Tag Archives: Suzanne Kammerman

Roundup: Woodstock, Teachers, Movies, Music, More


Last week, Peter Gambaccini saw that TCM was running the director’s cut of “Woodstock.”

Peter was there in the Catskills hills, 51 years ago this month. Now in his early 70s, he was not ready to sit through all those hours of music and more (particularly not Ten Years After).

But he tried to time it so that he’d tune in to see some of the Westporters he knew were there (though he never saw them “live”).

In a segment showing people sliding through the mud after a torrential rain, he suddenly spotted Bill Davidson. He was a Staples High School hockey star, and drummer with local bands.

In the movie, Bill had a line about what a “mess” the hillside was. Peter had not seen him in the movie before, so he guesses that was part of the expanded version.

Then — after a brief bit of other business — Pete Krieg and Peter Cannon came into view. Cannon flashed the peace sign at the camera.

They were so close in the footage to Davidson, Gambaccini assumed they’d all gone to Woodstock together.

Nope.

In a Facebook discussion about another musical topic on Facebook, Gambaccini asked Krieg about the weekend. He said:

“I’ve gotten close to Bill in the past 10 years, since he’s the head bartender at Aspetuck Club. It was just last year (50 years later) that we realized we were 20 yards/60 seconds apart on that road, at that moment, at Woodstock.”

Far out!


Phaedra Taft — science coach at Greens Farms and Long Lots Elementary Schools — has received the Connecticut Science Teachers Association award for “Excellence in Elementary Science Teaching 2020.” 

During her 12 years in the Westport schools, Taft has been a leader in the development and implementation of the elementary school science curriculum. She has also played an instrumental role in leading the District’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards

In other education news, 2 Westport teachers — Staples High School’s Suzanne Kammerman and Courtney Ruggiero of Bedford Middle School — were featured on a Channel 8 story about teaching 9/11 to today’s students. Click here to see.

Phaedra Taft


The Artists Collective of Westport is helping another arts group: the Remarkable Theater.

They’re collaborating on Thursday’s drive-in movie. “Best in Show” — a biting satire about dog shows — will be shown September 17 at 8 p.m. at the Imperial Avenue parking lot. The gate opens at 7.

Tickets are $50 per car. Click here to reserve.


Westport’s Suzuki Music School is beefing up its presence. New Visiting Artist courses have been added, with Grammy Award-winning instructors like percussionist Joe McCarthy, and subjects including the history of jazz, movie soundtrack composition amd contemporary fiddling.

Suzuki is also streaming more free public events, with jazz pianist Sumi Tonooka and cellist Matt Haimovitz and more. The popular children’s Pillow Concert series continues online, and the Connecticut Guitar Festival returns for a 4th year (virtually this time).

Suzuki’s season kicks off this Sunday (September 20) with a master class by Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich. Click here for tickets to that class; click here for an overview of events.


And finally … since we’re honoring Woodstock (above), here’s a “trip” down memory lane. In deference to Peter Gambaccini, it’s not Ten Years After. It’s Bert Sommer. He was accompanied at Woodstock by local resident Ira Stone. If you’ve never heard of them — or at least didn’t know they were at Woodstock — well, they never made it off the film’s cutting room floor. NOTE: The Woodstock recording is poor. I’ve also included a studio version (I’m not sure if it includes Ira).

 

 

Staples’ “We The People” Team Earns Regional Crown

It may not have been the hugging, high-fiving celebration they deserved.

But Staples High School’s “We the People” team looked ecstatic last night, as they learned — online — that they won the Northeast US championship in the Center for Civic Education’s annual competition.

So instead, the 23 team members and faculty advisor Suzanne Kammerman celebrated virtually.

Staples’ “We the People” team get the good news on Zoom.

That’s the same way they had competed the day before. In a nerve-wracking session, 6 different groups answered judges’ difficult questions about history, policy and law.

They nailed it.

Their performance — placing them Number 5 nationally, the highest-ever finish for a Staples “We the People” team — was well earned. It was the result of months of research, writing and preparation by the crew. They were aided by volunteers like Andy Laskin and Jamie Dockray.

Staples advanced to the finals by winning the state championship in December. The victory — which snapped Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place — earned the Westporters a trip to Washington, DC. It would be the culmination of the school year, and all their hard work.

COVID-19 upended those plans. But the teenagers went right back to work, readying themselves for the virtual version of nationals.

Kammerman — who participated in “We the People” herself more than 20 years ago, as a Shelton High student — hails her team.

Staples High School’s “We the People” Northeast regional champions.

“They performed remarkably,” she says. “I’m heartbroken they missed out on the trip to D.C., because I know what they would have experienced and accomplished there.

“But this experience gave the students a sense of community and purpose that was so necessary during very uncertain times. I told them that someday when their grandchildren ask about the coronavirus pandemic, they’ll have a pretty cool story to tell them.”

Congratulations to Staples’ “We the People” team, their coach and assistants. We the Westporters are very, very proud.

Staples “We The People” Team Heads Virtually To DC

Last fall, 23 Staples High School students began preparing for this coming weekend. It would be the finals of the national “We the People” competition.

Getting there — spending 5 days in Washington, DC — would not be easy. But in December, Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Politics and Government class was crowned Connecticut champions. The win broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place.

With the help of interested Westporters like Andy Laskin and Jamie Dockray, the teenagers prepped for nationals.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

It’s a monumental task. Each team is divided into 6 groups. Each must be ready to answer 3 separate and exceptionally difficult questions on history, politics and law. For example:

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)  To what extent has this view influenced American culture?”

The Staples students worked hard, hours a day after school and on weekends.

Then came COVID-19.

On March 11, Westport schools closed. That same night, the Center for Civic Education — We the People’s sponsors — canceled the national event.

Kammerman deliver the crushing news by email.

But quickly, the CCE devised an alternative: a virtual competition.

Kammerman was unsure how her students would respond. Nearly all jumped at the chance.

Ever since, the 2 dozen teenagers have been working together — though apart physically — on their presentations.

It will be a streamlined version. Thirty-one teams elected to compete, down from the original 52. Rather than one round each on Saturday and Sunday, with the finals Monday, the cyberspace nationals will be one round only.

Staples has a Sunday morning slot. Students will log on to Zoom, and enter a secure “room.” Each of the 6 groups will present, then spend 6 minutes answering judges’ questions. The topics are the Bill of Rights, 19th Amendment and America’s system of elections. Winners will be announced Sunday night.

Since mid-March, the Westporters have been researching and writing. This week they honed their responses, in small and large group online sessions.

Andy Laskin is one of several Westporters helping prepare students for the “We the People” competition. He’s in the upper left with Sam Laskin; clockwise are Gary Lu, Sam Powell and William Matar.

Kammerman is impressed with their dedication and perseverance. They all take several difficult classes; distance learning has not meant a lesser workload at all.

Of course, she notes, “their weekends are freer than they used to be.” Still, she is amazed at how hard they work.

“A lot of the excitement had been about spending 5 days in Washington,” she knows. “That was a prize itself. They’re missing out on that. But they’re still very excited.”

Kammerman — who participated in “We the People” herself more than 20 years ago, as a Shelton High student — has worked hard too. In addition to preparing her class, she’s been on conference calls about the contest’s technology and security. On Wednesday she did a full run-through with her class.

An online session, preparing for the “We the People” competition.

Like so many other teachers, she’s been juggling her other classes, her own children’s distance learning, her spouse who works from home, and running a household during a pandemic.

But, she says, “I love it. This is worth it to me. The days fly by. When I sit at night and help kids with their research, it’s really special.

“The kids are so great. They push me forward.”

In another world, they would have all pushed forward to Washington this weekend.

Instead, they’re all home — alone, together — in Westport.

But in true American spirit, “We the People” will prevail.

“We The People” Needs We The Westporters

In 2020, we celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which recognized the right of women to vote. Despite recent controversy, the Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been ratified. What are the similarities and differences between these two amendments?

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)  To what extent has this view influenced American culture?

In the 1793–94 Pacificus–Helvidius debates, Alexander Hamilton contended that the power to declare war was both legislative and executive in nature. James Madison disagreed, saying that this power was exclusively legislative. Whose opinion do you favor and why?

Could you answer those questions?

Staples High School’s “We the People” team is confident they can.

That’s not just teenage we-can-conquer-the-world cockiness.

In December, 23 students in Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Politics and Government class were crowned state champs in the annual competition. The momentous win broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

Now the students are preparing for April’s national contest, in Leesburg, Virginia.

It’s quite a task. Each team is divided into 6 groups. Each must be ready to answer 3 separate questions on history, politics and law.

Only one will be asked in the oral question round. But all team members must participate. And each of the 6 groups must be strong. If one falters, the entire class score suffers.

Like all schools, the Staples students, teachers and parent supporters will be isolated in one room. They can’t watch anyone else. It’s a pressure-filled day, as judges shuttle in and out to question the teenagers.

Many schools — including Trumbull — treat “We the People” as a separate course. At Staples though, it’s just one part of the AP curriculum.

In the past, Trumbull prepared for the national competition by enlisting a host of townspeople — lawyers, college history professors teachers, politicians — to assist.

The Staples students get help from just a couple of parents. Andy Laskin — an attorney — takes time off from work. He attends class in person, and FaceTimes too.

For example, for 4th Amendment search and seizure issues, he brings in school resource officer Ed Woolridge. Laskin creates hypothetical police issues, then tweaks the conduct slightly to see how that changes the officer’s suspicions and reactions. It’s complex. And exactly the type of preparation the students need.

Another lawyer, Jamie Dockray, works with them in person, during the week and on weekends at the library.

But it’s labor-intensive. Each adult can only be with 4 students at a time, because each group gets separate questions.

So the “We the People” advisors are asking we — the Westporters — for help.

A lawyer in town who offers his or her conference room; former college history majors who love to talk about politics, law and the Constitution; actors to work on presentation skills — all are welcome.

Volunteers could also help as “judges,” during a practice competition before the April trip.

All could be “game-changers,” Laskin says. The key is to help teenagers “look, sound, act and think like lawyers — and learn the skills to do the research and pull off the argument in front of real judges. It’s very cool.”

“We have plenty of brilliant minds in Westport,” he notes. “There are parents of former We the People students, parents who can get involved before their kids are juniors and seniors … this could be a feel-good, come-together Westport story.

“Suzanne Kammerman puts her heart and soul into this. Some kids say We the People was the defining moment of their high school careers. Let’s all support this amazing program any way we can.”

Interested in helping? Email andylaskinesq@gmail.com, or text Andy Laskin: 203-610-7065. For the full text of all 18 “We The People” questions, click here.

“We The People”: Staples’ Constitutional Champs

Congress is bitterly divided. Government norms are under attack. Some Americans wonder whether our Constitution can survive.

If you worry that so much negativity will turn an entire young generation off to politics: Have no fear.

Just talk to Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Government and Politics class.

The 23 students examine questions like: How did the framers create the Constitution? How have our Constitutional values and principles shaped American institutions and practices? What challenges does our democracy face in the 21st century?

The Staples juniors and seniors do more than discuss these issues. They compete against other high schools in a simulated congressional hearing, before a panel of actual judges, college law professors, state senators and attorneys.

The local teenagers do it very, very well. Last weekend, they finished 1st in the statewide “We the People” competition.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

The victory broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place. And it earned Staples a spot in April’s national “We the People” event, in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Westporters have qualified before, as 2nd-place wildcard finishers. This is their first year guaranteed a spot, as state champs.

More than 20 years ago, as a student at Shelton High, Kammerman herself participated in “We the People.” It was so powerful, she helped introduce the course to Staples.

Students spend hours outside of class forming teams, researching questions, developing answers, then arguing them in front of prestigious, difficult judges.

At a time when many Americans throw up their hands about government, it’s good to know that a great group of Westport teenagers embrace it.

(“We the People” winners include Surya Balaji, Taha Banatwala, Lucy Belknap, Brian Campbell, Violet Cooper, Lars Djuve, Michael Farnen, Dylan Goodman, Grace Katz, Kashvi Kumar, Brett Levy, Gary Lu, Natalia Maidique, William Matar, Tadeo Messenger, Neha Navrange, Maximus Pace, Samuel Powell, Claire Redmer, Andrew Spangler, Nicholas Suarez, Rachel Suggs and Samantha Webster.)

The Constitution

Staples Students: “We The People”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote, “I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.” Do you agree or disagree with Justice Holmes? Why?

That’s a tough question. It takes a ton of work just to understand what Holmes said — let alone figure out what you think, then devise arguments for or against it.

It’s especially hard for a teenager. But this question — and 17 others like it — have inspired an entire Staples High School class, for months.

And at the end of April, they head to Washington to argue those 18 questions, in a national competition that’s a proving ground for future leaders of the free world.

In just their 3rd year of existence, students in Suzanne Kammerman’s “We the People” Advanced Placement Government course finished 2nd in a statewide contest. That qualified them for the DC event.

Suzanne Kammerman (2nd row, far right) and her AP Government "We the People" class, after finishing 2nd in the statewide competition last December.

Suzanne Kammerman (2nd row, far right) and her AP Government “We the People” class, after finishing 2nd in the statewide competition last December.

More than 20 years ago, as a student at Shelton High, Kammerman herself participated in “We the People.” It was so powerful, she helped introduce the course to Staples. Though the high school offers 9 sections of AP Government, this is the only one that includes the contest component.

It’s an added commitment — students spend hours outside of class forming teams, researching questions, developing answers, then arguing them in front of judges who are professors and constitutional experts — but students who are passionate about government embrace it. They compete in “We the People” in addition to their other coursework — which includes preparing for the regular AP exam.

According to Milton Friedman, “The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on.” To what extent, if any, are Friedman’s ideas seen in the development of capitalism in western civilization?

There are 6 units of questions, on topics like “Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System” and “What Challenges Might Face American Constitutional Democracy in the 21st Century?”

we-the-people-logoWorking in groups of 3 or 4, students explore 3 questions each, in astonishing depth. Using critical analysis skills, they respond in writing to all 3 questions. They then respond to judges’ questions — without notes.

“I’m amazed at how much these kids have to know,” Kammerman — who meets with them on weekends, at the library and Barnes & Noble — says.

“And they really look at the Constitution with genuine civic dialogue. They’re not hyper-partisan. They all have points of view about politics, but they push them aside. It’s very impressive.”

In a speech to his fellow Virginians in 1775 Patrick Henry noted, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.” What lessons from history and experiences led the colonists to develop and structure their legislatures and their relationships to their executives and judiciaries the way they did in their new state constitutions?

Suzanne Kammerman (Photo/Madeline Hardy for Inklings)

Suzanne Kammerman (Photo/Madeline Hardy for Inklings)

At the qualifying competition in December, held at Central Connecticut State University, questions were asked about 4th Amendment issues like privacy and search and seizure, in the context of schools. Judges were so impressed with the Staples students’ responses that they continued talking, long after the 6-minute timer went off.

Right now, the class is preparing for the national contest. They’re excited at the chance to participate in mock congressional hearings, and see the sights in Washington. Kammerman has also arranged a meeting with Senator Chris Murphy.

But besides studying for some very tough questions, the “We the People” class has another task. The cost of the trip — including transportation and hotels — is nearly $30,000.

They received a very generous $15,000 donation from the law firm of Koskoff Koskoff and Bieder. But they need more.

If you’d like to help the next generation of leaders, contact Kammerman (skammerman@westport.k12.ct.us) or Staples principal James D’Amico (jdamico@westport.k12.ct.us).

What do you think Thomas Jefferson meant when he included the right to the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence instead of the more commonly used “right to property”? Where might the concept have come from?

The Constitution

The Constitution