Tag Archives: Drew Coyne

Happy 218th Birthday, Horace Staples!

Horace Staples was born on January 31, 1801.

More than 80 years later — by then the wealthiest man in Westport — he founded a high school. He had grown tired of watching pupils go off to Bridgeport or Norwalk for their educations. Staples’ High School — that was the correct punctuation — opened in 1884. The first class (consisting of just 6 girls) graduated 2 years later.

For as long as Horace Staples was alive, the quickly growing high school celebrated every January 31 as Founder’s Day. He joined in the festivities, and viewed with pride his students’ presentations and orations.

Horace Staples

A typical ceremony began with an opening hymn, scriptures, a prayer and the 112nd Psalm. There was a reading on “A Liberal Education”; a piano solo and song; a debate on the topic “Resolved: that civilized nations are justified in seizing and occupying lands inhabited by savages”; a declamation on Paul Revere’s Ride; addresses thanking Horace Staples; his response; another hymn, and final remarks.

Horace Staples attended many Founder’s Days. He died on March 6, 1897 — age 96. He had outlived all his wives and children, and was both the best-known and oldest citizen in town.

Founders Day foundered after his death. But 3 years ago, Rho Kappa — the Staples High School (current punctuation) honor society — resurrected the celebration.

There are exhibits of life in the 1880s. The library hosts a speaker.

And every year, Horace Staples — or a reasonable facsimile thereof — roams the halls, popping into classrooms to talk about “his” school, and its 135-year history.

Here are some photos of today’s Founder’s Day. If Horace bears a close resemblance to the world’s leading expert on Westport’s crown jewel — the guy who a decade ago wrote a 377-page book called Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education (and today runs a blog called “o688o”) — well, that’s just one more memorable moment in the long, illustrious history that all began with Horace Staples’ birth, 218 years ago today.

Before the opening bell, Horace Staples visited with social studies teachers. Here he chats about his high school with Drew Coyne.

Among the classes Horace Staples visited was Current Issues: American Media and Politics. It’s a new addition to the curriculum. If it was taught when Staples’ High School opened, pupils would have discussed the administration of President Chester Alan Arthur.

Horace visited himself in the library.

Horace Staples also spent time hanging with students in the cafeteria. He reminded them that until 1923, everyone had to bring their own lunch to school. And — with the temperature in single digits — he noted that for many years, all students had to walk to school. Some came from as far as Wilton.

“If These Walls Could Talk…” For Drew Coyne, They Do.

The best teachers model their passions.

English teachers read and write. Culinary teachers cook. Phys. ed. instructors work out.

Drew Coyne

Drew Coyne teaches US History Honors at Staples High School. He’s been nominated for Westport Teacher of the Year. His students adore him.

He’s tough, but fair. He makes learning interesting.

And he walks the talk — inside the classroom, and out.

Drew grew up in an 1850s house in upstate New York. His partner Matt O’Connell was raised in a Boston suburb. In September 2017, they started searching for a house to buy. They wanted something historic.

They came close to purchasing in Greens Farms. Then they found an even better property on the Old Post Road in Fairfield — part of that town’s Historic District.

The owners were Paul and Barb Winsor. Paul was George Harrison’s gardener. But that wasn’t what made it amazing.

It was built in 1837 by the Turney family. They owned land by Fairfield beach, and grew peaches.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church took it over. For nearly 100 years, it served as a parsonage.

In 1936, the church sold the property to the Hermenze family. Four years later, they sold it to Donald and Ann Robbins. The price was $8,000. The Robbinses raised 5 children there.

175 Old Post Road — back in the day.

Drew loved his new home. Walking the halls, he felt compelled to know who walked them before him. And he wondered what stories the walls could tell.

Like any great history teacher, he researched the past. The Fairfield Museum had little information. The church did not have much either.

But searching online, Drew found an obituary for Ann Robbins. It included the names of her surviving children. One — Ann’s daughter Nan Hotchkiss– lived in Fairfield.

Drew called. She’s in her mid-80s now, but was delighted to hear from him. She asked many questions about the house. It obviously meant a lot to her.

So Drew invited her to come see for herself.

Thrilled, she asked if she could bring 2 brothers, and her younger sister. Oh, and also her son’s daughter, who is in her 40s.

The visit — a couple of weekends ago — was wonderful. The former residents walked all around the house, touching things and remembering tiny details like the smell of gingerbread cookies, tricycle races and Nan’s basement “jewelry shop.”

3 generations of owners. Standing at left: Matt O’Connell and Drew Coyne. From the top of the stairs down: Barb Winsor, Carol Robbins, Pat Robbins, Bruce Robbins, Henry Robbins, Anne (Nan) Jackson. Larry Robbins Skyped in with his wife Deirdre.

They pointed to nicks in the wood, and told Drew and Matt how they got there.

“Those are the subtle things we’d never notice,” Drew says. “But they meant so much to the family. They give warmth and beauty, and enhanced my view of our house.”

One of Nan’s brothers lives out of state, and could not make it to Fairfield. So his siblings walked around with an iPad, showing him the 19th century house via 21st century Skype. He added his own memories.

The Robbins children, with their parents, Donald and Ann.

Barb Winsor — who Drew and Matt bought the house from — also came that weekend.

So the couple heard stories about the house, all the way from 1940 to today.

Drew says, “We saw layer upon layer of history. We heard about victory gardens in World War II, and the noise from the Post Road when that was the only highway around.”

As she was leaving, Nan said, “It’s so nice to come home.”

That’s a feeling Drew Coyne has every day, when he walks through the door of the house that is now his. And that he now understands, better than ever.

“This was a great Christmas gift that Matt and I could give them,” he says.

“And a great gift that they gave us, too.”

175 Old Post Road, last winter.

Do Know Much About History

Sure, STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — gets lots of education headlines.

But history is alive and well in Westport schools too.

Two Staples High students recently finished 8th in the nation.

Meanwhile, 4 Bedford Middle Schoolers landed in the national top 4.

Stapleites Shea Curran and Kate Enquist were students this past year in Drew Coyne’s sophomore US History Honors course. He asked his students to find a National History Day topic on the theme of conflict and compromise.

Initially, Shea admits, “Kate and I were not really looking forward to NHD. We imagined it was filled with history nerds and crazy parents.”

But as they searched for ideas, they found an article on Westport’s Nike missile sites on (ta da!) “06880.” They got hooked — and realized history can be interesting, exciting (and cool).

Nike missiles on display.

They spent months researching the topic, using old newspapers and other material — some of it previously classified. They also interviewed people who were there.

The process was not easy, Kate says. But it was rewarding.

Shea and Kate were amazed to learn that missiles were once stored on the current site of Bedford Middle School. They were stunned to discover how close the US came to nuclear war.

The project “opened our eyes to today’s society,” Shea says. “We realize the importance of civilians being able to voice their concerns, suggestions or opinions.”

During the Cold War, she notes, “if civilians did not speak up, the results of the Nike missile sites would be much different.”

Shea Curran and Kate Enquist

The entire National History Day experience has sparked Kate’s interest in government and history. She’ll volunteer in those areas this summer, and will take AP Government in the fall.

(To view Shea and Kate’s project online, click here.)

At the junior level, Bedford’s Jason Chiu-Skow, Jordan Chiu-Skow, Johann Kobelitsch and Lyah Muktavaram worked since October — during their lunches — with teacher Caroline Davis. They also spent hours together after school, and on weekend.

Their topic was “How the Treaty of Versailles Ended the Great War.” They chose it because they realized that compromise is not always fair.

The Bedford Middle School National History Day team, at the national competition.

As part of their project, the Bedford students learned how to do research, present a convincing argument, answer judges’ questions, and work as a team.

They finished 3rd in Fairfield County, then first in Connecticut, before earning 4th place at the national competition (which also included Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Singapore, South Korea and South Asia).

The National History Day winners will be honored — and their exhibits shown — at a reception on July 14 in Connecticut’s Old Sate House.

There certainly is a lot of history there.

Charlie Colasurdo’s Vietnam

Charlie Colasurdo is a Staples High School sophomore. He’s a longtime Wakeman Town Farm volunteer, online features editor for the school newspaper Inklings, and a talented photographer.

Last week I posted a story on Nora Kubach, a Staples grad finishing up a film about Americans whose fathers were killed in action there, and children of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who died in the same war.

Charlie read it, and emailed me — from Vietnam.

That’s where he was spending April break. I invited him to share his unique vacation with “06880” readers when he returned. Here’s what he wrote — along with photographs he took.

I was incredibly fortunate and excited to spend 10 days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Because I visited a family of expats who had lived there for 5 years, I got to explore and experience Saigon in a very nontraditional way, and to photographically document the people, places and rich culture that the city boasts.

Charlie Colasurdo, and Ho Chi Minh.

Charlie Colasurdo, and Ho Chi Minh.

Just weeks before I left, I watched “Last Days in Vietnam” in Mr. Drew Coyne’s US History Honors class. The movie showed Saigon at the end of the war, as Americans and their South Vietnamese allies were evacuating from the besieged city. Mr. Coyne and I agreed that revisiting those scenes on the historic avenues of Saigon was an excellent way to connect my trip to what I learned in Westport.

I found the city itself to be stunning — a unique juxtaposition of traditional Chinese, colonial French, and high-rise, modern architecture sprawling over several districts, or “quậns.”

The streets are overrun with motorbikes (almost 6 million!), which makes for interesting street crossing!

Venturing away from the more touristy areas of downtown, we took self-guided walking tours of the crisscrossing alleyways of Chợ Lớn, Saigon’s Chinatown. It’s where the majority of the working-class Saigonese live, away from the noisy main streets. Tucked away down these narrow alleys, vibrant markets sell everything from towers of just-picked coconut, purple basil and mint, and freshly picked mangoes to still-swimming fish to sweet sticky rice balls, which you can buy for 20,000 dong apiece (90 cents). It was a far cry from the Westport Farmers’ Market!

Charlie Colasurdo - Vietnam 3

Learning about the Vietnam War from the comfort of Westport, I was never able to get a complete idea of its scale and effects on a country 9,000 miles away. The War Remnants Museum was a necessary but difficult stop, featuring disturbing photo galleries of the atrocities of the war (or as it is referred to there, the “American War”). Despite this one reminder of a darker time, the Vietnamese people I encountered were cheerful and friendly to me as an American, and clearly desired to move on towards a brighter future.

Another highlight of the trip was a photography tour of Saigon’s hidden gems with Tanya Olander, who created the fantastic daily photoblog “Somewhere in Saigon,” featuring street photography throughout the city. My favorite stop was at Tao Dan Park’s “Bird Café,” where Vietnamese hang up songbirds in ornate cages and enjoy the morning songs with a coffee or cigarette.

Charlie Colasurdo - Vietnam 2

While there, I discovered how much more a vacation could offer than sitting on a beach or skiing down a mountain. In Saigon I was able to eat like a local, ride motorbikes through the city’s narrow alleys, and meet wonderfully interesting and colorful people, like the market vendors who had very little, and yet nearly always wore smiles.

Charlie Colasurdo - Vietnam 1

(Photos/Charlie Colasurdo)

(Photos/Charlie Colasurdo)