Tag Archives: Michael Aitkenhead

Mike The Mailman Does Deliver

Amazingly, this is my 2nd “inspirational mailman” story in 2 days.

Yesterday I highlighted Westport’s George “Nooky” Powers.

Today it’s Mike the Mailman. You may not have heard of him, because he works at Penn State University.

Mike the Mailman...  (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Mike the Mailman… (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Then again, you may have heard of him. If, that is, you were like Hedi Lieberman: snowed in, and watching “CBS Evening News.”

Mike Kerr is a much-loved postal worker in State College. He’s worked there for 38 years.

He was grand marshal of the Homecoming parade. One woman buys stamps when she doesn’t need them, just to see Mike.

So what does 16801 have to do with 06880?

Mike Aitkenhead.

...and Mike the Teacher.

…and Mike the Teacher.

“You really have no idea who you’re going to influence and when you’re going to influence them,” says Mike, who CBS’ Steve Hartman identified as “a high school teacher in Connecticut,” but who we know as both an outstanding Staples High School educator and the Wakeman Town Farm steward.

But let CBS Evening News take it from there:

(Mike Aitkenhead) got his master’s at Penn State, and although he didn’t know Mike the Mailman very well, years later, when he was awarded teacher of the year in his district, guess who he thanked for his success.

“The one person I’m always going to remember and probably taught me the most about life was actually Mike the Mailman,” Michael said in his speech.

“It was honestly his example that kind of taught me it’s not what you do in life, but it’s how you do it,” Michael says.

Now that’s something to write home about.

WTF: What A Difference A Year Makes

This summer is shaping up as a lot hotter than last.

Except at Wakeman Town Farm.

A year ago, passions blazed  at the “organic demonstration homestead” on Cross Highway. Steward Michael Aitkenhead and his family were ousted. Many of the farm’s friends and fans responded with outrage. Fingers pointed, tongues wagged — the heat was on.

A year later, all is calm. Crops are growing nicely; educational programs hum along, and Aitkenheads are enjoying a very peaceful summer.

It’s all on display this Saturday (July 14, 12-4 p.m.). WTF hosts a “down-home family event for kids and families of all ages.”

Along with “festive food trucks and farmyard lawn games,” there will be pony rides, Kaia kids’ yoga, a petting zoo, face painting and a pie-eating contest.

A press release invites you to check out the organic vegetable gardens, picnic on the grounds, meet the farmers — “and see what all the buzz is about!”

Buzz. It’s a far better sound than last summer’s gunfire.

(All proceeds benefit the programs and upkeep of Wakeman Town Farm. The suggested donation is $5 for children, $10 for adults. Food is available for purchase.)

Speed Dating, Westport-Style

Speed dating is a big-city thing.  Singles (hopefully) spend a few minutes chatting with a random stranger.  A bell rings; then it’s off to the next table, and a few more after that.  If both parties like each other, organizers provide them with contact info.

But this is Westport.  Our “speed dating” event needs an intellectual — and environmental — bent.

Also, no hooking up allowed.

Expert Minds” is this Thursday’s (July 14, 7 p.m.) Westport Arts Center speed dating-inspired event.

Futurist Watts Wacker definitely looks like an expert.

Working with Green Village Initiative, the WAC has assembled 10, um, expert minds.  Each hosts a table with 4 seats.  For 15 minutes, everyone chats — presumably about the expert’s area of expertise.

Then it’s on to the next randomly selected table.

There’s a break after the 1st 2 sessions, for food and wine; then 2 more tables.

After the 4th table, everyone is invited to mingle (and, I guess, drink a bit more).

The experts include:

  • Michael Aitkenhead, Staples High School environmental teacher and Wakeman Town Farm steward
  • Julie Belaga, former state representative, gubernatorial candidate, and New England director of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Maxine Bleiweis, Westport Library director
  • David Brown, public health toxicologist
  • John Fifield, architect and innovator
  • Deepika Saksena, “zero waste manager” whose weekly household waste fills just one plastic newspaper sleeve
  • John Solder, member of the world champion Staples High School robotics team
  • Bill Taibe, chef/owner of Le Farm
  • Watts Wacker, futurist
  • Eden Werring, arts and education advocate

As the experts and their guests talk, they’ll be surrounded by Christo.  The environmental artist’s stunning works may inspire some of the discussions, says Deanne Foster, the WAC’s interim executive director.

“Art can take you to another place,” she says.  “There’s always lots of conversation here, as people look at the exhibitions on the walls.  This event is one more way to get people thinking, and engaged.”

“Expert Minds” — speed dating, arts-style — is something the 92nd Street Y might do, Foster says.

“But it’s here in Westport.  We’re lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people.”

(Tickets for “Expert Minds” are $25.  They’re available by phone at 203-222-7070, and online by clicking here.)

Club Green Wins Green

Last month, “06880” reported that Staples’ Club Green was going for gold in CL&P’s “Live Green Win Green” competition.

They earned a silver — but it’s worth $5,000, as 1 of the top state finalists.

The club will use the funds to sponsor the 2nd annual EcoFest on May 22.  Some of the prize money will also go to pursuing other environmental initiatives throughout Staples and Westport.

A tip o’ the green and silver hat to all club members, and advisor Michael Aitkenhead!

Mike Aitkenhead: Westport’s Inspiring Teacher Of The Year

As a child, Mike Aitkenhead wanted to save the world.  He just didn’t know how.

By college he figured it out:  He’d be a scientist.  That way he could discover an innovative technology, or unearth a dramatic new theory.  Inspired, he graduated in 3 years.

During a year off to find the perfect graduate program, Mike taught field ecology to New York City public school students in an overnight environmental education program.  He also substitute taught grades 6 through 12.

Teaching came naturally to Mike.  Now he was truly inspired.

Yet he still felt he could change the world as a scientist.  He spent 3 years in a dual Ph.D program.  While the experience was intellectually stimulating, it was not inspiring.

Mike spent those 3 years thinking constantly of his time as a teacher — the impact he had on students, and the sense of accomplishment he felt each day.

He realized that he was meant to teach.  His contribution to the world would come not through his discoveries, but by inspiring an army of young minds to make their own.

“I became a teacher to ‘save the world,'” Mike says.  “I have never felt so fulfilled, inspired or close to my goal as I do now.”

Mike Aitkenhead, in his Staples lab.

Mike Aitkenhead, in his Staples lab.

No teacher enters education seeking personal honors.  That’s good, because few ever get them.

Mike is lucky.  He’s been named Westport’s Teacher of the Year, and this week he took time out from preparing his classroom and labto accept heartfelt congratulations from colleagues, students and parents.

“I’m the 1st to admit that I’m no master of teaching pedagogy,” he says.  “I have so much more to learn about the teaching profession.

“But I believe deeply and passionately in what I teach.  You can’t fake passion, and real passion is infectious.”  He is pleased that students and colleagues recognize his passion — and his efforts to turn passion into action.

Mike teaches Advanced Placement Environmental Education at Staples.  Mike believes every student at Stales should have some exposure to the important topic he teaches.  He’s doing his part:  In the 3 years since he took over AP Environmental, it has gone from 3 sections to 7.

Mike is inspired by more than numbers.  He is heartened to see his students take an active role in environmental issues — whether at Staples or in the Westport community.  He also is inspired to hear students tell him they’ll study the subject in college.  Some even major in it.

“I feel that students leave my class with the honest belief that their actions can make a difference in the world,” he says.  “I can think of no greater accomplishment than that.”