Tag Archives: Bedford Middle School

Science Olympians Confront Virus

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.

Unsung Heroes #137

Alert “06880” reader Amy Herrera writes:

My family and I moved to the area a little over a year ago. We came to town after Coleytown had merged into Bedford.

The town was in a bit of an uproar. Some of our first interactions with neighbors were invitations to sign petitions or accompany them to meetings to speak out against the combined schools.

We respectfully declined the invitations. We were grateful the town had a facility that could absorb the Coleytown students, and honestly, our 7th grader was having an amazingly seamless transition despite the crowded hallways.

Although we were sensitive to other people’s concerns, in the grand scheme of things we really didn’t feel like we had anything to complain about.

Since then, our children’s experiences in the Westport schools have continued to be positive, but the angst swirling around education has certainly not subsided. Between redistricting/split feeder scenarios. budget cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of Coleytown, residents have not been at a loss for things to complain about.

In the midst of all of it I have witnessed something kind of remarkable.

Rehearsing for “Matilda the Musical.”

My middle son, now in 8th grade, has become very involved in the theater program at Bedford. This year, rather than keeping the 2 school populations separate, they combined all of the resources and created a single student body.

This has been a tremendous benefit to the arts, in my opinion. I think of the combined theater program at Bedford as the “something beautiful” that grew out of the chaos of the past year and a half.

The program that resulted from the collaborative efforts of the Coleytown and Bedford educators is worth talking about. Instead of being overwhelmed by the combined population, they took it as an opportunity to further develop their programs and provide an even more enriching theater arts experience.

They created a tech program that is thriving and enabling students to become skilled in all aspects of production, while supporting an ambitious year of performances across the 3 grades. They even created student directing experiences for 8th graders in support of the 6th grade spring production.

Learning the tools of the theater trade.

The Bedford Theater Company, which is co-led this year by Karen McCormick and Ben Frimmer, with help from Alicia D’Anna, is currently rehearsing for Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical.” There will be 4 performances the weekend of March 27.

Mr. Frimmer assembled an all-star production team of working professionals to help him bring this quirky piece of literature to life. Matilda is the only offering this year that included all 3 grades. If Coleytown reopens on schedule it will be the only time this ever happens.

“Matilda” creates an opportunity to highlight what is possible when a community comes together and makes the most of a situation. The students. educators and professionals have taken this tumultuous moment in Westport’s time and turned it into something to celebrate.

“Matilda the Musical” will be performed at Bedford Middle School the weekend of March 27. (Photos/January Stewart)

“Matilda” is a great example of how the Coleytown crisis actually served to enrich the middle school student experience in Westport. It is fitting that one of the overarching themes of “Matilda” is the idea of standing up in the face of adversity.

Thanks, Amy. You nailed it. This week’s Unsung Heroes are everyone who makes this production of “Matilda the Musical” possible. Click here for tickets and more information. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. 

Sofia’s Abuela

As a veteran language arts teacher, Paul Ferrante makes sure to expose his Westport middle school students to a multicultural array of writers.

And as a published author himself, Ferrante encourages his pupils to enter writing contests. In his 13 years teaching in Mount Vernon, New York, and 20 years at Bedford and Coleytown, approximately 70 students have won awards.

When Altice USA — the parent company of Optimum and News12 — announced a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest, Ferrante passed the info on. The prompt: Write about a Latino person, past or present, who inspires you to dream big.

Five of Ferrante’s Bedford Middle School students entered. Most wrote about people they knew from books, culture or history.

Sofia Alarcon wrote about her grandmother.

Sofia Alarcon

The 7th grader described her abuela’s life: A political dissident in Argentina who made it her mission to free adults from poverty by teaching them to read and write, Edith Staheli and her husband were arrested by the government.

He disappeared; she was deported. She returned years later — after working in exile for social justice — to educate the poor.

Sofia wrote:

My grandmother inspires me to always give my all and nothing less, and to help those less fortunate than me. She inspires me to try hard, because you don’t know if you can do something if you don’t try. It is her strength that inspires me to fight till the end and this strength motivates me to never stop believing in a more just and equal world.

Because she didn’t stop.

It was a beautiful, insightful essay, Ferrante says.

The judges agreed. They awarded Sofia first prize — and a $1,500 scholarship.

“Her personal stake comes through loud and clear,” Ferrante notes. “Sofia created a passionate tone. And her narrative hook brings the story full circle, in the conclusion.”

The award “couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” he adds.

Sofia’s grandmother, Edith Staheli.

It’s particularly meaningful for 2 reasons, Sofia’s mother Natalia Frias-Staheli, says.

For one, Sofia thinks of herself as a “STEM” — science, technology, engineering and math — person. In writing the essay, Ferrante encouraged her to push outside her comfort zone.

For another, Sofia’s grandmother died suddenly in September. She was just 66, with many projects still ahead.

Felicitaciones, Sofia. You are already dreaming big!

Words Matter: Jonathan Costello’s Video Goes Viral

Last week, a story about Joe Biden’s stutter gave Americans better insights into his speaking style and “gaffes.”

Also last week, a Westport 7th grader’s video about his own stutter went viral. It’s as personal as the vice president’s tale — and perhaps even more powerful.

Jonathan Costello’s stutter began when he was 5. He was bullied a bit in his New York City school — but there were moments of kindness too. When his 2nd grade teacher explained to the class that Jonathan was trying to get over his speech disorder, a girl said, “Don’t change! I like you just the way you are.”

His family — father Sean, mother Lauren and younger brother William — moved to Westport just before 4th grade. Jonathan was very nervous. He worried that kids would think he was “weird.” He might have no friends.

From left: Sean, William, Jonathan and Lauren Costello. They’ve got a “soccer room” in their Westport home.

Jonathan is an excellent soccer player. A week before school began, he went to Mickey Kydes’ soccer camp. He made a good friend.

On the first day at Coleytown Elementary School, Jonathan blasted a home run in kickball. “I got known as the soccer kid, not the stutter kid,” he says proudly.

Jonathan’s stutter is caused by his vocal cords shutting when he speaks. He has no trouble putting thoughts together. They just don’t always come out as quickly as he’d like.

For the past 5 years, Jonathan has worked with world renowned speech therapist Becca Grusgott. She was just minutes from his Riverdale Country School.

But he moved to Westport, and she to Kansas City. They’ve continued their work via FaceTime. Jonathan has flourished. Now a 7th grader at Bedford Middle School, he plays premier soccer for Inter Connecticut FC, basketball for the Westport PAL travel squad, and attends Hebrew school at Temple Israel.

Soccer — the world’s sport –has helped give Jonathan confidence and poise.

Last spring, as his bar mitzvah loomed, Jonathan wanted to do his “mitzvah” (good deed) project about his stutter. His mother suggested a public service announcement.

A project should involve “tikkun olam” — an element of “repairing the world” — Lauren explains. A PSA video could help repair not only the world around him, but also Jonathan’s world.

Lauren and Sean were happy to help. But, she notes, “we’re not helicopter parents. We did not want to do this for him.”

Jonathan loved the idea. But he felt nervous too.

He was a fan of John Green’s crash courses. (The novelist creates clever, quick videos that use words and illustrations to explain history and science.) Green is also a Liverpool soccer fan. Sean suggested to Jonathan that he use the “crash course” model himself.

Jonathan wrote a script. Through a website for graphic artists, the family found someone in Utah to add illustrations.

His parents recorded Jonathan in their basement (they put up a green screen background, just like the pros). He created a teleprompter, and read his script.

Jonathan Costello, with the improvised green screen in his basement.

He stuttered a bit. But that’s what the whole video is about. Jonathan explains what stuttering is. He talks about his own life (including a worker at Subway, who asks what’s wrong when he’s trying to order).

And he offers strategies for family members, teachers, friends and strangers: Be patient. Don’t finish sentences for someone. Be kind.

Plus: “Share this video.”

That’s a fantastic idea.

Jonathan’s video debuted at his bar mitzvah, earlier this month. Rabbi Michael Friedman agreed to show it during the ceremony.

It was a powerful moment. There was not a dry eye in the synagogue — and then everyone erupted in cheers.

Much of the ceremony involves speaking. Jonathan stuttered often. But he delivered his words with poise and confidence.

The next morning, Sean and Lauren emailed the video to everyone at the bar mitzvah — and all the guests who could not attend. Jonathan’s parents also uploaded the video to YouTube. Temple Israel forwarded it too.

Almost immediately, people shared it on Facebook and Twitter. Quickly, it rocketed around the world.

Speech therapists in Sweden and Portugal asked for translations. A girl watched it 4 times, then asked her teacher to show it to the class. An 18-year-old who had lived his life “in the shadows” said that Jonathan’s video perfectly articulated his life.

Becca — Jonathan’s speech therapist — shared it with a number of professional groups. Many members said other people had already sent it to them.

Referring back to “tikkun olam,” Lauren says, “The reaction has been amazing. But we feel like we’re just getting started repairing the world.”

What a start! With stuttering in the news, the Costellos sent Jonathan’s video to the Biden campaign. A staff member quickly responded.

Soon, Jonathan will meet the former vice president.

It should be a remarkable conversation.

(Hat tips: Ben Frimmer and Frank Rosen)

“Bye Bye Birdie”; Hello Tisdale!

“Bye Bye Birdie” is a staple of student drama troupes. What can you say about it that hasn’t already been said?

In the case of this weekend’s performances at Bedford Middle School: plenty.

The show features students from both Bedford and Coleytown Schools, so it should be a blockbuster.

Oliver Hallgarten, and admirers. (Photo/January Stewart)

In keeping with the theme, there’s a special ice cream social sock hop prior to the Saturday matinee. It includes ice cream from Saugatuck Sweets, hula hoop and dance contests, and free funky socks.

But that’s not the big news.

The sock hop is a benefit for the Turnaround Arts program. That’s a national arts education project with schools that face daunting educational challenges.

Bedford’s Turnaround Arts partner is the Jettie S. Tisdale School in Bridgeport. Together, Tisdale students are developing their talents and voices.

After each season’s show, Bedford donates its set, costumes and props — plus a donation from a raffle and promotions — to support Tisdale’s next production.

Andrew Maskoff and Ellie Cohen, in Bedford Company’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” (Photo/January Stewart)

But it does not stop there. After their show, Tisdale passes those resources on to another Turnaround Arts school. Then of course, they do the same…

The ice cream social and sock hop begin at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday (November 23). Raffles will take place at all “Bye Bye Birdie” performances (Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

Enjoy the show! It’s sure to make you “put on a happy face.”

Westport Students Honor Vets

For several years, Westport schools have been in session on Veterans Day.

At first, the move was controversial. Why, some residents wondered, did our students and staff not get the federal holiday off, to honor all those who have served our country?

Of course, that’s not what most people do on Veterans Day. If you’ve got the day off, odds are you spend far less time thinking about America’s vets than you do about going to the gym, walking the dog and what’s for dinner.

Things are very different inside our schools.

Many make the day meaningful, by prepping students with special programs.

Jay Dirnberger, with a plastic helicopter made for him by a Bedford Middle School student. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Every year on or around the holiday, Bedford Middle School invites veterans to meet, in small groups, with 8th graders. The vets talk about their experiences, and lessons learned. Students ask questions, and have meaningful conversations.

Jay Dirnberger has participated for the past 8 years. He always looks forward to it — especially the attentiveness of the youngsters, and their insightful questions.

Sometimes, he says, they help him uncover long-forgotten incidents or emotions.

Jay and his wife, Molly Alger, always look forward to the thank-you notes that arrive from students a few days later. They are detailed and meaningful, she says. Every year, one or two bring her to tears.

Ted Diamond is a longtime participant too. The World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator was there again last Friday — at age 102. So were 96-year-old Larry Aasen, and 95-year-old WWII vet Leonard Everett Fisher.

Leonard Everett Fisher, at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/January Stewart)

“This is a terrific program,” Molly says, “particularly in a town that does not have a lot of family members on active military duty.” She thanks Courtney Ruggiero, David Deitch and the social studies staff for organizing this event for “the future leaders of our country.”

Bedford Middle School student thanks a vet. (Photo/January Stewart)

Veterans at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/Bob Fitzpatrick)

Greens Farms Elementary School usually holds a Veterans Day event on the actual holiday as well. This year, due to scheduling issues, it was last Friday.

For the past 7 years, 3rd grade teachers have run an all-school assembly. That’s no coincidence: instructors Amy Murtagh, Karen Frawley, Dan Seek and Michelle DeCarlo all have immediate family members who are veterans.

Murtagh’s husband is on active duty in the Marine Corps Reserves. He recently returned from a year-long deployment, including 7 months in Afghanistan. He presented GFS with a flag flown over his base.

Capt. John Murtagh, UMSC, and 3rd grade teacher Amy Murtagh. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Frawley’s mother is a retired Air Force member. It’s important, Murtagh says, that Greens Farms students meet a female vet.

Seek’s father is also retired from the Air Force — and a former POW. DeCarlo’s father-in-law is a veteran too.

Every year, the GFS program begins with a reception. Veterans, their family and school students or staff members they’re related to swap stories.

Clockwise from bottom: Greens Farms 3rd grader Lily Jumper; Lily’s mother Lauren; Lily’s grandparents Marie Jumper, and James Jumper, electrician’s mate 3rd class, US Navy. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

The 3rd graders then run the assembly for the entire school. There is a Pledge of Allegiance, national anthem, and a discussion of why Veterans Day  is important. Then everyone sings songs from each branch of service.

Third graders teach the rest of the school about something related to the day. Past lessons have included a Missing Man table, and discussions of the Oath of Enlistment and the sacrifices veterans and their families make.

This year, the subject was the importance of our flag — including flag-folding. That was especially poignant. The ceremony was conducted by 2 vets who recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan. One — Lt. Ryan Weddle of the Navy — is the father of a current 3rd grader. On Friday, he folded the flag with Capt. John Murtagh of the Marine Corps

After the ceremony, each veteran was presented with a flag that had already been folded the traditional way. Each vet’s background and honors was noted.

Among the attendees this year: a female veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, a Combat Action Medal recipient, and veterans from multiple wars.

Veterans at Greens Farms Elementary School. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Like Molly Alger, Amy Murtagh believes that honoring veterans in schools takes on added significance here. “Westport doesn’t have the biggest military presence,” the GFS 3rd grade teacher says. “So this is an incredible learning opportunity for our students.”

Meanwhile, it’s a regular — if special — school day today, in Westport. But Colin Corneck won’t be in class this morning.

The Staples High School senior — a member of the boys soccer team, boys swim team captain, and recipient of a Naval ROTC scholarship — will deliver the address at the town’s annual Veterans Day service.

The program begins at 10:30 a.m., with a patriotic concert by the Westport Community Band. In addition to Colin’s remarks, there’s an invocation and benediction by the Rev. Alison Patton Buttrick of Saugatuck Congregational Church; remarks from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe; placing of a memorial wreath by members of VFW Post 399 and American Legion Post 63; taps played by Community Band trumpeters, and the “Armed Forces Salute.”

Colin will represent all Westport students well. They won’t be there, because school is in session. They wouldn’t have been there if school was out, either.

But thanks to the work of teachers and staff at all levels, our youngsters today have a great knowledge of — and appreciation for — what today is all about.

[OPINION] Danielle Dobin: A Vision For Westport Middle School Education

Danielle Dobin is the mother of a Staples High School 9th grader and a Bedford Middle School 6th grader, and vice chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Like many Westporters, she has followed the debate over the future of our middle schools — begun a year ago, when mold caused the closure of Coleytown — with great interest.

School district officials, the Boards of Education and Finance, and a special committee are moving ahead with plans to renovate CMS, and reopen it next fall. However, Dobin says, that may not be the right move. She writes:

While the closure of Coleytown Middle School has been a challenge for our community, we can turn it into an opportunity. We can create a modern and innovative middle school that delivers excellent education to all students.

Right now, we are on a path to spend $32 million (minimum) to renovate CMS.  But many in town question that path. They wonder about the wisdom of revamping a building designed by the standards of 1965. They are beginning to see the demographic challenges of running 2 middle schools with declining enrollment. Most importantly, they are beginning to question the rush to get back into CMS without carefully considering all options.

Coleytown Middle School is closed due to mold. Right now, it is set to reopen next fall.

It’s time to pause, and review all the new data and information at our disposal.  It is time to finally have the kind of community conversation a decision of this importance demands.

I want to be clear for those who are only now engaged in this process: When CMS closed, there was no thoughtful discussion — much less a town-wide debate — about what kind of middle school structure would best serve the needs of 21st century education in Westport.

Other important matters like the Downtown Plan and Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Development involved meaningful public outreach and various charettes, surveys and meetings to gauge public opinion. There was nothing like that last year.

Timing (“get CMS back as quickly as possible”) was prioritized over thoughtful consideration of all options available to us. The Board of Education did begin a process to explore options, but this was quickly circumvented. As a result, we did not plan for the future. We simply opted to re-create the past.

So what has changed?

First, let’s recognize that we have time to develop a thoughtful solution. Middle school at Bedford is working well. With the improvements of additional teaching and office spaces, a 9-period day and a merged student population, students are thriving.

We are no longer in the time crunch we thought we were in. We have the flexibility to take the time necessary to decide the best path forward in terms of design, budget and vision.

Bedford Middle School currently houses every 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.

Second, as is becoming increasingly obvious, our demographics no longer easily support the choice to maintain 2 middle schools. Moreover, the work of the Board of Ed and the many maps circulated by their demographer make clear that while some redistricting plans may create parity in the middle schools in terms of balanced enrollment, it comes at great cost to our elementary schools.

At the elementary school level, these plans create immense disruption. They lead to dramatic under- and over-utilization of various schools. No simple re-balancing solution on the table achieves all of the criteria set forth by the Board of Education.

This was not understood by most residents — or even many elected officials — until quite recently.

Third, the CMS Taskforce under the strong leadership of Don O’Day has done a fine job of researching the cost to repair CMS and managing a complicated process. My call to rethink our path is in no way a criticism of their important work.

In fact, they can concurrently continue their process while as a town we mull whether we want to actually repair CMS.

Construction has not yet begun at CMS, so sunk costs are minimal. Before we decide as a town that we want to spend millions of dollars repairing a circa-1965 building, let’s confirm that the cost will be limited to $32 million.

Let’s also figure out our tipping point. What if the cost to repair is $35 million. What if it’s $45 million?

I propose we take advantage of all the new information, and reconsider the path we are taking. Let’s take a thoughtful look at all the options: continuing on the current path, building a new state-of-the-art middle school, or creating one spectacular unified middle school for the entire district.

One unified middle school campus — with an addition designed in concert with our educators and administrators — has many advantages:

1. Every middle school student will be educated in a modern space, thoughtfully designed for the team-teaching method and reflective of our needs in 2020 and beyond.

2. A unified middle school will drive all our resources to a centralized campus, where our talented educators can collaborate and innovate across grade cohorts and areas of study.

3. A unified middle school will resolve our demographic issues for a long time, without a disruptive redistricting to achieve the optimal balance.

4. We can look as a community to the current CMS site to create a resource for all our schools: a modern computer lab to provide for coding and programming classes, a science lab for our Science Olympians, and indoor fields for our athletes.  We can dream big.

The Planning & Zoning Commission invites every stakeholder to a special planning session to discuss this important topic on October 22 (7 p.m., Town Hall).

Public comment from all Westport residents is welcome and encouraged. If you want to leave a written comment, please comment here — in the sunlight where everyone can see — and not on private Facebook groups that have segmented us into elementary school parents, middle school parents and everyone else. (Click “Comments” below — and use full, real names.)

The P&Z staff will ensure that every comment left on this public forum is included in the public record. Whether you favor a unified middle school, a newly built state-of-the-art CMS or a rehabbed CMS, please voice your thoughts.

The CMS Taskforce has not yet begun to spend the full $32 million. It’s time to be deliberative, not impulsive. There is a lot of new information to consider regarding demographics, redistricting and the benefits of a unified middle school.

This is a huge expenditure for our town. It will impact everyone’s taxes.

Let’s be sure it reflects how the public envisions our middle school institutions over the next 3 decades.

Bedford Middle School Students, Staples Freshman Make History

I’ve covered the accomplishments of Westport’s National History Day  competitors before.

I’ve used the headline “Do Know Much About History” too, so I can’t do that again.

However, earlier this month 5 Bedford Middle School students and 1 from Staples proved Sam Cooke wrong. They do know a lot about history.

The 8th graders — already state champions — placed 5th in the national event in College Park, Maryland. Freshman Ishan Prasad — a Bedford National History Day alum — placed 2nd in the High School Individual Paper category, for his work: “Shah Bano and India’s Post-Colonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.”

Bedford Middle School National History Day competitors, with club advisor Caroline Davis (rear) and their project.

The Westport program is only 5 years old. But what a history it has!

When Caroline Davis moved here from New Jersey, she brought a dozen years’ experience as a middle school National History Day Club faculty adviser. She asked if she could start one here.

Principal Adam Rosen welcomed the idea. A year later, Bedford qualified for the national competition. They repeated in 2017, ’18 and ’19 — all 3 times as state champs. Last year, they finished 4th in the country.

Davis calls her students “incredibly motivated. They want to explore outside of Goggle and readily available sources.”

She’s not kidding. Last year — delving into the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court interracial marriage case — one group tracked down and interviewed the Lovings’ attorney.

Chris Fields, in the famous photo by Charles Porter IV.

Another group made a website about the Oklahoma City bombing. They found — and interviewed — Chris Fields, the firefighter in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from that 1995 day.

(I know — to many “06880” readers, that’s a “current event.” But it happened a couple of decades before the current BMS kids were born. So history it is.)

The club meets twice a week. Students bring their lunch to Davis’ classroom, eating and working together. She helps them stay on course. But finding sources, organizing information, laying it out, offering peer reviews — that’s all on the students.

The national competition in Washington, DC was a fantastic educational and fun experience. In addition to teams from all over the US, the BMS students (and Ishan) met others from South Korea, China and Guam.

They also met Senator Richard Blumenthal, who spoke with them about the importance of history.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the US Capitol with some of Bedford’s National History Day team.

This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy.” The BMS team — Rhea Choudhury, Sharmila Green, Emma Losonczy, Malika Subramanian and Lucia Wang — researched and presented the career of Lise Meitner.

Never heard of her? Neither had I.

She’s a Jewish Austrian physicist who helped discover nuclear fission in the late 1930s. She never received credit, though — and was even excluded from receiving the Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, the Bedford students (and Ishan) got their prize. Congrats to them, to Caroline Davis and Westport 6-12 social studies supervisor Lauren Francese.

Take that, Sam Cooke!

Pic Of The Day #785

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story on High Point Road. In the midst of highlighting all the joys of the longest dead-end street in town — the road I grew up on — I complained that kids there no longer rode bikes to school, the way my friends and I did.

Maybe — because I regularly pass so many parents waiting for their kids’ buses on nearby North Avenue (and don’t get me that they drive to the beginning of roads like Adams Farm and Greystone Farm Roads to pick them up, aaaargh!) — I just assumed that High Point parents did the same.

My bad.

Biking to school from High Point is alive and well. Here’s a shot of Long Lots Elementary the other day:

(Photo/Tally Jacobs)

When they’re older, many youngsters walk from High Point to Bedford Middle School too.

“This time outdoors is an important part of the kids’ day,” says High Point parent Tally Jacobs.

“It says so much about Westport that kids take advantage of their proximity to the schools, the fresh air, the independence and community feeling that results from walking and biking.”

Of course, walking to Staples — directly behind homes on the west side of the road — is a different story. Most High Point kids with their licenses drive to high school — even though it takes longer.

I’m can’t make fun of them for that.

I did the same thing, waaaaay back in the day.

(Hat tip: Amy Hochhauser)

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.