My family avoided an awful tragedy this past weekend.
My husband Joe and I are so grateful for the heroic efforts of Tucker Peters. He’s a rising Staples High School junior, and he saved my son Mark’s life.
Both of them are on the Staples sailing team (Mark is a rising sophomore). They were at a sailing camp on Long Island.
Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, their boat flipped over. My son was trapped in his harness underwater. Unable to unhook himself and get to the surface, he passed out.
Tucker freed himself, and called for help. He was instrumental in getting Mark on the coach boat, and was the first to start performing CPR. I have since learned that our kids all learn CPR in middle school health class.
Tucker Peters (left) and Mark Adipietro. Both are junior flag officers at Pequot Yacht Club.
The EMTs and police said that things could have ended quite differently if not for Tucker’s quick thinking and actions. A first responder said, “That kid is a true hero. Things don’t usually go that well in these situations.”
I would like to give my undying gratitude to Tucker Peters and his family, as well as the staff at Bedford Middle School who teach that class. It worked! It literally saved a life.
And as soon as Tucker is cleared, they’ll both be back together, on the water.
Congratulations, Tucker! He (and his teachers) are truly Unsung Heroes.
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Earlier this morning a student who missed their bus walked to the Dattco bus yard and requested a ride to Bedford Middle School. Personnel at the bus yard mobilized to provide transportation for this student.
Some time thereafter, personnel at the Dattco bus yard contacted the school district’s transportation coordinator to inform the coordinator about their plan to transport the student, but unfortunately provided incomplete and inaccurate information regarding the student’s identity and school. Our transportation coordinator immediately contacted the BMS and central office administration.
The administration then swiftly contacted our Westport Police Department School Security Officer (SSO) and School Resource Officer (SRO), and the Staples administration. After investigating to determine the identity and location of the student through video surveillance, our SRO discovered that the student was dropped off at Bedford Middle School, but then left the bus and walked towards Staples High School.
As a precaution, our SSO and SRO then sought additional resources from the Westport Police Department. Both schools were placed in a shelter-in-place.
Through collaboration with the school and district administration, the student was then correctly identified, interviewed, and it was determined that the shelter-in-place could be lifted.
The administration is committed to identifying the breakdown of the Dattco bus yard communication and protocols in this incident.
Again, I have complete confidence that at no time were our students and staff in danger. Additionally, it is clear that the positive and collaborative relationship we enjoy with the Westport Police Department, and the swift actions of our Bedford and Staples administration, along with our transportation coordinator and central office administration, all contributed to the timely resolution of this matter.
At approximately 9 a.m. today, the Westport Police Department’s School Security Officer and the Staples School Resource Officer began to investigate a report of a suspicious person on school grounds.
An unknown male who appeared to be in his teens was dropped off at Bedford Middle School, but the person then left that campus and walked towards Staples High School.
The incident was deemed suspicious because at the time no one recognized this individual, and it was unknown what he was doing on school property. Out of an abundance of caution, the school’s superintendent placed both Bedford Middle School and Staples High School in a shelter in place status.
Several patrol officers responded to make sure that students at both schools were kept safe, and to look for this unknown person. Westport detectives also went to the scene and worked with school officials to attempt to identify the party.
It was ultimately determined that the person in question was in fact a Staples student. The student was simply running late and after managing to get a ride to Bedford, he walked over to Staples.
Chief Foti Koskinas said that “this was the best possible outcome,” and that the timely resolution of this incident is a testament to “the excellent working relationship that the police department has with the school system.”
Longtime Bedford Middle School nurse Ellen Flatley Corey died unexpectedly on Wednesday. She was 86.
Born in 1935 in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Irish immigrants, Ellen was the 7th child in a raucous family of 13 siblings. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School and St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing in Brookline. As a nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Ellen agreed to a blind double date with her friend Rita and 2 young resident doctors. When she realized that she was not matched with Joseph Corey, Ellen persuaded Rita to feign illness. The rest is history.
Joe and Ellen were married in 1959. They returned to his hometown of Norwalk, where they made their home on Bettswood Road and raised 6 daughters.
The young family faced a challenge in 1967, when Joe was drafted to serve as an Army doctor in South Korea. He and Ellen were dogged in their determination to shorten the family’s separation, ultimately moving across the world to reunite with him.
The couple later called those 2 years “a wonderful family time.” Recently, Ellen and the older daughters reminisced about that time with Ellen’s granddaughter Corey Ellen, who now lives in South Korea.
Ellen’s life was full and vibrant. Her days were a busy mix of family, a wide circle of friends, her faith, watching sports, and ‘Jeopardy.” In the early ’70 she was a contestant on the game show.
Ellen played tennis for many years, then became a golfer. She returned to nursing after her girls were older, and was the school nurse at Bedford Middle School for decades.
Her daughters often marveled that their mother was busier than they were. She was the life of every party, and to the end planned social events and dinners out with friends.
But her true love was her family. Ellen was married for 51 years to the love of her life. They doted on their children and grandchildren. Each knew they were her favorite, at least until great-granddaughter Hattie came along. She was there to help her daughters with their babies, and traveled to celebrate each grandchild’s high school graduation.
Her warm yet fierce acceptance of individuality inspired strong, close relationships with her descendants, and Ellen’s spirit of progressive fortitude was a transformative influence in the development of their character.
In the years after losing Joe in 2010, Ellen traveled often to the cities where her girls live. In each neighborhood she found her favorite places to walk, eat, go to Mass, and get the New York Times for her daily crossword puzzle. She visited Ecuador, Rome, Hawaii, and frequently drove up to the Boston area to visit with her cherished siblings and large extended family.
She rarely missed a wedding or a funeral. To be at Ellen’s table was the best seat in any house.
Ellen emailed her daughters to say good morning every day, and ended her messages with a closing that varied according to the general sentiment of the season.
On the day before she died, her morning message was bright and happy. She had hosted a successful gathering the night before for the multigenerational book club she had been an active participant in for 21 years. She felt great and was going for a walk with her friend Alice, as she did most days. On that day she closed with: “more later…keep safe and warm. I love you. Mom.”
Ellen is survived by her daughters and sons-in-law Mary Beth, Ann, Ellie (Bill Hanrahan), Julie (John Kelley), Jane (Doug Holt) and Jacquie; her grandchildren, Colleen (Brenton Murrell), Erin, and Joseph Young, Corey, Noah and Dylan Holt, Clara Kennedy, and her great-granddaughter Hatten Murrell.
She was predeceased by her grandson, James Joseph Kennedy, and siblings Fran, Jim, Peggy, Tom, Paul and Monica. Ellen is survived by her siblings Bill, Mary, Kitty, Brian, Kevin and Ginny, and many nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law.
Visiting hours are Sunday, March 13 (2 to 5 p.m., Shaughnessey Banks Funeral Home, 50 Reef Road, Fairfield). A funeral Mass will be held on Monday, March 14 (0 a.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 1719 Post Rd., Fairfield.
Donations in Ellen’s name can be made to The Kennedy Center, 2440 Reservoir Avenue, Trumbull, CT 06611, Attn: Stephanie Campbell, To send an online condolence, click here. (Hat tip: Mary Condon)
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 email@example.com; 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.
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