What do Muddy Waters, James Cotton, James Montgomery and Brian Keane have in common?
The 3 famed blues musician — and the Grammy and Emmy Award-winning composer/producer/1971 Staples High School graduate — will be inducted into the New England Music Hall of Fame. The ceremony is Saturday (November 27) in Mystic.
Keane has scored hundreds of films and television shows. His music has been hailed as “indelible and breathtaking” by the Los Angeles Times, “piercingly beautiful” by the New York Times, and “masterful” by Newsweek. He has been called a “musician’s musician” by Downbeat, a “composer’s composer” by the Hollywood Reporter, and “one of the most impressive musicians of the decade” by Billboard.
(To learn more about Brian Keane, click here. For more on the New England Music Hall of Fame, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)
The Westport group — which protects local cats from homelessness, while supporting felines in 9 area towns through spaying and neutering, with dozens of volunteers — earned tax-exempt status in November 2001.
TAILS — whose formal name is The Alliance In Limiting Strays — helps both dogs and cats. But they focus on where they see the most need: feral cats. One pair can easily turn into 40 cats in 2 years.
To learn more, click here or here; email firstname.lastname@example.org; call 203-222-1992, or search Instagram: @tails_spay_neuter.
Among the many yard signs promoting political candidates earlier this month, one of the most memorable urged “Write in Alma for Board of Education.”
Hers — and all the others — are gone. But a new sign has cropped up, plugging someone else by her first name only. It too starts with “A”:
Matt Murray — who spotted this sign — says, with tongue (hopefully) in cheek: “I don’t know what office she’s running for, or what her political affiliation is, but I think she may have missed the timing for elections.”
When Kayla Iannetta was in high school, questioning her sexuality, she had no resources. Lacking clubs or helpful adults, she was on her own.
Now a Staples High science teacher, she quickly signed on as an advisor for the school’s LGBTQ and allies group. (It began in 1993, as the Gay Straight Alliance — the first such organization at any Connecticut public high school. I was a proud co-founder. The name was then changed to the Gender Sexuality Alliance. It’s now called the Staples Pride Coalition.)
Iannetta loved Staples’ “welcoming and open community.” But the small group of Pride Coalition students felt they were not taken seriously by everyone.
She vowed to help. With her co-advisor, math teacher Nicole Giuliani, they’ve expanded the group’s reach. Members have given presentations to health classes, created a newsletter, helped plan Westport Pride’s townwide celebration in June, and served on a panel for the Unitarian Church’s 8th grade Our Whole Lives program.
Staples Pride Coalition members and supporters, at last June’s high school Pride celebration.
All were enthusiastically received. And all have convinced the members that what they’re doing fills an enormous need.
They’re forging ahead with a Gender Identity 101 presentation for Westport Toether, programming at Toquet Hall (movies, a scavenger hunt, a drag show), and a Google Form for students, staff or parents to ask questions.
As the Pride Coalition members talked, Iannetta realized that LGBTQ issues are not limited to high school. Middle school is where they first had questions, they said. Students needed resources there too.
Why not have a District Pride group? she wondered.
Westport Public Schools’ Pride Coalition logo.
Bedford Middle School principal Adam Rosen and Coleytown counterpart Kris Szabo were eager to help. Iannetta found staff members to help: Cassie Carroll and Christie Cardinale at BMS, Jennifer Peppe at CMS. Both groups are now thriving.
The middle school groups — called Bedford Pride Coalition and Coleytown Pride Coalition — are thriving too.
“The most important thing is education,” Iannetta says. “These kids are excited to be part of a change. They want to make Staples a better place, and middle schools better places for LGBTQ+ students coming up in the district.”
Iannetta is energized by support from administrators — everyone from superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, Staples principal Stafford Thomas and vice principal Chase Dunlap, on down — and from teachers who ask questions about pronouns and seek inclusive curriculum ideas.
She and Sarah Magilnick — another Staples staff member on the school’s team of 4 working on LGBTQ+ school resources — are creating resource pamphlets, for questioning students and allies.
Yet as excited as she is about the new direction of Staples Pride Coalition, and the creation of the 2 middle school groups — all 3 are known collectively as Westport Public Schools Pride Coalition — she knows there is plenty of work to be done.
Even at the high school, some members feel the need to be anonymous. They’ve been rejected at home, or fear they will be.
But — like their advisors — they’re undaunted. “That just makes them want to do this work more,” Iannetta says with pride. “They want to reach younger students. And, maybe, their own parents too.”
As the child of 2 professors who encouraged voracious reading and dinner debates, Kerstin Warner Rao said that “education was inescapable.”
She pretended to be a teacher for her sister. Yet as an art major at Vassar College, Kerstin’s goal was to become a New York City artist.
She learned quickly that materials are expensive, and most artists make little money. In 1987, when a friend invited her to teach at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s School for the gifted, she gave it a shot.
On Day 1, Kerstin fell in love with her 3rd graders. They were vulnerable. They had senses of humor. And when she saw a light bulb switch on in their heads — when they grasped a new concept, in an “aha!” moment — it felt addictive.
Kerstin Warner Rao
Kerstin taught for 3 years in Brooklyn. She married, and moved with her husband to her home state of Minnesota. She taught for 4 more years there. When her child was 18 months old, the family returned to her husband’s native Connecticut.
They chose Westport for 2 reasons. It had a reputation as an artist’s colony. And Kerstin’s Brooklyn mentor, Dee Appleman, ran A Child’s Place preschool on Hillspoint Road.
Kerstin interviewed for 2 jobs. Teaching gifted children in Greenwich was her dream. But with a young child, she did not want to commute. So in 1999 Kerstin she became a Greens Farms Elementary 4th grade teacher.
The school was reopening, after years as the site of the Westport Arts Center. Music instructor Suzanne Sherman Propp sang a theme song she’d written for the new school. “Tears ran down my face. That song made us a community,” Kerstin says.
She was inspired too by master teacher Karen Ernst Da Silva, who gave each new Westport teacher a sketch journal. Two decades later, Kerstin has filled 20.
That first year at Greens Farms was tough. There was no cafeteria, playground, gym or library. But the staff grew close. Kerstin still meets regularly with her 4th grade colleagues: Mary Ellen Barry, Christine Theiss and Erin Shepard.
The next year, Kerstin interviewed for a spot as the gifted teacher at Bedford Middle School. She’s always had an affinity for gifted students with learning challenges — dyslexia, ADHD, whatever — and her sample lesson with the most challenging 7th grader won her the spot.
For the next 20 years, Kerstin was an integral part of “Workshop,” as Westport’s gifted students program is called.
The program dates back to 1974. Founder Annette Fournier was an educational pioneer, Kerstin says. Workshop takes students — those identified as requiring services beyond the scope of the regular curriculum — for half a day, once a week. They are given free rein to think, create, grow, test boundaries and take risks, with like-minded peers — all without the pressure of grades.
“They can write plays, and not worry that they’ll be teased for weird puns,” Kerstin explains. “They work on puzzles, improv, role-playing. They do anything that keeps their minds alert and challenging. At the same time, they foster strong, deep friendships.
“They don’t have to worry, ‘What does the teacher want?’ ‘What’s the angle of this test?’ It’s ‘what am I curious about?'”
In 2018 Coleytown Middle School was closed; students relocated to Bedford, Kerstin Warner Rao and CMS Workshop teacher Martel Rynderman shared a corner of the cafeteria behind the elevator shaft. They made it a fun space by channeling Hogwarts.
Kerstin knows that a gifted program can be criticized as elitist. The response, she says, should be not to cut the program, but figure out how to expand it for more students.
She is grateful to the Westport Public Schools for their long commitment to Workshop. Still, it has suffered budget cuts. Once, there was a full-time gifted teacher and full-time paraprofessional at all 5 elementary schools, and both middle schools. Right now, Bedford is the only school that still has a full-time workshop instructor. The others are part-time, with other duties.
Kerstin — who is still in touch with many former students — say that they are the ones who kept her going for more than 20 years. “This is more than a job. It’s a calling. I got to know every child as an individual — their hopes, their dreams, their worries. And every day we laughed. Really, really heartily.”
Every year, Kerstin Warner Rao hosted veterans in her classroom for Veterans Day. They were invited by the 8th grade social studies teachers. When Westport’s amazing Ted Diamond visited 5 years ago, she drew his sketch, and wrote some of his important ideas.
Last summer was difficult, though. In the midst of the pandemic, Kerstin had difficulty sleeping, reading and concentrating. Her anxiety level was high.
Working with a therapist, she realized she was unable to teach this fall. The school district was “unbelievably supportive and kind,” Kerstin says, helping with her medical leave as she took care of herself.
Now — as she retires from the Westport school system after 22 years — Kerstin is clear about the importance of speaking openly about mental health. She challenges this “very competitive town to bring its ‘A’ game about mental wellness. Be compassionate, vulnerable, real with each other. Have the courage to support one another, and model and share our journeys.”
Bedford principal Adam Rosen invited Kerstin to speak to the staff. “I was upfront, that I was in no condition to come back this year,” she says. At the Board of Education reception for all retirees, he gave a heartfelt speech honoring her. (Click below for his speech, and her response.)
“Many of my students have struggled with mental health issues,” Kerstin notes. “I always told them that was just one moment in time for them.” Still, it was not easy for her to stand in front of colleagues and reveal her own vulnerabilities.
“Mental health still has a stigma,” she says. “It can hit anyone, out of the blue. But if your culture supports you, that’s amazingly important.”
So now — nearly 40 years after leaving art behind for a career in education — Kerstin returns to her roots.
She created a new greeting card business: Cuppa Cards. Her drawings are based on bouquets from the Westport Farmers Market.
Kerstin’s cards are on sale at Aarti Khosla’s Le Rouge Chocolatier. She’ll expand to other Connecticut stores this summer.
A few of Kerstin Warner Rao’s greeting cards.
Her second new business is Curate Your Mate. Based on her own experience as a divorced woman who started dating again in her 40s, it’s a “midlife dating coach service.”
“I’m not a matchmaker,” she stresses. “I’m a 1-on-1 coach who helps you figure out your goals, and how to achieve them.”
That’s not so different from what Kerstin Rao did for the past 21 years, for her Workshop students. She met them where they are, heard their dreams, and walked proudly with them on their journey to fulfillment.
Which is exactly the description of every “gifted” teacher.
Posted onNovember 11, 2020|Comments Off on Staples, Middle Schools Go All Remote Thursday and Friday
With increasing staff absences due to quarantine requirements, and more confirmed cases of COVID, Staples High and Bedford/Coleytown Middle Schools will move to all remote learning on Thursday and Friday.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice said in an email to parents:
“For November 12th and 13th, Bedford/Coleytown Middle School and Staples High School will be operating through a full remote teaching model for all students and staff. The principals will be sending further information this evening about the schedules for both days.
“The decision to move our secondary schools to a remote model for two days came as a result of several individuals testing positive, and the subsequent need to quarantine many individuals and continue contact tracing. Due to the number of quarantined staff members, we are unable to appropriately staff our secondary buildings and supervise our students.
“As of the time I am writing to you this evening we have 12 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the following schools, including 5 new cases in the past few hours:
Coleytown Elementary School – 2
Greens Farms Elementary School – 2
Kings Highway Elementary School – 1
Bedford/Coleytown Middle School – 2
Staples High School – 5
“Our mitigating measures continue to be effective in minimizing and preventing spread in our schools. However, it is critical that the entire community remains vigilant in taking all precautions to prevent further community transmission.”
Comments Off on Staples, Middle Schools Go All Remote Thursday and Friday
Charlie Lomnitzer — a Westport social studies teacher for 30 years– died last week, surrounded by loved ones at his longtime Black Rock home. He was 91.
The New York city native joined the US Army in 1946, age of 17. He was deployed to occupied Japan and served in the 24th Infantry Division, 34th Regiment, with the military police. Lomnitzer then continued to serve, as a Marine Corps as sergeant.
His respect for the military continued. He supported West Point athletes as a football season-ticket holder for 49 years, and was an honored member of its Five Star Club. He took interested students on tours of West Point too.
Lomnitzer earned a BS degree in social studies in 1960 from Southern Connecticut State University. He complete his 5th and 6th year studies of European and American History at Southern Connecticut State and Fairfield Universities.
He taught for 3 decades at Bedford Junior High School and Bedford Middle School.
As a member of First Church Congregational in Fairfield, Lomnitzer enjoyed meeting church friends while assembling monthly newsletters.
He was an avid walker, keeping fit with daily walks around St. Mary’s by the Sea.
He read several newspapers daily, and liked to discuss current events of any topic. He was a spirited sports fan, and loved traveling and cruising in Europe with his wife Beverly.
He was passionate too about cooking for the family. A favorite pastime was listening to the music of Frank Sinatra and big bands.
In addition to his wife of 60 years, Beverly, he is survived by his children, Charles L. Lomnitzer of New Bedford, Massachusetts; Lauren Novotny of Monroe, and Liesl Cugno of Stratford; 6 grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
In his last year, Charlie Lomnitzer cared for by Masonicare Hospice-At-Home and by several caring aides from Companions & Homemakers. He developed individual relationships with each aide, in his own special way. His family is grateful for the hospice nurses and aides who lovingly cared for him.
A private memorial service takes place Friday (September 18, 12 p.m.) at First Church Congregational. He will receive full Military Honors on the front lawn of the church around 1 p.m.; all are welcome outside.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to First Church Congregational, 148 Fairfield Beach Road, Fairfield, CT 06824. Click here to sign the guest register.
Sure, half of all Bedford Middle and Staples High School students are not on campus, at any given time.
But with most parents opting to drive and pick up their youngsters — some buses reportedly carry only 1 or 2 kids — traffic on North Avenue and nearby streets has been heavy, at the start and finish of the school days.
It may take a few days to sort out what works. Until then: Avoid those areas at those times if you can.
Bedford Middle School traffic, yesterday afternoon. (Photo/Adam Vengrow)
Ruden — a Staples High School graduate whose website, Instagram and Facebook platforms are the go-to sources for coverage of Fairfield County high school sports — are collaborating on a new project: The Ruden Report Live at the Library.
The show debuts today (Thursday, September 10, 7 p.m.) from the Library’s Forum. Tonight’s topic: the recent decision to cancel this year’s high school football season. Guests include noted New Canaan High coach Lou Marinelli, St. Joseph’s Jack Wallace (2019 Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year), and Jeff Jacobs, sports columnist at GameTime CT and Hearst Media CT.
Upcoming Ruden Reports will be recorded in the libary’s media studios. Some shows will be streamed live.
Ruden has been a sportswriter for over 35 years. He has written for the New YorkTimes, and worked at ESPN and CBS Sports.
Dave Ruden at work.
Speaking of sports: Staples football players joined hundreds of others from around the state yesterday in Hartford. They protested the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and state Department of Public Health decision to cancel this fall’s high school football season.
Tonight at 7 p.m., former CNN, NBC Sports and Fox News anchor (and Westport resident) Dave Briggs interviews Wrecker head football coach Adam Behrends on Instagram Live. You can hear the discussion @WestportMagazine.
A small part of the large crowd in Hartford yesterday. (Photo/Dave Briggs)
This Saturday is Local Yarn Store Day. And Westport’s local yarn store — called, appropriately enough, Westport Yarns — is celebrating big time.
The shop across from Fresh Market offers free 45-minute lessons at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Three people (12 years old and over) will get yarn and needles, and learn how to knit. At 12 and 2 p.m., there are free crochet lessons. To register, call 203-454-4300.
In addition, there are hand-dyed yarns for purchase. Earlier this year, a similar trunk show sold out quickly.
Rumor has it that Westport’s yarn bomber may stop by. No promises, but hey. You never know.
One of the yarn bomber’s first works, at fire headquarters. Westport Yarns is just a few yards away. (Photo/Molly Alger)
Speaking of cars: After a careful look at COVID requirements and a review with town officials, organizers have canceled the Concours and “Cars & Coffee” events set for October 4, in downtown Westport.
However, the “Tour d’Caffeine” is still on. The socially distanced ride through Fairfield County’s back roads ends with lunch at the Redding Roadhouse. It is limited to the first 25 who sign up. Click here to register.
The big day is Tuesday. Nearly 6 months after closing — and a week after the original date — students return to Westport schools.
Many things will be different. They’ll attend in shifts: half in classrooms, half studying remotely. Desks will be 6 feet apart. Some hallways will be one-way. And those are just a few of the changes COVID has wrought.
Some youngsters have not even driven past their schools in half a year. To remind them of what they look like, here is a special “Friday Flashback” drone gallery. All images are courtesy of multi-talented and spectacular Staples High School senior Brandon Malin. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge.)
To start off, here’s the school he’s headed back to:
Bedford Middle School
Coleytown Middle School (construction project)
Coleytown Elementary School
Greens Farms Elementary School
Kings HIghway Elementary School
Long Lots Elementary School
Saugatuck Elementary School
Bonus feature: Greens Farms Academy (All drone photos/Brandon Malin)
You may remember Flight Simulator — Microsoft’s video game from 1982 through 2006.
If so, forget what you remember.
The brand-new iteration uses satellite imagery from around the world. It applies algorithms to detect where buildings should be, and creates 3-dimensional models of them. Users fly over their neighborhood. and can actually recognize buildings.
The other day, Nicholas Weiner strapped himself into the virtual cockpit. Here’s what he saw: Staples High School, the athletic fields to the east, and Bedford Middle School to the north.
Click on or hover over to enlarge. Enjoy the view!
The Planning & Zoning Commission usually takes August off.
But before they do, a solar energy project is on the docket. Today (Thursday, July 16, 5 p.m., Zoom meeting) they’ll consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus. They’ll be mounted on the ground (not canopies).
Greenskies Clean Energy has been granted a town lease to produce electricity there. The firm seeks a variance to mount 20-foot solar panels in the grassy area behind the school, and remove 10 trees.
The project includes modules in both corners behind the school.
One section of the site backs up to property on Woody Lane. The other part backs up to High Point Road.
The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels are indicated by hatch marks near the center of the map. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
The Staples High School girls and boys basketball teams — both enjoying their best seasons in decades — saw their state tournament hopes suddenly end. No one knows what will happen to spring sports, though that season seems increasingly unlikely.
But Westport athletes were not the only ones whose seasons came to a brutal end, thanks to the coronavirus.
At Bedford Middle School and Staples High, dozens of students were preparing for the state — and hopefully national — Science Olympiad competitions. They, their teachers and advisors had spent hundreds of hours since August researching, designing and studying.
Building on last year’s success — both teams represented Connecticut at the national tourney at Cornell University (for Bedford, the 3rd trip in 5 years) — the squads felt confident.
Last year’s Bedford Science Olympians …
Science Olympians don’t get the publicity or prestige — and certainly not the crowds — of basketball players. But in the highly competitive world of science contests, the Westporters are superstars.
The Bedford program began 9 years ago. Engineering and design teacher Art Ellis is the driving force — the Geno Auriemma of Science Olympiads. He’s assisted by Dr. Daniel Cortright, a BMS science teacher.
This year — with Coleytown students attending Bedford — the middle school teams merged. CMS engineering and design teacher Keenan Grace brought his students on board, with great success.
… and the Coleytown squad.
Science Olympiads consist of 23 events. Each team — usually 15 students — competes in all 23. (This year’s BMS squad included about 75 youngsters. Including various invitational meets, 50 or so got actual competitive experience.)
The events range from building a structure, vehicle or flying object, to tests in areas like geology, meteorology and anatomy, to hybrid, chemistry lab-style activities.
There are activities too like “Crime Busters,” for forensic analysis.
Then there is “Disease Detectives.”
Developed long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, this Science Olympiad event asks students to examine — and solve — disease outbreaks.
At the national high school tournament, the CDC gives an award to the winner of this event — plus an expense-paid trip to its headquarters in Washington, DC.
Many of the middle school Disease Detectives questions have revolved around food-borne illnesses. They’re fairly straightforward to analyze, Cortright says.
From left: Middle school teachers and Science Olympiad coaches Dan Cortright, Kat Nicholas and Art Ellis.
Not long ago, he and Ellis talked about possible tournament questions. They guessed there would be some about pathogens like COVID-19. They started preparing their team for them.
But before they could solve the problem — or at least, address it — the state and national tournaments were canceled.
The Westport Public Schools have moved to distance learning. Activities like Science Olympiad are on hold.
But if anyone can figure out how to adapt to our new reality — and (who knows?) come up with a way to solve or even prevent future disease outbreaks — it’s these young superstars.
In related Science Olympiad news, 4 members of Staples’ team were also involved in the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.
Formerly called Moody’s Math Challenge, it’s certainly challenging. Teams of 5 students represent their schools, using math to solve a real world problem.
They meet outside of school, download the problem, then work together continuously for 14 hours. The winning solution earns a large cash prize for the school.
Staples’ team — including those 4 Special Olympians — worked together on the problem before social distancing began.
This year’s involved electric trucks. Specifically, contestants had to make intelligent decisions about the necessary charging infrastructure is complex, and weigh economic and environmental implications for communities surrounding trucking corridors is essential. Over 750 teams competed.
The Staples Mathworks Challenge team, hard at work.
Click here to see the Staples team’s video — 14 hours compressed into 3 minutes — on Facebook. Click here for more information on the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.
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