Tag Archives: Saugatuck Elementary School

Unsung Hero #195

A grateful group of Saugatuck Elementary School parents writes:

We are incredibly lucky to have the best teachers here in Westport. Our schools are filled with smart, creative educators who not only teach, but inspire our kids every day.

It would be hard to stand out in a crowd of teachers that already lives so far above the standard. Yet when Peter von Euler announced his retirement this spring, it became clear that he has done just that. Reactions were universal: dismay from parents who still have kids at Saugatuck El, and gratitude from the students (and their parents) who were already taught by him.

Peter von Euler

Mr. von Euler has taught in Westport for 36 years. He began with 4th grade at Long Lots and Kings Highway Elementary Schools, before settling into his 5th grade classroom at Saugatuck  in 2002.

He has remained in that classroom, aptly nicknamed the FIvE HIvE (creative punctuation of his initials intended), ever since.

When he announced his retirement, SES parents and teachers sent out a call to former students and colleagues of Mr. von Euler’s, asking them to submit notes to be compiled as a retirement gift.

The letters came pouring in — over 100 pages’ worth. Current students, former students now in middle and high school, and grown adults all responded to the call. The themes were universal: Peter von Euler was creative, funny and obviously, memorable. He pushed kids to be their best, yet had a way of making every student feel seen and understood.

One student from his 5th grade class of 2017 said:

You understand that every student learns differently but deserves a full chance just the same. You nurtured everyone’s special abilities and gave us the appropriate pushes to get out of our comfort zones. Years after I left your class I wondered if you had had super powers.

Many of his former students recalled his “read alouds,” the homemade Valentine’s mailboxes his students make every year, and the custom awards his students create for one another at the end of year — a project that encourages his students to see the best in each other.

A happy class, with Mr. von Euler (rear) on Field Day.

When the pandemic struck, like all teachers, Mr. von Euler was forced to pivot. But he did so with calm and creativity. On the first day of remote learning last spring, he sent his students an email that included great advice.

“First, take care of yourself. Do all of the things that keep you healthy and happy. Second, take care of your mind. Read…A LOT. Think about what you’re reading and write it down somewhere. Send me a letter. I promise I’ll write back. Third, look for ways to be constructive and positive. Start a project that you’ve wanted to start. Build something. Draw something.

Fourth, try really hard to avoid doing things that just kill time. I think there are ways to make this time have some value. Let’s see if the FIvE HIvE can still do great things, even when we’re away from the hive. -Mr. vE

One of his “Pandemic Class” parents submitted this to the memory book:

We had both the privilege and fear of being vulnerable with you about our struggles in returning to “normal,” just as you were vulnerable with us on Day One of a year where we knew we were going to need each other in new and unusual ways. You set the tone for a year of doing our best as humans, not just students, parents and teachers.

Learning remotely, with Mr. von Euler.

Perhaps one of the most “fun facts” about Peter von Euler’s classroom years is that despite it being an elementary school classroom, it served as the birthplace for a marriage! Vibeke Borgia wrote:

It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since I was in your 4th grade class. What might be even harder to believe is that 2 little 10-year-olds in your class fell in love, got married, moved 6 times, endured several career changes, traveled the world, had four amazing children, and will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this September. I’m not sure if the sparks flew in 4th grade, but I sure am glad you were our teacher.

Peter von Euler’s retirement is a true loss for Westport schools and future students. But it’s a gain to his family — wife Nancy, daughter Sarah and dog Farley — with whom he now intends to spend more time.

In 1993, Mr. von Euler was interviewed for a New York Times “Back to School” article. The columnist wrote, “Mr. von Euler said he wanted to be a good teacher, like those special few he had as a young person or those he sees around him each day.”

Mission accomplished.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email nominations to dwoog@optonline.net)

 

 

 

 

“Annie Jr.” And “Charlie Brown”: Elementary School Actors Shine

The pandemic was tough. At times, it was hard to believe the sun would come up tomorrow.

But it did. We persevered. And now we’re reaping the rewards.

Among them: a production of “Annie Jr.” by Greens Farms Elementary School 5th graders.

The show — on June 4-6, outdoors near Bedford Square — is a collaboration with TheaterCamp4KidsBroadwayAcademy.com. But it would not have been possible without help from throughout the community.

Many were available only because of COVID.

“We have the most wonderful young actors, parents, and theater and dance professionals,” says Laura Curley Pendergast, TheaterCamp owner and artistic director.

Volunteers include a Rockette, a former choreographer for “Disney on Ice,” professional actors and set designers, and others.

In true the-show-must-go-on style, TheaterCamp faced — and overcame — many challenges. Among them: Though they earned nearly $10,000 in ticket sales after the March 2020 production of “Beauty and the Beast” at GFS, the ticket company never paid them.

“After many attempts we finally gave up. The cost of an attorney was just too expensive,” Pendergast says.

“We thought we could not do a play this year for our very talented 5th graders, who had been waiting in the ensemble for 2 years for their turn to star.”

Rehearsing “Annie Jr.” at Bedford Square.

But many Westporters stepped up. Among them: David Waldman, who provided space to rehearse and perform at Bedford Square.

Tecknow’s Phil Levieff lent musical equipment for rehearsals — along with technical know-how.

Professional film and stage actor Emily Hooper serves as musical director. David Hoffman, a Dartmouth student and accomplished actor, is assistant director and stage manager. Staples High and middle school students are interning with the show.

Professional actor Jim Lauten — also a talented painter and builder — donated all of the rolling sets.

Costumes were provided by designer Pam Beaudoin, who lives at Bedford Square.

Parents Jenny Perlman and Laurie Ginsberg handle ticket sales — not an outside company. (Pendergast learned her lesson.)

She is grateful for the help of other locals with impressive resumes. Kristine Nielsen (a GFS parent) is a professional dancer who choreographed “Disney on Ice” for years.

Former Rockette and Knicks dancer Kelly Potter McHale is another “Annie Jr.” choreographers. So is Kim Porio.

Costumes have been handled by a hard-working trio: Marisa Zer, Taran Gulliksen and Shobana Mani-Lorenzato.

Volunteers help the young actors make magic.

One of the first rehearsals was at the GFS basketball court in cold and rain. After seeking shelter on the school’s front porch, the young actors found a way to make it a fun day. It remains a favorite memory. 

The sun eventually came out. And so — next week — will the young actors and dancers in “Annie Jr.”

(“Annie Jr. is performed Friday, June 4 at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 5 at 2 and 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 6 at 2 p.m., outdoors near Bedford Square. Tickets are $18 each. They can be purchased by Venmo (@laura-pendergast-2), PayPal (curleylaura@hotmail.com) or check (payable to “TheaterCamp4Kids,” c/o Laurie Ginsberg, 209 Greens Farms Road, Westport, CT 06880). Questions? Email anniejr2021westport@gmail.com. To help via GoFundMe, click here.)

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Meanwhile, the fledgling Saugatuck Elementary Theater Club also struggled with how to continue this year.

They too decided the show must go on. They chose “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, with a twist. They’d record parts individually, and create a movie in lieu of a live show.

With a small cast and cartoon quality, it lent itself to green screens and graphics, rather than props and elaborate costumes. That was a great fit for the pandemic.

Luckily, local Broadway star Jaden Waldman — who just happens to be a Saugatuck 5th grade — had some COVID-induced time on his hands. He’s a perfect Charlie Brown.

Jaden Waldman as Charlie Brown, Phoebe Nunziato as Lucy.

Other roles were double cast, to provide more opportunities for the young actors. The 2 casts were called “Saugie” and “Tuck.”

Rehearsals were held on Zoom. Leads recorded practice songs each week, then uploaded them to receive feedback.

Blocking was recorded by director Katie Bloom, and shared via instructional videos.

Each child sang alone. Vocal tracks were then layered together. Zoom recordings were deconstructed and reconstructed. Microphones and green screens were juggled between cast members’ houses. When possible, they came together for a socially distanced scene or two.

The “Tuck” cast rehearses via Zoom.

The project required dedication and responsibility seldom demanded of 10- year-olds.

It all culminates Wednesday (June 2) in a big way: the big screen at the Remarkable Theatre. Congratulations to all the good men — and women, and children — who helped make “Charlie Brown” a reality.

(The Remarkable Theater opens at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at sunset, and costs $40 per car. A pizza truck will be on the premises. For tickets — or to stream the show on June 4, 7 p.m. —click here.)

(Hat tips: Jenny Perlman Robinson and Pamela Long)

Board Of Ed: Pupils, Projects And More

The social, mental and physical health — and the health of several school buildings — were the focuses at last night’s Board of Education meeting.

On the student side, Brian Fullenbaum reports that townwide health and physical education coordinator Chris Wanner and Staples phys. ed. teacher CJ Shamas presented an update on social and emotional learning.

Embedded in the high school curriculum for juniors, it addresses social and emotional skills from a growth mindset point of view. Video testimonials showed students enjoying the health classes.

Board member Elaine Whitney and Westport Public Schools chief financial officer Elio Longo provided an update on capital projects.

Paving is needed at Greens Farms, Coleytown and Long Lots Elementary Schools, plus Bedford Middle and Wakeman. All roads there are at least 20 years old.

The $1.6 million estimated cost is significantly lower than expected, due to a partnership with the town’s Department of Public Works.

The Saugatuck Elementary roof project is out to bid. Work is scheduled for this summer. It should proceed without state assistance, because the roof is beyond its useful life.

A new roof is planned for Saugatuck Elementary School.

Staples’ roof replacement can be deferred for a year. State assistance may be available.

In the area of capital maintenance projects — from $500,000 to $2 million — superintendent Thomas Scarice noted that outside companies can help maximize value, and stay on schedule and within budget. He would like to create a school modernization master plan, then use help from an OPM to get through the process, including larger maintenance projects. The board discussed collaborating with the town on capital projects.

The board approved a new policy for minority staff recruitment. It updates the former document with more inclusionary language.

Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur’s COVID report noted a slight uptick in cases in Westport schools last week, to 13 cases. The district’s first vaccination clinic for staff — run in conjunction with Weston and Easton — is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 3) in the Staples fieldhouse. 250 people are expected to get shots.

Election Day: Long Lines, Excitement And Hand Sanitizer

8,000 Westport voters mailed in or dropped off ballots before Election Day.

But thousands of others did not.

Before dawn today, they lined up at polling places around town.

At Greens Farms Elementary School, the line snaked all the way around the perimeter of the parking lot.

Greens Farms Elementary School this morning … (Photo/Matt Murray)

A man in his 50s who grew up here says, “I have never had to wait a minute to vote at Coleytown El. I got here at 6:11. This line is amazing.” As at Greens Farms, it stretched far into the lot.

,,, and Coleytown Elementary School … (Photo/Dan Donovan)

When the Saugatuck Elementary School doors opened, approximately 200 people were already waiting.

The process was very efficient. A voter who joined the line near the football field was done voting 15 minutes later.

… and Saugatuck Elementary School … (Photo/Chip Stephens)

By 6:15, more than 50 men and women stood outside the Westport Library. By 6:45, they stretched through the police station parking lot, to Jesup Road.

… and the Westport Library.

Inside the library, poll watchers — including several high school students — offered voters hand sanitizer (optional) and gloves (mandatory).

Others checked names, and directed them to (socially distanced) voting stations.

The mood was cheery, and civic-minded.

In many ways, it was an election unlike any Westporters have ever seen.

In others, it was just a bunch of Americans doing what we always do.

Friday Flashback #208

The big day is Tuesday. Nearly 6 months after closing — and a week after the original date — students return to Westport schools.

Many things will be different. They’ll attend in shifts: half in classrooms, half studying remotely. Desks will be 6 feet apart. Some hallways will be one-way. And those are just a few of the changes COVID has wrought.

Some youngsters have not even driven past their schools in half a year. To remind them of what they look like, here is a special “Friday Flashback” drone gallery. All images are courtesy of multi-talented and spectacular Staples High School senior Brandon Malin. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge.)

To start off, here’s the school he’s headed back to:

Bedford Middle School

Coleytown Middle School (construction project)

Coleytown Elementary School 

Greens Farms Elementary School

Kings HIghway Elementary School

Long Lots Elementary School

Saugatuck Elementary School

Bonus feature: Greens Farms Academy (All drone photos/Brandon Malin)

Pic Of The Day #1089

Saugatuck Elementary School (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

Pics Of The Day #1054

Saugatuck Elementary School students are busily rehearsing “The Little Mermaid.” The curtain rises next Friday (March 13, 7 p.m.), with additional shows Saturday, March 14 (1 and 6 p.m.). Tickets are $5 at http://www.saugatucktheaterclub.org; $7 at the door, if any remain.

(Phorios/Pamela Long))

Remembering Lou Dorsey

To generations of Westport students, Lou Dorsey was phys. ed.

The Saugatuck native, Staples High School graduate and longtime teacher died November 2, in Florida. He was 93 years old.

Dorsey was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. He left school after the basketball season, to join the Navy. “It was more important to get in the war before it ended than to get my diploma,” he said in 2004.

Nine classmates (out of a graduation class of 100) also left school early, for the war. Dorsey received his diploma eventually, on leave, in a special ceremony with principal Douglas Young.

Dorsey served in the Pacific Theater, as a radioman third class. After his service he received his undergraduate degree at Arnold College (now the University of Bridgeport), and his master’s at Columbia University.

Lou Dorsey

He taught physical education for 33 years at Saugatuck and Burr Farms Elementary Schools, and Staples High School.

He was inspired to teach by his high school coaches, particularly Roland Wachob at Staples.

“Rollie would put me in charge of his 9th grade class when he’d go off on a baseball trip,” Dorsey said. “If you did that nowadays you’d get sued.”

Dorsey and his wife Pauline spent 60 summers in the western Maine mountains. They moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida 33 years ago, where Dorsey was an avid golfer.

He is survived by 4 children: Judith Dorsey and her husband Kenneth Gomberg; Kimberly Slimak and her husband Michael Slimak; Jiliane Dorsey and Louis Dorsey, Jr. and his youngest sister, Patricia Dorsey Wood, as well as 3 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in Rangeley, Maine next summer. Click here to leave condolences.

Peeved Players In A Parking Pickle

An alert — and unhappy — “06880” reader writes:

For a long time, a number of pickleball players have used the parking lot behind 25 Sylvan Road South to access the public courts behind Saugatuck Elementary  School.

In fact, the Parks & Rec Department told those of us taking their clinics to park there. We park all the way in back. We rarely stay more than 2 hours — mainly on evenings and weekends

None of us have ever seen the back lot remotely filled, even during the busiest weekday times.  Yet here’s the sign we found today.

Sure, it’s private property. But is this really necessary when no real problem exists? A little heavy handed? On weekends, when the offices are basically empty?

I walked in with the Staples tennis coach, who was even more surprised than I was.

Okay, I won’t park there. But I certainly won’t rent space there either. Karma!

The reader emailed later, with a PS:

School starts soon, so the courts can only be used after school or on weekends. Most folks will just use the school lots.

And most of my pickleball crowd prefers to play at Compo, the new bathroom notwithstanding.

It was the mean-spiritedness of the sign that bothered me most.

The Saugatuck: A Cooperative Thrives On Bridge Street

Westport does not have a nickname. But if we did, we might be called “The Land of Lawsuits.”

Westporters like to sue. The town won a lawsuit to prohibit construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island (yay!). Neighbors lost a suit to prohibit construction of the Compo Beach playground (yay!).

Neighbors also threatened to prohibit Positano restaurant from putting a few tables on an outdoor patio near Old Mill Beach. As a result, the restaurant moved. A private home now rises in its place (boo!).

Lost in the mists of time is another lawsuit. In 1985, 64 residents of Bridge Street and nearby roads sued to prevent the conversion of what was then Saugatuck Elementary School into multi-unit housing.

Three years later, a settlement was reached. The agreement limited the project to 36 owner-occupied, age-restricted units.

(Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)

Today, The Saugatuck is a true success story. One of Westport’s most affordable residences lies a short walk from thriving Saugatuck Center and train station, and not much further from Compo Beach.

The attractively renovated red brick building graces Bridge Street between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

Residents have formed a tight-knit, active community. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without it, in fact.

None of that could have been predicted in 1984. Westport’s school population was declining. Burr Farms Elementary was torn down. Hillspoint Elementary turned into daycare. Bedford El became Town Hall. Greens Farms Elementary School housed the Westport Arts Center.

When the lawsuit was settled, plans were drawn up to convert the school that generations of Saugatuck residents attended. It dated back to the early 20th century, when the original wooden building was called the Bridge Street School.

It took several years, but 17 1-bedroom and 19 2-bedroom apartments were built in what were once classrooms, the library and auditorium. Because Saugatuck had been a classic elementary school, each unit features large windows and high ceilings.

Units at The Saugatuck feature large windows.

Those surroundings are familiar to at least one current resident — and several others in the past. They attended Saugatuck El as kids. Living there now is very different — but also quite familiar.

Joe Veno has lived in The Saugatuck for more than 20 years. As a youngster, he walked to the school from his Franklin Street home. He played basketball in the playground — now a parking lot — and baseball in what is now a quiet back yard.

The Saugatuck is a cooperative. The Town of Westport owns the land, and holds a 99-year lease on the property. But the Cooperative owns the building.

Members must be at last 62 years old (at least one, in the case of married couples), able to live independently, and their income must be below the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s guidelines for homeowners at 80% of area median income. Importantly, there are no limits or restrictions on assets.

To ensure affordability, the resale price is linked to the average increase in income for individuals living in the area.

Three units are currently for sale. A 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment is listed at $222,282; 2 1-bedroom units have listing prices of $179,800 and $168,300. (Inquiries can be directed to the property manager: 203-226-1570.)

Those are far below other Westport prices, because of the original affordable housing prices implemented in the 1990s, and the strict resale cap/formula that limits how high prices can climb.

A view of The Saugatuck’s back yard.

A cooperative’s rules are are more stringent than in a condo, particularly in areas like rentals. Saugatuck units must be their owner’s primary residence.

One of the great perks of The Saugatuck is Shaun Cullen, a part-time super.

Residents include longtime Westporters who have downsized, and no longer want the responsibilities of a home and yard.

Other residents have moved to The Saugatuck from elsewhere, to be close to their children and grandchildren in Westport.

Most Saugatuck residents are retired, from careers including Wall Street, Madison Avenue, refuse collection and tile installation. At least 2 — an accountant and a contractor — are currently working.

The vibe is friendly. Neighbors chat easily, in the community room, mail room and hallways.

The cooperative is governed by an executive board. They and other residents organize a variety of activities: movie nights, supper at the beach, a jazz keyboardist and Labor Day picnic.

A recent party in the community room.

It’s hard to imagine Westport today without the Compo Beach playground — or to visualize the town, had a nuclear power plant been built on Cockenoe.

It’s just as hard to imagine what Bridge Street would be like without The Saugatuck. How great that the neighbors who sued more than 30 years ago cooperated in a settlement that led to a co-op.

FUN FACTS: 1) During the Depression, the WPA commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a 7-foot high, 20-foot long mural: “Pageant of Juvenile Literature.” For years, it hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School.

In 1992, when the town finally began to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing, the mural was slated for demolition.

A group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library. 

It stayed there for more than 2 decades. When the transformation project was announced, and a suitable spot could not be found for the work, Westport arts curator Kathy Motes Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic.

They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School. Now, the enormous, eye-catching mural hangs proudly near the auditorium lobby, just a few feet from the Staples library.

2) When Saugatuck was an elementary school, Pete Seeger — at the time, blacklisted as a folk singer — performed on its auditorium stage.