Staples graduates listen to Dave Gusick’s speech. Or at least, the Class of ’18 listened to someone last year.

While you may think this day is all about you — and to a certain extent it is — I’m here to help educate you that today is just as much about us parents, and the blood, sweat and tears we shed to help get you here today.

Almost every parent here today should agree that you, our children, are our crowning achievement. The greatest thing most of us will ever create. To see you successfully pass this milestone is just as much a testament to our hard work as it is for yours.

Even before you were born, “the worry” began. With each phase of your life, new worries begin. Because with every opportunity comes risks.

As newborns, you gave us a literal wake-up call (typically at 2 a.m.) that our lives no longer belonged to just us.

As babies you relied on us for everything. Your survival literally depended on us.

As toddlers we had our introduction to the “great letting go,” as we exchanged our control for your independence.

In a late-summer ritual, this eager group of Caccamo Lane and Juniper Road kids waited for the first bus of the year. (Photo/Pam Long)

That is the time we moved to Westport from New York. It was shortly after 911, and just before our son’s 2nd birthday.

Like many of you, we moved here for the schools. Westport schools always rank near the top in the state and nation. Plus, Westport had Bar Method classes, which my wife didn’t think existed outside of Manhattan.

We made new friends quickly with other parents who were also new to the area.

When kindergarten started, our playgroups scattered to the 5 elementary schools. While we remained friends with some families, our attention focused on families who attended our elementary schools.

Having children that age and younger is perhaps the closest your family will ever be. You go everywhere and do everything together. You are a team.

While certain children are easier than others, raising any child is never easy. Having children forces us to be our better selves. Whether you like it or not you are now their teacher, coach, mentor and role model.

Elementary school activities are perhaps the most difficult to watch as parents. The orchestra sounds like a beached whale begging to be euthanized.

The first year kids pitch in youth baseball is mostly watching them walk around the bases as pitchers futilely try to avoid hitting the backstop and batter.

For generations, a rite of growing up.

You attend these recitals, games, tournaments, performances year after year after year. At first their progress is so incremental you barely notice their advancement.

Then comes the middle school phase. The kids keep getting better and better, accelerating with seemingly no end in sight. Next thing you know, they’re going to the Little League World Series!

Finally, high school.

We come back together. One school, one community: Staples. Now our lives, schedules and friendships are driven by YOUR activities, practices, rehearsals.

This message is for parents and students.

To be a healthy and happy adult, it is important to understand closure. Having unfinished business — especially with your parents — will stunt your future growth. You can blame us for any of your problems, but know this: We did the best we could with what we had to work with. We did what we thought was best. As did our parents before us. As will you, too.

A parent’s job — and joys — never ends.

Only understanding, acceptance and closure will prepare us for our next chapter, and our continued growth.

Parents are no longer the gods you saw us as when you were little. We are flawed. To maintain that pretense would be a disservice to you.

I love the annual ritual of Staples’ Back to School Night. It a reunion of sorts for us parents. I jokingly refer to it as “back together.” Many of the couples we knew starting out are no longer together. But for one night we return to the way things used to be.

Now there is a weariness, from years of work and worry. For ourselves and our children, that took a toll.

And so it goes.

As you become upperclassmen, you make some sort of invisible leap.

Part of the payoff for Dave Gusick: Watching his son Sam (3rd from left) in Staples Players’  “Twelve Angry Men.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

The musical ensembles are now pitch perfect. You sound like a single instrument. Your performances are infused with so much emotion that it brings grown men to tears. Seeing a Staples Players production is almost always better than seeing a Broadway show. The quality and standards are so high, and they are performed by our kids, for our town.

Just last week people posted prom pictures. Kids I hadn’t seen since nursery school have grown into such handsome and beautiful young adults!

You are now quicker, stronger, faster, sharper, more inquisitive and engaged than we are.

It is natural to feel nervous and scared about what comes next. I know I am. We have worked 18 years to help you be the best person you can be. To equip you with the skills you need to take care of yourself, and cope with all of the challenges life will throw your way.

To the graduating seniors: You are no longer children. Yet no matter how old you become, even when you are in your 50s and  60s we will refer to you as “our children.”

When each of you walk up to accept your diploma, there will be a community of people extending beyond your parents who have quietly rooted for you and your success.

So that brings us to today. Take a moment to forgive your parents for any mistakes you think we made. Thank us for the innumerable sacrifices you never saw. No matter how you feel about us, your happiness and growth have always been our #1 priority. In return, we asked for almost nothing.

Finally, to the parents: Our job will always be to listen. And to love.

Thank you.

Chad: Challenger Baseball’s Shining Knight

Chad Knight has a sparkling resume.

Last week the Staples High School senior captained his baseball team to their 2nd state championship in 3 years. In 2013 Chad starred on the Westport squad that reached the finals of the Little League World Series.

He’s been drafted by the New York Yankees — but he’s heading first to Duke University. He’s also an excellent piano player.

Yet one of his many other recent honors — Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year — led to an especially fine moment.

As part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward Fund, Chad was given $1,000 to pass on to any national or local youth sports organization of his choice.

He chose Westport Little League’s Challenger Division. That’s the very successful program for boys and girls with disabilities.

Chad Knight (rear, center, white shirt) and Challenger commissioner Beth Cody (front, blue shirt) join Challenger players, buddies, and Staples baseball players today.

Chad’s generosity came from the heart. Throughout the years he has served as a “buddy” to the players. He always found time to help out. He loved the youngsters, and they adored him.

In appreciation of Chad’s gift, commissioner Beth Cody announced that Gatorade is the official drink of the Westport Winners challenger team. Today at Meyer Field, she presented Chad with a bottle with his name, number and the Westport Winners name.

Starting this fall, every Challenger player will get one too.

It was a quick, fun ceremony, before Westport took on Norwalk in their final game of the season.

Then Chad headed off to his next celebration: his own graduation party.

In 2014, Chad Knight (right) was a Challenger buddy with Dylan Curran. Dylan is now manager of the state champion Staples baseball team, and still plays with the Westport Winners.

We Are The Champions. And The Champions, Champions, Champions, Champions, Champions, Champions.

I don’t normally post “lineup” photos: people in a row, smiling at the camera.

And I hate running pictures where the heads are so small you can hardly see who’s who.

But it’s not every day a school has 7 state championship teams in one year.

So — in honor of today’s Town Hall reception for Staples High School’s field hockey, boys cross country, boys squash, boys tennis, girls tennis, boys volleyball, and baseball teams: Here you go!

(Photo/Chris Greer)

Sorry — I did not get left-to-right IDs for everyone.

Janet Lefkowitz: In The Deep South, Deep In The Abortion Debate

In 1965, Connecticut was at the forefront of an important battle on women’s privacy and reproductive rights. The US Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Griswold vs. Connecticut paved the way to legalize birth control for unmarried couples — and then for Roe v. Wade, which guarantees safe and legal abortions.

Nearly 5 decades later — as abortion and women’s reproductive rights are under assault in parts of the nation — Connecticut stands on the other side. State legislators follow citizens’ leads in protecting — even strengthening — abortion laws and reproductive health choices.

It’s easy to sit here and tsk-tsk places like Alabama and Georgia, where women’s rights to abortion — and personal choices, and ultimately their health — are under attack.

It’s another thing entirely to live there, and be on the front lines of those battles. Westport native Janet Lefkowitz does, and is.

At Staples High School, she enjoyed a broad range of activities: Players, WWPT-FM, senior class vice president.

Dr. Janet Lefkowitz

After graduating in 1983 — and 4 years later from Sarah Lawrence College — Lefkowitz did children’s theater. She temped.

She did not — immediately — follow the career path of her father, orthopedist Dr. Larry Lefkowitz.

But her family, and Temple Israel, had imbued in her a strong belief in Tikkun Olam: acting as constructively and beneficially as possible, for as many people and as long as possible.

Eventually, Lefkowitz found her way to medical school. During her residency in obstetrics and gynecology in Hartford, she realized that field was perfect for her.

“I was working with generally healthy women. There were emergencies, but I could help them help themselves,” she explains.

Her personality — “formed in Westport,” she says — was perfect for that specialty. “I could talk to people,” Lefkowitz says. “As an OB-GYN, you spend a lot of time building relationships with patients.”

She joined a busy practice in Rhode Island. She counseled women, performed surgeries, and taught at Brown University. Her husband — former Staples classmate Jonathan Leepson — was in banking. When his job took him to Atlanta. Lefkowitz moved too.

Though Atlanta is a young, thriving and cosmopolitan city, it’s still in Georgia. Schools teach abstinence-based sex education. Lefkowitz was stunned.

The wife of a rabbi was past president of the local Planned Parenthood chapter. She encouraged Lefkowitz to get involved.

Realizing that women’s access to reproductive health care was at great risk, she soon became chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Southeast. The organization provides reproductive health care, along with advocacy and education, throughout Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Those states are ground zero in the current national abortion debate.

Officially a part-time job — she was hired to work 21 hours a week — it is actually much more. Yet it’s a “labor of love,” Lefkowitz says.

It’s also very frustrating.

“We’re having constant conversations about things that are should-haves — access to cervical and breast cancer screenings,” she notes. “It’s eye-opening, and scary.”

For a while, she worked behind the scenes. But when Alabama passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws — it would permit abortions only if the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus cannot survive, but not in cases of rape or incest — and Georgia and Mississippi pursued legislation that would ban abortion as soon as a physician detects a fetal heartbeat, the national Planned Parenthood office asked her to speak out.

The video “sort of outed me,” Lefkowitz. Previously, some neighbors did not talk to her because of her work. Now, many more people knew what she does. And where she stands on perhaps the most controversial topic in the region.

“There’s a lot of emotion, and a lot of misconceptions,” Lefkowitz says of the current debate.

She sees the issue as “protecting a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, for the good of her family and herself. It’s fundamentally a health issue.”

So I wondered: After spending time on the front lines, is she optimistic or pessimistic? Proud? Worried?

“All those things!” Lefkowitz says.

“I’m super-proud to be engaged in this work. Women are being denied their rights. If I can help people understand that abortion is safe — and that it’s not a choice made lightly — that’s good.

“I’m angry that politicians don’t see women as responsible decision-makers. They feel they need to make choices for us.”

Alabama is ground zero in the national abortion debate.

They’re also forcing doctors like her, she says, “to choose between providing ethical care, and breaking the law.” If the new wave of legislation is upheld, she believes most doctors would follow the law — or leave the area. That would worsen the already poor state of health care for women.

Yet Lefkowitz is also hopeful the laws will be stopped in court. She’s heartened that what’s happening in the South has spurred activism around the country. States like Connecticut, New York and Vermont are trying to widen — rather than restrict — women’s reproductive rights.

And she is heartened that people are now talking about the issue.

Personally, Lefkowitz says, one good thing has come out of her recent activism.

“This has helped me become a more compassionate physician. Women are being forced to make heartbreaking decisions. But I’m glad to be with them, taking care of them during a very important part of their lives.”

(Hat tip: Emily Silverman)

They Wear Orange Because …

Final exams loomed. But Staples High School’s Students Demand Action club was all-in to participate in this past weekend’s national Wear Orange event, to raise awareness of gun violence, and promote a future free from it.

Club members put up many signs, including a big banner in front of the school. They chalked the sidewalks and staffed an information table during lunch, where they handed out information, signed up teachers and students for the Connecticut Against Gun Violence email list, and gave away orange pens, bracelets, pins, stickers and shirts.

They also created a poster wall, where anyone could write about “Why I Wear Orange.”

(Photo/Kayla Sirlin)

Final exams began today. But members of the Students Demand Action club have already earned an A+ in civic engagement.

(Hat tip: Elana Atlas)

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.)

Strike Up Another State Title For Staples!

The state baseball title is back in Westport.

For the 2nd time in 3 years, Staples won the class LL (extra large schools) title. The Wreckers shut out Southington today 3-0, in Middletown.

Staples pitcher Chad Knight — already drafted by the New York Yankees — was his usual commanding self. He struck out 10 Blue Devils, and gave up just 3 hits, in a commanding, complete game performance.

Pitcher Chad Knight celebrates the final out … (Photo copyright by Chris Greer)

Knight and 3 teammates — Harry Azadian, Drew Rogers and Charlie Roof — are no strangers to success. In 2013 they were part of the Westport team that reached the finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Two years ago — as sophomores — they starred on the Wreckers’ state champion team.

… and is quickly joined by his teammates. (Photo copyright by Chris Greer)

Today was the last time the longtime friends played together. How wonderful for them — and their teammates, head coach Jack McFarland and his staff, and the town of Westport — that they went out on top.

And — as they’ve done for the past 6 years — they did it again today with class, poise, and plenty of smiles.

The state champion Staples baseball team. The scoreboard behind them tells the story. (Photo copyright by Chris Greer)

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)

Hail To The (State) Champions!

It’s tough to win a state championship.

It’s even tougher to repeat.

After going 26-0, and winning both the FCIAC and state class L (large schools) boys volleyball championship last spring, everyone was gunning to take down Staples.

Their route to back-to-back titles was complicated when head coach Dan Cho — who lived and worked far upstate — resigned.

Of course — this being high school sports — the Wreckers also had to replace graduating seniors. There were 9.

But new coach John Sedlock — and the new squad was up to the task.

Last night at Shelton High School, the Wreckers faced longtime rival Darien. The Blue Wave had beaten them twice this year — including the FCIAC finals.

This time, the Westporters got revenge. It took them 5 long, nail-biting sets. But — once again — Staples is state champs.

Staples’ state champion boys volleyball team … (Photo/Gayle Gabor and Tom Carstens)

That’s not all.

Coach Paco Fabian’s girls tennis team completed a perfect 24-0 season with a 5-2 win over Wilton, to earn the class L state title. Alyssa DiMaio went on to become the first Staples girls player to win the state open singles  crown.

The Wreckers are a very young squad, so the future looks bright indeed.

… and the state champion girls tennis team …

That’s not all.

Coach Kris Hrisovulos’ boys tennis team won the state championship too — for a remarkable 4th consecutive year. Robbie Daus and Tighe Brunetti then captured the state open doubles title.

… and boys tennis, also state champs.

That’s not all.

Senior Chet Ellis set a boys outdoor track state open meet record with a phenomenal high jump: 7 feet, 1/2 inch. Obviously, that’s a Wrecker record too.

That’s not all.

There’s a chance for one more state championship this spring at Staples. Tomorrow (Saturday, June 8, 12 p.m., Palmer Field, Middletown), the Wreckers plays Southington for the LL (extra large schools) baseball crown.

Chad Knight, meanwhile, was just picked — by the New York Yankees — in the 31st round of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. You won’t see him in pinstripes any time soon, though: The Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year will continue his baseball career this fall at Duke University.

Congratulations, guys and girls! There’s only one thing left to say: