The other day, a new Westport resident enrolled his children in Continuing Education summer programs.
He received the following email in return:
Here is your receipt showing that we refunded your credit card for the Sports and Fun registration. This program is offered free to Westport Public School students through a one-time grant this summer.
He was stunned.
Where did the money come from? What’s going on?
It’s our (state) tax dollars at work.
Connecticut’s Department of Education wants to address challenges resulting from the pandemic. These include both learning loss, and the promotion of social and emotional wellness.
So the state is fully funding a Summer Electives program for Westport Public Schools students entering grades 1-12 next fall. In other words: There is no charge.
The courses include:
Sports & Fun Camp
Create Art Together
Intro to Band
Gear Up for Summer Olympiad
History Book Club
Literary Book Club
History Book Club
Gear Up for the Fall at Staples Library Media Center
Gear Up for 9th Grade English
Gear Up for Algebra 2
Gear Up for AP Calculus
Biology Summer Enrichment
Embedded Systems Programming
Gear Up for College Prep Science
Neuroscience in Bugs and Brains
The Science of Race, Gender and Sexuality
Gear Up for 9th Grade Social STudies
Gear Up for AP Social Studies
Enrollment is limited, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here for more information, and to register. For help, email email@example.com, or call 203-341-1209.
Of course, Continuing Ed offers many other programs (for a fee). Summer courses include Fine Arts, Culinary Arts, Filmmakers ink, Sports, STEM, Chess and Theater. They’re held at Staples High School, Bedford Middle School, Greens Farms Elementary, and Wakeman fields. Click here for more information.
Director Christine Jewell plugs Continuing Ed’s summer programs.
Many sports camps are closed this summer. So are science camps, space camps — most camps, period.
But the Westport Library’s new Camp Explore is open. And open to all children, everywhere.
It’s a weekly, virtual (and free) program. Kids can experience it any time. They can watch it alone, or share with friends. There’s something for everyone.
The program kicks off on July 9 with Jennie Lynn Finch. The softball pitcher led the US to a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics, and a silver 4 years later.
Also in July, deep sea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard returns to the library. The discoverer of wrecks like Titanic and the Bismarck, he’ll show campers what life is like on his ship the Nautilus.
Shark lovers will enjoy Emmy-winning writer and cinematographer Kevin Bachar. He spent 10 years as a National Geographic producer, and wrote specials for “Shark Week.”
Kids will also appreciate Emily Calandrelli. The MIT engineer-turned-TV host was a featured correspondent on “Bill Nye Saves the World,” host of “Xploration Outer Space,” and wrote the children’s book series “Ada Lace Adventures.”
New York Knicks star Charles Smith will share his story, from his career as an athlete to his accomplishments as a corporate executive.
Camp Explore also features Jerry Craft, author of the novel “New Kid” and comic strip “Mama’s Boyz.”
The program ends with R.L. Stine. The “Goosebumps” author will do a (virtual) reading around a campfire.
The Library will provide a “Keep Exploring Kit” to accompany each presentation, with suggested books to read, films to view, and fun activities. Separate kits are geared for children entering grades 4-5, and 6-8.
Click here for more details, and registration information.
Everyone’s talking about the skills young people need to navigate today’s world. We’re all concerned about civic virtues. Of course, everyone wants to develop creative thinkers.
Westport Continuing Education is sponsoring an online course — “The Art of Innovation: Cultivating Qualities for the Emerging Future” — for students entering grade 10 through college.
Set for July 13 to 17 (10 a.m. to noon), it will focus on skills like critical thinking, collaboration and global perspectives.
Click here to register. For more information, including scholarships, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-341-1209.
There may not be fireworks. But Pauli’s Deli will celebrate July 4.
The Norwalk-based bagels-and-breakfast place replaces Bagel Maven that day.
Last night, Chris Fanning snapped a shot of the preparations:
One more reopening sign: MoCA Westport has announced a concert with the renowned American String Quartet.
It’s July 31. And it’s a real one. Not virtual, Zoom, Facebook Live or anywhere else in cyberspace.
The performance is outdoors at the museum, with groups spread 6 feet apart and masked. Concert-goers should bring their own chairs and snacks, though drinks and food are available for purchase before the concert.
MoCA Westport concert series curator (and Staples High School graduate) Alexander Platt will provide commentary. He knows the American String Quartet through his work over the last 18 years in Woodstock.
“Back then they were the gold standard in American string quartets — and they still are now,” Platt says.
“I can’t wait to hear their beautiful music again — now, more than ever. Their program — sublime Mozart, bracing Shostakovich and appropriately, Dvorak’s ‘American’ string quartet — will be the perfect musical tonic, after all we’ve been through.”
Click here for tickets, or call 203-222-7070. The maximum number of tickets will be limited by state guidelines.
Two organizations at opposite ends of the age spectrum — Toquet Hall and the Westport Senior Center — are partnering to present a free livestream concert tomorrow (Friday, June 26, 12 p.m.).
It features the funk band Mojo, with noted local musicians Drew Angus, Eric Lindahl and Spencer Inch. Click here to watch via Zoom (and note the password: 3qgZ4L).
The new planters on Main Street are drawing plenty of attention.
But there are colorful flowers beyond Elm Street. For example, Rye Ridge Deli is doing all it can to make the outdoor experience special too.
And finally … as Westport, Connecticut prepares for jUNe Day this weekend (virtually, of course), let’s celebrate Westport, Ireland with Stuart Moyles.
PS: When the Levitt Pavilion opens next summer, we really need this lad as a headliner!
Town officials report that in Phase 1 of reopening, over 50% of retail establishments are open. In addition, more than 20 restaurants offer outdoor dining. NOTE: Hair salons and barber shops are open by appointment only; walk-ins are not allowed.
Many offices are open too (with a strong emphasis on working from home if possible).
Some businesses and offices have decided it is not yet time to reopen. Call ahead, to determine if a certain establishment or office is operating.
Second Selectwoman Jen Tooker praises non-profit Social Venture Partners, which in a joint venture with the town provided approximately 30 local businesses with non-cost advisory services on topics like financial analysis, marketing and human resources.
In other business news, parking spaces will be cordoned off for at least 30 days on Main Street, from the Post Road to Elm Street, to provide increased pedestrian access.
Parking spaces on Main Street will be cordoned off, to provide more room for pedestrians during social distancing restrictions. (Photos/Chip Stephens)
The Westport Police Department issued this statement, about protests following the death of George Floyd:
“Over the last several days, the town of Westport has been the site of demonstrations in response to recent tragic events in our country. The men and women of this department are sincerely grateful that to date these have been peaceful and constructive gatherings. To the public we serve, we offer a sincere thank you for your continued engagement in your community and your commitment to making our world a better place for us all. In that goal, we have and will always continue to proudly stand with you.
“Sadly, this has not been the case throughout this country, where violent acts and destruction instead has become on all too common sight in many of our neighborhoods. The Westport Police Department will always support, and work diligently to protect, the First Amendment rights of our citizens and visitors alike. As we anticipate additional future demonstrations to happen here in and our neighboring communities, we ask that you please do your part to help us ensure the safety and voice of all those in attendance. There is no greater instrument of peace than a continued dialogue, do not let your message be lost in violence.”
After examining detailed regulations for summer camps and summer school programs, the Westport Public Schools has decided it is untenable to offer in-person programs this year.
“We are very disappointed to be in this position, and understand how disappointed some parents and students might be as well,” says interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey. “However, we are committed to doing our best to offer excellent alternative programming through a distance learning format.”
Continuing Education will provide many programs online, including all high school courses being offered for credit. Click here for details.
Westport Library director Bill Harmer says:
“The senseless murder of George Floyd once again highlights the racial injustices that continue to plague us in cities and towns across the nation.
“The core mission of the public library is to create a nation of informed and active citizens. Like a compass, we point the way toward a better society that is founded in knowledge and demonstrates respect for diverse peoples and views. By fulfilling this responsibility, we provide a fundamental opportunity for each of us to meaningfully contribute to the success of our democracy.
“While much of our political discourse is seemingly fractious, the public library stands firm as a beacon to inspire citizens to seek common ground in order to help meet the challenges of our time. In this way, libraries function as an essential equalizer in our society.
“In these unprecedented times, we are asking that you join us in fortifying our mission by standing together to shape and determine who we are and what we will become. By supporting and promoting inclusion and equity, we will be playing an active role in creating a better future for all Americans.
“Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay strong.
The Senior Center’s 49 summer classes — including art, exercise and language, along with discussion and support groups — will all be offered via Zoom. For a list of classes, click here; then scroll down.
Westport residents age 60 and older can begin registering this Monday (June 8), starting at 8:30 a.m. You can call 203-341-5099, or mail in a registration form (available here; scroll to the end) with payment to WCSA, 21 Imperial Avenue, Westport.
Out-of-town residents 60 and older can begin registering on Monday, June 15.
Questions? Call 203-341-5099.
Wildlife has no idea there’s a pandemic. Injured and orphaned animals still need help.
Peter Reid — who is both Westport’s assistant animal control officer and Wildlife in Crisis director — yesterday rescued 3 orphaned fawns.
Their mother was killed on the Post Road, near Fire Department headquarters. All 3 are now being cared for by Wildlife in Crisis staff. They will be rehabilitated and released at the appropriate age.
According to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, it costs $800 to $1,000 to care for each fawn. Click here to help.
Peter Reid and injured fawn.
And finally … Essie Jenkins, with”The 1919 Influenza Blues”:
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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
“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.
“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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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