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December 6, 2019
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Sarah Whitney keeps the legacy of her father, Paul Marden, alive in Essex through her efforts with the Readers Aloud program at Essex Elementary—plus quite a bit more.

Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Sarah Whitney keeps the legacy of her father, Paul Marden, alive in Essex through her efforts with the Readers Aloud program at Essex Elementary—plus quite a bit more. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Sarah Whitney: Father Knows Best

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There have been a number of families where family members have been Person of the Week at different times. But this is a new combination: the first time a father-daughter pair have both been recognized individually. Sarah Whitney’s father, the late Paul Marden, was a Person of the Week in 2007. Sarah is Person of the Week in the current issue. Both she and her father have been recognized for the same achievement.

Paul Marden started the Readers Aloud program at Essex Elementary school in 2007 with seed money from the Essex Elementary School Foundation. After his death, Sarah, who is on the board of the foundation, has continued as coordinator to keep the reading program running.

“When my father died, I couldn’t see the program ending; I couldn’t see it left just to fade away,” Sarah explains, adding her mother Barbara, who still lives in Ivoryton, was instrumental with her late father in getting the program up and running.

Readers Aloud, as its name suggests, sends local volunteers into Essex Elementary School classrooms once a week to read aloud to students. Readers choose books in consultation with teachers.

Educational studies regularly demonstrate that reading aloud is one of the best ways to increase youngsters’ vocabularies and comprehension. The readers, many of whom have worked with the same teachers for years, read from 15 minutes to a half hour, depending on the instructor’s classroom schedule.

Sarah added that the reading was popular not only with students but also with the readers themselves. There is a waiting list of people who want to become readers.

The Essex Elementary School Foundation furnished seed money to buy appropriate books to get the program started.

The foundation, which is sending out its annual appeal letter this month, supplies essential funds for a number of initiatives beyond the regular curriculum at Essex Elementary School, among them Justus W. Paul World Cultures Program focusing on Haiti, China, and India, for 2nd grade; engineering with motorized Lego brick sets that create things like moving robots for grades 4 through 6; and Makerspace, a program where students work with a 3-D printer and special software to design and build a variety of small products in grades 3 through 6.

This year, Sarah notes, the Essex Elementary School Foundation will fund both a scientist-in-residence program and Doug Day, an artist/historian in residence who will work with the 5th grade over a two-week period to develop an original musical production based on the history of Essex, Ivoryton, and Centerbrook.

Sarah notes that although the majority of contributors to EESF are school parents, many community residents also donate.

“The foundation helps the whole community,” she says. “Strong kids and adults make a strong community.”

In addition to serving on the board of EESF, Sarah has been an active volunteer and PTO board member at Essex Elementary School for a decade. This year, however, she will no longer serve on the PTO board: Her younger son is now a student at John Winthrop Middle School.

Still, Sarah will continue not only coordinating Readers Aloud but also another program initiated by her father, after school chess for grades 3 through 6. Her father first taught the six-week chess program with Essex resident Ed Birch. Now along with Sarah, Essex Elementary teacher Tracy Plumley oversees the program.

“Tracy does the work; I just come to help,” Sarah says.

The program, open to students in grades 3 through 6, draws a wide mix of participants.

“There are all kinds kids, jocks, musical kids, shy kids; it’s a real equalizer,” Sarah says.

And among the 50 players are many girls as well as boys.

“Yes, girls come to play,” she says. “There is a band of very strong girl players.”

She says she herself is not a particularly good chess player.

“I learn from the kids,” she admits.

Chess is a game of winners and losers, but that is not the emphasis of the program.

“The biggest thing is good sportsmanship,” Sarah says. “Players shake hands after every game and say ‘Nice game.’”

Sarah grew up in Darien and, after graduating from St. Lawrence University, where she was an English and literature major, she planned a career in advertising. In fact, she had just gone to an interview with a major advertising agency when she met a friend on the train who told her he thought she would love the financial firm where he worked and, what’s more, the firm was looking for a trading assistant.

To her surprise, Sarah found she loved the business of trading municipal bonds.

“I got hooked,” she recalls.

Sarah spent most of her a career in the financial sector, but left the workplace outside the home to raise her two sons, Madison and Shep. Sarah’s husband Palmer also works in the field of finance.

Now as her sons are gaining independence, Sarah, who loved her years at home, is thinking about reentering the professional workplace. But she does so with great appreciation for the past.

“I feel very lucky to have had this time with my kids and to have volunteered,” she notes. “It’s been so rewarding to give back to the community, especially when it comes to education. The foundation of life starts with a solid childhood and that’s why I feel so proud to be a part of the Essex Elementary School Foundation.”

To find out more about the Essex Elementary School Foundation or to contribute, visit essexesf.org.


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