Tag Archives: Green’s Farms Academy

COVID-19 Roundup: Property Tax Info; Ringing Bells; Harrowing Survival Story; Online Fitness And Yoga; Free Resumes; More

Several readers have wondered about Westport real estate and personal property tax abatement or deferral (they’re due today — April 1. No fooling). I asked 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He says:

For several weeks, our town (and others) have been exploring deferment alternatives for property owners who can demonstrate genuine hardship. This is still a work in process.

Among other things, the governor must take executive order steps to allow a local community the option to modify property tax payment penalties and deadlines. I have been in direct touch with Governor Lamont on this issue. In the meantime the April 1 quarterly tax payment date still remains, but as always, allows 30 days (until May 1) to pay without penalty.

I have not heard if utility companies plan to offer any special dispensation for hardship cases. Our Human Services Department regularly works with residents on utility payment plans if true need can be demonstrated.

In related news, Governor Lamont announced yesterday a 90-day grace period on mortgage payments, and a 60-day delay on foreclosures. Homeowners should contact their banks and/or mortgage companies for details.


Across the country, communities are coming together to ring bells in support of medical personnel and other frontline workers.

From 5:00 to 5:02 p.m. tonight, Westport families are asked to “joyously sound a bell, chime, bang pans, etc. as a reminder that while we may be physically separated, we remain united. Let’s make this a gesture of gratitude to all the people helping us overcome this present situation: the police department, fire department, first responders, town officials, teachers and healthcare workers, including the many Westport parents who leave their families to care for those in need at hospitals and medical offices.”

Greens Farms and Assumption Churches — and perhaps others — will join in. Ring them bells! (Hat tips: Jaclyn Lindsey-Noble and Staples High School PTA)

In addition, reader Mary Beth Stirling urges Westporters to fly the American flag. That — and donations to any organization that helps those in need — are both a show of support, and a way to teach children that whatever they can do (including staying home to protect lives) is a patriotic act.

Green’s Farms Congregational Church has a great bell to ring.


“06880” readers know Heather Bauer for her tips on eating healthy in restaurants.

Now the rest of America knows her as a COVID-19 survivor. The 42-year-old nutritionist/mother of 3/ runner of 15 marathons was in great health — until she attended a party, and got infected.

Two days ago — just a week after leaving Yale New Haven Hospital, where she spent 9 harrowing days — Heather told her story on CNN.

It’s a scary tale of fever, migraine headaches, a full body rash, even possible meningitis. It’s also a tale of great care, by a wonderful medical staff. Click below to watch. (Hat tip: Ben Sturner)


Patty Kondub’s great water aerobics classes have been beached by the coronavirus. So have dozens of other Westport Weston Family YMCA offerings, in strength training, yoga — you name it.

But members can still get exercise — on land, at home. There are offerings for all ages, in every imaginable category. Click here for info.

PS: Yesterday, I (coincidentally) got a call from the Y. They were just checking in on all members — seeing how we are, and what we need.

I really need to swim. But failing that, I’d like to say this: THANKS, Y! What a nice, friendly, community touch!

A motivational message from Patty Kondub.


Speaking of exercise, Kaia Yoga’s classes are now all online. Many are inexpensive. There are also free kids’ classes and meditations — great for parents looking for productive activities.

Kaia Yoga — which has long provided classes for Bridgeport school children –has been hit hard by the coronavirus. They employ over 70 teachers.

Click here for a list of classes.


Speaking (again) of exercise, does anyone have an unused stationary bike they’re willing to sell? Asking for (ahem) a friend.


Every Westporter has a talent. Many are figuring out how to use their expertise to help others.

As a career coach, Jaki Suter helps clients write or refresh resumes. With so many people suddenly facing job losses, she’s doing her part: offering a “free resume refresh” to 30 Westport and Weston residents.

She’ll work with you to highlight skills and accomplishments; include new positions and details, and eliminate irrelevant details.

All you need is an existing resume no more than 5 years old. You’ll work by phone. Jaki will produce an updated resume, including a round of revisions and a final document.

To be one of the first 30 local residents, email jaki@sutergroup.com (subject line: “Free Resume Refresh”).


Jennifer Hrbek reports that she and Westport psychiatrist Dr. Mohamed Elsamra are helping raise $50,000 to buy 4 ventilators, to be donated to local hospitals. Click here to contribute.


Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich notes that transfer station personnel cannot assist with bulky waste. Do not bring those items to the station.

In addition, with the increase in cardboard due to online ordering, all boxes should be flattened, stacked and tied.

Tissues and gloves are being placed in recycling bins. They are not recyclable, and must be placed in the regular trash bin.

Due to the increased amount of glass containers, recycling bins are too heavy for workers to lift. For the time being, residents should separate glass into a smaller container, or put all recycling in smaller containers so workers can lift them.

Transfer station


Greens Farms Academy head of school Bob Whelan has gained fame — and respect — for his great snow day videos.

It’s a little tougher to pull off a clever coronavirus video. But the popular, people-first educator did.

This morning he channeled Fred Rogers, for the school’s youngest learners. Bob —  whose career before education was fronting the band Angry Salad — sang for his students.

He reminded them he (and the school) were still there for them. Then, in true Mr. Rogers fashion he asked them to keep him apprised of big events, like birthdays and lost teeth.

You don’t have to be a kid — or go to GFA — to love this one.


Miriam Young writes, “As one of many COVID positive people in Westport, I hope you can tell other positive readers about efforts to collect plasma from recovered patients.”

She sent a link to a story on how plasma might help people still fighting off infection (or, preemptively, those at high risk of infection).


When Westporter John Rizzi read that a TV remote can be 20 times dirtier than your toilet, he got worried. You can’t clean it well, without taking it all apart.

But he devised a solution: cover it in plastic wrap. It takes 2 seconds; it protects the device — and you can replace the wrap over and over again.


And finally, you don’t have to be a Kopite to love this song (and video!):

Lil Tecca, Greens Farms Academy, And The Greatest Sleep-In Video Ever

Last year, Greens Farms Academy head Bob Whelan — and friends like Domonique Foxworth, Marcus Spears, Jalen Rose and Mike Greenberg — produced the world’s greatest snow-day announcement ever.

Don’t believe me? Click here!

Bob was all set to top that this year. There was just one problem: No snow.

No problem!

This afternoon, he sent a video to all upper school students and parents.

Tomorrow is not a snow day. But it is a sleep-in/late start day. At GFA, apparently, there is a god.

And he has a direct line to Lil Tecca.

Don’t believe me? Click below!

(Hat tip: Michelle Levi)

The Art Of Golf Balls

Like many “06880” readers, Heather Heenehan was grossed out by a recent Pic of the Day. It showed dozens of golf balls floating in the water near Longshore’s Hendricks Point driving range.

They weren’t the only place the Greens Farms Academy teacher had seen them.

Last October, her Oceanography class found a golf ball during their monthly survey of the nearby Burying Hill Beach shoreline.

Curious, they picked it up.

Then they found more, nestled in the rocks. They picked them up too, to clean the beach.

The students realized they now had important evidence of marine debris. They continued the project in Heenehan’s Marine Biology class this spring.

The Marine Biology class at Burying Hill Beach, earlier this spring. (Photo/Heather Heenehan)

They learned that in the water, golf balls break down into small pieces of plastic that are unhealthy for marine organisms to digest.

In addition, they’re covered in toxic zinc.

But what to do with the 121 golf balls they’d collected — a small fraction of the amount in Long Island Sound? How could they draw attention to what they’d found?

Artwork!

They were inspired by Alex Weber, a California high school student who also noticed golf balls around her coast. She and a few friends collected 50,000 (!).

Heenehan’s students cut and painted their golf balls into a mural.

The bottom layer represents the land along the shoreline: green representing seaweed, brown and tan for rocks and sand.

The middle piece portrays the oceans, with various creatures scattered throughout.

The top piece is the sky and sunset.

Fore!

The Greens Farms Academy mural.

(Hat tip: Dawn Henry)

The World’s Greatest Snow Day Announcement. Ever.

Nearly every school district in Fairfield County is closed today, because of an impending snow and ice storm.

Most of them announced it last night, the old-fashioned way: via Twitter.

Greens Farms Academy took it one — okay, many — steps further.

Bob Whelan — the popular, fun-loving and very involved head of school — posted a video.

But not just any video. This one stars himself — and Westport’s own Mike Greenberg, host of ESPN’s “Get Up!” morning show.

Plus famous athletes Domonique Foxworth, Marcus Spears and Jalen Rose.

Trust me: This is the most entertaining 3 minutes you’ll see all day week month year.

Sure, it costs a lot of money to go to Greens Farms Academy.

But this video is priceless.

(Hat tips: Michelle Levi, Tom and Stacey Henske)

Photo Challenge #211

Our 1st-ever “4-fer” Photo Challenge showed a quartet of ads. All were shot in the 1950s and ’60s by photographer Bill Bell — longtime Westporter Bobbi Liepolt’s father — for the Dunbar furniture campaign. (Click here to see.)

The photos showed, in order:

  • Kathleen Laycock School on Beachside Avenue (now Greens Farms Academy)
  • Fairfield County Hunt Club
  • Nyala Farm, off Greens Farms Road
  • The Stony Point home of Leopold Godowsky (a concert violinist who helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome) and his wife, Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister, and a noted painter).

The first 3 sites are all still in Westport, in more or less the same condition (despite, in Nyala Farms’ case, the construction of a massive office building for Stauffer Chemicals’ world headquarters).

The Godowsky home was torn down in 2009, to make way for a larger, more modern home.

No one got all 4 right. The school was the easiest; Andrew Colabella, Dana Brownell, Barbara Sherburne, Rick Leonard and Bob Grant all quickly identified the iconic, Ivy League-looking main building.

The Hunt Club seemed to be the second easiest. Fred Cantor and Rick Leonard got that one.

It took a while to identify Nyala Farm and Stony Point — but Evan Stein got ’em both. Congrats to all!

This week, we “welcome” old and new readers with this Photo Challenge:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

New GFA Head Stresses Balance, Purpose, Community

Greens Farms Academy has had just 3 headmasters in the past 45 years.

As the successor to Jim Coyle, Peter Esty and Janet Hartwell, Bob Whelan has big shoes to fill.

Fortunately, he’s well on his way. He’s 6-5, and a former basketball player and coach.

Even more fortunately, he’s got a strong, eclectic background. Whelan graduated from Brown University in 1991 with a double major in American civilization and philosophy. He spent several years as a founder, singer, songwriter and director of a rock band that recorded with Atlantic Records and toured extensively.

Bob Whelan

He returned to school, earning a graduate degree in education, policy and management at Harvard, then embarked on a career in development, teaching and administration at 2 leading day schools.

Coupled with his profound understanding of the challenges facing today’s students, Whelan is the perfect educator to lead the Beachside Avenue private school into the future.

Brown challenged him to think about his passions, he says. His band, Angry Salad (“despite its name, we were not mad and had no agenda”), was a joyful time. He was surrounded by “talented, artistic, creative people.”

After 6 years in Brown’s development office he taught ethics and writing, coached boys and girls basketball, and rose to associate head of school at Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, New York.

Whelan’s most recent position was headmaster at 130-year-old Lake Forest Country Day, with over 400 pre-K to 8th grade students just north of Chicago.

There he developed innovative spaces, did cutting-edge work with social and emotional thinking, created a more diverse and inclusive community, and reinvigorated faculty and staff morale.

Bob Whelan, working with young students.

When a search firm approached him about GFA, he was intrigued.

“I’d always associated Westport with creativity and the arts,” Whelan says. “It’s a beautiful community, engaged in local life and the world.”

As he learned more about the school, he realized its students, faculty and mission aligned with his own sensibilities.

He accepted the position last fall. Since then, Whelan has worked with parents and alumni — and been mentored by Hartwell, the departing head.

Whelan is spending this summer meeting individually with staff members, alumni and alumni parents. He feels like an anthropologist, discovering how Greens Farms Academy got where it is, and how it heads into the future.

Before Greens Farms Academy students return in the fall, the new head of school is learning all he can about them. (Photo/Yoon S. Byun)

“I’ve always enjoyed the relationship between teachers, kids, parents and ideas,” Whelan says.

“There are surprises at every turn: learning that the school is coming off its most successful spring in its athletic history, and seeing how the performing arts help students raise their voices. I’m having a lot of fun in this process.”

Whelan is also digging deep into Westport. He’s finding “great energy everywhere” — during an early weekend here, he was amazed at the Fine Arts Festival —  and is thinking about ways to open GFA’s doors to the town.

“There are opportunities for everyone to come in and learn. A school like this has a responsibility to leverage access to a community like this, that’s dedicated to education. It’s important to bring folks behind the stone wall.”

Greens Farms Academy

Being head of Greens Farms Academy — with its beautiful facilities, excellent faculty, strong endowment and high-achieving students and parents — is a great opportunity.

But Whelan is well aware of the challenges.

“The world is evolving,” he says. “As we think about the tools we want our children to have, we also want them to be people of character, who can express themselves articulately. How do we help develop not only those skills, but also help them lead a fulfilling life of purpose, as they contribute to their community? How do we model that here?”

He knows that social media and technology are “incredibly compelling. How do we make the real world relevant to them?”

But, he adds, “kids are kids. Whether it’s the 1960s, ’80s or 2010s, it’s important to preserve childhood. We can’t lose sight that developing skills is not mutually exclusive with developing a sense of balance in life.”

Whelan takes over a school that traces its founding back 93 years. Greens Farms Academy, its new head says, is “more dedicated than ever to deepening its roots in the community. As the school reveals itself to me, I look forward to seeing it reveal itself to those who don’t know it.”

Bob Whelan will be an active leader. Those big shoes will soon be everywhere.

Friday Flashback #55

For over 50 years, The Willows medical complex — aka “Fort Apache” — has sat at the Kings Highway North/Wilton Road intersection.

But for 3 decades before that, it was the 3rd home to The Bolton School — aka The Westport School for Girls.

Mary E. E. Bolton

The school was opened in 1925 by Mrs. Mary E.E. Bolton and her sister, Miss Katherine Laycock. The founders’ main goal was to educate Bolton’s 2 daughters.

The women were “completely unknown in Westport,” a school history in the 1951 yearbook says.

But they put up a sign outside a 3-story Myrtle Avenue house. Bolton leased room for her school — and living space for herself and her daughters — there.

Besides Betty and Bunny Bolton, 2 other girls — all 7 years old– enrolled. By year’s end, 14 others joined them.

The next year the school moved to a large Greek Revival house on the corner of Post Road West and Ludlow Road.

Three years later, they relocated to the Kings Highway North site. The Bolton School occupied a large Victorian farmhouse, and 3 outbuildings.

Each year, a new grade was added. The first graduating class was 1935.

By the mid-1950s though, the old house, barn and sheds were fire traps. Mrs. Bolton’s lease was nearing an end, and the owner of the property wanted to sell.

The Bolton School, on the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road. The photo was provided by Bonnie Bradley, from the school’s 1950 yearbook.

A group of concerned parents and friends of the school, including Lucie Bedford Cunningham, approached the sisters with the idea of incorporating The Bolton School as a not-for-profit, which could raise money to build or buy new facilities. Mrs. Bolton declined, preferring to retain ownership of her nursery school and lower school, but Miss Laycock, headmistress of the Upper School, agreed.

Long story short: In 1956 the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School opened in the dilapidated house. After a search, the Bedford/Vanderbilt family sold 26 acres of property on Beachside Avenue — for $250,000.

Kathleen Laycock

In 1959, Kathleen Laycock School moved in. The next year, Mrs. Bolton’s younger school followed.

Both prospered. But by the end of the 1960s, single-sex schools were under siege. In 1969, after a year of study and deliberation, the trustees voted to admit males.

Knowing the difficulty of attracting boys to “Kathleen Laycock Country Day,” the trustees renamed the school. In September 1970, 23 young men joined 300 young women at Greens Farms Academy.

The rest is history. You can still see the remnants of what was once the Bolton School on Beachside Avenue.

If you close your eyes, you can visualize it too at Fort Apache.

(Hat tip: Bonnie Bradley)

Saugatuck Rowing Club Sets Sights On Horizons

Rowing is a great sport.

It’s demanding, but healthful. It teaches discipline, teamwork and goal-setting. It instills self-confidence, self-control and pride. Plus, nothing beats being out on the water at 5 a.m., in a driving rain.

But rowing also has a stigma: It’s expensive, and elitist.

For the past 4 years, Saugatuck Rowing Club has defied that stigma. The Riverside Avenue facility throws open its doors — and provides a place in its boats — to a special group of teenagers.

And the kids have given back as much as they’ve gotten.

Thanks to a partnership with Greens Farms Academy’s Horizons program — a national project that provides underserved children with academic, social, emotional learning and enrichment programs — SRC welcomes more than a dozen 8th graders for 6 weeks each summer.

Three afternoons a week, the Bridgeport children clamber off buses and into the sprawling clubhouse. Very quickly, it becomes their home.

“Our mission is twofold,” says Diana Kuen, a beginner/intermediate SRC coach who oversees the program.

“We want to introduce them to a sport would never otherwise have a chance to experience. And it’s our responsibility to chip away at the socioeconomic barriers that exist in our own backyard.”

They start like many beginners. Some are terrified of the river. None ever touched an oar.

Under Kuen’s direction, they row on an ergometer. When they’re ready, they step into a boat and onto the water. Figuratively — and literally — they jump into the deep end.

Diana Kuen, and a Horizons rower.

Kuen and co-coach Bridge Murphy watch closely. They figure out which kids will work best where, and who is comfortable going out alone.

The new rowers are like boys and girls everywhere. They’re quick learners. They want to succeed. They love to compete.

And they sure have fun.

“These kids bring joy and levity with them every day,” Kuen says. “They are genuine, authentic and happy.

“Each afternoon is filled with laughter, pride and a sense of purpose. When they step into the club, they light everyone up.”

Another day, with Horizons rowers on the Saugatuck River.

None of that comes easily. The coaches demand that these youngsters — just like any new rowers — step out of their comfort zones.

One girl was terrified. The first victory was getting her out on a launch, with the coaches. Gradually, she eased into a boat.

At the end of 6 weeks, Kuen says, “she was an outstanding rower.”

One boy was so successful at rowing with 7 teammates that he asked if he could scull alone. Once he pushed off from the dock however, he froze.

Kuen swam out to get him. “We tell them we will never let anything bad happen. We will do whatever we can to help.”

Every day throughout the Horizons program, the coaches and kids talk.

“They’re great communicators,” Kuen says. “They understand that this is about so much more than rowing.”

On the final day, each 8th grader spoke from their hearts about what the program meant. Kuen and Murphy listened, with tears in their eyes.

That final session ended with a pizza party. An SRC member — someone who’d witnessed the kids’ transformation, and appreciated the can-do attitude they brought every day — bought ice cream cakes for everyone.

On the way out, SRC general manager Suzanne Pullen overheard 2 girls talking.

“I’ll miss this place so much,” one said.

But not as much as the Saugatuck Rowing Club will miss them.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

The Bridgeport Horizons group poses proudly.

FBI Head Highlights GFA Graduation

It had to be the biggest graduation address ever in Westport — and not just because the speaker is 6-8.

FBI director James Comey keynoted Greens Farms Academy’s 90th commencement yesterday — and not just because he lives around the corner.

Comey — whose previous jobs include deputy attorney general, US attorney and general counsel at Bridgewater Associates — is the father of graduating senior (and student council chair) Claire Comey. Two of his 5 other children also attended GFA.

After noting that a drone flying overhead was not the FBI’s, Comey discussed 4 keys to success: high emotional intelligence; effective communication; the courage to ask questions, and care for one’s reputation.

Want to hear more of what an FBI director says to 78 teenagers? Click below.

 

A Blow Dry Bar At Greens Farms Academy?

September Sirico has opened her 2nd Blow Dry Bar. It’s downtown, on Church Lane near Sconset Square.

Ordinarily, the opening of a blowout “bar” — also offering braiding, airbrush spray tanning, threading, lash/brow tinting and more! — would not rise to the level of “06880”-worthiness.

But, September says, her new salon bar has an interesting history. It’s on the site of the original Greens Farms Academy.

Who knew?

The exclusive private school began as “Mrs. Bolton’s School for Girls,” in 1925. The “English lady of education and culture” took as her model “the best English schools.”

Mary E.E. Bolton leased room for her school — and living space for herself and her 2 daughters — in a 3-story frame house across from Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

Yes, this is the original home of Greens Farms Academy.

Yes, this is the original home of Greens Farms Academy.

The  school began with 4 students. But by spring of 1926 there were 18 girls — all 7 years old or younger — and the Church Lane space was already too small.

Mrs. Bolton (and her sister, Kathleen Laycock) moved to a large Greek Revival house on the corner of West State Street (Post Road West) and Ludlow Road, then to the northeast corner of King’s Highway and Wilton Road (present location of the Willows Medical Center). For the next 30 years Mrs. Bolton, Miss Laycock and their small faculty tutored young ladies in a large Victorian farmhouse and 3 out-buildings there.

By the mid-1950s, though, the old house, barn, and sheds were fire traps. Mrs. Bolton’s lease was nearing an end, and the owner of the property wanted to sell. A group of concerned parents and friends of the School, including Lucie Bedford Cunningham, approached the sisters with the idea of incorporating The Bolton School as a not-for-profit, which could raise money to build or buy new facilities. Mrs. Bolton declined, preferring to retain ownership of her nursery school and lower school, but Miss Laycock, headmistress of the Upper School, agreed.

Long story short: In 1956 the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School opened in the dilapidated house. After a search, the Bedford/Vanderbilt family sold 26 acres of property on Beachside Avenue — for $250,000.

In 1959, Kathleen Laycock School moved in. The next year, Mrs. Bolton’s younger school followed.

One of the Bedford/Vanderbilt homes is now part of Greens Farms Academy.

One of the Bedford/Vanderbilt homes is now part of Greens Farms Academy.

Both prospered. But by the end of the 1960s, single-sex schools were under siege. In 1969, after a year of study and deliberation, the trustees voted to admit males.

Knowing the difficulty of attracting boys to “Kathleen Laycock Country Day,” the trustees renamed the school. In September 1970, 23 young men joined 300 young women at Greens Farms Academy.

The rest is history.

Except for this fun fact, which brings us back to September Sirico and Blow Dry Westport.

September Sirico

September Sirico

When September was ready to begin 1st grade in Westport, her parents applied to GFA. She was not accepted.

Her family was told she was “too social.” The fit with the other children wouldn’t be right.

Thirty years later, September finally feels like she been “accepted to Greens Farms Academy.”

She plans quite the blowout to celebrate.