Tag Archives: Staples High School

Link Crew: A Freshman Lifeline

As the school year ends, Westport’s 8th graders begin the transition to Staples High.

Administrators, teachers and parents have started to prepare them. But the info the adults provide — on courses, curriculums and clubs — is not necessarily what rising freshmen want to hear.

They have more mundane, but crucially important, concerns: Where will I sit in the cafeteria? What happens if my locker is too far from my classes? Will I ever see my friends?

Link Crew knows all the answers. Not long ago, the 80 juniors and seniors were freshmen themselves.

A small number of the 80 Link Crew members.

Link Crew is a student mentorship program. The goal is to make the move from middle to high school — one of the most momentous of a teenager’s life — as easy as possible.

“We want the school to feel smaller,” says Jamie Pacuk, one of 3 passionate advisors. “Not everyone has an older sibling.”

English teacher Pacuk, physical education instructor Jeff Doornweerd and special education teacher Lauren Manosh are 3 very different people, inhabiting 3 very different Staples worlds.

That mirrors the Link Crew model. The advisors seek a diverse group of mentors. Together, they encompass nearly all of the many opportunities Staples offers.

The selection process is rigorous — including a video. “Someone might write well, but can they communicate clearly and easily, and speak from the heart?” Doornweerd asks. “If they’re not comfortable making their own video, how comfortable would they be relating in small groups to other people?”

Once selected, the 40 new juniors join 40 returning seniors in special training. (Every junior wants to return the next year, Manosh says proudly.)

This spring, mentors went to the middle schools to introduce the program. They also led tours, on a recent 8th grader visit.

Leading a recent tour for 8th graders. The Link Crew shirts say “We’ll be there for you.”

In August they contact their small group of rising freshmen — and the students’ parents. They explain who they are, what they’ll be doing, and give them their phone numbers. “Text us any time!” they say.

Before opening day, Link Crews meet for orientation tours. Relationships take root, as freshmen realize they can ask the questions adults cannot — or would not think to — answer.

On the first day of school, Link Crew members wear special t-shirts. They check in with “their” 9th graders frequently, during those sometimes-overwhelming initial days.

The program continues throughout the year. Once a month, mentors do activities during the “Connections” period.

The background to Link Crew is as interesting as the program itself. Funded initially by a 2019-20 Staples and middle school PTA grants, the advisors began visiting schools that already used Link Crew (it’s part of a national program). Advisors’ training was set for April.

COVID closed school. But Pacuk, Doornweerd and Manosh persevered, setting up a virtual model for the 2020-21 school year. “We built the airplane as we flew it,” Doornweerd notes.

In 2020, Emily Epstein and Owen Dolan introduced Link Crew to freshmen via video.

For freshmen beginning their Staples careers at a time of such uncertainty and flux, the program proved crucial. Even online, they felt they had gotten to know upperclassmen. Barriers between classes had been eased.

Pacuk, Doornweerd and Manosh love their 80 Link Crew mentors. “They’re very engaged,” Pacuk says. “They have a real enthusiasm for wanting to make Staples a better place, any way they can.”

The advisors hope to expand the program, adding activities like socials and exam study groups.

Meanwhile, despite starting a major new program in the midst of a pandemic, they tout its success.

“We’re a social species. This gives people their own ‘tribe,'” Manosh says.

“This is a big school,” Pacuk adds. “It’s important to feel part of something — to know you have a network of support.”

A little gesture — a text from a mentor, noting about a student’s absence from Connections — can go a long, long way. “It says, ‘Someone cares,'” Manosh says.

Roundup: Hiawatha Lane, Staples Key, Twiddle …

The long legal battle to stop construction of 157 apartments on Hiawatha Lane may be over.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger issued a summary judgment ruling on Tuesday, in favor of developer Summit Saugatuck. The ruling may effectively end efforts by the plaintiffs — residents of the neighborhood off Saugatuck Avenue, near I-95 Exit 17 — to halt the project.

At issue were deed restrictions, limiting some properties in the area to single-family development.

At issue were deed restrictions of some properties in the area, limiting each lot to single-family development. At least 2 of those parcels are included in the Summit plans.

Owners of the other properties included in the deed restriction filed suit against Summit for breaching the restriction. They asked the court to prevent Summit from proceeding with the development, after its approved by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission.

Berger ruled that the easement did not reach the necessary legal requirements for it to be enforceable against the Summit properties. (Hat tip: Gloria Gouveia)

Artist’s rendering of one of the buildings at Summit Saugatuck’s Hiawatha Lane development.

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Congratulations to Sasha Maskoff. The talented senior — a pianist who has played at Carnegie Hall (and last December’s spectacular Candlelight Concert), and tutors young students — is the 2022 Staples Key winner.

The award — donated by Westport’s Kiwanis Club — is considered the most prestigious at the high school. The other finalists were Jasper Cahn and William Heisler.

The honor was announced by principal Stafford Thomas, at last night’s annual awards ceremony. Arts, English, Math, Science, Social Studies, World Language and other awards were presented too.

Thomas also presented 15 Principal’s Awards, for outstanding service and contributions, to Slade Anastasia, Nick Augeri, Caroline Coffey, Catherine Cunningham, Amy Ginzburg, Emorej Hunter, Matthew Jordan, Elle Laub, Madeline Michalowski, ishan Prasad, Noah Robison, Ally Schwartz, Max Udell and Ella Williams.

Two members of each class received Staples Awards for Character: seniors Chloe Nevas and Nick Prior, juniors Jacob Baker and Miriam Hurley, sophomores Gianna Amatuzzi and Caroline Hechter, and freshmen Dylan Phillips and Mieszko Solowinski.

Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas, at last night’s awards ceremony. (Photo/David Pogue)

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Stop twiddling your thumbs. Get tickets for Twiddle!

The Vermont-based band — which enjoys a strong Fairfield County following — will perform at the Levitt Pavilion on July 29-30).

Doors open at 3 p.m. for the Friday event. Twiddle will do 2 sets; they’ll be joined by Mihali and The Nth Power.

Saturday begins with a special 1 p.m. VIP acoustic set. Doors open to the public at 3 p.m. Twiddle will do 2 more sets. Dwight & Nicole and Eggy are on the bill too.

Member tickets are available now. Public tickets – with early-bird pricing — begins at noon today. Click here for details.

A few tickets are still available for Tower of Power’s “Stars on Tour” Levitt appearance this Saturday (June 4, 7:30 p.m.).

Click here for more information, including purchases for all ticketed shows.

Twiddle(Photo/©Jay Blakesberg)

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Monday, June 20 (8 p.m.) is the new date for the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” with Shonda Rhimes. It was postponed from earlier this week.

All seats have been sold for the in-person event. However, tickets are available to watch via Zoom. Click here for details.

Shonda Rhimes

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Jackie Ferrentino spotted today’s “Westport … Naturally” star the other day, in a Long Lots tree:

(Photo/Jackie Ferrentino)

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And finally … Depeche Mode synthesizer player Andy Fletcher died last week in Britain. He was 60.

He co-founded the band, and helped develop its electronics-heavy sound. Click here for a full obituary.

[UPDATE] Scarice Adds Details On “Suspicious Person”

Following up on the Westport Police Department’s information about this morning’s “sheter in place” order at Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice says:

Earlier this morning a student who missed their bus walked to the Dattco bus yard and requested a ride to Bedford Middle School. Personnel at the bus yard mobilized to provide transportation for this student.

Some time thereafter, personnel at the Dattco bus yard contacted the school district’s transportation coordinator to inform the coordinator about their plan to transport the student, but unfortunately provided incomplete and inaccurate information regarding the student’s identity and school.  Our transportation coordinator immediately contacted the BMS and central office administration.

The administration then swiftly contacted our Westport Police Department School Security Officer (SSO) and School Resource Officer (SRO), and the Staples administration.  After investigating to determine the identity and location of the student through video surveillance, our SRO discovered that the student was dropped off at Bedford Middle School, but then left the bus and walked towards Staples High School.

As a precaution, our SSO and SRO then sought additional resources from the Westport Police Department.  Both schools were placed in a shelter-in-place.

Through collaboration with the school and district administration, the student was then correctly identified, interviewed, and it was determined that the shelter-in-place could be lifted.

The administration is committed to identifying the breakdown of the Dattco bus yard communication and protocols in this incident.

Again, I have complete confidence that at no time were our students and staff in danger. Additionally, it is clear that the positive and collaborative relationship we enjoy with the Westport Police Department, and the swift actions of our Bedford and Staples administration, along with our transportation coordinator and central office administration, all contributed to the timely resolution of this matter.

“Suspicious Person” Caused School Shelter-In-Place Order

The Westport Police Department says:

At approximately 9 a.m. today, the Westport Police Department’s School Security Officer and the Staples School Resource Officer began to investigate a report of a suspicious person on school grounds.

An unknown male who appeared to be in his teens was dropped off at Bedford Middle School, but the person then left that campus and walked towards Staples High School.

The incident was deemed suspicious because at the time no one recognized this individual, and it was unknown what he was doing on school property.  Out of an abundance of caution, the school’s superintendent placed both Bedford Middle School and Staples High School in a shelter in place status.

Several patrol officers responded to make sure that students at both schools were kept safe, and to look for this unknown person.  Westport detectives also went to the scene and worked with school officials to attempt to identify the party.

It was ultimately determined that the person in question was in fact a Staples student. The student was simply running late and after managing to get a ride to Bedford, he walked over to Staples.

Chief Foti Koskinas said that “this was the best possible outcome,” and that the timely resolution of this incident is a testament to “the excellent working relationship that the police department has with the school system.”

Terry Brannigan: It’s “Time” For Gillham’s Debut Album

Some Westporters know Terry Brannigan as an Eagle Scout. Others think of him as a former Staples High School wrestling star.

Perhaps one day the rest of the world may celebrate him for his music.

The 2020 Staples grad is now a Wesleyan University sophomore. He’s double majoring in physics and music. He’s minoring in IDEAS (Integrated Design, Engineering and Applied Science). He’s a varsity wrestler (125 pounds).

And he’s just released his first album. Which (of course!) he created entirely himself, in his dorm room.

Terry Brannigan’s “studio.”

He wrote every song. He played live instruments (after teaching himself bass and piano — he already knew guitar). He sang. He mixed, mastered and produced it all (after figuring out how to use the Ableton program).

And — why not? — he designed the album cover too

Terry Brannigan created all the “Gillham” art.

“Gillham” — that’s Terry’s middle name; it’s both the album title and his stage name — traces its roots back to Terry’s first guitar, at 7. He joined School of Rock, but did not take music seriously until the summer after 11th grade 

He and a friend formed the band Verbatim (it included his younger brother Eamon). They played a few gigs, at venues from bars to Barnes & Noble.

Terry Brannigan

A turning point for Terry was taking Advanced Placement Music Theory with Luke Rosenberg. The Staples choral director gave Terry “another way to look at and appreciate music,” he says.

Balancing school, music, wrestling and Boy Scouts was not easy. Terry was grateful to have two escapes — arts and sports — from the stresses of teenage life. They use different sides of the brain, he notes, and balance each other out.

Throughout high school, Terry wrote songs. Last year, stuck in his Wesleyan dorm room for long stretches during COVID, he worked in earnest on his music.

“I’d sit in the same chair for 6 or 7 hours — class, homework, music, eating dinner at my desk,” Terry says. “I was having a really weird relationship with time.” He began writing songs with that theme.

At first, Terry admits, it was hard  to write about personal feelings. “Is it too much information? Why would anyone care?” he wondered. But, he notes, “it’s easier, and a lot more fun, to write something you care about.”

The hardest part of making an album was not the lyrics or melody. It was production.

“There’s so much to learn,” says Terry. He taught himself Ableton Live — a digital audio workstation. “There’s an infinite number of sounds and instruments. When I figure out how to get something to sound the way I want it to, I’m grateful.”

Terry Brannigan: Westport and Wesleyan’s music man, in Nashville.

He’s produced an impressive debut album. That theme of “time” runs through nearly every track, mutating and reprising often. The more you listen to “GIllham,” the more you appreciate Terry’s insights, subtleties and nuances.

After the next tough part — promotion — Terry will turn to another musical project.

He’ll fit it in along with his very demanding courses at Wesleyan. And his equally tough wrestling schedule.

Terry Brannigan is a many of many talents. And — somehow — he’ll find “time.”

(“Gillham” by Gillham is available on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.)

If Terry Brannigan is not making music or studying, you’ll find him on the wrestling mat.

Roundup: Staples #1, Tyler Hicks, Young Authors, MoCA Show …

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“06880” does not post most “ranking” stories (Best Beach Towns in America, etc.). The criteria are random, the headlines are often clickbait, and — particularly with education — if, say, our school district is #1 one year and #2 the next, Westporters demand to know “What happened?!”

So this story is not about Niche’s ranking of Staples as the #1 school in Connecticut — for the 3rd year in a row.

Instead, it’s about the Channel 8 news report about that honor. Click here to learn more, from (very proud) principal Stafford Thomas.

Screenshot of Staples principal Stafford Thomas, on Channel 8’s “What’s Right With our Schools” feature.

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As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, the New York Times looks back on Tyler Hicks’ 2 decades of chronicling life and death in that faraway land.

The 1988 Staples High School graduate/Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer arrived there soon after the October 7, 2001 invasion — 20 years ago today. One of the first sights he saw was the execution of a Taliban fighter.

His most recent assignment, in July, was near Bagram Air Base — the same spot he saw that harrowing first scene.

Click here for today’s Times retrospective of Hicks’ haunting photos. (Hat tip: Gil Ghitelman)

In 2001, Northern Alliance fighters dragged a wounded Taliban fighter out of a ditch. They shot him dead. (Photo/Tyler Hicks for New York Times)

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When COVID put the kibosh on after-school activities, Jordan Razza created her own.

She arranged classes for her daughters Daisy and Ainsley, and 2 other Westport youngsters, with children’s book author Jacky LaMenzo.

She lives in Massachusetts, but no matter. This was COVID; classes were held via Zoom, on Tuesday evenings.

This was more than just “how-to.” LaMenzo emphasized “do it!”

Brainstorming ideas was key. Daisy — now a 7th grader at Coleytown Middle School — wanted to write about LGBTQ people.

Ainsley — a Coleytown Elementary 5th grader — loves alligators, crocodiles and frogs. She focused on an alligator who makes friends.

Both girls honed in on the theme of acceptance. Now, both are now published authors.

Daisy’s book is “My Colors.” It’s illustrated with her own digital art.

Ainsley wrote “Outcast.” Her drawings are freehand.

The books are available on Amazon. Part of the proceeds go to a literary charity.

The girls are interested in many things. Daisy does gymnastics, the school play and swimming. She’s also in CMS’ Pride Club. Ainsley enjoys synchronized swimming and art. Both continue to write.

The Razzas may not be Westport’s newest authors. But they definitely are our youngest!

(Click here for more information on Daisy’s book. Click here for Ainsley’s.)

The Razza sisters’ books.

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“When Caged Birds Sing” — a teaching exhibition created by Westport artist Ann Weiner — opens to the public on October 29. An opening reception is October 28 (6 to 8 p.m.).

The exhibit features 8 life-size sculptures representing women’s rights activists who suffered and survived abuse because of their gender, yet continue to advocate for the rights of others at risk.

Weiner’s work shines a spotlight on sex trafficking, kidnapping, transphobia, female genital mutilation, honor killings, domestic abuse, the conversion of kidnapped girls into sex slaves and killers by rebel armies, merciless Taliban law and transphobia.

Visitors are invited to write stories, experiences or feelings on pieces of paper that will then be folded into the origami shape of a bird and placed in a bird cage, for release later. A 45-minute documentary about the women featured in the exhibition will also be shown.

For more information, click here.

Part of MoCA’s “Caged Bird” exhibition.

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The Tailored Home is known for its custom furniture, window treatments, accessories, reupholstery, refinishing and design services. It’s a great place, and it knows its Fairfield County clientele.

But last night the Sconset Square store sponsored a funk band. It was something different, for sure.

(Photo/Paul Delano)

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For 10 years, Voices Cafe at the Westport Unitarian Church has featured great folk music. Peter Yarrow, Paul Winter and Suzanne Sheridan have performed there; Brother Sun chose it their final concert. Many events support social justice causes.

Voices Cafe begins its 2nd decade on Sunday, October 24 (7:30 p.m.). with double bill: Newtown-born Sawyer Fredericks (winner of The Voice’s season 8) and The Accidentals, a powerful female-led indie rock and punk folk band.

The concert will be both in-person at the church, and livestreamed. Click here for tickets, and more information.

Sawyer Fredericks

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Sorelle Gallery’s final exhibition of 2021 features abstract artist Ned Martin. Beginning Saturday (October 9). Light refreshments will be served in the Bedford Square spce.

Martin’s work includes birds, female portraiture, natural forest-scapes, and pure abstraction.

“Fragmented in Time” (Ned Martin)

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James Goodenough died peacefully at his Westport home on September 29, surrounded by Gloria, his wife of 73 years, and his 4 children. He was 95 years old.

He was born in New Haven to Dr. Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, a professor at Yale University, and Helen Miriam Lewis. Jim  graduated from Yale University.

In 1954 Jim and Gloria moved to Westport. He worked at a specialized business magazine company, Cleworth Publishing, rising to publisher of several magazines, then vice president and treasurer.

Jim was a man of consummate integrity, wisdom and humbleness. He is survived by his wife Gloria; children Sandra, Janice, Andrew and Elizabeth; 6 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren, and his brother John B. Goodenough, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year for his work on the lithium ion battery.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, October 17 (2 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church). Memorial donations are suggested to Saugatuck Church or Westminster School in Simsbury.

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In our never-ending quest to feature every living thing possible, “Westport … Naturally” today turns to termites.

Susan Garment writes: “I came across this swarm of termites in a tree on my yard. I called several exterminators and sent them this picture. They  became extremely excited, because they had never seen anything like it. They wanted to send the picture to the Connecticut Department of Entomology.

“We removed the tree. Fortunately,  none of the termites migrated to my house.”

(Photo/Susan Garment)

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And finally … the next MoCA exhibition — “When Caged Birds Sing” (see above) — reminded me of this seriously underrated Beatles song. Sure, there’s no connection between the tune and the Maya Angelou-inspired museum title, other than the bird theme. But I love this track:

Board Of Ed: Police Patrols, New Roofs

A police officer will monitor the Westport schools. And he or she will do so in buildings with new roofs, and more staff.

Those were some of the decisions made at last night’s Board of Education meeting.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that the Westport Police Department plans to assign an officer to patrol outside the 7 elementary and middle schools. The officer could go inside as needed, offering a chance for students to see the police in a good positive light.

The board will vote on more specific policy regarding this topic in the near future.

The Staples High School roof replacement project will begin immediately after graduation. The total project budget is $5,577,512.

Funding of $1,519,000 was approved for the Saugatuck Elementary School roof project. It will be completed next summer.

The Board of Finance is in the process of approving soft costs, and securing funding.

Board of Ed members also saw a 5-year proposed capital forecast. Including multiple projects and other expenses, the total for the fiscal year 2021-22 was $7,243,707.

Since the spring, the Westport Public Schools have hired 4 new administrators, 39 teachers and 35 non-certified staff members. That’s up 13 teachers and 17 non-certified staff, compared to last year. Interviews were once again done live.

A heath report showed that there were 10 COVID cases last week in the Westport schools. That brings the total since the start of the school year to 34. However, there has been little to no transmission within the schools, said supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur.

A new roof is coming soon for Kings HIghway Elementary School,

 

Photo Challenge #344

The Photo Challenges I think will be impossible get answered correctly within nanoseconds by multiple readers.

The ones I figure are slam dunks stump nearly everyone.

Welcome to Sundays in “06880”-ville.

Maybe it’s because I spend so much time at Staples High School, and know the fieldhouse so well. I thought many Westporters of many ages would recognize last week’s image as the outcroppings on what from 1958 through 1981 was the outside wall of the gym.

When a renovation project brought 9 separate buildings together under one roof, that outside wall was enclosed. It’s now at the top of the steps, leading from the fieldhouse to the fitness center, offices and locker room below.

John D. McCarthy, Vanessa Bradford, Clark Thiemann, Michael Pettee and Adam Schwartz were the only readers to get it right. Carissa Simon Baker was close. All are Staples grads.

A similar architectural touch was seen on the outside wall of the auditorium, from 1958 until the new school was built on the site of the old one, in 2005.

Legend has it that for a senior prank, the Class of 1979 collected empty beer cans and alcohol bottles throughout the entire year. (Or maybe just one weekend — you never know.)

The night before graduation, they hoisted themselves up the side of the auditorium and gym walls, and put hundreds of bottles and cans on those outcroppings.

By the time the prank was discovered, it was too late. Thousands of spectators were passing by, on their way to the ceremony. Cheers!

Which leads us to this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/JC Martin)

 

Photo Challenge #339

I whiz by the site of last Sunday’s Photo Challenge often. I never see it.

Then again, I time my Staples High School comings and goings so I’m not stuck in the early morning and/or mid-afternoon crawl through the secondary (south) entrance, on North Avenue.

That’s the narrow lane with the unmarked speed hump and the stop sign hidden by leaves.

If you wait there, you probably have time to look around. And notice the door in the fence that allows access to and from Willow Walk.

Amy Swanson, Andrew Colabella and Jonathan McClure — 3 Photo Challenge regulars — knew exactly what Seth Schachter’s shot showed. (Click here to see.)

Now the question is: Has anyone ever actually used the gate?

This week, we continue with the Seth Schachter-shots-of-wooden-fences-we-pass-every-day theme. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

“06880, The Podcast”: John Dodig

As Pride Month begins, there is no better LGBTQ role model than John Dodig.

An educator for 47 years, it was only in his last 11 that he was out publicly as a gay man. But what an 11 years those were.

As principal of Staples High School, Dodig fostered an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance for all. He was admired and adored by students, staff, and the entire community.

But it took a lifetime of struggle for Dodig to get there.

The other day, I sat with him in the Westport Library’s Trefz Forum. We talked about his career in education, his journey as a gay man, and what it all means for him and our community today.

As always, Dodig was clear, honest, incisive, and very funny. Click here for the newest “06880: The Podcast” interview.

Happy Pride!

Screenshot from John Dodig’s podcast interview.