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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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