Kamran Farid - Who says you can’t go home?
WEST HAVEN >> Who says you can’t go home?
Forest Elementary School looked a lot smaller to Edible Arrangements co-founder and former chief operating officer Kamran Farid when he returned Friday than it did when he began as a Pakistan-born, primarily Urdu-speaking English-as-a-second language student there in the late 1980s.
“It’s not as big as I thought it was,” Farid told Principal Tom Hunt and Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro as he began a visit with his daughters, Salma, 8, and Zairah, 6.
That was bit of a surprise for Farid, who grew up a couple of blocks away on Sycaway Street before his family moved to North Haven when he was a student at what then was Carrigan Middle School.
But beyond a building addition, there were other changes at the school that were cause for optimism as Farid — now 36, living in the Pine Orchard section of Branford and visiting with two of his own three daughters — met with school officials and visited classrooms.
They spent most of the visit in what is now called an “English language learner” or ELL class, although Farid made a point of visiting the art room — his favorite subject back then — and what was called the library and now is the media center.
Inside the classroom of ELL teachers Marisa Gambardella and Mara Rabinowitz, a new group of kids — first-graders whose primary home languages are Spanish, Arabic and Urdu — were polishing their English as they learned the words to describe the five senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch.
They did it with the help of 11 new iPad Minis that Farid and his wife, Kara, donated to the school — one of West Haven’s three neediest — along with matching headsets, through their Kamrad Farid Foundation.
The gift opens a world of learning that Rabinowitz and Gambardella said was not available until just a couple of weeks ago.
At one point, Salma and Zairah — who are home-schooled by their mother — joined the Forest kids on the floor, sharing two iPads with Forest students Sophia Chavez and Robin Munoz for a few minutes.
Gambardella said the teachers appreciate the gift “so much ... The more technology you have, it just opens up a completely different realm of instruction.”
And what do the kids think about it?
“They show YOU how to use it,” Gambardella said.
Rabinowitz said it’s important for people to know that “we’re extremely appreciative.”
Farid also visited the office where school staff prepare packages of donated food that get sent home each Friday to needy Forest families — in cooler-insulated backpacks that Farid’s foundation also donated.
Farid remains a member of the board of directors of Edible Arrangements, the ground-breaking and still fast-growing fruit bouquet company he co-founded with his oldest brother, CEO Tariq Farid, after leaving his executive position last year.
His current focus is on running his own Kamran Capital Group.
Why would Farid reach back to his onetime elementary school now to make a gift?
Because he remembers what it’s like to be a young Pakistani Muslim immigrant with a father working three jobs to support the family while the kids adjust to life in a new place — and because his parents, and in particular, his late mother, Salma, taught him that it was important to give back.
“Your mom did a great job!” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anne Druzolowski told Farid.
“I’m seeing my daughters grow up and I’m looking to my beginning,” Farid said. He also said he thinks it important to instill lessons in them, as his mother did in him.
“In this day and age, an iPad is common,” Farid said. “We’re just seeing where there’s a need. So I reached out to them,” beginning with Principal Hunt, and asked, “How can I help?”
It just so happens that “ELL is very important to me,” Farid said.
Hunt said having the iPads “gives some of these kids the opportunity to have technology that they do not have at home,” and what they learn with them “could be critical to them later in life.”
In walking around the school, Farid met several other educators, including librarian Carol Kerzner, who he invited to contact him if she has future needs.
“Anything we can do, just tell us,” Farid told her.
“I’ll go home and make a list,” Kerzner replied.
A little later in the cafeteria, Farid also ran into lead cook Sally Paturzo — who was working at the school back when he was a student — along with cook Carol Moquet, and shared a few memories and a joke or two.