Category Archives: Teenagers

Roundup: New Multi-Unit Housing, Daylight Savings, Staples Art …

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An application to convert the former Men’s Warehouse store to a 14-unit multi-family building awaits review by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Department staff.

The 950 Post Road East property sits between the (now closed) Bank of America branch, and the (also closed) Subway shop.

It’s a 2-story building. The first floor is below the main one, behind the parking lot.

The former Men’s Wearhouse property.

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Wakeman Town Farm is “egg-cited” to announce the return of “Egg-stravaganza.” Their traditional celebration of bunny, family fun is set for Saturday, April 3 (9 to 10:30 a.m.).

The egg hunt begins at 9;15 (bring your own basket!). Eggs can be turned in for a special treat bag from BD Provisions.

There’s also an egg roll and egg toss (with prizes), story time, photos with “Big Bunnies,” and animal visits (including the furry alpaca). Grownups get coffee.

First-come, first-served tickets are $10 per child or adult (free for anyone younger than 1). Click here to register.

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Don’t forget: Tonight is the night to set clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time.

Sure, we lose an hour of sleep. But that added hour of sunlight is worth it!

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Thursday’s “Roundup” featured a photo of exterior painting at 19 Soundview Drive — right next to a “Demolition” sign.

Today, the house was fully painted. And the sign was gone.

A worker said it will not be knocked down soon. Word on the street drive is that it may be cleaned up for a summer rental. Stay tuned, though: It might be knocked down this fall.

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Everyone says it, but last night — right in front of Joe’s Pizza — we had proof:

Westport’s gone nuts.

(Photo/Jeff Gray)

Six Staples High School students have earned Scholastic Connecticut Regional Arts Awards recognitions. The 98-year-old nationwide program includes a juried exhibition.

Congratulations to Silver Key winners Poppy Livingstone (painting) and Akira Maidique (digital art). Honorable Mention recipients include Kate Davitt and Nate Kolek (drawing and illustration), Matthew Genser (photography) and Alexandra Lam (painting).

Click here for the virtual exhibition.

A collage of the Staples artists’ work.

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Weston Center has been a bit lonely since Peter’s Market closed in January.

Residents were heartened recently to see these signs.

No word on timing. But it’s a start. (Hat tip: Hanna and Conor O’Byrne)

(Photo courtesy of Libby Cailen, “Parents of Weston, CT” Facebook group)

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Is there any holiday that Winslow Park Animal Hospital doesn’t celebrate?

The popular Post Road clinic is sure ready for Wednesday.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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Hot on the “heels” of news about The Joggers Club’s Junior running group, they announce for adults too.

The Joggers Club meets every Saturday at 8 a.m., at Compo Beach. Runs are designed to satisfy everyone.

You don’t even have to know how to run. Just get outside, and put one foot in front of the other.

Every week brings a different course. After each run, there’s coffee and Village Bagels treats, for a nice social hour

Click here, or follow The Joggers Club on Facebook or Strava. A year’s membership is just $50, and includes a cool customized running tank designed by Fleet Feet.

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And finally … happy 82nd birthday to former teen idol (and former Westporter) Neil Sedaka!

 

 

“Mr. Trick Shot” Hoops It Up

I’ve never started an “06880” story with a video before.

Then again, before this week I’d never interviewed Christopher Dobransky.

Westport is filled with folks doing interesting things. But no one may be having more fun at it than this energetic phys. ed. teacher.

His students love him. So do millions of people around the world. They see his “Mr. Trick Shot” videos on social media. They’ve watched him on ESPN. They might have caught him with the Harlem Globetrotters, at Madison Square Garden.

It’s a long way from Yonkers, where he grew up. He did not play varsity basketball in high school — he got a job to pay for a car instead — but he was on an intramural team. While earning his BA (Iona College) and master’s (Manhattanville), he and his friends enjoyed open gym nights.

That was the extent of his court experience, when he was hired by a New York high school.

Basketball is a city game. “All you need is a ball and a hoop,” Dobransky notes. He challenged students to games of Horse — and always won. (He gave them rewards like free periods anyway.)

He also entertained them with crazy shots. “I was always good at them,” he says modestly.

First, Dobransky explains, he visualizes a shot in his head. He considers the spin and speed of the ball, and the angle of the bounce. If he misses, he adjusts.

“It’s all about consistency,” Dobransky says.

Clearly though, he inhabits a world the rest of us don’t. While it took him a full gym period to master his drop kick off the wall, others take 1 to 10 tries. “Twenty, max,” he says. “It’s really just physics.”

He and his wife Joanna — a 5th grade teacher in New Canaan — had always liked Westport. They found a house they could afford after the 2007 stock market crash.

“It’s a great town,” Dobransky says. “The restaurants, the schools — we love it.”

Three years ago he was hired by Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven. A student teacher told Dobransky he should tape his trick shots, and put them on the internet.

Swish!

USA Today did a story on him. A marketing company bought the rights to make compilation tapes. Within 3 days, he had 500,000 views.

“Mr. Trick Shot” grew from there. Students — inspired by their suddenly famous teacher — gave him ideas for new tricks. He rewarded their ideas (and good behavior) by including them in his videos.

CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News — they all called. It was a feel-good story.

And though Dobransky feels great, he keeps coming back to his students.

“I don’t think I’m doing anything special,” he says. “The cool thing is the kids’ reactions.”

They react with awe. Their favorites are his selfies, when he holds his phone and records himself shooting backwards.

Dobransky was offered a half-time spot during last spring’s NCAA March Madness. COVID squashed that.

But so far, nothing compares to the surprise invitation from the Globetrotters to perform at the Garden and Westchester County Center.

“That’s every kid’s dream,” Dobransky says. “I got the jersey, everything. The top 3 days of my life were my marriage, the birth of my kid, and playing with the Globetrotters.”

The ranking changes, he admits, “depending on if my wife is around when someone asks.”

Chris Dobransky: honorary Harlem Globetrotter.

Dobransky is an international sensation — he’s particularly big in Europe and Asia — but he’s a hometown hero too.

When he applied for work as a one-on-one trainer at the Westport Weston Family YMCA, they knew who he was. Kids love challenging him.

The Y is his 3rd home — after his home and the gym. He also works in the fitness center on Sundays, and getting certified as a personal trainer.

Dobransky’s trick-shot talents entertain viewers. They bring smiles to our faces.

But they serve a larger purpose too.

“Kids see me, and they learn that anything is possible if you try hard enough,” he says.

“And when they’re in the gym together — every race, every religion, every type of kid — they always get excited. It’s pretty cool to bring everyone together like that.”

(Follow Christopher Dobransky on Instagram: @mistertrickshot. Hat tip: David Meth)

Christopher Dobransky and friend. When the New York City high school gym was ruined during Hurricane Sandy, the NBA paid for repairs. LeBron James, Steph Curry and commissioner Adam Silver attended the rededication ceremony. “Mr. Trick Shot” did not perform — but the NBA stars would have been impressed!

“Food In Literature”: Staples’ Most Tasteful Course

COVID ‘s impact on schools is broad and deep. The challenge for every educator is immense.

It’s hard enough teaching math or social studies to half a class via Zoom. But what about a hands-on course like Culinary?

And how do you cope when a collaborative course you’ve honed with a colleague in another department no longer fits the new schedule?

Those are the challenge facing chef Cecily Gans and English instructor Kim Herzog. Their popular “Food in Literature” class no longer meets for long, back-to-back, discussion-and-cooking sessions. Half the students are not even in the well-appointed Staples High School kitchen.

Despite the obstacles, the teachers have cooked up something special.

An artfully designed plate, cooked and created by a “Food in Literature” student.

The semester-long course is intense and demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

Herzog and Gans adapted the curriculum together. They balance the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep each day fresh and challenging.

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

Shrimp fra diavolo.

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

Many select foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others choose vegan or paleo diets — even desserts.

They read core texts and food memoirs. They write about their own memories and associations. Then they cook those dishes.

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

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

One of the first assignments: study your family’s refrigerator — then write about it.

Gans gives the teenagers plenty of credit for managing the many elements of the class. They all cook — though with social distancing, the usual complex choreography of a kitchen is even more difficult. “We are dancers,” she says.

But distance learning has its benefits. With time at home, students have learned to understand their families better, and celebrate their heritage.

Gans sees this in the stories they write about the role of food in their lives. She’s always believed that food brings people closer together. Now she has proof.

The chef encourages all students — novices and moderately experienced alike — to cook often at home. They’ve taken that to heart.

“This is a unique time in all of our lives,” Gans says. Documenting those memories — in part through food — helps everyone get through it.

A “food pyramid” exercise helps students think about the role food plays in their lives.

Herzog misses the chance to work personally with Gans. Together, they’ve watched students grow as cooks and writers. Now, the gap is bridged mostly by the blogs each student maintains.

She misses too the chance to get to know each teenager’s “voices and styles” as they work communally in the kitchen — and of course the chance to share the fruits of their labor, together at the table.

But they’ve feasted on the work their first semester students accomplished. Many of them have made their websites available to the public.

The writing is insightful. Some is pandemic related: food as a remedy during tough times, celebrating an 18th birthday in isolation by making Bundt cake; what happens to a refrigerator when a family member quarantines.

But there is plenty that is timeless: cooking with the senses; food waste; rising early to bake; Cajun turkey on Thanksgiving; using food to overcome shyness; the dilemma of a picky eater; the joy of ramen noodles when you’re sick.

Click below to read the Staples students’ blogs, food journals and recipes. Bon appétit!

Ben: A Little Taste of Home in Every Bite
Avery: Picky Eaters Guide: Vegan Cooking
Richard: The Comfort of Winter
Ty: Magellan
Nicole: Buon Cibo Italiano
Justin: Scorching Hot
JJ: Breakfast for Kings
Anooshka: Biryani N’ More
Lina: A Taste of the Mediterranean

“Know A Good Therapist?” Lauren Barnett Does.

COVID has exacerbated the American mental health crisis. But when people seek help — for their children or themselves — it’s tough to find the right person. Often, the defaults are Google (“therapist near me”) or Facebook (“Does anyone know a therapist? Asking for a friend”).

Of course, there are plenty of professionals. Sometimes, too many: psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, you name it.

Many are excellent at what they do. But they are not businesspeople. They do not have websites — or if they do, they don’t include a lengthy bio, including education, specialty, technique and treatment philosophy.

How can a potential patient find a therapist. And how can a therapist get his or her name in front of people needing help?

Well, click on Family Consultants of Westport.

Lauren Barnett

The site is the brainchild of Lauren Barnett. A Westchester native who “escaped” Florida 12 years ago when her husband’s work brought him to the area, she had a brainstorm last year.

Lauren spent 25 years in the mental health field. She was a middle school guidance counselor (“I love kids that age!”) and the director of a Berkshires girls summer camp.

She watched with concern as the emotional and psychological needs of youngsters grew — particularly in the last 5 years. She has 2 teenagers of her own.

“People are drowning,” she says. “They don’t know how to get the right help for their kids, or themselves.”

The mental health landscape is vast. Which means it’s intimidating to navigate — particularly during tough times.

Besides Google and Facebook, people can ask pediatricians and guidance counselors. Lauren is a “huge advocate” of their help. But, she notes, “they jump through so many hoops to meet the needs of kids with issues. They don’t have the time to vet everyone who’s out there, or match the right therapist with what a certain kid needs.”

Which is where she comes in.

Lauren curates a list of people who can help. It includes not just psychologists, psychiatrists and trained therapists, as well as recovery specialists, nutritional counselors, educational consultants and more. They address a broad range of behavioral, social and psychological concerns.

When she speaks to a client, she determines the type of help needed — and the type of personality that’s the best fit.

She uses herself as an example. “I might be drawn to someone boisterous, or with a sense of humor. But that might turn off someone else.”

Lauren makes 3 matches. She tells those 3 professionals to expect a call. Then she tells her client to call all 3, and make the decision that feels right.

“I do the legwork. I make the calls, so they can get help when they need it,” she explains.

Lauren has approximately 25 categories of professionals, with 25 or so names in each.

She speaks with new clinicians every day. They appreciate her service as much as clients.

Her initial interview takes about an hour. She learns about their background and training, and assesses their personality.

Lauren Barnett, with her family.

As they talk, they often mention the names of others. “She’s great with younger adolescents,” the might say. Or “he’s really good with social anxiety.”

“I want a broad network,” Lauren notes. “Therapy is not ‘one size fits all.’ You need the right fit for personality, approach and comfort level.”

Family Consultants of Westport is not just for parents needing help with their children. One client was “paralyzed” by her daughter’s issues. After finding Lauren, she realized she needed help too.

Lauren describes herself as “a sounding board, a point person, home base. I’m where you start, right at the beginning. The last thing you need is to waste hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars, with the wrong therapist.”

(Click here for the Family Consultants of Westport website.)

Roundup: Vaccine, Leah Rondon, Rotary $$ …

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The latest COVID news, via Kerry Foley and Facebook’s “Westport Coronavirus Info” page:

  • “Tens of thousands” of additional doses should be added to the system this week. That means appointment slots will open up soon.
  • If you have a vaccine appointment in  April May or June, you should be able to get an earlier date in the next 3 weeks. If you do get an earlier date, cancel your later appointment.
  • The state is on target to open appointments to the 45 to 54 age group on March 22.

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For several years, a Birthday Bash in honor of Leah Rondon raised money for several scholarships. It honored the 6-year-old daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon, who was killed when struck by a car while playing at a friend’s house.

COVID canceled the most recent event. But the show goes on — literally.

This Saturday (March 6, 6 p.m.), a cabaret with young performers from around the globe will be livestreamed on Triple Threat Academy‘s Facebook and YouTube pages. Triple Threat founder/noted “Fame” actress/Staples High School grad Cynthia Gibb co-hosts, with Leah’s mom Colleen.

Performers – most of whom train with Triple Threat in Westport and Hollywood — include Makayla Joy Connolly of Broadway’s “Harry Potter,” and Westport’s own Jamie Mann, of Netflix’s new show “Country  Comfort.”

Leah’s brother Sam joins on sax, Cooper Sadler tears it up at the Levitt Pavilion, and Sophie Walther sings her heart out from the UK.

The family-friendly benefit relies on donations from viewers and supporters. Click here for the link; click for the livestream via Triple Threat’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages.

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It’s been a tough year for non-profits. In-person fundraising has suffered, while demands for their services has spiked.

But thanks to one organization, another can continue its work.

Westport Rotary Club recently donated $1,075 to Homes with Hope. The funds will provide transportation for children living in supportive housing to HwH’s After School Academic Program, where they receive food, tutoring and mentoring. It’s especially important with the rise in online learning, and the widening academic gap for children without a parent to assist them.

Westport Rotary will distribute all of the funds donated by the community to its 2020 LobsterFest Charitable Giving fundraiser. More grant recipients will be announced soon.

Rotary meetings now held virtually 3 Tuesdays a month (12:30 to 1:30 p.m.). For more information, click here.

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March is Women’s History Month. For 25 years, Winged Monkey has been a woman-owned Westport business.

To celebrate both the month and their 25th anniversary, the popular Post Road East shop is offering — yes — 25% sales. There are other promotions all month long too.

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And finally … 3 big birthdays today. They represent a wide range of genres.

Karen Carpenter was born March 2, 1950. She died in 1983.

Jon Bon Jovi was born today in 1962.

And happy 50th birthday to Method Man.

Remote Learning: The View From A Staples Student’s Screen

Whatever it’s called — distance learning, remote education, Zoom school — the experience of students today is unlike anything, anywhere, in history.

What’s it like to study — and live — in the Age of COVID? Staples High School junior Jason Stein reports: 

For nearly a year, high school students have lived in an apocalyptic world. Since September Staples has been split into 2 cohorts. We were in school only 2 days a week. That meant being on our computers for over 18 hours a week, with little interaction with our peers.

Starting tomorrow there are 4 cohorts, meaning 3 in-school days a week. The other 2 will be remote.

Among many challenges in high school, both social and academic, the computer screen continues to be my biggest.

Jason Stein

School, homework, even extracurricular activities require the use of computers. Avoiding screens seems fantastical. Every day I spend at least 8 hours on my computer: 6 for school, at least 2 hours for homework and other responsibilities.

This has taken a toll on me both physically and mentally. Ironically, teachers have no choice but to assign us hours of homework while still saying “make sure you get outside” before class ends.

However, with the large chunk of free time remote learning has given me, I have successfully reduced my screen time by exploring new hobbies I would otherwise not have time to do. Since the pandemic began I learned to cook pastries, meals and snacks. From fried rice to cinnamon buns, expanding my cooking portfolio helped me learn new skills away from the digital world.

Our screens have not only absorbed our day-to-day lives; they have acted as barriers between us and our social lives. Although the hybrid model allows students to be in school part of the week, the social experience is dismal. With everyone spread apart in the classroom and at the lunch table, making friends is difficult. Additionally, due to the hybrid schedule, students are limited in our already impaired social lives to only 50% of students.

With mixed feelings about social distancing and masks, meeting friends outside of school can also be tricky. Nevertheless, technology can be a bridge in socialization when interaction with peers seems non-existent. Apps such as Discord have helped my friends and me cope through the pandemic by providing a place to casually chat and catch up. Even fun party games, like online Pictionary and trivia, have helped me maintain my social life by creating a friendly way to meet new people online.

The same tools that Staples students use for school and extracurriculars (like this “We the People” prep session can also help maintain social lives.

Contrarily, online tools can be limiting, especially in keeping students’ engagement during class.

On Zoom teachers use a variety of methods to try to engage their students. The most popular are breakout rooms. In smaller groups, teachers hope students can experience the same one-to-one discussions that occur in a normal classroom setting.

Although this method can be somewhat successful, it falls short on multiple aspects. In the absence of constant teacher supervision, breakout rooms can counterintuitively create quiet and sometimes awkward spaces where students are unproductive.

A typical school day for Jason Stein.

Another Zoom tool teachers use is the chat box, a way they can ask material-based questions that don’t require students to speak out loud to the class. This can be beneficial by allowing students to talk to the teacher more privately. The other side of this, however, is that class conversations are less open and engaging.

These problems not only exist within the classroom, but also in clubs and extracurriculars.

As a founder of the Staples chess team, I struggled with how to keep club members engaged. With participation dwindling and the annual club fair cancelled, my co-founder and I were anxious to find a way to retain normalcy within our club.

A pre-COVID meeting of the Staples Chess Club.

Through online resources, we figured out how to host online chess tournaments. We now have friendly competitions within our club, and even plan online tournaments with nearby high school chess teams.

Disregarding the many negative effects remote learning has had on Staples students, many benefits make the high school experience less stressful. The absence of commuting allows students to sleep in late. Private Zoom calls make after-school help more accessible.

Even with these benefits, the Staples High School experience has been lacking in many ways. After all, technology is just a tool. Without the conventional teacher-to-student classroom setting, Zoom cannot reproduce the same motivation to students within their homes.

As we strive for pre-Covid conditions, all I can do is hope that with time, I will be able to have a normal high school experience again.

 

Roundup: Kids’ Grief, Senate Parliamentarian, More

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Kids are resilient.

We say that a lot. Partly, it’s true. Partly, we want to believe it.

But COVID has caused grief for many youngsters. They’ve lost relatives. They fear others may suffer and die. They’ve lost so much of their own normal lives. And there’s so much uncertainty, day after day after day.

Experience Camps knows a lot about grief. The national, no-cost program for grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver runs great summer camps for children and teens.

When the coronavirus derailed last year’s programs, they focused instead on raising awareness of the many facets of childhood grief.

A key part of that effort is a Zoom panel discussion next Tuesday (March 2, 2 p..m.). Experts from a variety of perspectives will discuss “How the Pandemic of Grief is Impacting Kids.”

Experience Camps founder Sara Deren says the audience is “anyone and everyone. Everyone is grieving now. This is not just for professionals. If you have or know kids, it’s important to understand COVID’s impact on them.”

Click here to register, and for more information.

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There’s always a Westport connection to national news.

When the US Senate parliamentarian ruled against yesterday that raising the minimum wage to $15 violated budgetary rules limiting what can be included in the legislation, at least 2 “06880” readers wondered: Who exactly is this parliamentarian.

Google (and Wikipedia) provided the answer: She is Elizabeth MacDonough. And although she grew up near Washington, DC, she graduated from Greens Farms Academy in 1984.

The New York Times reports that MacDonough — the first woman in the post — has “retained both the position and bipartisan respect under the leadership of both parties since she was named in 2012.”

Not much else is known about her local ties. If you’ve got more — or her remember her from GFA — click “Comments” below. (Hat tip: Clark Thiemann)

Elizabeth MacDonough:  (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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One of the town’s most important — and least publicized — honors is the James S. Bacharach Service to the Community Award.

Presented annually for the last 32 years by the Westport Youth Commission to one or more high school seniors who live in or attend school in town, it recognizes significant service to Westport. Bacharach founded and served as president of the Youth Adult Council. He was also deeply involved in the organization that is now Homes with Hope.

Any Westporter — adult or student — can nominate a high school senior. Nominees should have a strong record of community service within Westport. Click here for a nomination form.

Submissions must be accompanied by 2 references. A maximum of 2 letters of support can be uploaded to the application or emailed separately to kgodburn@westportct.gov. The deadline is March 26.

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Last night’s nearly full moon was big.

But not as big as it was as seen through the Westport Astronomical Society’s telescope, at Rolnick Observatory.

Franco Fellah sends along this shot, and points out the prominence of the Tycho impact crater on the right.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

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And finally … there are some red-letter birthdays today. Johnny Cash was born February 25, 1932. He died in 2003.

Fats Domino was born on this date in 1928. He died in 2017.

And of course Victor Hugo, born today in 1802. He died in 1885.

“Little Women”: Big Players’ Radio Show

Who doesn’t love Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — the “Little Women” of Louisa May Alcott’s bestseller?

Now you — and the next generation of fans — can love them the new old-fashioned way: through Staples Players’ radio theater.

The high school’s groundbreaking drama troupe performs “Little Women” this Sunday (February 28, 6 p.m.). It’s free via livestream, at www.wwptfm.org.

The musical is followed immediately by a repeat airing of Players’ previous radio drama, the riveting 23-minute thriller “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

The “Little Women” cast. Front row (left to right): Claire Baylis, Samantha Webster, Maizy Boosin, Chloe Manna, Lulu Dalzell. Rear: David Corro, Alex Watzman, Colin Konstanty, Anushka Rao, Lene Pantzos, Camille Foisie. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“(Co-director David Roth) and I both love Little Women,” says co-director Kerry Long.

“It’s such a warm, feel-good story. But it also has some wonderful characters that were really contemporary before their day. We are so pleased that the success of the recent movie version made this story popular with our students; they love exploring these characters.”

She notes that though many people are familiar with both the book and the movie, no one has heard “Little Women” on the radio.

Roth appreciates that the show explores themes of familial loyalty, at a time of increased family togetherness.

Senior Samantha Webster (Jo) says, “The March family sticks together through hardship and personal exploration. The siblings go off at times to find their own passions and create their own lives, but they are always connected to home. It really demonstrates the strength of familial love and the bond it creates. I also think it is such a beloved story because the relationships as they are portrayed in the script feel very genuine.”

Webster relishes playing Jo. “She is such a classic character that she has been interpreted and re-interpreted a thousand times. It’s been fun discovering how her attitude fits within my own and creating the character from my perspective. She has a wonderful strength and boldness, and I understand how that leads her to sometimes be stubborn and impulsive. I’ve tried to pay particular attention to both her strengths and faults as both are fairly integral to how Jo behaves.”

Samantha Webster and Colin Konstanty rehearse. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Senior Claire Baylis describes her character, Meg, as a fun role to play because of the many complex layers hidden beneath the surface of her personality. “On the surface, she is the responsible older sister who never takes risks and strives to live a very normal life, but at her core, she loves passionately, fights for her family and loved ones, and sacrifices her childhood so that she can take care of her younger sisters. Her role is challenging in particular because on top of all that, she narrates the entire show. I think audiences will love how relatable each character is, no matter which they identify with. It is a beautiful story about life and what really matters when living it.”

Junior Colin Konstanty, who plays Laurie, says he has “a very interesting personality, which comes out a lot when he’s younger and changes as the play goes on. Because this play takes place over many years, it was tough early on to figure out how Laurie changes and grows as a person. He is also a very complex person and there’s so much to explore. It is a role I will always remember.”

“‘Little Women’ is a wonderful show that people of all ages can relate to. Although it takes place in the 19th century, it has many themes and valuable lessons that are relevant to society today.”

(The run time for “Little Women” is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Music director is Don Rickenback. Click here for the livestream link.)

 

Craig Bergamo: Westport Kids’ Best PAL

Craig Bergamo has quite a back story.

He grew up “everywhere,” he says — in and out of shelters. He and his brother were shuttled from place to place.

When Bergamo was 17, his parents died. He wanted to join the military, but for his brother to keep Section 8 housing, Bergamo had to live there as his dependent.

During tough times, police officers had always been nice to Bergamo. He looked up to them. To give back, he studied criminology in college.

Craig Bergamo

In 2006 — just 22 years old — he was hired by the Westport Police Department. His duties include overseeing the car seat program, motorcycle instructor and field training.

Bergamo won the Medal of Valor, for his actions in the Westport force’s first shooting in 30 years.

He also earned a Community Service Award for his fundraising with LivFree, a pediatric cancer support group.

Giving back is a key part of who Bergamo is. He coached in Norwalk’s Pop Warner football program for 6 years.

Early in his Westport police career, PAL athletic director Carmen Roda suggested he get involved with the local program. He became head football coach for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, then volunteered as secretary and vice president.

Now he’s in charge of the entire Westport PAL.

Earlier this month, Bergamo succeeded Ned Batlin as president.

It’s a big job. PAL serves thousands of youngsters through football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, rugby, track and cheerleading programs.

PAL also runs a robust scholarship program, the ice skating rink at Longshore — and Westport’s annual Independence Day fireworks.

Plenty of (pre-COVID) action at the PAL Rink at Longshore.

“This is an amazing organization,” Bergamo says. “The motto is ‘All about the kids and community.’ It’s safe and friendly. There are not many Police Athletic Leagues still out there. But ours is going strong.”

Bergamo is already planning new fundraising efforts — like a car show, digital events, perhaps a gala “when things are normal.”

Wrestling is one of Westport PAL’s many programs.

For someone who grew up in shelters, and lost his parents as a teenager, offering hope and activities to youngsters is crucial. In addition to his PAL efforts, he coaches his daughters in softball.

“When I see 3rd graders I coached move up to high school, and then graduate. I get chills,” Bergamo says. “I’ve had great interactions with them, and their parents. That’s what PAL is all about.”

(To learn more about Westport PAL — and participate in the See’s Candy Shop fundraiser — click here.)

Scarice: More Staples Students Return To School; Attendance, Social Gathering Updates

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this email to Westport families yesterday:

As we round into our February vacation I would like to provide the school community with some updates.

Elementary Schools Update
Our elementary schools began to welcome back students for full time in-person instruction on January 28.

Our faculty, staff and administrators have done an outstanding job in safely and successfully bringing our students back. It is not the classroom of last year. This is a primary drawback.

Yet, the environment is most welcoming and positive based on the outstanding professionals in our schools. Additionally, the full instructional model, within limits based on our mitigating measures, can be fully implemented.

We will continue to make changes and modifications along the way, but it is certainly safe to say that we have successfully kicked off the second half of the year, and this success can be attributed to the teachers, leaders and support staff in our schools.

Middle School Learning Model
We have also had a very successful start to the full reopening of Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools.

The first phase of this model included all students attending full days, four days a week, with a half remote day on Wednesdays. This phase will continue going forward and will be revisited in approximately 4-6 weeks.

There continues to be approximately 10% of our students engaged in full distance learning at the middle schools. These Wednesdays are invaluable for the planning and preparation teachers need to keep these students on pace for the current school year.

In addition, due to the need to provide appropriate supervision of students at arrival and dismissal (i.e. enforce COVID rules, prevent congregating, etc.) we have encroached on the time that is reserved for teachers before and after school, and as a result we moved some required professional meetings to Wednesdays.  For these reasons the current phase including half remote days on Wednesdays will continue at the middle schools for the time being.

Staples Learning Model Update
As mentioned in a previous message, there has been an effort to increase on-site learning for students at Staples High School, particularly after a successful start to full on-site schooling at the elementary and middle school levels.

The first phase of this effort will begin March 1. Although Staples Principal Stafford Thomas is sharing details to the Staples community regarding the calendar and schedule as it relates to individual students, I would like to make the entire Westport school community aware of the overall plan.

This next phase learning model for March is intended to increase on-site attendance to a 75% capacity.  All students will attend Staples three full days a week while a distance learning option remains available.

As spring nears, 75% of Staples students will return to campus. (Photo/Jennifer Kobetitsch)

The current Staples model is designed to instruct 50% of the student body through an A/B cohort model (i.e. cohort A and cohort B each attend on-site two days a week, Monday/Tuesday for cohort A and Thursday/Friday for cohort B with Wednesday serving as a half remote day).

The 75% capacity model will recategorize students from the current two cohorts (A, B) to four cohorts (A, B, C, D). Each day three of the four cohorts will attend at a time, thus 75%. Wednesday will remain a half remote day.

I will continue to review each change on a 4-6 week basis. If this model is successful and if indicators continue to stabilize, there will be the introduction of the next phase of increasing access to on-site schooling at Staples.

Attendance:  Absent but Present Online (APO)
In my last message I mentioned the challenge facing our teachers as secondary students invoke the “absent but present online” attendance option. In short, the abuse of this provision has been significantly disruptive to the learning environment to all students.

In response, clearer guidelines will be shared by the middle and high school principals for implementation beginning February 22. Choosing to attend class remotely when a student is an “in-person” learner will not be an option unless there is a verified medical reason. More information will be forthcoming. It is critical that parents support our efforts in this regard so that we can continue to successfully implement full in-person learning models.

Travel and Social Gatherings
Travel guidance was sent to parents in a separate message today. Quarantining after travel, or obtaining a negative COVID test, remains in effect.

However, another rule that remains in effect is the cap of 10 people for private social gatherings. We have experienced very few positive COVID cases as a result of travelling. In fact, many can be traced to social gatherings.

No more than 10 people should gather together, according to current guidelines.

As the infection rates drop, and hopefully continues, it is essential that parents, students and all Westport Public Schools staff do their part to avoid social gatherings for the time being. This will go a long way in minimizing opportunities for the virus to enter our schools so that we can continue to remain fully opened at the K-8 level, with increased access at Staples.

Although threats remain, the faint light at the end of the tunnel continues to brighten. Vaccines are coming, days are getting longer (and eventually will get warmer), infection rates continue to drop, and we continue to welcome more students to our schools on a regular basis.

I hope that each of you stay safe and enjoy the February vacation.