Say “Thank You.” Please.

It’s a big, important — and time-consuming — part of a Staples guidance counselor’s job: writing college recommendations.

With 45 to 55 seniors a year — and each one taking 30 minutes to 2 hours to compose, based on feedback from the student, teachers, coaches, music and drama directors, community members and others — that’s a lot of work.

Because their school days are full, counselors often write recommendations on their own time, at home.

However, writing college recs is not part of a Staples teacher’s (or coach’s, or other staff member’s)  job description.

Officially, that is.

But students often ask. And — because their job is helping teenagers succeed — those teachers often oblige.

On their own time.

The most popular teachers are asked to write dozens of recommendations (and other references — for scholarships, summer programs, etc.) — a year.

You’d think that students would show their thanks with a note — or at least a heartfelt email.

You’d also think that students would eagerly share their acceptances — and final college decisions — with the folks who played at least a tiny role in helping them get in.

Some do.

But nowhere near as many as you think.

Victoria Capozzi

Victoria Capozzi — a longtime Staples guidance counselor, who like her colleagues works hard to craft every recommendation to each student’s personality, accomplishments and goals — talked recently about the ins and outs, ups and downs, rewards and disappointments of college rec writing.

“Kids may not realize, but adults are truly invested in them, throughout the entire process,” she said.

“The teenage brain doesn’t see it that way. They just see it as a checklist item on their college application.”

Once a student completes the application, Capozzi explained, “the teenage brain shuts down. It’s done.”

It’s important, she noted, for adults to remind students of the importance of “a gracious thank-you.” Email is “the minimum.” The best option is a handwritten note, delivered in person.

Those are “old school values,” Capozzi admitted. But they exist for a reason.

She showed an example of a great note. It meant so much, she stuck it on her file cabinet.

But a thank-you like that is rare. Capozzi had 48 seniors this year — young men and women she started with as freshmen. Only 8 wrote notes.

“I don’t need accolades,” Capozzi stressed. “I’m their counselor. I know where they’re going. But teachers pour their hearts and souls into their letters. It’s just common courtesy to let them know where you’ve decided to go.”

She added, “I don’t want to sound negative. These are great kids, and great families. I just want to stress the importance of this.”

Staples’ guidance department tries to educate students and parents about the value of this courtesy. It’s in the PowerPoint presentation made during junior and senior years. Counselors also mention it in face-to-face meetings — including the senior “exit interviews.”

“Don’t forget to thank your teachers!” they say.

Sadly, many do.

Pic Of The Day #71

Not Woodstock — Westport. This was last night’s “Back to the Garden” season-opening concert at Levitt Pavilion. (Photo copyright Dave Curtis/HDFA Photography)

The Palm Tree Lives!

When I posted yesterday’s photo of a palm tree that appeared suddenly last Friday at Compo Beach near Ned Dimes Marina, I thought it was just a cute little piece.

More than a dozen readers responded. Most loved it.

Charlie Haberstroh did not. The chair of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission commented:

Just to be clear, it was not planted by the Parks and Rec Department nor was it by the Tree Warden. Hopefully, whoever planted it will remove it and save the tree.

Boo!

One view of the palm tree … (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

When I heard the back story (Butchie Izzo planted it as a replacement for a tree that died) — and posted it this morning — I figured folks would be amused.

Very quickly, over 40 “06880” readers added their thoughts. All of them love the palm tree. It’s fun; it’s quirky; it was done by a great guy, with a huge Westport heart.

Haberstroh heard you.

… and another. (Photo/Randy Christophersen)

A few minutes ago, he wrote:

Since the tree is a replacement for a tree originally planted with town authorization, we have decided to let the palm tree stand. It will replaced by Butchie by contract in the fall. Enjoy!

Yay!

Score one for Westport.

For Butchie Izzo.

And for our friends on the Parks and Rec Commission, who will hopefully enjoy our special palm tree with the rest of us, all summer long.

Stew Leonard, Dave Jones Bring Water Safety To All

A few months ago, “06880” reported on an intriguing Staples High School alum, and his water safety project.

More than 45 years after graduating, Dave Jones is now president and CEO of the Capital Wealth Foundation. A key board member is fellow 1971 classmate Mike Perlis — president and executive chairman of Forbes Media.

The foundation hands out 100% of its funds — “well into 6 figures” already, Jones says — to help people  in personal, non-traditional ways: building a roof for an animal shelter, say, or providing computers to autistic kids.

His most recent project is one of his favorites. Growing up in Westport, he knew Stew Leonard Jr. Like Jones, Leonard has achieved quite a bit of success.

Like Jones too, he’s known tough times. In 1989 Leonard’s 21-month-old son, Stew III, drowned. The Stew Leonard III Children’s Charity now promotes water safety and awareness.

Jones’ son Jack follows in his footsteps: He’s a lifeguard. Unlike relatively tame Compo though, he works on the Narragansett surf. Jack often sees city kids rush into the waves. They can’t swim, and get caught in the very strong undertow.

So Jones and Leonard have planned Capital Wealth Foundation’s next project: providing swim lessons for inner-city kids.

Everyone in Westport knows Stew Leonard Jr. And everyone here knows the importance of lifeguards. The ones we have at Compo are fantastic.

Jones hopes to present a check to Leonard in late August — in the middle of the Compo lifeguards’ annual reunion. But he needs helps.

Donations in any amount can be sent to: Capital Wealth Foundation, 1300 Divison St., Suite 203, West Warwick, RI 02893. Put “water safety” in the memo line. For more information, call Jones: 401-500-5632.

Compo Palm Tree: The Back Story

Last Friday, a palm tree mysteriously appeared at Compo Beach.

Magically, it seemed, the spit of land at the far end of South Beach — jutting into Ned Dimes Marina — looked less like Westport, and more like Miami.

Yesterday’s story generated plenty of comments. It must have been a prank by graduating Staples seniors, someone said. There were a few palm trees for sale at Southport Nursery opposite Garelick and Herbs, another added.

One view of the palm tree … (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Here’s what happened.

Bernard Izzo Jr. — “Butchie” — of Izzo’s Landscaping has a contract with the town to plant trees around Westport.

In the early spring he planted a tree at that location. Unfortunately, it did not survive.

Butchie felt that replanting the same tree now would not work. It might not survive the heat.

He decided to plant — at his own expense — the palm tree for the summer. This fall, he’d replace it with an appropriate tree.

However, the lighthearted gesture did not have Parks and Recreation Department approval.

So if you haven’t seen it, you better hurry. It will be gone soon.

… and another. (Photo/Randy Christophersen)

Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

Connecticut teachers can retire with maximum benefits after 37.5 years of service.

When Al Jolley retired this month — for the 2nd time; he taught 1 or 2 classes a year since his 1st retirement 5 years ago — he’d been an educator for nearly 52 years. That’s 19.5% longer than nearly any other retiree.

I used Google to figure out that percentage. If I’d had Jolley as a math teacher — and he had already taught for several years when I was a Staples High School student — I could have done that calculation in my head.

Jolley is a self-proclaimed dinosaur. He spent his entire career at Staples. He never wanted to go anywhere else — nor did he want to earn more money as an administrator.

Al Jolley in 2011…

The man who grew up with a slide rule took to new technology grudgingly. First he warmed to calculators — though he still frowns on the fancy graphing ones. Then he learned to use a computer (he still doesn’t care for them).

He never adopted smartboards. He still uses a blackboard — with actual chalk.

“I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

Jolley does not apologize for his prehistoric predilections. They’re simply who he is. He doesn’t change much, and that’s fine with him.

He knew as young as age 12 that he wanted to teach. He did not take education courses at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey. But he turned down Harvard grad school to enroll in Wesleyan University’s excellent Master of Arts in Teaching program

“God orchestrates everything,” Jolley says. “He sent me there, and then he sent me to Westport.”

Wesleyan assigned Jolley to Staples — a school he knew nothing about. In 1966 he was given 5 classes.

When it came time to apply for a full-time job, Jolley applied here, and a few other districts. “Staples kept this young whippersnapper on,” he says.

… in 1968 …

Those were exciting days. He and many other young teachers rented homes at the beach. They represented every department. Because of the physical layout of the school — 9 separate 1-story buildings, with active courtyards in between — staff members knew each other well.

But the math department was Jolley’s special home. It was a collaborative family. He says it still is, half a century later.

“We treasure each other’s company. We help each other out,” he notes.

In the beginning, Jolley’s office desk was in the back of a math classroom. He learned his craft by observing other teachers.

Like any instructor though, he developed his own style. He posted inspirational quotes around the room, and planned his lessons meticulously.

“I’m a concrete/sequential thinker to the extreme,” he admits. “I always had lots of detailed notes.”

… and 2000.

Jolley’s philosophy is simple: “I want kids to enjoy math. I always taught different levels. My goal was for kids to find success at their appropriate level. If they succeed, they’ll work harder.”

After his original retirement 5 years ago, Jolley taught Algebra 2C. Those students will not become mathematicians. But their teacher wanted them to see the same beauty and excitement in numbers that he always has.

Over the years, new ideas — about what to teach, and how to teach it — have come and gone. Jolley never paid much attention to cycles. He was too busy teaching the way he wanted to. It worked for him — and for thousands of students.

He interacted with many of them — including those he never taught — in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Jolley organized Staples’1st ultimate Frisbee team. They played in what is believed to be the 1st coed interscholastic sports event anywhere in the country. In 2015 he and several players were inducted into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago. Buckley and Davis played on Jolley’s first teams.

Jolley also led a bible study group at the United Methodist Church, and served the Boy Scouts as an assistant scoutmaster.

When Jolley and his wife bought their house, a sapling stood in the yard. Today, it’s 18 feet tall.

“When God put me at Staples, I was a sapling,” Jolley says. “My roots there grew so deep. Like that tree, I can’t be transplanted anywhere else. I can’t imagine working in any other school. I never wanted to, and I never did.”

He may volunteer with an organization like Mercy Learning Center. He’ll continue to run Staples’ SAT testing.

But — after nearly 52 years — Alan Jolley has picked up his last piece of chalk.

Go figure.

Pic Of The Day #70

Duck Swan on the Saugatuck (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Photo Challenge #130

I never thought the original Staples High School building on Riverside Avenue looked like the original Town Hall on the Post Road (now Jesup Hall restaurant).

Or like Greens Farms Elementary School. Or the original YMCA (now Bedford Square).

But some readers did.

Many more, however, knew that last week’s photo challenge showed our first high school. Built in 1884 and razed in 1967, it sat where the Saugatuck Elementary School auditorium is now.

Lynn U. Miller’s photo was a close-up of one of the many tiles that form the River of Names, on the lower level of the Westport Library.

At least, that fascinating mural is there now. After the library’s transformation project, it will be relocated elsewhere.

Just like Staples High School eventually was.

Fifteen alert “06880” readers got either or both parts of the challenge — Staples and the library — correct. Congratulations to Bobbie Herman, Ana Johnson, Fred Cantor, Michael Calise, Seth Schachter, Rosalie Kaye, Philip Millstein, Cathy Romano, Linda Amos, Leslie Flinn, Linda Gramatky Smith, Barbara Railton-Jones, Amee Borys, Dan Beddingfield and Mousumi Ghosh. (To see the photo and read all the comments, click here.) 

Here’s this week’s photo challenge. If you think you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

Climate Change Comes To Compo

Spotted this morning at South Beach (Westport, not Miami):

(Photo/Randy Christophersen)

Driving Miss Jenn

If there is a hell on earth these days, it’s La Guardia Airport.

For Jenn Cohn Falik, a flight there the other day turned exponentially worse than even most travelers’ nightmares.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Joe Biden compared La Guardia to an airport in a third world country. He should apologize to all those nations. La Guardia is much worse.

The 1997 Staples High School graduate — who moved back here 5 years ago — and her family had just finished a 5-night cruise, celebrating her mom’s birthday. (Read all about it here, on Jenn’s great blog!)

Arriving at the Orlando airport “ridiculously early,” they found their flight was delayed 3 hours. So Jenn and her girls made the best of the next 7 hours in the terminal.

When they finally boarded, they endured a very rough flight. The plane circled for an hour over Virginia, trying to wait out a storm and heavy traffic at LGA.

Fuel was getting low. Controllers wanted to divert the flight to JFK. (I know; don’t ask.) But bad weather there caused a diversion to Bradley, in Hartford.

Jenn was in constant contact (“yay for JetBlue’s WiFi!”) with Frank Pataky. He owns the airport driving service that was supposed to pick her up.

“In between hyperventilating and trying not to cry in front of my kids every time we hit a bump, I was texting Frank with updates, and he was communicating with his driver,” Jenn reports.

Jenn Falik communicates calmly when she is not on a flight from and to hell.

“When I told him we were going to Hartford, he knew his driver would never make it. He could probably tell from my doomsday texts that I was in a fragile state, and 3 hours waiting at Hartford would not have turned out well.”

So Frank went to Jenn’s house, got their 2nd car, put car seats in and headed north himself.

The plane landed. But — this is the state of air travel in the US these days — passengers were told they had to stay on the plane. It was being refueled — for a flight back to La Guardia.

Jenn texted Frank. She said there was NO WAY!!!! she was staying on the plane for another minute.

He pulled off in New Haven, to see if she could talk her way off the plane.

She could. And she did.

Her girls and she were escorted onto the tarmac. They rode to the terminal in the truck bringing fuel and paperwork to the pilot.

Jenn texted Frank from the runway. He drove to Bradley, and picked up 3 very tired, very cranky girls (“one age 2, one age 6, one age 38”).

Goldie and Alexa Falik, somewhere between Orlando and Hartford.

He offered to stop so they could get dinner. They just wanted to get home.

Finally — one bathroom stop, and one frantic call to Jordan’s to order a large salad pizza, later — they were in Westport. It was 9:30 p.m.

But Frank’s day was not done. He helped Jenn get the girls and bags inside.

“We were all in one piece. And we felt much more relaxed, thanks to his understanding and patience!”

You go, Frank!

(Jenn didn’t ask, but I’m happy to provide contact info for Frank Pataky. His phone number is 203-767-1083.)