Tag Archives: Jaime Bairaktaris

[OPINION] Kids: Keep Fidgeting!

Jaime Bairaktaris is a compassionate, caring and cool “06880” reader. He works as a volunteer EMS crew chief, environmental program teacher, public school para-educator, and ice cream scooper.

Jaime is also very observant. Last weekend, he saw something disturbing. He wants to share it with all “06880” readers. I’m honored to pass his message along.

This is for all the parents of fidgety, different, and “normal” kids.

On Saturday morning I began to eavesdrop on the booth behind me at Rye Ridge Deli. Sitting in back of me was a kid (I assumed he’s a middle schooler). Across the table from him was a man (I assumed it was his father). My booth shook slightly as the kid moved around.

“Sit still!” the man said. Each word bounced as he chuckled.

The boy stopped moving. The booth became still.

“Some kids, they can’t sit still. They can’t control themselves,” the man continued.

I could not help but listen.

“One kid gets angry and gets a whole teacher to themself,” the man said. “Imagine there’s 25 kids in a class with one teacher. That’s ‘normal.’ Now imagine every kid gets their own teacher because they can’t control themself.”

I grew angry. I was listening to a child learn about how to look at other kids as abnormal, in a world where no one is “normal.”

“Imagine you want to get a set of textbooks for the whole class, but instead one kid gets their own teacher,” he said curtly.

“Now it’s more expensive for everyone else.”

This child was being taught to look at other kids as “expenses.”

The man plunged on. “We try to make these kids as ‘normal’ as possible now. We used to just keep them home if we knew it wouldn’t work out.”

My coffee grew cold. I could not imagine the harm he had done. He had just taught a child a mindset that many people have fought over 7 decades to change.

I listened as he chewed his words for a second, then spilled out: “But I’m not saying what’s wrong or right. These are big decisions.”

Man at the deli: These are not decisions. These are children. 

My heart hurt for the child who had to listen to this.

My heart hurt for the kids who may now be looked at as expenses — and for the teachers who were equated to text books.

My heart hurt that I chose to eavesdrop and judge this man’s parenting, but did not stand up and stop it.

Parents: Please talk to your kids — at the deli, at home, in the car, before bed — and make sure they know to love all of their friends the same.

Kids: Please never think that you are an expense or a waste. You are the best asset our town will ever be prized with. Please keep fidgeting.

Signed, 

A fidgety, abnormal, 21-year-old

 

Finding The UN At Earthplace Camp

Every jUNe Day, Westport hosts hundreds of guests from around the world.

As you walk along Compo Beach, you hear dozens of languages.

For Jaime Bairaktaris, his “Westport United Nations” moment comes at Earthplace.

The 2016 Staples High School graduate has worked for several seasons as an Earthplace summer counselor. Previously, he was a camper there himself.

Every year, Jaime is impressed at the number of international visiting campers. They come from China, Spain, Germany, Singapore, England and everywhere else. They’re all ages too.

He and the kids climb trees, run through the brook, build stick shelters, have mud fights, swim and canoe down the Saugatuck River.

“No matter where they’re from, we all realize the nature sanctuary doesn’t have a language,” Jaime says.

Last week was extra special. In his group of 5 youngsters, only 1 — Andres — was from Westport.

Andres’ cousin is from Chile. Sofie lives in New York. Liv and Adam come from Paris.

The world comes to Earthplace. On the right is camp co-director Becky Newman.

Jaime relied on “Spanish for Dummies,” “French for Dummies” and Google Translate. He’d switch in mid-sentence from one language to another, without missing a beat.

But, he says, “these kids, without fail, form a connection. They communicate with each other. They start to play. They figure out how to work together.”

As always, children adapt — often better than their parents. One family signed up for just one day at camp. By the afternoon their child was talking excitedly about tomorrow. The parents quickly enrolled for the whole week.

“Our goal is to get them to a level where they’re comfortable and feel safe, by simply showing them they have nothing to worry about — that we don’t have words in English to describe the things we’ll be doing, so it doesn’t matter anyway,” Jaime explains.

The children quickly surpass that basic level of comfort. They mimic his voice, words and hand motions, especially as he counts down from 3 or tells them to quiet down.

“We use handshakes, fist bumps, pinky swears, hugs and a lot of facial expression when we need to explain something,” Jaime says. There are also plenty of high fives, smiles and Charades.

If things get confusing they laugh, grab his iPhone for Google Translate — then laugh some more at the “universal” emojis.

Once, Jaime pointed to words on his phone to show a young boy that they were going to a pond. His sister yelled at Jaime — in French — that he could not yet read. “Whoops!” Jaime laughs.

The Earthplace camp gang. (Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)

For the counselor, the interactions between campers are his favorite parts.

“There’s nothing better than watching 6-year-olds sit down, build a perfect Lego house — sharing pieces, adjusting them — and then realize after 10 minutes that they didn’t even know they spoke different languages,” he says.

“Most kids truly have no clue there’s a language barrier. And when they do, they just keep playing.”

Some things need no talking. One child extends a hand to another, as they climb a tree. Together, they run over to show Jaime a frog they’ve caught.

“I think something of major importance happens here,” Jaime notes.

“In a world where screen time and organization is so prevalent, nature still teaches us how to be just human beings before we become students, athletes or artists.”

Earthplace’s “unscheduled” schedule is “whatever we want it to be. And whatever it turns out to be, we’re okay with. It’s a level playing field that binds them together, by making them equals.

“If an adult goes into the woods and sees a dead log, we see a dead log. They see a seesaw, and build one. Instead of watching a video about how tadpoles transform into frogs, they catch them — and see what’s happening.

“They can’t bury their head in their phone or rely on a computer to socialize. It’s all done outside, by themselves, and it works out just fine.”

Jaime loves that the Earthplace camp celebrates getting outside, and going with the flow.

And, he emphasizes, “we don’t even need to speak the same language when we do it. At the end of the day, we’re the same people.”

There are no words to describe how great that is.

Pic Of The Day #26

Kings Highway North (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Sadly, This Einstein Did Not Stick Around Long Enough To Pick Up His “Driver Of The Year” Award

Alert “06880” reader — and gobsmacked driver — Jaime Bairaktaris spotted this scene today on Weston Road, near the Merritt Parkway Exit 42 ramp.

(You can tell it’s the Merritt, because there’s a fairly large “No Commercial Vehicles” sign.)

(Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Let Jaime tell the story:

The truck tried getting onto the parkway northbound, when people began to cut it off and blowing their horns. He decided to keep trying for Truck Driver of the Year award for a while. Finally he made a U-turn to go back towards town.

Let’s hope right now he is far, far away.

On 95.

Glorious Gloria

In the 2 1/2 years since Alan Sterling died, “Gloria” — his beloved oyster boat — has sat forlornly in Gray’s Creek.

But on Sunday, alert “06880” reader/Renaissance man/photographer Jaime Bairaktaris noticed something:

She shined brightly. With Christmas lights.

Intrigued, he took a photo. But it didn’t show “Gloria” in all her glory.

Last night, Jaime returned to the inlet, between Compo Beach Road and Longshore. He hoped the lights would be on again.

They were. He snapped these gorgeous photos:

gloria-christmas-lights-jaime-bairaktaris

(Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)

(Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Jaime has no clue who strung the lights, and turns them on at night. He asked if I know.

I don’t.

It’s better that way. Just call it Alan Sterling’s Christmas miracle.

15 Belden Place: 3 Different Views

A photo with this morning’s post about the upcoming demolition of 15 Belden Place — the charming red house on the Saugatuck River, in the midst of downtown — did not show that storied property in the best light.

I took it yesterday, from the dirt parking lot leading down from Main Street.

From that vantage point, many Westporters would not recognize the house that for years has been home to artists, teachers and other less-than-McMansion-type tenants.

But anyone who ever stood at the edge of Gorham Island, and gazed at the soothing marshland just a few feet from Parker Harding Plaza, will recognize this view from 2000, by Andrea Fine:

EPSON MFP image

And this one:

(Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

(Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Here’s a more distant shot, by Jaime Bairaktaris:

15-belden-place-2-jaime-bairaktaris

Now you know what the loss of this house will mean to Westport, right?

(Hat tip: Morley Boyd)

[OPINION] After Election, Let Kids Be Kids

Many “06880” readers reacted viscerally on Sunday to Drew Coyne’s “06880” story. The beloved and talented Staples High School social studies teacher described his reaction to last week’s presidential election, adding insights into what it meant for teenagers in his classroom.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Among those reacting to Drew’s reaction was Jaime Bairaktaris. The community-minded 2016 Staples grad has been highlighted here before. Among other things, he was an Earthplace volunteer and EMT. Last spring he traveled to Italy to work with youngsters from a disadvantaged Naples neighborhood.

Now he’s a Sacred Heart University freshman. He’s still a Westport EMT, still works at Earthplace, and is also an EMT for Easton (working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift).

And Jaime helps supervise elementary school students during lunch in a nearby town. He passes along these insights into today’s kids, a few days after one of the most polarizing elections in American history.


  • Trump’s gonna build a huge wall and keep all the bad guys out!
  • Clinton lies too much. I don’t trust her. She killed too many people!
  • Trump’s gonna kick all of the immigrants out. Where will they go?
  • She’s kind of an old lady.
  • He looks like an angry orange.
  • Mr. B, you CAN’T vote for them. Promise me you won’t!

It’s confusing to hear these things come out of tiny mouths, on the playground or between bites of pizza.

I broke up verbal arguments between students. They climbed over tables or stood on their toes, trying to subdue their opponent.

But the aftermath does the real damage. When the argument is over students are left angry, anxious and frightened. Nothing upset me more than a crying child. One was legitimately fearful they would have to leave the country. Another cried because they could not understand why their classmate did not see what they saw in a candidate.

It’s eerily similar to what some adults feel now. But these are children.

clinton-and-trump-debate

The 2016 election was one of the most polarizing in history.

I know that children should have some exposure to the election process. In today’s world, we have no choice. But when they recite Fox or CNN sound bites, it’s time to stop and let them be kids.

Parents need to teach the process not as if 2 things are up against each other, but rather 2 people.

Kids understand that being mean to other people is wrong. But when a news outlet — or parent — bashes a candidate, a child becomes confused. After a while though, that bashing becomes normal and okay. After all, Mom, Dad or the TV did it.

A child can’t distinguish between a candidate on television or a book buddy in class. That’s where problems start.

I’ve seen what overexposure to “adult topics” can do to a child. I have not found anything good about it yet.

It’s our job to lead by example, be kind to all others, and personify anyone you speak about.

He is a father, a husband, a son. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. Start there, and build up when talking about someone.

Just let kids be kids.

Jaime Bairaktaris: “Thank You For Teaching”

The days leading up to graduation are often a blur. Focused on getting out of school — and consumed by parties, dinners and whatnot — most students just move on.

Some do spend time reflecting. A few thank one or two teachers, for their help or guidance.

Jaime Bairaktaris did more. Before graduating yesterday from Staples High School, the EMT/Earthplace teacher/photographer hand-delivered notes.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Not just a couple, or even a few. Jaime wrote to nearly 90 people. He wrote every teacher he ever had, from kindergarten through middle school in Redding, and his 4 years at Staples.

He wrote to principals, assistant principals, grade level assistants. He even thanked me for influencing him, through my writing and our conversations.

Jamie calls it “a type of closure on my part.” I call it remarkable.

In his notes — each of which included a hand-written, personal thank-you at the end, and was printed on hard stock paper, suitable for framing — Jaime said that he’d spent 2,528 days in school: “nearly 40% of my entire life sitting behind a desk, on a carpet, at a computer, on a swing, on a bus, holding a pencil, biting a pencil, laughing, crying, talking, thinking, learning.”

Through learning, he was taught “how to read, write, speak, count, add, subtract, multiply, divide, apologize, hate, wish, dream, think, act, run, jump, play, throw, belong, love, help, care.”

Every teacher, he said, taught him something:

Things that are so commonly simple, yet so vital to life. I have been taught things so complex that I’m told only time will surely show me how they work. But for everything I have been taught, I am extremely grateful. Without people like you, I would not be where I am today.

Jaime concluded: “After 2,528 days, you did it. With the knowledge you’ve given me, you’ve changed my life. Thank you for teaching.”

In April, Jaime Bairaktaris volunteered for 2 weeks at a center for impoverished youth in Naples, Italy. Like the teachers he admires, he is already giving back to the next generation.

In April, Jaime Bairaktaris (kneeling, 2nd from right) volunteered for 2 weeks at a center for impoverished youth in Naples, Italy. Like the teachers he admires, he is already giving back to the next generation.

 

Westport’s Greatest Parking Job

For years, “06880” has featured mind-blowing, head-scratching, eye-rolling entitled parking photos.

Today we found someone who actually knows how to park between two white lines.

Of course, with this car it’s almost impossible to miss:

BMW Isetta

Alert “06880” photographer Jaime Bairaktaris spotted this 1955 BMW Isetta at Trader Joe’s this evening.

The Italian-designed microcar from 1955 — complete with retro license plate — attracted many onlookers. From the front-opening door and disco ball to the courtesy car sticker, Jaime says, it deserved the attention.

Meanwhile, I’m impressed it made it through the parking lot without being run over.

Jaime Bairaktaris, The Pope, And The Kids

In December, “06880” proudly told the story of Jaime Bairaktaris.

The Staples High School senior/EMT/Earthplace teacher/photographer hoped to fulfill his dream. He wanted to go to Naples over spring vacation, volunteering in a program with young kids in a very rough neighborhood.

Westporters opened their hearts — and wallets. They helped Jaime raise funds for the trip, a journey he could never have done on his own.

It’s been the experience of a lifetime.

In addition to his work with the improverished children, Jamie snagged a seat at yesterday’s papal mass in St. Peter’s Square. He sat just 150 yards from Pope Francis.

Pope Francis, as photographed by Jaime Bairaktaris.

Pope Francis, as photographed by Jaime Bairaktaris.

The mass focused on youth. Jaime saw it as a sign, to help even more.

“Now that I’ve been working with La Tenda, I know how truly incredible they are,” Jaime says.

“They provide healthcare, food and shelter for the homeless and poor. Their education and after-school programs keep children safe, and give them opportunity for a great future. Some kids’ parents are in jail. Others don’t have enough to eat. La Tenda helps them all.”

Centro La Tenda — in an area notorious for drugs and crime — is in a building that began as a monastery, turned into a war hospital, and now serves as an oasis for those needing the most help.

The children of La Tenda.

The children of La Tenda.

“The people who work there are the absolute best,” Jaime says. “I get emotional even thinking about leaving them. The kids have so much character, in an area so tough to live in.”

GoFundMe — and Westport — helped Jaime get to Naples. Now he hopes it can help again.

He’s opened up his account, and is accepting donations through 7 a.m. EDT Friday. All funds will be handed over to La Tenda, to continue their work.

Jaime made the decision to do this yesterday, at the papal mass. He emailed “06880,” then clicked “send.”

Now all you have to do is click here, to help.