For Students, Education Culture Shock Westport To Bridgeport

Marin school
Marin School image from Dan Woog’s site.

Dan Woog has written about Westport (and many other subjects) for decades. In a new Woog column, Westport students chronicle the educational disparity with Bridgeport just miles away; two dramatically different worlds, one of sushi, the other of chicken fingers; multiple paraprofessionals in Westport classrooms versus, sometimes, just one for an entire Bridgeport school. There are many student success stories in Bridgeport, but the visit to Marin School on the East Side was an eye opener for Westport kids, highlighting the city-suburban disparity, including one student who laments being stuck in the “rich kid bubble.”

Woog’s column:

“Education is the seed to the tree of success,” writes Sophie Tricarico.

Yet, she notes, Bridgeport schools lack many of the resources of those in Westport, just a few miles away. One example: While classroom teachers here enjoy the assistance of multiple paraprofessionals, in Bridgeport there may be only one for an entire school.

And while the Staples High School cafeteria is open for breakfast, snacks and lunch–with options ranging from frozen yogurt to sushi–youngsters at Luis Muñoz Marin Elementary are served “horrific” meals, like 5 chicken fingers and an “unidentifiable fruit cup.” When Staples students brought the Marin kids pizza, the children saved the chicken and fruit in their bags, for a meal later at home.

Sophie was stunned to see the differences in education between the 2 nearly neighboring communities. She wants Connecticut to make a difference for the future–“one seed at a time.”

Full story here.

OIB reader and Downtown resident Douglass Davidoff also writes about the Westport-Bridgeport student relationship here.



  1. Nice letter Douglas, it was well-written and straight to the point. This was great for children of wealth to experience the trials and tribulations Bridgeport children experience just trying to get the remedial education they have to look forward to. I know it will be an equally meaningful experience for the children of Bridgeport to experience what a quality education looks like.

    Hopefully this dialog between our future leaders will stem the tide of educational suicide.

  2. If economic prosperity/stability isn’t availed, en masse, to Bridgeport homes/families, essentially everything we do in the schools will be for naught. Look at all the new schools and innovative education programs in Bridgeport. What has been accomplished in light of these educational “embellishments” in this city?! The kids come to school from impoverished, stressed-out, often chaotic/violent, often hopeless homes, and we expect the schools to magically reverse all the unmitigated societal entropy that defines the lives of these kids?!

    The Westport kids come from nurturing worlds that fully resonate with their rich, educational lives, so of course these kids are likely to cruise to a level of success in life.

    Our kids are set up for failure from the get-go, but there are those who would still have us believe addressing only the formal educational part of their lives will be a magical, societal fix. Success must start in the home. This is recognized in education, sociology, and psychological circles, yet largely ignored in the policy/planning decisions of government development and human services agencies.

    As long as we believe Bridgeport can be left at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap but somehow still be redeemed through a one-dimensional, public education focus, we’ll continue to sink lower as a city/community as we watch our schools continue to fail.

    First: Living-wage jobs/financial stability/economic opportunity for working families. Then the “education balm” will propel our kids to real success.

    Again: We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted away from the source of the genesis of our socioeconomic problems in Bridgeport. Plain and simple; it is economic exploitation and elitism–socioeconomic “redlining.”

    As long as we are absorbed by the one-dimensional “education fight” in Hartford and DC, even while we continue to fight among ourselves over the other crumbs in our municipal budget (garnered from usurious property taxes and inequitable state and federal municipal aid programs), we will never advance as a city.

    Our focus must be on the larger economic renaissance of our city. This must be the starting point for the resurgence of the rest of our municipal life and the regaining of the socioeconomic health of our community.

    We must create a strong plan for a full economic resurgence, and then muster the political will to implement this plan. We can’t accomplish this as a divided community, but we can steamroller it into place if we can muster the unified action of our 100,000-strong municipal electorate.

  3. How long was their visit? Two hours? Of course they saw contrasts. Interaction with pen pals can help kids relate to one another. Unlike Westport, Bridgeport spends more on security than on music and art. We have seen this comparison before. Why not have a contingent of Westport kids spend a semester alone (total immersion) in a Bridgeport high school? That would be culture shock. Their report could be candid and revealing. The problems in Bridgeport schools go far beyond funding. Perhaps having Westport high school students describe their interaction with Bridgeport peers would be more compelling than what the education bureaucracy has been telling us.

  4. Interestingly Tom, a variation of your idea was tried for a couple of years while I was at Staples, 1972-75. It didn’t involve Bridgeport, though. But it did take children of privilege (including me) out of our bubble by exposing us to rural America.

    One of the guidance counselors at Staples had either grown up or begun his teaching career in the small town of Youngsville, Pennsylvania. Youngsville is in far northwestern Pa., close to Jamestown, N.Y. and Erie, Pa. It’s a long, long, long, long, long, way from Philadelphia and a long way from Pittsburgh, too. It’s in the region of Pennsylvania once made rich by oil drilling. In fact, one of the closest towns is “Oil City,” Pa.

    I spent three weeks at Youngsville High School. I lived with the town doctor. I think about a dozen Westporters made the trip.

    We sure were exposed to rural culture. In a kind of foreshadowing of the 2016 election, the differences between the rich and culturally liberal New Englanders clashed with the kids of western Pennsylvania, who are more Midwestern than Eastern. I imagine many of the kids were Trump voters on November 8th.

    The Youngsville kids came to Staples for three weeks, where the culture clash continued. To say there was sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll probably isn’t too far from the truth, as I recall it.

    The exchange was run for several years. Ultimately, I think, it became apparent the cultural divide and the appeal of the shiny new thing (there was a lot of coupling between the kids from both schools, which led to bitter disappointments later) torpedoed continuation of the experiment.

    Which leads me in reflection to agree with Tom. The only way to do an exchange is over a long period of time, where the differences can be worked through and appreciated, not an instant exchange even of a few weeks as we tried with Youngsville. (In this sense, a Bridgeport exchange with western Pennsylvania would probably be just as jarring.)

  5. Jeff, it’s very easy to blame the homes of the Bridgeport youth, but the fact is a myriad of Black and Latino children of Bridgeport come from two-parent homes whose parents are fighting for a quality education, who are deeply involved in the education of their children and who are loving and caring parents just like those from the suburbs.

    Until the time Bridgeport schools are funded just like their suburban counterparts we won’t know what will happen with respect to educating our youth. The fact is No school district in Black America has never been given all the money and resources the white suburbs are given so we don’t know if resources are the determining factor in a quality education. When there are no differences in the schools in Bridgeport as those of Westport we can only surmise what our youth can accomplish.

  6. Let me add this as a addendum. I’m sick and tired of White America saying money alone won’t solve the problems of inner city schools because the fact is inner city schools have never been given all the money they need to change the educational standards for their students.

  7. Donald: The commentary was not intended to indict parents. It was meant to indict poverty and the effects of poverty on families of all descriptions. There is a very significant amount of white family poverty in Bridgeport and every other American urban center. The fact is when American household incomes were rising and lifting poor urban families (of all descriptions) out of poverty during the ’60s, inner city schools were holding their own and even making progress.

    The fact of the matter is throwing money at school systems without also changing the social dynamics of the populace at the family level will yield very little improvement in educational outcomes. If family income/well-being isn’t addressed as the basis of educational success, increasing school funding simply isn’t going to be cost effective. If the education gap is to be bridged, the income gap must be bridged first.

  8. Jeff, I appreciate that which you are saying, but show me some empirical data that backs your opinion because right now all you are stating is an opinion or anecdotal evidence. Until the students of Bridgeport and the Bridgeport school system are given the same resources (money) as the suburban schools then everything else is just supposition.

  9. Donald: Fair question. Here are three links to articles that provide evidence for my position. (There are several links within these articles that provide much relevant info.)

    Just to be clear, I am not against more equitable education spending, but I have the very strong belief the focus on education spending as the way to close the education-income gap is diverting resources and political/social attention away from the root problem holding a large segment of American back from realizing their full potential and a fair shot at the American dream. Poverty, the lack of economic opportunity, is the first link in the chain connecting disenfranchised/disadvantaged Americans from the American Dream, which must be connected. From stable homes that can provide environments and resources conducive to intellectual advancement/educational achievement, we will be able to adequately narrow the income-education gaps to level the playing field to a “fair” level for all Americans. (We were heading that way in the ’60s until the criminal Vietnam War siphoned away the resources that were taking all of America to a better place.)


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