Tag Archives: Westport Continuing Education

COVID Roundup: “Artists In Residences”; Alice In Wonderland; Class Of 2020 Signs; More

Among the many features of the transformed Westport Library, there was this: continuing exhibitions of local artists, in the Sheffer Gallery and other prominent spots.

The library is closed. But thanks to exhibits director Carole Erger-Fass, artist/ designer/jack-of-all-trades Miggs Burroughs, and modern technology, they’re getting even more exposure now than they would have had hanging on the walls.

“Artists in Residences” is the library’s cleverly named, wonderfully executed project. Miggs and Carole conducted 30-minute Zoom visits with Artists Collective of Westport members.

Part interview, part studio tour and part demonstrations of their techniques, each episode is as different as the artists themselves.

So far, 6 of these rare, intimate looks at artists in their “native habitats” have been completed. They feature Nina Bentley, Susan Fehlinger, Emily Laux, Joan Miller, Nancy Moore and MaryEllen Hendricks.

Click below for Nina’s; click here for all, via the YouTube channel.

Staples High School’s Class of 2020 will make history in at least 2 ways.

They’re the first to have senior year disrupted by a coronavirus pandemic. And they’re the first to have free lawn signs distributed to every graduate.

Signs are being picked up this week by all 437 seniors. You may already have seen some around town.

Plans are underway for many more activities for this year’s hard-luck, but resilient and wonderful, class. Hindsight is always “20/20” — but with a bit of foresight, this year’s Class of graduation will be both memorable and great.

Speaking of Staples: The “Seussical” show did not go on this spring. But another great one is on tap — er, on radio — this Thursday.

At 6 p.m. (May 14), Players director David Roth’s Theatre 3 class will broadcast their annual radio play. It’s “Alice in Wonderland.” And if it’s anything like past productions, it will earn a first-place national Drury High School Radio Award. (Staples has won every year since their inception in 2011.)

Entire families will enjoy this production. It uses the same 1952 script that was broadcast nationally, coinciding with Walt Disney’s release of his animated feature. And it features several stars from last fall’s “Mamma Mia!” mainstage.

The class has rehearsed 3 times a week since the school shut down. On Thursday you can hear them live: 90.3 FM, or streamed here.

Speaking of education: Westport Continuing Education has launched Online Learning classes and workshops for adults, teens and kids. Virtual “after school” programs include sports, babysitting, arts, film, horticulture, theater and more. Those for adults include business, cooking, gardening and personal finance. Click here for details.

They were all there at last night’s “Rise Up New York!” telethon: Tina Fey. Andrew Cuomo. Barbara Streisand. Ben Platt. Bette Midler. Jennifer Lopez. Bill de Blasio. Chris Rock. Danny Meyer. Eli Manning. Idina Menzel. Jake

Gyllenhaal. Jimmy Fallon. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Robert De Niro. Salt-N-Pepa. Spike Lee. Julianne Moore. Trevor Noah. Bon Jovi. Billy Joel. Mariah Carey.  Sting.

And Gold’s.

Momofuku’s David Chang said, “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of New York’s restaurant industry. It’s also impossible to overstate the crisis it’s currently facing.”

And then — first, among a number of dining spots — Westport’s popular deli appeared on screens, all around the nation. Chip Stephens captured the moment on camera:

And finally … listen to Peter Gabriel!

Meet Christine Jewell: New Continuing Ed Head

Christine Jewell grew up in Vermont. Her elementary school had 4 classrooms.

Today, her office is in sprawling Staples High School. She’s not a teacher. But she’s in charge of over 2,000 students, 4,000 adults, and more than 700 programs a year, all over town.

Jewell is the Westport Public Schools’ new director of continuing education.

Enrichment and make-up courses, SAT prep, driver’s ed, fitness, dog obedience, technology and computers, crafts — all of those (and many more) are part of Jewell’s portfolio.

She comes well equipped for her job. A fine arts graduate of State University of New York at Purchase, with a master’s in social policy (focused on the arts) from SUNY Empire State, the self-described “lifelong learner” most recently worked at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, as director of education and community programs.

Her experience in outreach serves her well here. Jewell looks forward to collaborating with organizations like the library and Wakeman Town Farm.

“I love creativity, and helping reinforce 21st-century skills like critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration,” she says.

Christine Jewell plugs Continuing Ed’s summer programs.

She inherited some programs, and is developing others. She is especially excited about summer initiatives like the Discovery Camp for children at Greens Farms Elementary School, and the Summer Teen Theater for rising 5th through 9th graders. (It’s “The Little Mermaid.”)

“I love Westport,” Jewell says. “Something about it is so cool. It’s very tight-knit. I’ve met so many great teachers and kids. People really care. My goal is to elevate programs even higher, to reflect the integrity of the schools and town.”

(For information and registration details on Westport Continuing Education, click here.)

“Footloose” Dances Onto Black Box Stage

Westport’s very talented Cynthia Gibb — herself a Staples High School grad — has been hard at work this summer, molding a teenage Continuing Education troupe into a foot-stomping cast.

“Footloose” — the dancing/rock musical — will be performed tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday (July 28-29), at 7 p.m. in Staples’ Black Box theater.

Tickets are available at the door.

The "Footloose" cast.

The “Footloose” cast.


“Bye Bye Birdie” Highlights Young Actors

Some kids spend the summer at camp. Some travel. Some work.

And some put on a show.

Westport Summer Teen Theatre — in conjunction with Westport Continuing Ed — presents “Bye Bye Birdie” today and tomorrow. (It opened last night, to rave reviews.)

The actors and tech crew — from both middle schools, and rising Staples sophomore “mentors” — worked hard on the production. Well-known former Staples Player Ryan O’Neill directs.

Show times are today (Friday, July 15, 7 p.m.) and tomorrow (Saturday, July 16, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.), at Bedford Middle School.

"Bye Bye Birdie" cast members "Put on a Happy Face."

“Bye Bye Birdie” cast members “Put on a Happy Face.”

Bob Selverstone Asks: “What Do You Stand For?”

Generations of Staples students from the mid-1970s through early ’90s remember Bob Selverstone’s Values Clarification course.

It earned them 1/4 credit — but what they took away was far more important. In small groups — then together in a large one — students talked, thought and wrote about what they believed. And why.

Faculty and parents joined the classes. Clergy came too. The Values class — and its follow-up, Human Sexuality — were some of the most meaningful, even life-changing, parts of Staples students’ educations.

Dr. Robert Selverstone

Dr. Robert Selverstone

“Personal growth is so important,” Selverstone — who has spent 35 years as a psychologist in private practice in Westport, and was named an Outstanding Educator by Planned Parenthood — says. He is proud that, while teaching part-time at Staples, his courses may have been the only ones of their kind in an American public high school.

If the Values Clarification course sounds like something you wished you’d taken, you’re in luck. This March, Selverstone will offer them through Continuing Education.

“What Do You Stand For? … And What Won’t You Stand For?” is the name of his offering.

“The roads you take — and those you forgo — reflect your value,” Selverstone says. “Which path do you choose? Sometimes the decision isn’t so easy.”

He describes an exercise he uses with groups ranging from 8th graders to summer camp staffs. The scenario involves an engaged couple, a raging river, and sex. Plus concepts like friendship, honesty and purity.

Though everyone in a class may look homogeneous, when they discuss the scenario they realize their beliefs may be very different. Then the talk turns to ideas like: Who has the “proper” values? And how do we live those values?

“Self-awareness is the most important part of nearly everything we do,” Selverstone says. He is a master at helping even the least self-aware people start to think about what matters to them.

As a Staples student 30 years ago, Westport’s new director of continuing education Ellen Israel took Selverstone’s Values Clarification course. Recently, she invited him to teach it again.

Continuing ed website

“I love doing this stuff,” the energetic, ever-smiling Selverstone says. “I love the immediate feedback. And I love that the potential for positive impact is so huge.”

Adults of any age — “20 to 80,” he says — are welcome.

“It’s not therapy,” he notes. “But it is therapeutic. Everyone should spend some time thinking about ideas they may never have consciously thought of.”

As for Selverstone, he’s thought often of the groundbreaking classes he taught in high school.

“Staples has always been a delightful place,” he says. “Now I’ve got a wonderful chance to go back there — and give back.”

(“What Do You Stand For? … And What Won’t You Stand For?”) will be taught on 4 consecutive Thursdays, from March 10-31, 7-9 p.m. For more information, click on www.westportcontinuinged.com or call 203-341-1209.)


Phil Walklet: Everyone In The Pool!

We all remember influential teachers: The English instructor who convinced us we could write. The biology teacher who pointed us to a career in medicine. The middle school staff member who helped us get through a difficult time in life.

But who remembers the person who taught us to swim?

Phil Walklet has done that for thousands of Westporters, of all ages. At Staples — where he runs the Parks and Recreation Department’s program (and manages the lifeguards) — Walklet works with 3-year-olds. And 80-year-olds.

They love him. Walklet is a natural teacher.

He’s a lifelong swimmer too. Growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia, he and his 7 siblings were always on swim teams.

In 1969 — the summer after he graduated from high school — Walklet’s father got a job in New York. The family moved to Weston. He moved on to Clemson University.

The swim program was insignificant — the team used a 20-yard YMCA pool — and after a while Walklet transferred. He worked at several different jobs, including teaching small kids at the Staples pool.

Phil Walklet

Phil Walklet

A year later Walklet became assistant director of the Longshore pool. He’s now the director — a job whose timing works well with his school-year job (security supervisor at Greenwich High).

At Staples, Walklet works with his brother Colin and daughter Courtney. “She’s amazing,” he says proudly. “She’s so good with kids with autism and other challenges. She’s like a horse whisperer.”

He’s no slouch himself.

Walklet loves teaching. “It’s in our blood,” he says. “Back in Virginia, there was very little instruction. Now we break everything down.”

He laughs. “We didn’t even wear goggles.”

With 3-year-olds, Walklet says, “I put myself at their level. You can’t push them too hard. To trust the water, they have to trust you.”

Once they do, it’s a simple process: “Put your face in the water. Glide. Kick. Breathe.” Walklet goes at whatever pace is right, for each individual child.

“I’ve taught kids who were found at the bottom of a pool,” he says. “That’s so challenging. I just circle around, try different things, then come back so they’re not thinking about that anymore.”

Teaching continuing education swimming to adults on Wednesday evenings, Walklet sees a wide range of abilities.

Westport continuing education

One 80-year-old man — you thought I was kidding? — was traumatized as a child. All his life, he feared the water.

“I got him to move, with a kickboard,” Walklet recalls. “He didn’t learn to swim, but he was so grateful that he could be independent in the water.”

The key, Walklet says, is for a swimmer to feel comfortable and relaxed. “The rest is easy.”

Now in his mid-60s, Walklet has no plans to retire. Swimming has been part of his life forever. At Staples and Longshore, the pools still beckon.


The Continuing Education Of Ellen Israel

Ellen Israel loves being head of a school where “learning happens in a pure way.” There are no standardized tests; virtually no grades or homework. Nearly every student wants to be there. Each classroom is “filled with joy.”

That utopian version of education exists right here in Westport. It goes on during the day, in the evening and throughout the summer. It doesn’t get much press, but several thousand people a year participate.

It’s Westport’s continuing education program, and Israel is the new director. She wants everyone to know: It’s not just “night school” for bridge and knitting anymore.

Ellen Israel, Westport's energetic new director of continuing education.

Ellen Israel, Westport’s energetic new director of continuing education.

Continuing ed encompasses summer enrichment classes in animation, coding, culinary and sports. There are summer theater productions (this year: “Godspell” and “Seussical.”)  A few students take make-up classes in science and math; others want to free up space for courses in the academic year.

Continuing ed also includes after-school classes in areas like chess and rocketry. Off-site programs are run in conjunction with a Pilates studio and restaurants.

“We’re busy and active,” Israel says. “And our goal is to make continuing ed even more active and vibrant.”

Just a month into her new job, she’s still figuring out what works, and what the community needs. She looks forward to partnering with other town organizations, public and private.

“Culinary camp” is one of continuing ed’s most popular summer courses.

Her learning curve won’t be too steep, though. Israel is a native Westporter. A proud Staples High School graduate (Class of 1984), she went on to Tufts as an art history major.

Her path to continuing ed was not straight. But, she says, “it all makes sense now.”

From age 16 to post-college, she was a graphic designer. But living in San Francisco during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, she suddenly realized “I could do more to make the world a better place than designing corporate brochures.”

She joined the League of Women Voters in that city, doing everything from answering phones and event planning to creating the annual voters’ guide. It was a fantastic learning experience.

She also met Mark Bieler there. He’d graduated a year before her at Staples, but they connected 3,000 miles from Westport. Four years later he proposed. They came back east — he for business school, she to work for the Boston Children’s Museum in corporate membership. That’s where she learned about finance.

Then came kids; a move to Weston; a master’s degree at Fairfield University; jack-of-all-trades work with the Connecticut Writing Project (teaching, writing, curriculum development, budgeting). Israel turned that 2-week workshop for teachers into a summer-long series of camps, adding workshops that focused on students from high-need districts.

Continuing ed website

Earlier this year, Israel saw a posting for Westport continuing ed director. She thought, “This is it! It incorporates everything I’ve ever done.”

Now, with a staff of 3 “fantastic, incredibly knowledgeable, super-efficient women” — Joanne Samela, Tina Granata and Sheila Gallanty — Israel is rockin’ a formerly sleepy portfolio.

“We run a teeny school district,” she notes. (And a self-sustaining one. The Board of Education provides no funds for continuing ed.)

She looks forward to getting more of Westport’s “most valuable resource” — its teachers — involved. Israel’s goal is to “give them a venue to share their passions — whether it’s inside or outside of their specialty, after school and evenings.”

She hopes too to tap into the artists, writers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, tech experts and professors who make up this town. Even a one-hour lecture is fine. Israel wants to involve everyone.

“I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet as long as your arm” of ideas, Israel says. “Tell people to call me if they want to help!”

Done. If you’d like to suggest a class, offer yourself as a teacher, or learn more about current and future offerings, call 203-341-1209. Email conted@westport.k12.ct.us. Or click here.

But don’t be put off by the somewhat stodgy website. Jazzing that up is on Ellen Israel’s to-do list too.

(Hat tip: Cecily Gans)

Fresh From The Farm

The folks running Wakeman Town Farm are finishing their fundraising drive.

But they’re not letting grass produce grow under their feet.  They’re also busy organizing upcoming events — all the way through the summer.

Weekend gardening workshops for adults will start “sooner rather than later.”

In November Erin Ostreicher, a rising star in the world of flower arranging, hosts a Thanksgiving Centerpiece workshop.  Events include cornucopias, hollowing out pumpkins to fill with flowers, spilling over with gourds and flowers, and more.

December brings a wreath-making workshop, with perhaps a holiday tea and tree trimming event.

Wakeman Town Farm will soon hum with activity.

Looking further ahead, a summer “Junior Farmer Camp” for kindergarteners through 2nd graders (called “Homesteaders”) will include animal husbandry (aka collecting eggs from nesting boxes, plus feeding chickens, bunnies and goats); tending a garden, harvesting veggies and turning them into delicious snacks, and making crafts from whatever the Homesteaders grow.

The camp’s 3rd through 5th graders will do all of the above activities, along with a more intensive botany/animal biology curriculum.  They’ll start plants from seed; do succession planting, harvesting and trellising, and enjoy arts and crafts that are age appropriate for this “more mature” set.

Middle school “apprentices” start before the summer.  Youngsters sign up for the full year (as an after-school activity), with the option of staying on throughout the summer.  They’ll learn about farming from seed to harvest — and all things in between.

High school internships — including the special last-quarter-of school senior internship program — will also continue.

Parks and Rec is promoting many of the Town Farm activities.

Who says there’s nothing new under the sun?

Culinary Camp Cooks Up A Storm

Forget sports camp, computer camp, even band camp.

The cool camp this summer is culinary.

Just watch the 32 boys and girls — all rising 6th through 9th graders — who rush in to Staples’ 2 professional kitchens every morning.  Part of Westport Continuing Education‘s Culinary Camp, they spend 3 hours a day prepping, cooking, cleaning — and eating.

Students Isaac Paparo (left) and Sam Karpenas prepare a meal.

Chef Cecily Gans — renowned for her culinary curriculum at the high school — challenges the youngsters with a different cuisine each day.  The weeks are themed:  European, Asian, American regional.

Gans ties the course’s popularity to television.  “Between the Food Network, ‘Top Chef’ and the cake shows on TV, kids are really into cooking,” she says.  “The minute registration opens, we’re filled.”

The class appeals to both boys and girls.  There are several special needs youngsters, which Gans calls “great.  This is a welcoming environment.  It’s not competitive — everyone works together.”

They prepare a full menu every day:  salads, soups, entrees, desserts.

The most popular cuisines have been New England, Southern Italian — and (surprisingly) Spanish.

One thing the kids don’t like:  pork.

Gans was also surprised to find that 2 boys — whom she figured would love beef or chicken — were interested in something else:  “Whatever involved the most cutting.”

Gans and fellow instructor Lucinda Grieg are aided by 6 counselors — former Staples students and/or campers.  Becca Nissim, who graduated in June, heads this fall to Johnson & Wales — the culinary school that’s Gans’ alma mater.

Gans enjoys hearing nice “feed”back from parents.  She’s also delighted when campers who age out ask to return as counselors.

Culinary Camp 2010 ends on Friday.  Registration for 2011 opens next April.

Counselor Becca Nissim and student Shannon Barry (foreground) work in the kitchen.