Night School


Photo by Eliza Llewellyn

When most students are rushing from class to class and working on tests and quizzes, Sam Tavarnesi ’12 is working a job. Tavarnesi balances a position at a Yacht Club and Pottery Barn with attending the Westport Wilton Evening School, an alternative to traditional high school that meets from 5:30-8:30 p.m., four nights per week.

The night school is a little-known path available to students in Westport and Wilton. For roughly 16  kids in junior or senior year who struggle with the traditional high school route but want to obtain a Staples diploma, night school is an option.

“Graduating becomes something that is possible,” said Principal John Dodig.

According to Director James Coleman, the school was founded about 30 years ago.

“It was designed for students who do well in smaller, individualized settings,” Coleman said.

The school is different from the stressful, nonstop Staples environment. During the day, students work jobs, which count as credits in the program. Tavarnesi, for example, works at the Saugatuck Yacht Club and Pottery Barn.

“It allows students to find a niche,” said Victoria Capozzi, a guidance counselor. Cooper Yurkiw ’12, who also attends the program, is an aspiring chef who works at a small sandwich shop during the day.

“[The job]’s done wonders for me,” said Yurkiw. “Not only has it taught me the value of money, but it has taught me people skills and task management.”

Sarah Wiles ’12 works at Swizzle’s frozen yogurt in tandem with the night school course. Wiles admitted that the combination of a job and school can be tiring, but said that she enjoys her work.

“It keeps me out of trouble and keeps my day more interesting,” said Wiles.

A working environment paired with a non-traditional school program suits a small minority of students for whom traditional school at Staples is not the right fit.

“Staples was not quite the school for me,” Wiles said. “I was getting called down to Ms. Morgan’s office pretty much every day.”

Al Nakas, an art teacher at the school, acknowledges that there can be some challenges when working with the kids, who may be dealing with personal issues or present a disciplinary challenge. However, he believes that the students merely need the personal attention the program provides.

Each year, a handful of students transition to this alternative educational program. Students who are consistently failing, missing class, or displaying behavioral problems meet personally with Dodig to discuss the possibility of attending night school.

Night school can be taken for two years, beginning junior year. According to Capozzi, the program offers more individualized attention to students’ grades and overall behavior.

The program meets four nights per week, each night covering a different subject – math, English, science or social studies.

“You walk into class knowing what you are going to be doing that night,” said Wiles, who finds the schedule of the program to be more manageable.

In art class, Nakas forgoes a strict lesson plan for a more relaxed approach.

“I have one boy who is difficult to get motivated,” Nakas said. “But I gave him some gimp and he just started weaving and talking. He actually produced something and felt good about it.”

There is no homework for the night school program, which makes graduating a more achievable goal.

Inklings was interested in visiting the evening school in order to learn more about the structure of the program. However, Coleman declined permission due to privacy issues.

For students who may have struggled academically at Staples, the evening school program also provides more individualized attention, with about two teachers per eight students, according to Yurkiw.

However, there can be disparities among academic levels, even in such a small group.

“The class ranges from students that never passed Algebra 1 to students that are more advanced in math,” Wiles said.

Night school is a last resort for helping struggling students get through high school. Without this opportunity, a small contingent of students would be unable to graduate.

“I really wasn’t putting much effort in at Staples,” said Tavarnesi, who finds the night school a better fit. Tavarnesi believes he was not on track to graduate.

“It would have been so much more difficult [without night school],” Tavarnesi said.

The program is for the few students who need another option.

“The kids are not bad kids,” said Yurkiw. “Some may have had some problems, but they are just there to graduate and move on in life.”

Yurkiw hopes to take a gap year after finishing night school, then continue to culinary school. According to Nakas, many students show interest in pursuing a college degree after participating in the program.

For most at Staples, it seems these students live a separate, unseen life. But despite the difference in curriculum and time, both groups are working towards the same goal.

“There is nothing more valuable than a Staples High School diploma,” Dodig said.