Tag Archives: Kings Highway Elementary School

Proud Townees Offer Westport Wear

Last summer, Ted Vergakis was on vacation in California. He saw someone wearing a simple T-shirt, with 2 words in beautiful script: “King’s Highway.”

Ted’s a Westporter. He had no idea what the shirt referred to. It could have been “a San Diego biker gang,” for all he knew.

No matter. He wanted one.

His oldest son Theo went to Kings Highway Elementary  School. His youngest son Alecko is a student there now. The family calls it “a special place,” and seeing those words crafted on a T-shirt seemed both cool and rare.

Ted realized that though there are places to buy things that say “Westport,” they don’t feel as if they were created specifically for here.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

So he and his wife Stephanie decided to create a hand-drawn script for Westport, and a unique illustration that can’t be found anywhere else in town.

This was not a total stretch for the couple — but not exactly what they’d been planning either.

Both grew up in small Massachusetts towns. Both started their careers in advertising, managing creative departments and producing campaigns.

Stephanie went on to work in fashion, at Donna Karan. Ted spent several years running the global creative group at IMG — with clients like the Olympics, NCAA, sports stars and models.

Now they run their own studio, called Offmad. They provide creative and strategic support to clients like Kayak.com, PwC, Vroom and others.

Ted and Stephanie's Westport hoodie.

Ted and Stephanie’s Westport hoodie.

Their route to Westport — via Manhattan and Hoboken — was similar to others’. When they felt the need for more space, and realized the commute would be longer, they wanted someplace special.

“More of a destination, not just a suburban town,” is how Ted describes it.

Work colleagues suggested Westport. On weekend trips here, Ted and Stephanie “pretty much knew it was the perfect place.” They loved it all: seeing houses in the morning, then lunch at the Mansion Clam House, a trip to the Compo Beach playground, a stop at Trader Joe’s.

“We were really taken by how much at home Westport made us feel,” Ted says.

“It felt very New England and familiar. We both loved where we grew up and vacationed — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard. Westport really reminded us of all those special things from home.”

But — like most Westporters — when Ted had his aha! T-shirt moment, he also realized that Main Street has become flooded with retailers that do not offer anything authentic and Westport-special.

So he and Stephanie decided to partner with skilled designers and illustrators. They wanted to celebrate their town, and the artists who created its legacy.

Townee's sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Townee’s sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Creating the sparkling Saugatuck Bridge illustration for their “Townee” apparel — which now includes short- and long-sleeve T-shirts, hoodies, fleeces and rally caps, for adults, kids and toddlers — was particularly important.

“I don’t think there’s a soul in town who doesn’t love the way the bridge looks during the holidays,” Ted says. “It’s perfect from every view — from 95, driving over it, walking through it.”

As for the company name, Ted says, “We think being called a townee is a compliment — a badge of honor. It’s someone who knows the best things to do, see, when to go places.

“Loving where you live makes you a townee. We all spend so much time  here doing normal day-to-day things. We want to remind others of how special Westport is.”

Their reminder: a line of high-quality apparel that’s comfortable, can be worn every day, and shows the pride people have in their town.

Townee launched last month. You may already have seen folks wearing Ted and Stephanie’s gear.

Just call them townees.

(Ted and Stephanie offer free delivery to all addresses. For more information — including ordering — click here.)

Famed Artist Joins Girl Scout Troop

Normally, news that a Kings Highway Elementary School Girl Scout troop has created 24 “lily pad” seats for pediatric cancer patients would not be blog-worthy.

It’s nice, sure. You go, girls! But big enough news to share with thousands of “06880” readers?

It is. That’s because Richard Lytle — a celebrated artist whose work hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, and who once served as dean of Silvermine  College of Art — collaborated on the project. He even painted one of the seats.

The girls of Troop 50889 worked hard. They designed, cut, sanded and painted 2 dozen cool, artistic seats carved out of wood. Each has its own unique design.

The Girl Scouts of Troop 50889, hard at work on their lily pads seats.

The Girl Scouts of Troop 50889, hard at work on their lily pads seats.

The seats go at the bottom of IV poles at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. Kids too sick to walk can still leave their rooms, and scoot around the cancer ward floor.

The 5th grade Scouts are the youngest group nationwide to complete the project. They’re also the first to do so on the East Coast.

Claudia McRoberts — a Westporter who co-leads the 5th grade troop — organized the project. She recruited local artists to help paint the seats. Naturally, she asked her father: Richard Lytle. He was happy to help the girls — and pick up a brush himself.

His works sell for up to $25,000. Now one of his most important creations will serve as a seat, bringing a smile to a sick child’s face.

The lily pad seat painted by Richard Lytle.

The lily pad seat painted by Richard Lytle.

(Congratulations to Girl Scouts Evelyn Anvari, Carly Chamlin, Sasha Chamlin, Hannah Cohen, Anna Diorio, Gianna Holt, Jane Leahy, Molly Lynch, Scarlett McRoberts and Lilly Weisz, and c0-leaders Claudia McRoberts and Lyn Hogan.)

 

 

 

KHS Votes Westport A Winner

Election Day has come and gone. But for alert “06880” reader Christie Stanger, the good feelings linger. She writes:

On Tuesday, as adults took to the polls, younger Westporters took to the hallways and sidewalks outside of polling places, at bake sales to raise money for schools.

While Kings Highway Elementary is not unique, our adventure highlights what a wonderful town Westport truly is.

When KHS was closed as a voting site, we had to move our Election Day bake sale to the Westport Library. Westport Weston Health District’s Mark Cooper, Norma Jarrett, Sandy Arcudi and Melissa Romano helped us get our permit to sell baked goods. This is not like bake sales of old, but their kindness made the process seem very small-town.

Next, we coordinated with Town Hall. Janet Suchsland and Eileen Francis in the first selectman’s office gave us permission to operate in a public space. The library’s assistant director, Paul Mazzaccaro, allowed us to operate at both entrances. He provided us with tables and chairs, meeting us bright and early on Election Day (and wishing us luck).

Kings Highway Elementary School students, parents and siblings rock the Election Day bake sale at the Westport Library.

Kings Highway Elementary School students, parents and siblings rock the Election Day bake sale at the Westport Library.

And lucky we were! 70 degree weather with blue skies on November 3. That was fabulous — but the people of Westport were even warmer.

Voters, candidates and library patrons stopped by for goods made by loving hands, and others donated by generous businesses (Saugatuck Sweets, Great Cakes, Starbucks and Atlantic Pizza). The number of times we  heard “Keep the change!” and “Let me just give!” gave us warm fuzzies more real than the ones teachers handed out as pencil toppers.

Finally, we did not notice even one person parking outside the lines in either parking lot!

It all added up to one of those magical days, when you’re reminded that people are good and generous, that we are all in this together, and that Westport is an amazing town!

Stop The Presses! Kids Walk To School!

Though this sounds like the lead sentence of an Onion article, it’s true:

“200 or so children walked to school this morning.”

Walk to School 1

The King’s Highway Elementary youngsters were joined by staff members and parents (plus “Paws,” the school mascot). Police officers were on hand too.

Jamie Viesselman — a KHS phys ed teacher — organized the event, as part of “International Walk to School Day.” Apparently, not walking to school is not  limited only to Westport, or even the US.

Walk to School 2

The walk began at the Westport Board of Ed technology center on Riverside Avenue, and continued up Burr Road to the school. That’s not too far — but then again, it’s further than most kids these days walk to school.

Walk to School 3

Each student who participated received a certificate, and orange shoe laces.

As for the orange school buses: They’ll probably be filled again tomorrow.

(Photos by David Gusitsch)

(Photos by David Gusitsch)

Sarah Guterman: Celebrating 39 Years Of Musical Wonder

Sarah Guterman always wanted to teach.

She wanted to teach in an elementary school classroom. She wanted to teach music. She wanted to give children the same love for rhythms, melodies, songs and stories that she’d enjoyed growing up.

For 39 years, she’s done just that.

Sarah Guterman, doing what she loves: teaching music.

Sarah Guterman, doing what she loves: teaching music.

As a kid in Mamaroneck, her family — including her Episcopalian minister father — gathered around the piano. Sarah’s mother — a 2nd grade teacher — played.

Sarah graduated from Skidmore in 1975, when there was a glut of teachers. She received 3 offers, though, and chose Westport because — located right on the Sound — it felt like home.

“Of course, I couldn’t afford to live here!” she laughs.

Her 1st job was at Hillspoint Elementary School. Then it closed.

She moved on to Burr Farms El. It closed too.

Her 3rd position was Green’s Farms. Unbelievably, it closed. “Whenever I got to a new school, people panicked!” she says.

She transferred to Long Lots, when it was K-8. She taught music in the hallway, then had a 3rd grade class.

When a job opened up at Kings Highway 25 years ago, Sarah had a choice: music or classroom. She chose music, and never regretted it.

Sarah Guterman's Kings Highway classroom is packed with musical "stuff."

Sarah Guterman’s Kings Highway classroom is packed with musical “stuff.”

“This school has a warmth to it,” she says. “It’s very supportive — the parents and the staff.”

The building is “challenging” — there have been ceiling issues, and a room was closed — but “the people are amazing. I’d take people over the physical plant any day of the week.”

Her passion is bringing children’s literature into the music room. She does it in many ways, including Readers Theater. Sarah explains, “I look for things in books like quatrains that can be sung.”

A strong advocate of the Orff Schulwerk music philosophy — she’s been past president of Connecticut’s OS association, and presents nationally on the curriculum — she appreciates that it “empowers children. They learn to work as a team, be flexible and make adjustments.” They do this by using many instruments, and utilizing rhythm and patterns via speech and movement.

A sign in Sarah Guterman's classroom says it all.

A sign in Sarah Guterman’s classroom says it all.

In recent years, though, music education — much of education, in fact — has run headlong into standardized testing.

“The new state initiatives this year hit me hard,” Sarah admits. “I had to test kids on stuff I hadn’t taught, like note-reading, to prove later that I actually did teach it. For the first time ever, I had kids crying.”

The result, she says, is that “the whimsy” has been taken out of music education.

“Music is an art,” Sarah insists. “To use paper and pen to show data …” She shakes her head in disbelief.

“We’re treating children like a product from a factory,” she continues.

“Well, they’re not. They’re living, breathing organisms.”

State initiatives — and a national push toward testing — are a major reason Sarah is retiring this month. “After 39 years, if I can’t teach my best — it’s time,” she says.

Throughout her career, she has loved the freedom Westport gave her and her colleagues. “We’ve been able to develop our own school cultures and passions,” she says.

Sarah Guterman and fellow music teacher Carrie Kohlun plan upcoming lessons.

Sarah Guterman and fellow music teacher Carrie Kohlun plan upcoming lessons.

For example, Sarah’s choruses have produced plays. She’s done recorder ensembles, and dance. She’s given up plenty of free time to do it. But she does it because it’s what she’s always wanted to do.

“I love seeing a child skip out of my room saying, ‘That was fun!'” Sarah says. “It feels good to deliver a good lesson, but have them feel like they were playing. We need playfulness at the elementary level.”

In retirement, Sarah is not leaving children behind. She’ll head to Italy, but when she returns she looks forward to bringing picture books to life through “guest artist gigs.”

Sarah smiles. She sums up 4 decades of teaching — all of it in Westport’s elementary schools — very simply.

“What a dream!” she says. “I’ve been able to come to work, sing and tell stories!”

And thousands of boys and girls — some of them now men and women — are better human beings for Sarah Guterman’s passionate, creative and loving “work.”

This SEGA Is Not A Game

It’s a common story in Tanzania, though one we don’t hear much about in Westport.

Getting an education is tough — particularly for girls.  The barriers are formidable.  Girls’ status in Tanzania is much lower than boys, so they start school later and drop out earlier.  Many girls pregnant at a young age.  Others are forced into child labor.   Some have been orphaned by AIDS.

An American woman named Polly Dolan spent many years as a consultant for CARE.  In Africa, she saw the urgent need for girls’ education.  In 2007, she opened an all-girls secondary school in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Her childhood friend, Ashley Moran — a 5th grader teacher at Kings Highway Elementary School, and a Westport resident — joined the board of Nurturing Minds in Africa, the new school’s sponsoring organization.

“These girls are desperate for education,” Ashley — who has seen the situation first-hand — says.

Girls who are in school don’t get pregnant as often, or as young, she adds.  And when — thanks to their education — they get jobs, the money they earn stays in Morogor.  Men often leave the community.  “It’s a cultural thing,” Ashley explains.

The school  — called SEGA (Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement) now has 85 girls, in grades 8-12.  Most are boarders; some are day students.  The goal for 2015 is 200 girls.

SEGA students, and a teacher. It is a Tanzanian tradition for girls to wear very short hair.

There is a strict admissions process, involving tests, interviews and home visits.  Girls are desperate to get in.  One asked the police to tell her mother that they had to send her to SEGA.

Their hope and faith is founded in statistics like these:  In 2009, 96 percent of the girls in the day school program passed a country-wide standardized test.  Nationally, only 49 percent did.

But SEGA does not just teach to tests.  “It’s teaching people how to change their lives,” Ashley says.  “These girls will grow up to take care of themselves.”

By that year too, the school hopes to be self-sustaining, thanks to business help.  Operating costs this year are $160,000.  Construction costs are estimated at $250,000 a year, through 2015.

That’s real money.

Nurturing Minds does what it can to raise funds.  Local businesses chip in.

And, here in Westport, Ashley is getting Westporters involved.

At King’s Highway, she runs a club.  4th and 5th grade boys and girls volunteer to meet during their lunch period and recess.

“Kids that age are the future.  And they believe they can change the world,” Ashley says.

The youngsters learn about SEGA, and educational issues in Africa.  They raise awareness throughout Kings Highway.  This spring they helped organize a walk-a-thon that raised $1,500.  They also gather change from various classrooms — “to create change in Africa,” Ashley notes.  That brought in another $1,000.

“When we talk about this as a cause — and the impact it can have — kids here recognize how lucky they are.  They really do realize how much they have,” Ashley adds.

In mid-July, Ashley and her 3 children head to Morogoro.  They’ll spend 3 weeks there, helping out.

And the bonds between girls hungering for education in Tanzania, and a suburban town in the US with a great school system, will grow even tighter.

Kids These Days

The plight of Haiti has touched everyone in Westport — young and old.

Kings Highway Elementary School students count the nearly $4,000 they collected.

Last week the Kings Highway Elementary School Caring Council — students who spearhead acts of kindness and spirit during the school year — organized a collection for the devastated land.

All week long, the youngsters collected coins in glass jars.  On Friday they gathered the donations in huge, heavy buckets, jars and cans.  In just 5 days students, staff and families raised $3,997.96.  (What — no one added an extra $2.04 to make it an even 4K?)

On Friday KHS PTA Social Action Committee chair Merideth Haas and her son Henry presented a check to Save the Children — the Westport-based relief organization.

There’s no better lesson in thinking locally, and acting globally.