Category Archives: Teenagers

Candlelight Concert Rings In The Holiday Season

Tonight’s Candlelight Concert — the 1st show of the 2-day, 74th annual gift to the town from the Staples High School music department — wowed a packed auditorium.

Hundreds of singers and musicians performed sophisticated pieces with aplomb. They threw in a PDQ Bach number, and the world premiere of a global warming-themed production number by Don Rickenbach.

And, of course, the timeless “Sing We Noel” processional, and rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale, serve as fitting bookends for one of Westport’s favorite events of the year.

"Now let hosannas ring..." (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“Now let hosannas ring…” (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The chorus and chorale, with accompanist Dr. Robert Kwan. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The chorus and chorale, with accompanist Dr. Robert Kwan. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The a cappella choir, directed by Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The a cappella choir, directed by Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Adele Valovich leads the symphonic orchestra.

Adele Valovich leads the symphonic orchestra. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Nick Mariconda and the symphonic band. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Nick Mariconda and the symphonic band. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

There was a lot going on during the clever production number. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A lot went on during the clever production number. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

At the end of the "Hallelujah Chorus," the audience was invited to return next year -- when the Candlelight Concerts celebrates its 75th anniversary. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

At the end of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” the audience was invited to return next year — when the Candlelight Concerts celebrates its 75th anniversary. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

 

 

The Orphenians’ Gift Box

The Orphenians are entering their busy season. Staples’ elite a cappella group is in  high demand during the holidays.

But they’re also looking ahead to spring. In March, they’ve been invited to San Francisco. They’re one of 10 schools — and the only one from the East Coast — to participate in Chanticleer’s National Youth Choral Festival.

It’s an expensive undertaking. To raise funds, they’re bringing a giant music box to their performances. Donations are gratefully accepted.

The box was there last night, for Chanticleer’s performance at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

The Orphenians, and their gift music box.

The Orphenians, and their gift music box.

It will be out this weekend too, at the Candlelight Concert. If you’d like to help, drop cash or checks (made out to “Staples Music,” with “Orphenians” in the memo line) into the box.

Donations can also be sent to Luke Rosenberg, c/o Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

Eagle Scout Project Comes To “Fruition”

Who wants to build a pergola at the Community Gardens?

That was the challenge offered to all Boy Scouts in town, by Ellen Greenberg.

Brendan Wisniewski was the first to respond. He wanted an Eagle Scout project that would benefit the community in a lasting way. This was perfect.

After meeting with Ellen, Lou Weinberg and Nick Mancini — all Community  Gardeners — Brendan conducted research online. He figured out the size, materials and structural integrity of the pergola, then created a detailed plan including time frame, help needed, cost and drawings.

Former Troop 39 scoutmaster Tony Giunta helped. Fellow scouts offered their assistance. Guided by Brendan’s father Mark (current Troop 39 scoutmaster) and his mother Jeanne (troop committee member), construction began.

Over 175 volunteer hours later, the pergola is finished. A few hurdles remain, but Brendan should soon join his brother John in the Eagle Scout ranks.

And Nick Mancini’s grape vines will have a home.

Brendan Wisniewski's pergola.

Brendan Wisniewski’s pergola.

(Hat tip to Johanna Rossi)

 

Getting In The Candlelight Mood

Staples’ 74th Candlelight Concert is more than a week away. But the orchestra, choirs and bands are hard at work, rehearsing for the high school’s annual gift to the town.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be part of the “Hallelujah Chorus”? Here’s an up-close-and-personal view, from backstage behind the string section.

Hallelujah!

 

Breaking News — John Dodig To Retire As Staples Principal

After 11 years at the helm — and a tenure in which he has left an indelible mark on Staples High School as a caring, compassionate, energetic and enthusiastic leader — principal John Dodig is retiring.

The 70-year-old educator made the announcement a few minutes ago to his staff, and followed up with an email sent to all Staples parents. Dodig wrote:

All good things must come to an end at some point in time. That time now has come for me. I will retire from this wonderful position as principal of Staples High School at the end of the current school year.

John Dodig

John Dodig

I came to Staples 11 years ago thinking that I would remain for only 1 year while the superintendent of schools and a committee found a permanent principal.

Several months into the position I realized that this was a community in which I had longed to work, and a high school I wanted to lead for several years. Something intangible about the people I met told me that my message of love and acceptance would be not only accepted, but embraced. What a great reading of a community that turned out to be for me.

All of my travels to over 50 countries and my experiences as a teacher in an urban environment, an assistant principal in an affluent suburb and then, a principal in several other communities, helped me understand who I am, what my beliefs are, and what I believe a public high school should and can be.

I spent a few months at Staples and quickly realized that scholarship was supported by everyone, but what was needed was a leader who was not afraid to use the word “love” out loud when speaking about students. It seemed clear to me that Westport and Staples were where I should live and spend the last part of my professional life. I took a chance by applying for the position, and the Board of Education and superintendent of schools took a chance on hiring me.

John Dodig goes to great lengths to show his love for Staples. A few years ago, golf captain Dylan Murray duct-taped his principal to the wall, for a fundraiser.

John Dodig goes to great lengths to show his love for Staples. A few years ago, golf captain Dylan Murray duct-taped his principal to the wall, for a fundraiser.

In this message, I want to take the opportunity to thank all the parents in Westport who have supported me over the past 11 years; the teachers, school counselors and other support staff who have embraced my feelings about high school students, and the administrators who have shared my vision. This very professional team at Staples has made my vision of high school come true.

My 4 assistant principals are all loving people who understand young men and women. I think what I provided for them was the message that it was OK to use the word “love,” or some other form of the word, when working with teenagers who make mistakes.

Suspending a student for a rules infraction is part of the job. Letting those students know that it is their poor decision and behavior that is being punished, and not the individual, is not something most administrators are able to say. It takes courage and confidence to send that message. These 3 men and 1 woman have both.

Without them working with our students every day over 4 years, guiding them, supporting them, helping them resolve problems and stay focused on what is important in the long term, Staples could not provide the nurturing environment that it does. These assistant principals truly take on the role of parent while our students are in school. I cannot thank them enough.

It has been an absolute joy to lead this high school these past 11 years. It is the capstone of my career and something I will never forget.

John Dodig -- principal and proud Staples supporter.

John Dodig — principal and proud Staples supporter.

I was interviewed on television earlier this year about my career, and was asked if there was a teacher who influenced me in a positive way. I immediately said that Mr. Wilner, my 4th and 5th grade teacher in Queens, NY was that person. It wasn’t what he taught us, but the connection he made with all of us that was so powerful. He liked me and I liked him. I’m sure every student in that class would say the same thing.

That connection he made with me has been my guide for the past 60 years. At the end of the interview I said that I hope that I will be someone’s Mr. Wilner. I
hope that many years from now, some Staples grad will look back and say that I helped her or him in a positive way.

Thank you for your support.

John Dodig will join James Calkins in history as one of Staples’ transformational principals. Both used the word “love” with pride. In the turbulent 1960s — while other high schools imploded — Calkins steered Staples with strength and resolve.

In the 2000s — an era filled with enormous pressures, high student stress, and the insane demands of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core — Dodig kept Staples’ very high academic, artistic and athletic standards, while transforming it into a school that students genuinely love.

Teenagers feel safe and accepted at Staples. They know they are nurtured and cared for there. And they thrive.

That will be John Dodig’s greatest legacy of all.

Dozens Of Staples Students Dodge Cops

Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Tonight, they ran toward them.

And threw dodgeballs at their heads.

The cops threw them right back.

In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event. Staples’ Teen Awareness Group co-sponsored the event.

Dodgeball kids 2

The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it. The English department had a group of teachers.

Each of the 31 teams had at least 1 police officer. Talk about someone having your back!

Each player paid $5 to participate. The money goes to Homes With Hope.

That’s a big 10-4.

Basketball players...

Basketball players…

Staples Players (the actors) ...

… Staples Players (the actors) …

teachers...

… teachers…

... and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission's annual "Dodge a Cop" event.

… and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

 

 

 

Westport: Low Fences, Communal Spirit, Personal Pizzas

On Thursday night 9 teenagers left Westport, for a plane back to Singapore. They were different people than when they’d arrived, just 2 weeks earlier.

The group — part of the 2nd annual group to visit from the elite Hwa Chong Institute — lived with Staples students, attended classes, and visited New York City and Yale.

But — as is so often the case with programs like this — the little things meant the most.

The guests shared their impressions on a Facebook page called “Staples High Immersion 2014.” Among their observations:

In Singapore, students are “generally meek in front of their teachers.” Here, school relationships are very relaxed.  As a result, discussions are lively, resulting in “effective learning.” And without uniforms, Westport students “are free to express their personal identity.”

Staples’ electives were eye-opening. Radio, television, film-making, music, pottery, digital darkroom, drawing, painting, sculpturing, jewelry making, woodworking — plus the opportunity to choose another language, like French, Spanish or Mandarin — was intriguing.

Two Hwa Chong students enjoy Culinary class.

Two Hwa Chong students enjoy Culinary class.

But that was nothing compared to extracurricular activities. The Singapore teenagers were impressed that Inklings, the school newspaper, gives students the opportunity to write on topics that interest them, from fashion to anti-Semitism.

The visitors were wowed by Staples Players’ “Hello, Dolly!” — let’s hope they don’t think that every high school puts on shows like that — and were amazed too at the importance that Wrecker sports hold for many students.

“Such is a mark of an obviously holistic education,” one youngster wrote. “Academics, while important, do not rob students of their time to engage in something they want to do and develop.

“Crudely speaking,” he added, “Staples makes Singaporean schools look like factories.”

Staples High School principal John Dodig and world language department chair Maria Zachery welcome the Singapore students to Westport.

Staples High School principal John Dodig and world language department chair Maria Zachery welcome the Singapore students to Westport.

The strong, close bonds of families in Westport neighborhoods impressed the Singapore teens. One said that “communal spirit” was lacking in his country.

And, he added, Westport homes do not have “high fences or walls to form a barricade around their properties,” as he was used to. (Another was surprised that Americans don’t mind living near cemeteries. That would never happen back home.)

Life here, one boy said, is less hectic than in Singapore. His father works overseas; his mother gets home from work after he is asleep, and he has not had a home-cooked meal since he was 11. Both host parents here cook.

He called it “heartwarming” to see that Westport families spend “sufficient time to interact and understand each and every family member.” Singapore youngsters “crave” that, he said.

One of his classmates remarked on the ease with which “numerous visitors” dropped in at his host family’s house.

It doesn't get more Westport than a trip to Five Guys.

It doesn’t get more Westport than a trip to Five Guys.

A host family took their guest to a local restaurant. A pizza that would be a meal for 2 or 3 people back home was his alone. At a supermarket, the only Coke he could find was 4.5 liters. On field trips, he and his classmates could not finish all the food they were served.

One Facebook post called Westport “stunning.” The “serene and quiet” autumn setting was a sharp contrast to “noisy and high energy” Singapore.

New York, meanwhile, seemed “straight out of a movie.” It had a “slight fairy-tale feel to it” — despite the “innumerable homeless people.”

“I am indeed glad I was honoured with the opportunity to come here,” a student wrote. “I feel accomplished and less ignorant” for having experienced Western culture.

One of the Singapore guests loved this serene scene near his host family's house.

One of the Singapore guests loved this serene scene near his host family’s house.

And, of course, nearly everyone asked the Singaporeans — “frantically,” one said — if they are allowed to chew gum.

“That is one thing we don’t really regard as something big, but apparently in other countries it appears really strange,” he noted.

Which is why all of us should travel. And when we do, we should wander out of our comfort zones. There are many lessons to be learned. As our Singapore guests have shown us, not all take place in school.

Hello, Laramie!

High school theater — at least in Fairfield County — is a special art form. It’s entertaining, provocative, and exceptionally high quality.

This weekend, local audiences can enjoy 2 very different shows. Both are well worth going far out of your way to see.

Staples Players presents “Hello, Dolly!” Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have pulled out all the stops. The classic farce — featuring memorable music and great choreography — promises to continue Players’ long tradition of Broadway-worthy productions.

Meanwhile, Weston High School’s Company presents “The Laramie Project.” The fascinating play draws on hundreds of interviews, conducted in Wyoming in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Cast in some of their many ensemble "Laramie" roles are (from left) Jack Seigenthaler, Kevin MacWilliams, Sam Rosenthal and Preston Troxell. (Photo/Peter Friedman)

Cast in some of their many ensemble “Laramie” roles are (from left) Jack Seigenthaler, Kevin MacWilliams, Sam Rosenthal and Preston Troxell. (Photo/Peter Friedman)

Twenty-six students play the parts of 68 Laramie residents, in this complex, well-crafted and many-faceted exploration of life and death in a Western town.

Director Kevin Slater is familiar to many Westporters, for his work with drama troupes in schools here. Cast member Jack Seigenthaler is also well known, for his portrayal of Conrad in Staples Players’ 2013 summer production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“The Laramie Project” is presented this Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15. The Sunday, November 16 matinee will be followed by an on-stage talk-back with Andy Paris. A member of the original cast, he’s Skyped with cast members — providing powerful insights into what is already a stunning show.

(“Hello, Dolly!” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, November 16 and Saturday, November 22. For tickets — including the pre-show gala on opening night — click www.StaplesPlayers.com.

“The Laramie Project” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m.  For tickets, click whscompany.com.)

 

 

Staples’ “Dolly” Lookin’ Swell

Fifty years ago, Hello, Dolly! debuted on Broadway. It danced and sang its memorable way to become — for a while — the longest-running show in history.

In 1985, Al Pia directed Dolly! with Staples Players. David Roth — who as an 8th grader in Illinois played Cornelius — reprised it in 2002, his 3rd year as Players director.

Now, the show is back. Hello, Dolly! opens on the Staples High School stage next Friday (November 14). It runs that weekend and next.

A small part of the large cast sings "It Takes a Woman." (Photo/Kerry Long)

A small part of the large cast sings “It Takes a Woman.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Like many Players productions, this one melds elements of old and new. Dorian Kail — Dolly in 1985 — will sit proudly in the auditorium. Her son, Jacob Leaf, plays Rudolph this time around.

The cast and crew learned a lot about the Broadway versions from 2 fantastic sources. Sondra Lee (who originated the role of Minnie Fay) and Lee Roy Reams (Cornelius in the 1st Broadway revival, and the director of subsequent revivals) — both visited the set last month.

“We wanted to go back to a classic, and do something accessible to families,” Roth says of his selection.

“I love the comedy. This show is truly a farce — one of my favorite types of show to direct. “

Roth — who grew up listening to the soundtrack — loves the music, the script, even the pacing.

He, co-director Kerry Long, set designer Peter DiFranco and costume designers Marjorie Watt and Priscilla Stampa, have pulled out all the stops.

Costumes and sets complement Jack Bowman, Claire Smith and Jack Baylis as they sing "Dancing." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Costumes and sets complement Jack Bowman, Claire Smith and Jack Baylis as they sing “Dancing.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“The sets and costumes are really outstanding,” Roth says. “Every scene is beautiful. This is a candy-colored storybook — a fantasy version of a time gone by.”

The director also appreciates the choreography — which is dazzlingly complex.

In 2002, Roth did not have enough male dancers. So a number of girls dressed as male waiters.

This year, they’re all guys.

It’s so nice to have them back where they belong.

(“Hello, Dolly!” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m. An extra matinee has been added for Saturday, November 22 at 3 p.m. For tickets — including the pre-show gala on opening night — click www.StaplesPlayers.com.) 

Future Chefs Stir It Up In Westport

Tomorrow (Thursday, November 6, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Imperial Avenue parking lot) is the final date for this year’s Westport Farmer’s Market.

They’re ending the year with a bang.

Farmers MarketStaples High School’s Advanced Culinary Arts students of Cecily Gans will be among the chef demonstrators (10:15-11 a.m.). And “chef” is the right word. These guys are not just tossing together a Cobb salad.

They’ll feature a recipe by recent graduate Sarah Rountree. Her Crispy Brussels Sprouts in Honey-Mint Sauce was chosen for its seasonality, and the local availability of most ingredients.

But that’s not the only Westport connection. Sarah’s recipe is 1 of 5 featured in Future Chefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World. The handsome book — just published by Rodale Press — includes 150 contributions from teenagers around the world.

Sophia Hampton shows off her culinary skills. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Sophia Hampton shows off her culinary skills. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

But Sarah is not the only Stapleite with a recipe in Future Chefs. Senior Sophia Hampton is included twice, for her Delicata-Crab Hash with Poached Duck Egg, and her Kale Caesar Salad.

Zach Reiser offers up his Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread; Deanna Baris, her Breakfast Cookies.

But it’s not only Staples students who are featured. Wes Beeler was in 8th grade when he contributed his Competition-Ready St. Louis-Style Spareribs. (The competition was the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. He placed 3rd.)

But the book is not limited to recipes. Each young chef has a full write-up. Sophia’s, for example, notes that she volunteers one day a month — with the Culinary Club — serving food at the Gillespie Center, and that as features editor for the school newspaper  Inklings she moved from fashion writing to the food beat.

Future Chefs coverBut they’re not the only Staples students mentioned. Class of 2013 graduate Rusty Schindler was cited in the introduction, while last year’s entire Advanced Culinary Arts class was thanked — individually — in the acknowledgements, for testing many of the recipes.

But those are not the only local connections. Future Chefs was written by Westport author (and New York-trained chef) Ramin Ganeshram. The compelling photographs come courtesy of her husband — and frequent “06880” contributor Jean Paul Vellotti.

There are probably more Staples/Future Chefs tie-ins. If so, you’ll find them at the Farmers Market this Thursday. And the book — available for signing.

If not, you’ll still enjoy Sarah’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts in Honey-Mint Sauce.

(Click on Future Chefs for ordering information.)

Future Chefs - Wes Beeler

Wes Beeler eating his BBQ on the roof of Bobby Q’s. JP Vellotti took the photo on a very cold day. The roof was still a mess from Hurricane Sandy. The publisher said, “Try to make it look like he’s in Texas.”