It’s a long way — by every measure except physical distance — from Greens Farms Academy to the Bridgeport public schools.
But for nearly a quarter century, the elite private school has bridged those gaping academic, financial and resource gaps.
Thanks to the time, talent and energy of GFA staff, students and parents — and the enthusiastic participation of their city counterparts — a strong, productive partnership links Beachside Avenue and Broad Street.
Christina Whittaker — executive director of Horizons GFA — describes it succinctly: “a pre-K through college, outside of school, tuition-free enrichment academic program for Bridgeport students.”
Enjoying the Greens Farms Academy campus.
Horizons is a national program. Greens Farms Academy is one of 60 affiliates.
It’s hard to imagine a more active or far-reaching one than theirs.
From a modest start 24 years ago, Horizons GFA has grown to a 3-pronged, year-round effort, with over 330 current participants.
The pre-K through 8th grade program runs primarily in summer. For 6 weeks, nearly 200 youngsters spend Mondays through Thursdays at GFA. Mornings are devoted to academics, and a social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum developed at Harvard especially for the school.
Learning in the morning …
Afternoons are devoted to activities like sports, swimming, cooking, gardening and dance.
Fridays are for field trips. Popular destinations include the Connecticut Science Center and Mystic Aquarium.
… and a Friday visit to the aquarium.
Parents apply Horizons before their children enter kindergarten.
“Because they are with us for 16 or 18 years — through college — we want to make sure it’s a good fit,” Whittaker explains. “We learn about their hopes and reams.”
The application process includes interviews. The application form is in English and Spanish
In high school, each Horizons participant is paired with a “coach” — a Bridgeport public school teacher, counselor or social worker.
Once a week at Horizon’s Bridgeport office, they work on the Harvard-designed SEL curriculum, and whatever else the student needs, like help with a school project or job application.
Content-specific tutoring is available too, along with college counseling.
Horizons also offers special workshops: transition to high school for 9th graders; career exploration for sophomores; SAT preparation junior year, and FAFSA/scholarship information for seniors.
High school graduation.
Horizons has a 100% high school graduation rate, and 100% post-secondary enrollment. Two-thirds of students go to 4-year colleges; one-third enter community college or vocational training programs.
The summer after graduation, students take part in a transition-to-college workshops.
Once in college, students check in monthly with Horizons staff. They cover 4 areas: personal well-being, academics, finances and “employability.”
The goal is for all students to have a job, or be in grad school, within a year of college graduation. Horizons’ first “class” graduated in 2020. They, and the classes after them, all have 100% success rates.
Proud college graduates.
Horizons is “a very strong community,” Whittaker says proudly. “Once people enter, they tend not to leave.”
Two alums have become program coaches. One teacher has been involved for 20 summers.
Whittaker herself is a former Horizons volunteer. She started as a GFA middle schooler.
That experience sparked her passion for education. After college, Christina taught at Bridgeport’s Harding High School, and worked in Horizon’s summer program. In 2018 she joined Horizons GFA full time. Now she’s the director.
She is inspired by the “results, commitment and partnership with students and families. I’ve known some of the students since 2012. It’s been so great to see what they’ve accomplished.”
Greens Farms Academy’s contributions to Horizons are profound. They provide full use of their campus each summer, and some Saturdays during the year. GFA staff and parents serve on the board and committees. Many students volunteer too.
All funding is private, through donations and grants. This year’s budget is $1.85 million.
There are 2 major fundraisers: a golf event (upcoming June 5 at the Country Club of Fairfield) and fall gala (November 17 at The Knowlton).
After years of quietly supporting Horizons, GFA wants more people to know about the program. Visitors are welcome on select days in July; click here for details.
Nearing the quarter-century mark, Greens Farms Academy’s Horizons — and the horizons of scores of Bridgeport students — are limitless.
Staples High School’s Black Box Theater is an intimate space.
With a movable stage and seating, it’s been the setting for memorable shows like “Twelve Angry Men,” “The Laramie Project” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Players’ next Black Box production — “Lord of the Flies” — is equally powerful and thought-provoking.
It may also be the most intriguing production there yet.
Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have cast males and females in the roles of 11- and 12-year-old boys. Marooned on an island and struggling to govern themselves, the tension between morality and individuality — and groupthink and immorality — is palpable from the opening scene.
Part of the “Lord of the Flies” cast. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Each performance features a different cast of actors. Some are mixed genders; one is all male, one all female.
Each show will look a bit different. But all force audiences to explore universal ideas like what it means to be human, and the desire for power.
Written in 1954, the story is “fresh, modern, and very relevant to our world today,” Roth says.
Though “Lord of the Flies” is best known as a novel (and film), Roth and Long found a YouTube video of a Sydney theatrical production. Both had read the book as Staples students.
Watching the video, they were reminded again of its power — and attracted to the Australians’ mixed-gender cast.
They relished the challenge of bringing the show — with its ever-shifting dynamics, both thematically and because of the several different casts — to the Black Box stage.
Cameron Mann (Jack) and Quinn Mulvey (Ralph). (Photo/Kerry Long)
Like the directors, some Players have read “Lord of the Flies” in school. Some are reading it right now. All understand its messages about human nature, and are growing as actors as they learn how their characters change — some for better, some worse — on the island, as democracy crumbles.
That island will look spare. The set is abstract, with a sandbox and just 3 props: a pig’s head, Piggy’s glasses, and the iconic conch.
There is, however, plenty of movement. Fight choreographer Chris Smalley — who has worked with Players for over a dozen years — ensures that the intense scenes are performed both authentically and safely.
It’s a different show for Staples, certainly. The theme and emotions are raw. Plus, Long notes, “the kids get spears, and get to act savagely.”
“Lord of the Flies” is not “Mamma Mia!,” “Grease” or “The Music Man” — some of the shows that Players perform on the main stage.
But the Staples troupe is known for their versatility and professionalism. This is the perfect vehicle for them.
And the Black Box Theater is the perfect place to perform it.
(“Lord of the Flies will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 25, 26 and 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 27 at 3 p.m., and Sunday, May 28 at 1 p.m. Click here for tickets and cast lists. The show is recommended for audiences 12 and older.)
New York City boasts remarkable museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History and dozens more (including the Museum of Sex).
Hartford is known for the Wadsworth Atheneum; New Haven, the Peabody and Yale Center for British Art.
Westport has MoCA, and the Museum for History & Culture.
And now, the Westport Tech Museum.
You probably never heard of it. Unless you’re a family member of friend, you can’t get in.
But founder/curator Jay Babina has amassed — and displays, in an attic and online — an astonishing collection of over 400 computers, video games, calculators, cameras, radios and more.
That’s one fascinating fact.
Here’s another: Jay is just 17 years old.
The private school junior comes from a tech family. His father was into computers; his grandparents started radio station WMNR.
One day in 2018, in his dad’s 15-year-old car, Jay found a circa-2002 iPod. Then, in his basement, he discovered a box of old phones: a Palm Pilot, Treo, Startec and others.
He brought the box to his room. Months later, he put the objects on a shelf. To add context he researched their backgrounds, and added information cards about their designers, production and more.
As Jay added to his collection, he needed more space. The attic was perfect.
Now — even with added shelves — it’s almost too small. His 400-plus items fill most of the space.
A wide-angle view of Jay’s Tech Museum. Not all of it could fit in this photo.
Every day, Jay works on his museum. He does more research, writes new cards, finds new stuff. (Click here for a virtual tour.)
A great source is eBay. He goes to tag and estate sales, and the Elephant Trunk flea market in New Milford.
Westport residents donate objects too. One recently offered a rare Osborne 1 computer.
Jay’s personal favorites include a Commodore Amiga 1000 (his most expensive purchase — $825 — but “definitely worth it”); an original Macintosh, and (newly donated by his grandfather) a 1937 radio. “It’s a work of art,” Jay says.
The actual radio Jay’s relatives used, to listen to news after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
His wish list includes an Apple Lisa (“they’re expensive, and hard to find — all the listings are in places like Slovenia,” Jay says), and a Virtual Boy video game system.
Jay’s creativity is boundless. Here, he carefully recreates Steve Jobs’ iconic photo, with Apple’s ground-breaking Macintosh.
Jay’s museum is not open to the public. He doesn’t want random strangers walking through his parents’ house.
But the people who see it (spoiler alert: I’m a lucky one) are amazed.
Fortunately, the rest of the world can experience the Westport Tech Museum virtually (click here to enter). “Visitors” have come from as far as India, Malaysia and South Korea.
They marvel at his collection.
But they can only see its wonders — including a 1910 Edison light bulb that still shines; a 1905 crank telephone that still rings, and microphones and a 1940s-era television that once belonged to legendary voice actor Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Barney Rubble) — in cyberspace.
A still-working 1910 GE “Edison bulb,” and an early, pre-QWERTY keyboard typewriter.
They won’t get a personal tour, as I did. They can’t hear the excitement in Jay’s voice, as he describes each piece — and its back story — to me.
There are some things technology just can’t do.
But if it’s related to technology — particularly whatever was cutting-edge, whether in the early 1900s or early 2000s — it’s there in Jay’s attic.
He’s not sure what the future holds, for his museum or technology in general.
But perhaps a few years from now, Jay will find a way to display today’s amazing — but tomorrow’s ho-hum — ChatGPT.
Now, scroll down for a tour of a few highlights from Jay’s Westport Tech Museum.
This crank telephone from 1905 still rings.
This 1914 Victrola still plays music.
An early television (top) and microphones owned by Mel Blanc.
The “History of Audio” shelves display short-wave radio, a reel-to-reel tape, 8-tracks and much more …
… and continues with LPs and 45s, cassettes, mini-discs, Walkmen, a Watchman and iPods.
Atari 400 (1979): early personal computer with Pac-Man.
A 1981 Osborne 1 — the first commercially successful portable computer. It was donated to Jay’s Tech Museum by a Westporter.
The very popular Apple IIe (left), and the first commercially successful computer with a mouse: the 128K, introduced with great fanfare as the “Big Brother” Super Bowl commercial in 1984.
A 1984 Commodore 64 — the best-selling personal computer ever.
This Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985) is Jay’s favorite.
Early Apple laptops.
Jay with a NeXT computer. The company was Steve Jobs’ venture after being forced out of Apple. It was a bit pricey, and sold only 50,000 units. But its graphical user interface was very influential.
An iMac: the first Apple product with a USB mouse (1998).
An Apple Cube (2000-2001) was a rare Steve Jobs failure. Priced incorrectly for its features, it sold only 150,000 units.
Descriptive cards and posters add information about many items. Jay writes every one himself.
Top: a 1992 “brick phone” and rotary phone. Bottom: pagers and beepers.
A collection of camcorders includes the JVC product used in 1985’s “Back to the Future.”
Jay’s museum includes “tech toys.” He also displays Cabbage Patch Kids (which saved Coleco — originally the Connecticut Leather Company — from bankruptcy after its video games were supplanted by home computers. Also, though not high-tech, on the 2nd shelf from the top: an original pie plate from Bridgeport’s Frisbie Co.
(Westport is filled with people doing amazing things. “06880” is proud to bring you their stories. Please click here to support our work.)
“Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” it’s not.
But “I Was a Teenage Mummy” holds a place in movie history.
In Westport, anyway.
And if you were in town 60 years ago today, you remember it well.
The film had its world premiere on April 26, 1963 in the Staples High School auditorium.
A full house — 1,200 people — packed the place. The next night there were 2 more showings, both also sellouts. Tickets were 75 cents in advance, $1 at the door.
Life Magazine and the New York Times covered the event. Hugh Downs invited the cast onto the “Today Show.”
Not bad for a 90-minute film, produced and acted by a group of feisty Long Lots Junior High 9th graders.
Of course, they had adult help: a 21-year-old, with fantasies of Hollywood.
Jeffrey Mullin — one of the “Teenage Mummy” stars — went onto a 40-year career as a documentary filmmaker. He learned editing and cinematography from legendary documentarian Bill Buckley, and between 1985 and 2008, worked with Buckley and fellow Westporter Tracy Sugarman.
These days, Mullin is retired. But as the 60th anniversary of his teenage adventure drew near he checked in with “06880” from his Cape Cod home, with a trove of materials.
Life Magazine covered the movie story.
“Mummy” — a satire on horror movies — was the brainchild of that 21-year-old, Ralph Bluemke (part-time manager of a Stamford theater).
He enlisted his Half Mile Common neighbor Mullin, Allen Skinner of nearby Cross Highway, Steve Emmett and Jayne Walker. Michael Harris played the mummy. Jeff’s 8-year-old brother Scott was the villain.
They raised funds by selling “stock” in Jerall Films (a combination of their names) to parents and friends.
Filming began in September of 1962. Locales includes beaches (for “the desert”), Longshore, and an auto chase scene throughout town.
The Westport Police Department let the teenagers “borrow” a police car — and officer. An auto dealer provided a Cadillac. And, Life reported, “one mother was conned out of her new Mercedes.”
The movie also includes a scene at Idlewild (now John F. Kennedy) Airport. Jayne Walker’s father — a TWA pilot — held his passengers on board for half an hour while the main characters scurried up the steps, and were filmed “disembarking.”
It ran through January, with interruptions when the cast had to raise more cash. The go-to job was babysitting.
The total cost: about $375.
After its Westport premiere, Life magazine said, the film was booked into theaters in Fairfield and nearby counties.
Teen idol Pat Boone gave the movie a boost.
“I Was a Teenage Mummy” did not reach the enduring fame of “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s not mentioned with classics like “The Jazz Singer” or “Star Wars.”
But for a few brief springtime weeks — beginning 60 years ago today — “Teenage Mummy” was very much alive and well in Westport.
(If a story happened — or happens — here, “06880” covers it. Please click here to support our non-profit. Thank you!)
Lucia Wang and Rebecca Schussheim did not set out to earn the highest grades in Staples High School’s Class of 2023.
But by taking challenging classes they were interested in, working hard in the classroom and beyond, and working collaboratively with teachers and classmates, they did.
Along the way, they also participated in a variety of clubs and activities, both in school and outside, as leaders and “doers.”
Which is why Lucia is valedictorian, and Rebecca salutatorian, for this year’s senior class.
Lucia’s Westport education began in 4th grade, at Saugatuck Elementary School. Fifth grade teacher Peter von Euler encouraged her writing. At Bedford Middle she was editor-in-chief of Ursus, the school paper, and worked on the literary magazine.
She continued writing at Staples, but her focus shifted. Lucia is now editor-in-chief of the high school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) journal. She contributes articles on the environment, noting that the planet is at a climate tipping point.
She also earned honorable mention in the New York Times’ annual STEM Writing contest, for a story on crumbling Indonesian cave art.
Her Advanced Placement science courses, like Biology with Dr. Michele Morse-Gaudio and Chemistry with Will Jones, were meaningful.
But so were classes like AP Language and Composition with Meghan Scheck, US Government with Suzanne Kammerman, and Contemporary World Studies with Cathy Schager.
Despite her STEM interests, one of Lucia’s most important extracurricular activities was Model UN Club. It’s been helpful, she says, for her writing and public speaking skills. She has learned to work with “crisis committees,” think on her feet and develop solutions.
Tennis helps Lucia decompress. A 2-year varsity player, in a program that last year reached the FCIAC finals, she finds the sport gives balance to her week. She says, “I love competing, and the entire tennis community.”
For her senior internship, she’ll continue work begun earlier at the Yale University School of Public Health, studying the intersection of public health and the environment.
That interest helped spark a National History Day project. Lucia researched Minamata disease, a Japanese public health and pollution crisis that caused thousands of deaths. Her work earned her a second place prize, in national competition.
But, Lucia says, her most important activity has nothing to do with school. She is the social media director for Dear Asian Youth (DAY), an international activist organization with 200 chapters in 18 countries.
She oversees several platforms, including Instagram with over 100,000 followers. Lucia works with young people around the globe, in areas like writing, graphics and video.
She has also been a Staples representative to the Asia Pacific Young Leaders Summit and Normandy International Youth Leadership Summit.
The exchange of ideas at those events and through DAY, along with opportunities to learn about different cultures and perspectives, excites her. It’s what she looks forward to in college too.
Locally, Lucia has made an impact through her volunteer work at the Westport Museum of History and Culture. She spent hours working with the collection of Sigrid Schultz, the female reporter, social justice activist and longtime Westporter.
Lucia’s advice to younger students is: “Explore lots of classes. Try activities outside of school. Find your own passion and joy. Everyone has a different story. What’s yours?”
Like Julia’s, Rebecca’s resume sparkles with a broad array of courses and activities.
The salutatorian (whose sister Emily was valedictorian in 2017, and brother Benji was salutatorian in 2020) attended Coleytown Elementary School, where orchestra leader Jim Andrews introduced to her lifelong love, the cello. Some CES musicians still play with her at Staples. Eileen Shannon was Rebecca’s next musical influence, at Coleytown Middle.
She is now principal cellist for the Chamber Symphonic Orchestras. Conductors Carrie Mascara and Jeri Hockensmith are “super engaging,” she says. “They create bonds.”
Playing beautiful music is “a great way to break up the day.” Highlights of her Staples career include the traditional Candlelight and Pops concerts.
Academically Rebecca chose an Independent Learning Experience in astrophysics. She and a graduate student at Yale examined early galaxy images from the James Webb Space Telescope, searching for patterns. Most of their fellow researchers were grad students, and professors.
In January she presented her findings at the International Science Youth Forum, in Singapore. It was a chance to meet, and share ideas with, students from around the world.
Another outlet for Rebecca’s passion is the Sikorsky STEM Challenge. She is co-president of Staples’ chapter. They’re building a helicopter, for entry in the state competition.
“It’s very self-directed. There’s a lot of trial and error,” Rebecca explains. “If something doesn’t work, we put our heads together to figure out why.”
Rebecca cites David Scrofani – her instructor for AP Physics C, AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A, and with whom she worked on the James Webb project – as an important influence.
She surprised herself by loving AP English Language and Composition, with Noreen McGoldrick. “I’m a STEM kid, so I was nervous,” she admits. “But she gives great feedback. We read a lot of genres. She really helped me with thinking and writing. That class was a gift.”
Rebecca also enjoyed Multivariable Calculus with Robert Papp, Calculus BC with Jonathan Watnick, AP Statistics with Phil Abraham, and US History with Drew Coyne.
At Staples Rebecca has learned how to prioritize activities, and make time for friends. Many of those friends come from squash. She has played since third grade, and co-captains Staples’ girls team.
“It’s a physically and mentally demanding sport,” Rebecca notes. “There’s lots of tactics, with all the angles. You need stamina, because of all the short lunges and sprints. Plus, there’s always something new to learn.’
Already strong bonds were tightened during this winter’s’ trip to the national tournament in Philadelphia.
Becoming salutatorian is really “just a number,” she says. “There are so many great courses at Staples, and so many kids doing so many things. GPAs don’t tell the whole story.
“Grades are important. But more important is passion, and leading a balanced life.”
Rebecca was accepted early action at Yale. She may major in physics or astrophysics. But, she says, “I’m open to anything.”
(“06880” is proud to highlight the accomplishments of young Westporters — and every other age. Please click here to help us continue our work. Thank you!)
Submissions in TEAM Westport’s 10th annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest covered a wide range of topics.
A Filipino girl wrote about her sudden feeling of pride — not shame — in her heritage.
A boy described coming out of the closet, and into the light.
A white girl saw an unfamiliar map, and realized the US is not the center of the world.
The 3 essays were very different. The authors, though, shared the gift of writing maturely, insightfully, personally and passionately about their lives in a multicultural world that often seems, here in Westport, woefully monochromatic.
Greens Farms Academy senior Annie Dizon, Staples High School senior Tyler Darden and GFA junior Savvy Dreas captured first, second and third places respectively in the TEAM Westport contest.
The prompt was: “The Dialogue Challenge: Effective Engagement on Race, Ethnicity, Religion and LGBTQIA+.” In 1,000 words or less, “reflect on your own interactions with people who have different racial, ethnic, religious, and/or LGBTQIA+ identities and/or perspectives.
“What kinds of conversations were particularly helpful in prompting you to rethink your beliefs or opinions, perhaps causing you to change your mind or enabling you to better understand others’ points of view? Based on these experiences, what specific actions would you suggest that individuals, schools, and/or town entities in Westport take to promote good-faith dialogue, reduce bias, and foster understanding?”
Annie, Tyler and Savvy were awarded $1,000, $750 and $500 last night, at a Westport Library ceremony.
From left: 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, Tyler Darden, Annie Dizon, Savvy Dreas, Greens Farms Academy head of school Bob Whelan, Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas, Westport Library director Bill Harmer.
They read their essays clearly and strongly. The audience was as moved by their words as the judges had been.
“06880” readers will be too.
ANNIE DIZON: POWERPOINT AS PRIDE (1st PLACE)
Ang sakit sa kalingkinan ay ramdan ng buong katawan.
The pain in the little finger is felt by the whole body.
I could feel every fiber of the blue fluffy carpet scratching on the back of my legs, the chattering and fidgeting of my fifteen classmates surrounding me. Pinching the loose skin between my fingers to calm myself (to no avail), I watched anxiously as my dad worked with my teacher to set up his presentation on the SMART board.
I wanted to throw up.
I was in third grade, and each week a family member of one of my classmates — a parent or grandparent, an aunt or great uncle — had come to give a talk about their family’s origins in the United States. Each week was the same story: the Italian or Irish or English family that went through Ellis Island and settled across New England, building its wealth over generations to end up in its present-day privilege palace.
But my family’s story was neither as simple, nor as old. In 1979, my dad, his three older siblings, and his parents fled the Philippines in the wake of political turmoil as president-turned-dictator Ferdinand Marcos began taking over the country under martial law.
They settled in a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a dilapidated complex in San Francisco. But at the time, I barely even knew these facts. My only conection to a sense of the identity my father and I shared was a mutual hatred towards our aunt’s ugly toothless chihuahua and a love for lumpia.
I did not know that my father, a threadbare backpack strapped across his scrawny shoulders, worked inglorious part-time jobs after long school days. That my grandma traded in her aproned housewifery for 12-hour shifts in the basement-turned-sweatshop on the corner of 28th.
Or that my grandfather gave up his passion, teaching, and took work as a school janitor, mopping sweaty gym floors and dimly-lit locker hallways at night, haunted by gum tucked under the desks of empty classrooms and with only ghosts to fill the chairs for his late-night lessons.
So as I sat watching my dad set up his presentation, I knew I needed this to be perfect. I felt as if everyone was expecting my dad’s presentation to be something new, something unlike the other stories of European immigrants they’d seen before, for one sole reason: we were different. Iwas the only Asian, the only minority, in my class. If I thought it was bad that I barely knew anything about my Filipino heritage, my peers’ lack of knowledge about Asian culture was a travesty. I needed this presentation to explain our culture, our ethnicity, why it was important, the questions I didn’t have answers for. I needed this presentation to make sense of the why, for what reason my eyes slanted a little bit more downward and my skin was a little bit more tan than those of my classmates.
And I believed my dad was not going to be any help. I thought he would have two photos and a dumb story about Grandma, and everyone would get bored, annoyed that they had to sit through a presentation about a different kind of immigration story that wasn’t even relevant to what we were learning. They’d think it was unimportant, unnecessary to learn about, a lesson with nothing of value, and they’d take their frustration out on me. I could barely accept my own differences as something of worth. What would it mean for my existence in these white spaces I desperately tried to fit into, if my dad’s presentation tanked and that sense of inferiority became my reality?
The SMART board turned on. The screen flickered with a soft blue light, gaining in vibrancy as the projector stuttered alive, the machine filling the room with the sound of its quiet whirring.
It was a picture of Bruno Mars. Everyone looked at each other, confused.
“Do you kids know who this is?” he asked. A few kids raised their hands, not quite sure if this was some kind of trick question either.
He pointed toward one towhead blond boy in the group. “Bruno Mars!” the boy shouted.
My dad nodded approvingly.
Next was a photo of Vanessa Hudgens.
“Do you know what these celebrities have in common?” he posed. There wasn’t as much of a response.
He gave a coy smile. “They’re both Filipino.”
My dad continued, displaying pictures and information of the vibrant, bustling cultures of the Philippines. He told the story of my family’s immigration, of the trials they all faced that I hadn’t even known. He talked about the diverse range of ethnicities, foods, and religions, and the deep-rooted love Filipinos hold for boxing and basketball. By the end of it, everyone was laughing, entertained by the captivating presentation they had just witnessed. They all knew it was the best they’d seen, better than any other of the drawn out, dead presentations made by the other kids’ stuffy white grandmas. My dad’s presentation on the Philippines, my heritage, was more entertaining, more captivating, more fascinating than anyone else’s, and everyone knew it.
This was the first time in my life I’d felt something other than shame about being Filipino, an invisible guilt to everyone’s eyes but my own. That morning, my dad planted within me the seeds for something I had never felt before, something that, not without its setbacks, has slowly sprouted throughout the years: pride. My dad taught me that there is strength in my differences, that there are blessings, power, and love beyond belief in the stories of the people who came before me. I have learned that what sets me apart from others is not a kind of weakness, and it is with that fact that I will continue to live with pride. Because, as the saying goes:
When I was a child, my mother took me to the American Girl Doll store in New York City. I remember my excitement at walking through the store, seeing all of the stylish dolls lined up against the walls, and propped up on the tables. I wandered around for a while, scrutinizing every doll until I found the one: She had wavy brown hair that cascaded down her back, and she wore a vibrant blue sundress. I could not wait to show her off to my classmates; surely they would admire my doll as enthusiastically as I did.
I proudly carried my doll into school the next day, anticipating my peers’ faces when I introduced her to them. However, it didn’t go as expected. The boys glared at me like I had done something wrong, and the girls served up some serious side-eye. What I thought would be celebrated, was condemned, like a dog presenting a dead bird to its owner. I felt ashamed for bringing her, and from then on, I neglected my doll.
Even though I was young, I began piecing together what it meant to be a boy.
Boys are strong, fearless, brave, tough, and confident — but I was none of those things. Boys like girls. Boys are not supposed to like other boys — but I did. I was not “normal,” and the shame that came along with that would plague me for years. I did not feel comfortable in my own skin, and I could not be honest about who I was. I kept the world at an arm’s length.
Despite my internal struggles, there was hope: my mother. She had always known that I was different, and she loved me no less. I clearly remember her telling me, “If you want to be a ballerina, I’ll buy you a tutu.” She always tried to find ways to let me know she was, undoubtedly, in my corner, yet, I was consumed by shame. I kept the seemingly simple words “I’m gay” in the recesses of my mind.
After investing in my own personal development, I was able to cultivate a sense of self-love and self-confidence. However, it took a lot of time and hard work. I went through many treatment programs and worked with many therapists to come to terms with the root of my discomfort: fear that my sexuality wouldn’t be accepted.
I realized I could either let shame destroy me, or I could trust that people would love and support me, regardless of who 1 am or who I love. I came out to my mom knowing that she would embrace me, but I was still weak with fear.
“I’m gay,” I said. Those words had been sitting in my mouth for a long time and now they were free, floating in the air between us.
My mother smiled.
“I know,” she replied warmly.
The pure relief I felt is indescribable. All that I had been feeling faded like the outro of my favorite song. I was finally able to be myself.
I often reflect back on that carefree day as a child in New York City. I had not (yet) been affected by traditional gender norms or what it would mean to be different. I was simply excited to buy a doll and share her with my classmates. My mother was equally as excited, she only wanted me to be happy. How different things could have been for me if there had been any open discussion about sexuality and breaking traditional gender norms. Having those conversations could have helped to foster understanding and acceptance for people like me.
How can I possibly conclude this essay? It’s hard to suggest what can be done to foster acceptance when I have only recently come to terms with my truth, and shared it with others. However, I do believe I can offer a pearl of wisdom based on my experiences in (what I found to be) traditional and confining school environments.
I believe elementary schools should be the first step in introducing the concepts of diversity and inclusion. This can be done through simple things, like sharing picture books and creating art projects that express differences. In middle school, a time when kids are beginning to understand themselves a bit more, it is crucial to allow them the space to discover who they are without imposing societal norms. This may be through class discussions which explore topics like identity and non-traditional gender roles. High schools have the opportunity to create safe spaces for students through clubs and special events. This may be helpful to people who are questioning their own identities or simply hoping to show support to their peers. The earlier these concepts are introduced, the less taboo they become, and the more we encourage overall understanding.
I understand the toll suppressing one’s sexuality and conforming to traditional gender norms takes, and I empathize with those who are not yet out. I hope that people, no matter their identity, acknowledge how much courage it takes to reveal one’s true self. I believe if schools counteract the beliefs that society has etched into our minds, perhaps others will not succumb to feelings of shame.
SAVVY DREAS: LEARNING THROUGH OUr DIFFERENCES (3rd place)
Throughout middle school, I attended several Mosaic conferences centered around diversity and understanding our intersecting identities. Before these events, I had never encountered the phrase “socio-economic status” or thought that a history class could have a bias. These meetings never failed to leave me with a whole new perspective on my life and the lives of those around me through meaningful conversations, silent activities, and deep listening.
Hundreds of kids came from schools all around Connecticut creating the most diverse group of people I had ever been surrounded by at that age. However, instead of feeling overwhelmed or uneasy like many people express in uncomfortable situations, I felt an immense sense of love and camaraderie. When people chose to share an experience the room fell silent with admiration and respect for the speaker. Everyone belonged and didn’t belong all at once.
I vividly remember one girl about my age sharing her experience of the way race shaped her identity in a predominantly white school. I had never considered the possibility that someone had to think about or change the way they acted to feel a sense of belonging in a community.
Growing up white, I never had to think about race or privilege. This idea was intensified when I participated in a privilege walk for the first time. A speaker called out prompts relating to a multitude of identities like family make-up or racial experiences and people stepped forward or backward depending on what they identified with. Acknowledging where I stood in contrast to my peers, I recognized my privilege for the first time. After this experience, I started reading a lot of books regarding the history of minorities and biographies about growing up as a minority whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or disability.
I wanted to better understand what I could do with my privilege. That’s when I discovered the term anti-racist. The idea that just being an ally isn’t enough, but that racism and discrimination in this world require active resistance, this understanding was reinforced when I attend SDLC during my freshman year.
Despite being over Zoom, I felt the same kind of love in the break rooms and meetings. One of the most groundbreaking things I learned that week was about the underlying racism of our history curriculums, specifically the map of the world.
At that point in my life, I was confident that this mage was fundamentally engrained in my brain, so nothing said about it would change much for me. that was until the speaker pulled up another map right next to it with completely different proportions.
I sat there totally confused. Those two images were both of the world, but the one I was not familiar with had Africa and Asia drawn as much larger parts of the picture. The speaker then explained that many textbooks skew maps to make the United States seem like the center of the world, when in reality it only takes up a small fraction of it. I could not comprehend the fact that something I had been taught and shown over and over again was inaccurate and more alarmingly, racist.
This moment sparked a change in me that led to several conversations with my head of school about the history curriculum and eventually directed me to the Tulsa Massacre. When I first heard about it, I was certain that it could not have happened in the United States. In my naive thinking, I could not fathom that one of the largest racial massacres in the world happened in Oklahoma, yet was not mentioned once in any American history course I had taken.
My grandmother at the time lived in Oklahoma and taught in high school. I brought up the Massacre to her, hoping I would find more insight but was shocked to learn that she had never even heard of it. I didn’t really understand how a group of people could be silenced or have their history erased until that moment. Although it was only one event it opened my eyes to so many of the other discrepancies and biases in our everyday lives, both conscious and unconscious. Events like these are part of the underlying causes of the racism and tension in our country today and it is through educating ourselves on the history of our privilege and the past that we can try to make a small step forward.
One of the biggest drivers of change needs to be the ability to listen to one another in an open-minded and inclusive space. While affinity groups are incredibly impo1tant for allowing people to communicate their shared experiences, we need spaces for people of all backgrounds to be involved in open dialogue around diversity. Most people are unaware of the daily struggles others face and without acknowledgment, there cannot be progress. One of the things I loved most about the diversity conferences is that I got to learn through my peers about what they experience and what I can be more aware of. Through this space, all students interested in diversity work can have thoughtful discussions about uncomfortable or stigmatized topics to foster growth and understanding in our communities.
From a school and town position, we need to reiterate the importance of diversity conferences and interactions with people different than ourselves. There need to be more school assemblies about identity and the way it shapes people’s lives. Private schools, specifically, tend to avoid those topics out of fear of offending someone. However, if we live in a place of fear instead of a place of growth nothing will improve. Designating assembly times for speakers of different backgrounds can be a critical step in developing a community of respect and understanding. Education should be at the forefront of reducing bias and fostering understanding within our own communities.
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From the 1950s through the ’70s, Staples High had a thriving American Field Service program.
Each year our school and community welcomed students from abroad, to live with host families. In return, we sent teenagers overseas to do the same. It was often a life-changing experience.
Tim Honey was one of those “exchange students.” In 1963, he was in South Africa. It was the height of apartheid; Nelson Mandela was trial for sabotage.
Sixty years later, Honey — a Staples football, basketball and baseball star — is still in touch with his roommate. He calls his time there “a great learning experience.”
When Mandela was elected president, Honey realized, “governance really matters. Under him, South Africa got it right.”
He has spent his life thinking about governance.
In 1962, Tim Honey (striped jacket) and fellow Staples High School students met the director of the World Health Organization, and presented a check their class raised for it. “We were idealistic and proud of the United Nations,” he said in this Facebook post during the early days of the pandemic.
After Cornell University, and a 5-month honeymoon in 1971 hitchhiking from East Africa to Cape Town, Honey worked with the National League of Cities. He earned a master’s in political science at Georgetown University, then spent 9 years in Portland, Maine as assistant and head city manager.
After a stint in Rhode Island directing the mortgage housing finance agency, he was appointed city manager of Boulder, Colorado.
Where Portland had been focused on economic development, Boulder was a hotbed of political ideas. There was advocacy on all sides of every issue.
His years there cemented Honey’s belief that — at all levels — “governance matters.”
And, he believes, city manager is an excellent way to govern.
The role of a city manager — a CEO or chief administrative officer, who serves in a mayor and council type of government — began in the Progressive Era of the 1890s to 1910s. Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson wanted to clean up the corruption of (usually Democratic) machine politics, by professionalizing the civil service in areas like hiring, firing and delivering services.
City managers are part of a well-run professional association, with a strong code of ethics.
“You don’t need to be a Democrat or a Republican to collect garbage correctly,” Honey notes.
Most big cities, and many medium-sized ones, had (and often still have) city managers.
Southern New England is an exception. About 30% of the municipalities here have a city manager, primarily in the central and northern part of the state.
Westport does not have a city manager. We’re run — as some New England towns still are — by a board of selectmen (or in our case now, selectwomen).
For over 100 years after our founding in 1835, Westport was governed by a traditional town meeting.
In 1949, voters approved a non-partisan Representative Town Meeting (RTM). That year, 124 Westporters ran for 26 seats. There are now 36 seats, 4 in each of 9 districts. Some elections have 5 or 6 candidates; some are uncontested.
Westport RTM members, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.
Six other towns in Connecticut still use the RTM form of government.
Most city councils have just 7 to 15 members, Honey says. That makes for a “much more manageable” legislative branch — and an effective working relationship between a city manager, mayor and council.
“Issues are so complex today, even on a local level,” Honey says.
Land use is one. Another is traffic: How do you tame it? How do you make a town or city more pedestrian-friendly? How do you comply with ADA requirements?
All of that, he says, takes professional work that a city manager is trained for.
As city manager in Boulder, he had a network of colleagues — in similar places like Palo Alto and Eugene, Oregon — that he could work with. They shared common problems, and offered each other advice.
Should Westport think about a city manager?
“My dad was on the RTM in the 1960s,” Honey says. “When he retired to Rhineback, New York, he was on the town council. He advocated for a city manager.
“He was unsuccessful. It’s a hard sell, to make a change like that. You need neighbor groups that don’t like the current system to come forward. They need to ask for more accountability, more innovation.”
Honey is no longer a city manager. After leaving Boulder in 1997, he worked for Sister Cities International as executive director.
In 2006 he and his wife sold their Washington home. They moved to Cape Town, South Africa. For 5 months they volunteered in a township soup kitchen, and on community projects. It was “one of the best things we ever did.”
They moved back to Maine, where he worked with the International City Management Association. He developed a program focusing on African cities, and the role that local government can play in impoverished communities.
He just returned from his 20th trip to the continent. It’s been 6 decades since his first visit, when as a teenage exchange student he learned about the importance of governance.
Now in his late 70s, Tim Honey is as passionate about governing as he ever was. He invites anyone who wants to learn more about the role of city managers to email him: Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Hat tips: Carl Addison Swanson and Tom Allen)
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Three finalists have been announced for the 10th annual TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest.
Tyler Darden (a Staples High School senior), Annie Dizon (Greens Farms Academy senior) and Savvy Dreas (GFA) will vie for the first prize of $1,000. Runners-up will receive $750 and $500, respectively.
The winner will be announced Tuesday (April 18, 6 p.m., Westport Library).
The contest is open to any students in grades 9-12 attending a school in Westport, or those who live in Westport and go to school elsewhere.
The prompt this year was: “The Dialogue Challenge: Effective Engagement on Race, Ethnicity, Religion and LGBTQIA+.” In 1,000 words or less, students were asked to “reflect on your own interactions with people who have different racial, ethnic, religious, and/or LGBTQIA+ identities and/or perspectives. What kinds of conversations were particularly helpful in prompting you to rethink your beliefs or opinions, perhaps causing you to change your mind or enabling you to better understand others’ points of view? Based on these experiences, what specific actions would you suggest that individuals, schools, and/or town entities in Westport take to promote good-faith dialogue, reduce bias, and foster understanding?”
Sustainable Westport celebrates Earth Day (Saturday, April 22, 8 to 11 a.m.) with a clean-up program at Wakeman Fields. It’s part of a town-wide program, sponsored by the Parks & Recreation Department.
Bags will be provided. Children are welcome.
And — as anyone who has been to Wakeman knows — there is plenty of trash to be picked up.
The Wakeman athletic field. You can’t see the garbage left by kids — and their parents — from here.
The Westport Rotary Club has been named the Most Outstanding Large Club (over 34 members) in District 7980.
The Charles W. Pettengill Award will be presented at the club’s Tuesday (April 18) meeting. Selectwomen Jen Tooker and Andrea Moore will honor Westport Rotary for their accomplishments in Fairfield County, and to Rotary worldwide.
Marianna (“Mollie) Oliver died recently, after a long illness. She was 98 years old.
A Westport resident for over 70 years, she worked as a translator, writer and editor for the United Nations and other international governmental organizations (IGOs) her entire professional life, until retiring in her 80s.
A native of Burnley in northwest England, she graduated with top honors (a “First”) in modern languages from Somerville College, Oxford in 1945.
She and Thomas Wood Oliver married in 1947. They moved to the US that year to work for the newly founded United Nations, first in Lake Success, Long Island and then in Manhattan following completion of UN headquarters.
Mollie worked full time as a translator of French and Spanish and later as an editor until some time after the birth of her 2 children in the early 1950s.
For the next 5 decades she was in much demand by the UN and other IGOs, including the UN’s Economic and Social Council, the Pan American Health Organization, and International Atomic Energy Agency, as both a translator and precis writer.
Mollie did these many jobs part-time, dividing the rest of her time between the family’s townhouse on the southern coast of Portugal, and the family home in Westport.
She became a member of the Westport Weston Community Theater soon after its founding in the 1950s. Over the next 6 decades she had many leading and supporting roles, including the early “The Lady’s Not for Burning.” Her final role was at the age of 90, in Agatha Christie’s “The Unexpected Guest.”
Mollie read avidly and widely, and was a keen gardener and birdwatcher, but first and foremost, her family says, “she was a loving wife, mother, and friend.”
She was predeceased by her husband of 48 years, Thomas Wood Oliver, in 1995, She is survived by her son Thomas Oliver of Westport and daughter Griselda Ann Oliver of Rockwall, Texas.
For generations, the Compo Beach jetties have attracted all ages, for all kinds of activities.
Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo shows 2 things to do there.
If anyone can write about youth sports, it’s Tommy Greenwald.
The Westport native captained Staples High School’s 1978 state championship soccer team. His son Joe followed in his footsteps, as a Wrecker soccer captain. Another son, Jack, captained the lacrosse squad and played football. A third son, Charlie, also played youth sports.
Plus, Greenwald is a writer.
He’s authored several young readers’ series: the “Charlie Joe Jackson” books (named for his kids), Crimebiters (think dogs), and sports stories aimed at 10-12-year-olds like “Game Changer” and “Dinged” (football) and “Rivals” (basketball).
Some of those books took on serious subjects, like injuries.
Now, with “The Ultimate Goal” — the first in a series called “The Good Sports League,” and published officially tomorrow — Greenwald aims at younger (7- to 10-year-old) readers.
He does it with a theme that should not be necessary for kids that age, but sadly is: Sports should be fun.
The quick synopsis: Ben loves soccer. He’s got a great team, with cool pre-game chants and halftime jokes. He and his friends invent dances after they score.
Ben is so good, he’s recruited away from his rec team by a more prestigious travel club. His new team plays well, but they take soccer super-seriously. No chants, no juice-box breaks, no dancing!
They win a lot. But, Ben wonders: Is that all that matters?
“This is very personal,” Greenwald says.
“Growing up, my team was a canary in a coal mine. We were one of the first to travel.” (Full disclosure: I coached that team for a couple of years, right after college.)
But, Greenwald adds, “I never remember pressure like kids feel today. They’re thinking about college from Day 1. A game turns into a job. There are premier teams, academy teams, showcase tournaments, identification camps …
“The ‘next prize’ is always in mind. And it starts at younger and younger ages.
“I just had a blast. That was enough.”
Greenwald saw the beginning stages with his own kids (now all out of college).
Now, he says, “the only way to have a carefree attitude is to play at the lowest level.”
“The Ultimate Goal” — a great title, working on several levels — is the first in a series of books about the joy of playing.
This fall, Greenwald will publish one about a softball player who loves to sing and dance. She’s just 10 years old, but already her coach is pressuring her to concentrate on her sport. And wouldn’t you know it: Opening night of the school play and the championship game are the same night! What will she do?
Tommy Greenwald had a happy time as a kid, playing sports.
He hears stories all the time, most recently from a friend’s son who felt pressure to give up lacrosse to concentrate on football.
“People used to look up to 3-sport athletes,” he says. (His wife Cathy Utz’s brother was a 3-sport captain at Staples.) “Then it happened in high school. Now the demand to focus on only one thing happens at a comically young age.”
The lack of fun and pressure to specialize are not the only youth sports issues Greenwald addresses. The third book in his “Good Sports League” series will appear next spring.
It’s about a young baseball player, whose father attacks umpires.
“Sadly, there’s an endless trove of story ideas,” Greenwald notes.
Is there a solution?
“I don’t know,” the author and self-described “lapsed athlete” says.
“It starts with awareness. I fully admit, I was a parent who lost perspective. I got wound up. I was upset if my kid’s team lost.
“Now I’m embarrassed. That was ridiculous. Why was I so wrapped up in what my kid’s team did?
“It’s almost like an addiction, or a cult. That was me?”
However, he adds, “I don’t envy parents. In a town full of A-listers, if your kid has talent, you feel like you owe it to him or her to maximize it — even if they don’t want to do it, or do it on your timetable.”
His job, he concludes, “is not to tell readers (or their parents) what to think. It’s just to encourage them to think, have conversations, ask questions.”
Game on! Play ball!
(For more information, and to order “The Good Sports League: The Ultimate Goal,” click here.)
(“06880” sparks conversations on all aspects of Westport life. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)
If it’s Easter, it’s time for the Easter Egg Tree.
Staples High School Class of 1971 graduate Jalna Jaeger has once again decorated her Norwalk property with hundreds of colorful eggs.
She invites everyone to drive by and enjoy her work. It’s at #3 East Avenue. Head past Stew Leonard’s; go down the hill, then take a right at the first light.
Jalna Jaeger’s Easter Egg Tree.
Speaking of Easter: Jolantha — Weston’s favorite pig — is all dressed up for the (bunny-themed) holiday.
The Manna Toast logo still hangs over 29 Church Lane.
But a new restaurant is coming soon — “spring/summer,” the sign says — offering “Authentic Israeli” food.
I wish I could tell you more. But I followed the links on the sign for The Blondinit. There are no posts on either Facebook or Instagram.
And the website brings up a “Get this Domain” message, from GoDaddy.
Hey, Blondinit: Get your domain now.
Before someone from Layla’s Falafel does.
Westport was first. Easton followed.
Now Stamford has a Ukrainian sister city too.
In a ceremony Thursday, bonds were formalized with Kramatorsk. Of similar size, both are commercial and transportation centers. Fittingly, the ceremony was held at the Stamford train station. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Jim Himes were there.
The connection was made by Brian Mayer. The Westport native — who founded Ukraine Aid International, the non-profit that coordinates donations and support — was interviewed by News12. Click here for that video, which includes a mention of our town’s relationship with Lyman.
Suniya Luthar — who died in February at 64, after 2 years of health difficulties — was not a Westporter.
But the Columbia University professor emerita of psychology and education had an important impact on our community.
For a number of years, she led a longitudinal study on youth and resilience here. She chose Westport because of its high number of high-achieving professionals, and the emphasis on status and achievement.
One of her first discoveries was that “substance use, depression and anxiety, particularly among the (affluent) girls, were much higher than among inner-city kids.”
Dr. Luthar’s research led her to conclude that children of privilege are an “at-risk” group. “What we are finding again and again, in upper-middle-class school districts, is the proportion who are struggling are significantly higher than in normative samples,” Luthar said.
“It is an endless cycle, starting from kindergarten. The difficulty is that you have these enrichment activities. It is almost as if, if you have the opportunity, you must avail yourself of it. The pressure is enormous.”
Luthar was a distinguished developmental and clinical psychologist and internationally renowned scholar in resilience research. Her Westport work was part of a career focused on understanding resilience among diverse at-risk groups, and applying insights in prevention.
If you were among the thousands of attendees, you know it rocked the Westport Library last weekend.
If you weren’t — or you missed part of it — you can “check out” (weak library reference) the 9 panels, workshops and lectures. They ranged from beats and grooves, to the business of music, rock photography, and style. Click here for full videos of all.
And for a quick rap — er, “wrap” — video, see below:
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