It’s late August. That means school starts sooner than anyone realizes.
And it’s 2021. That means next month marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Both events are significant for a sizable number of Westporters. They’re part of the heart and soul of Adam J. Lewis Academy.
The Bridgeport elementary school — named for a local man killed that horrible day, and nurtured ever since by his wife and friends — has been a life-changer for hundreds of Bridgeport youngsters and their families.
Now it’s expanding — charting an even more important path than ever.
Adam J. Lewis grew up poor, in the Bronx. But he seized the educational opportunities he was given — scholarships to Dalton and Hamilton College — and made a great, successful and fulfilling life for himself.
Then, on September 11, 2001 he was killed at his World Trade Center desk.
That tragedy sparked a superbly fitting tribute.
His wife Patty Lewis and Westporter Julie Mombello — friends from their days working together at Greens Farms Academy — knew the importance of pre-school education.
In Westport, pre-school — where children explore the world using all their senses, and learn letters, numbers, scientific observation, music, art, language, problem-solving, cooperation, coordination and many other skills — is a given. That’s far less true in Bridgeport, where the cost of preschool can be daunting.
Patty and Julie vowed to do what they could to give little children just a few miles from Westport the same advantages their own kids had.
The goal was to provide youngsters from every background with an intellectually, socially and personally transformative educational experience. Students will leave empowered, ready to make a difference in the world.
The Adam J. Lewis Pre-School was born. And — despite daunting obstacles including fundraising, site selection and city bureaucracy — it has thrived since opening in 2013.
From its start — with just 12 children — it has grown steadily. In 2018 the school relocated to a downtown Bridgeport campus. They’re adding one grade each year. They’ll serve over 200 students through grade 5 by 2023, over 400 as a pre-K through grade 8 independent school by 2030.
Including middle school is important. Adam J. Lewis Academy will be able to provide a link between elementary and high school, at a challenging time in life that’s already difficult for many.
The school is a true community. Families are embraced, and supported. A scholarship program at Housatonic Community College enables parents to take certification classes at no cost to them, often leading to high-demand, higher-paying jobs and careers.
A staff psychologist bridges the gap between home and school — just like a private boarding school.
From the start, Westporters have supported Adam J. Lewis Academy, with donations, board service and sweat equity.
The other day, co-founders Patty Lewis and Julie Mombello — still deeply involved as ex officio board members — talked excitedly about the school’s direction.
They offered stories, like a girl with a turbulent home life whose mother took advantage of resources to support her child — now confident and proud — and turned her own life around too.
“The 20 years since 9/11 have gone both fast and slow,” Lewis says.
“The idea that we’re going vertically means we can have an even bigger impact — just like his schools had on Adam. We’re looking at nearly 10 years of a student’s life in one school.”
Adam J. Lewis’s football jersey hangs in the school office. Students learn about, and understand, his story.
Nearly 20 years after an unspeakable tragedy, his name — and impact — live on.
(For more information on the Adam J. Lewis Academy, click here.)