Category Archives: Teenagers

MLK Meets SHS

For a few years, Martin Jacobson and I have tried to get our soccer teams together.

I coach the Staples High School boys varsity. He coaches Martin Luther King in New York City.

We’re a pretty decent Connecticut team. MLK is the 2-time defending NYC public schools champion. And they’ve won that title 14 of the last 17 years.

This year, our schedules meshed for a pre-season scrimmage.

On Sunday, the King guys and their coaches came to Westport by train. Our parents met them at the station, and drove them to Staples. A large crowd enjoyed a very competitive match. The visitors pulled away for the win, but the play was tough, good and fun.

Staples soccer players, including Nate Argosh (left) and Kenji Goto, played against New York City powerhouse Martin Luther King HS. (Photo/Kim Lake).

Staples soccer players, including Nate Argosh (left) and Kenji Goto, played against New York City powerhouse Martin Luther King HS. (Photo/Kim Lake).

Afterward, the MLK players and staff piled back into parents’ cars. At Compo Beach, Staples’ Barbecue Club — yes, there is such an organization, and they’re great — prepared a feast.

The food was fantastic. The soccer match was tremendous. But the highlight for both teams might have been the impromptu volleyball tournament that sprang up.

Players from both squads — the city school, and the suburban one — divided themselves evenly, into 4 teams. They took over both volleyball courts. And for a solid hour — until a sudden rainstorm — they played, laughed and high-fived together.

Afterward, players from both teams mixed and matched for an impromptu volleyball tournament.

Players from both teams mixed and matched for an impromptu volleyball tournament.

Back at the train station, the MLK coach and I pledged to make this an annual tradition.

I don’t want to make more of this than it is. It was just an afternoon mixing strong competition with holiday weekend relaxation.

But as I drove home — and as more than a dozen Staples soccer players texted me with thanks for an “awesome” day — I had 3 thoughts:

  • Sports are a wonderful way to bring people together.
  • Kids are kids, wherever they live.
  • Westport, Connecticut may not be representative of America. But neither is Ferguson, Missouri.

 

Hannah Bukzin Has Some Chops

Hannah  Bukzin is a busy girl.

When she’s not volunteering as an EMT or interning with a catering company, the rising Staples sophomore can be found cooking. Her style is “classic dishes with a modern twist.” Her favorite creation is hanger steak marinated with chimichurri sauce, and a side of roasted potatoes.

But in April, Hannah found time to head to the Food Network studios in New York. There, she spent a full day filming a segment for “Chopped Teen Tournament.” The show airs Tuesday, July 29 (10 p.m.).

What makes her story particularly noteworthy — besides the fact that she is a local girl who may or may not make good (Hannah is sworn to secrecy) — is that she’s completely self-taught.

Hannah Bukzin, on the "Chopped" set)

Hannah Bukzin, on the “Chopped” set)

Hannah has been interested in cooking ever since age 6, when she saw her first — surprise! — Food Network show. The mystery and variety of ingredients drew her in.

Almost a decade later, she applied to the “Chopped” teen show. After interviews, a camera crew came to film her at EMS headquarters — and watch her cook. (That dish was pan-roasted bronzino with quinoa salad.)

She made the cut, and joined 15 other teenagers. They competed in 3 30-minute rounds, creating dishes with 4 ingredients that (a press release says) “could stump even top professionals.”

Did I mention that Hannah was the only one of the 16 who does not attend a culinary program in a specialized high school? In fact, she has not even taken one of Staples’ highly regarded culinary classes yet.

“Everything I know is in my head,” she says.

food network logoBut like any well-trained cook, Hannah knew she had to prepare. A chef friend of her parents trained her, using his own “mystery ingredients.” She is “not much of a baker,” Hannah says, so she practiced a few desserts just in case.

Filming took an entire, long day. As in any kitchen, there were surprises — and not just at the stove.

“I was amazed that the judges judged us like we were adults,” Hannah reports. “They told us the truth as if we were 30 or 40 years old, not 14 to 17.”

But in some ways, Hannah is closer to 30 or 40 than 15.

As soon as our interview was over, she was out the door.

Work beckoned. The catering company she’s interning with had a wedding.

On the Vineyard.

Rick Eason Flies Under The Radar

Rick Eason graduated from Bedford Middle School in June. But the teenager knows aircraft technology, FAA regulations — and Westport skies — like a pro.

Rick has always been interested in electronics. Not long ago, the rising Staples freshman got a drone. His DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter is amazing. Equipped with a GoPro camera providing very high quality 2.6K resolution still photographs and video at 30 fps, plus 4 rotors, it tilts, spins and zooms its way over beaches, homes and fields.

Rick Eason and his drone.

Rick Eason and his drone.

Thanks to GPS it holds its position in wind, moves around a center point, and can even return to the exact spot it was launched if contact is lost.

“It’s so much fun to fly,” he says. “It’s so easy and intuitive to control.

“You can get views no one has ever seen before,” Rick adds with pride. “This is not like Google Earth. You can see your house from 20 feet above.”

Or the Westport Library. Here’s a view from Rick’s website that I’m pretty sure is the 1st of its kind:

Library - Rick Eason's drone

Rick’s dad, Tony Eason, installs solar panels. Rick’s drone helps him inspect roofs.

Drones are still pretty new. Rick saw another Phantom at Winslow Park. “06880” has posted amazing videos, taken by another owner, of Compo Beach and Sherwood Mill Pond. But right now they’re rare, and Rick gets plenty of admiring stares — and questions — when he launches his.

Drones are so new, in fact, that federal regulations can’t keep up. Though drones can rise 2000 feet high, the FAA classifies them as “remote controlled aircraft,” with a limit of 400 feet.

Technically, they can’t fly beyond the owner’s “line of sight.” But, Rick says, he can watch and control his drone through the GoPro camera, using goggles or a laptop.

Rick Eason's drone hovers over his front lawn.

Rick Eason’s drone hovers over his front lawn.

Owners need a license to make money off drones. So legally, Rick can’t charge for his photographs and videos. (That hasn’t stopped others from doing so.)

Rick has learned about privacy laws too. “When you’re 30 feet up with a fisheye lens, you might catch someone’s private home,” he says. “If they ask me, I’ll delete it.” But, he notes, “it’s really no different from taking a photograph of someone’s house from the beach with an iPhone.”

Drones are here to stay. Just a couple of years ago, they cost thousands of dollars each — and did not fly particularly well. Now, Rick says, “you can buy one for $300 at Barnes & Noble.”

Rick's drone, inspecting a roof.

Rick’s drone, inspecting a roof.

Rick loves his drone — but he’s already looking ahead. He’s saving up for a gyroscopic gimbal, to keep the camera even steadier than it is now.

Meanwhile, he’s thinking up clever new uses for his drone. At Staples, he might contribute aerial photograph to Inklings, the school newspaper.

And last Thursday Rick was at Compo, for the 2nd annual “06880” party. While the rest of us were eating, drinking and chatting, he was hard at work.

So here’s the “06880” community — 2014-style:

 

You Can Help Save This Child’s Life…

… or you can turn the page.

Okay, that’s over-dramatic. It’s not a life-or-death situation. And you don’t turn a blog page; you click the “x.”

But here’s the deal. Westport Rotary is all set to host a 17-year-old exchange student. Martin arrives from the Czech Republic on August 17.

Yet until the 1st host family steps up — for a 3 1/2-month period — Martin can’t get a visa.

He seems like a great kid. He likes skiing, tennis, volleyball, golf and hockey. He plays guitar, and is social and adventurous. He looks forward to Westport.

If he can get here.

Anyone can host: families with kids, people without children, empty nesters, you name it.

Rotary ClubMany Stapleites have enjoyed Rotary exchanges abroad. Many Westporters have hosted exchange students. As of yet though, no one has stepped up for Martin.

Host families provide room and board for 3 1/2 months. The student does not need his own bedroom. Major expenses are covered by the student’s natural family, and Rotary provides health insurance plus a small stipend.

You can click the “x” at the top of this page. Or you can contact Fides Østbye (203-858-6694, fidesmo@aol.com), to give Martin his 1st Westport home.

 

Staples Interns See The Real World. And Rock It.

It’s late June, and summer is already in full swing.

A few newly minted Staples graduates are doing actual jobs: caddying and working at restaurants. Some are taking summer courses, to get ahead for college (or make sure their acceptances are not rescinded).

Many recent grads are interning. In 2014, internships are the way to get jobs after graduating from college in 2018. (Although, even then, they might need a few internships before landing a full-time, paying gig.)

But these are not the first internships for the Class of ’14. For a month — from mid-May until right before commencement — 94% of all Staples seniors took part in what has become one of the most important, highly valued and intriguing parts of their entire education.

This year's interns were too busy working to take photos. So the images here are from years past. In 2009, Matt Takiff (above) worked at Sport Hill Farms.

This year’s interns were too busy working to take photos. So the images here are from years past. In 2009, Matt Takiff (above) worked at Sport Hill Farms.

The Staples Senior Internship program is several years old. But this year it exploded, with 426 of the 463 class members taking part. (The ones who did not had their reasons, including academic or disciplinary ineligibility.)

Forget senioritis. Instead of sitting around for the last month of school, burned out and bored out of their skulls, the Future of Our Country headed to offices, other schools, even farms, to learn about the Real World before actually entering into it.

Thanks to the incredible work of program director Lee Saveliff, every intern has a site, a supervisor and a Staples staff mentor. Each intern must complete 95 verified hours of work — and each week, must write an in-depth “reflection” on the experience so far.

The reflections provide great insight into the world of work — and the minds of today’s teenagers.

MLB-dot-com-logo-200Four interns went to New York with MLB.com — the online arm of Major League Baseball. They worked on social media projects, and enjoyed devising ideas for GoPros at every different stadium. (For example: a “tour” of Fenway’s Green Monster.)

But they also had to make a presentation to top executives, including CEO Bob Bowman. One intern was amazed at the vast difference between standing up in a classroom, and a boardroom. (MLB execs were quite impressed, fortunately.)

Several interns worked with the Himes for Congress campaign. (Hold your fire. Republicans had interns too. One traveled often to Hartford with State Representative Gail Lavielle.)

The Himes interns slogged through mundane tasks, like stuffing envelopes. But they also learned the ins and outs of campaigning. They met the Congressman — and Governor Malloy.

And they had to do something most folks older than 25 or so take for granted: talking on the phone.

The interns followed up with constituents. They called likely and uncertain voters. For a generation raised on texting, that aspect of the job was “terrifying.”

But they did it. And their weekly reflections show their confidence in going outside comfort zones, gratitude for learning an important life skill, and pride in doing something tangible, with results that can be measured.

In 2009, Carolyn Ross worked at Taylor's Floral Arts. She even arranged flowers for her own baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies.

In 2009, Carolyn Ross worked at Taylor’s Floral Arts. She even arranged flowers for her own baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies.

The internships spanned nearly every job imaginable. Some seniors worked in Westport schools (where teachers and — especially — young students adored them).

Others worked at Wakeman Town Farm. Tauck World Discovery. Voices of September 11. Marinas. Wealth management firms. Contractors. WPKN. Country Clubs. Restaurants. CLASP Homes. Harbor Watch. The police. Norwalk Hour. Auto body shops. Discovery Museum. Terex. Jewish Home for the Elderly. Verizon. The public defender. Longshore. Priceline. Law and medical offices. The Westport-Weston Health District. Westport Arts Center. Winged Monkey. Veterinarians. The Bridgeport Bluefish. Yale University. Mitchells.

Many internships -- like this from last year at WEBE -- involve something new for teenagers: interacting with the public.

Many internships — like this from last year at WEBE — involve something new for teenagers: interacting with the public.

Interns were exposed to everything: The tedium of some jobs. Bosses who don’t always explain things clearly. Commuting. (A number of interns freaked when problems at the South Norwalk bridge threw Metro-North into chaos. They instantly gained new appreciation for what their parents go through every day.)

“We know our kids are hard-working, polite, creative problem-solvers,” says Staples principal John Dodig — one of the internship’s driving forces. “It’s nice for the community to see that too.”

It certainly is. But that’s just a side benefit.

The main reason the program is such a success is seen by the nuanced reflections the interns write. The strength of their voices as they describe how much they’ve learned and grown in just one month. The confidence they display as they return to Staples, for one final week, to graduate.

And the ease with which they go on to their next steps in life: College. Travel.

The next internship.

 

Congratulations, Staples Grads!

463 members of Staples High School’s Class of 2014 received diplomas today.

It was a day of pomp and circumstance. And speeches, songs, cheers and a few tears.

This was Staples’127th commencement. But this stuff never gets old.

Assistant principal Rich Franzis, with a few of the graduates moments before entering the fieldhouse.

Assistant principal Rich Franzis, with a few of the graduates moments before entering the fieldhouse.

Wyatt Davis gets ready for the processional. He's joined by his peer buddy Taylor Harrington, and longtime friend Sharon Magera-Gunter.

Wyatt Davis gets ready for the processional. He’s joined by his peer buddy Taylor Harrington, and longtime friend Sharon Magera-Gunter.

Proud dad Josh Moritz holds up a larger-than-lifesize cutout of his son Michael.

Proud dad Josh Moritz holds up a larger-than-lifesize cutout of his son Michael.

Mike Zito mans the control booth, for the TV broadcast of graduation.

Mike Zito mans the control booth, for the TV broadcast of graduation.

What's a graduation without a celebratory cigar?

What’s a graduation without a celebratory cigar?

After graduation, it's time to party. The Leonard and Colwell families posed at the Compo Beach marina. Charlie Leonard is at center. His grandmother, Paula Leonard, graduated from Staples in 1952. This year marks the last Leonard family graduate -- after 62 years.

After graduation, it’s time to party. The Leonard and Colwell families posed at the Compo Beach marina. Charlie Leonard is at center. His grandmother, Paula Leonard, graduated from Staples in 1952; his grandfather Dick began teaching at Staples in 1956. This year marks the last Leonard family graduation — after 62 years.

Staples grads proudly signed posters announcing their post high-school plans. Goodbye and good luck, Class of 2014!

Staples grads proudly signed posters announcing their post high-school plans. Goodbye and good luck, Class of 2014!

 

Lots Of Food; Out Of Coffee

The Staples High School guidance department bends over backward for everyone.

This week — during the half-hour between 1st and 2nd final exams of the day — they’ve handed out snacks and drinks to students.

It’s part of their “Resilience Project,” providing information and resources to help teenagers balance their lives.

Guidance - food

Deb Slocum, Vicki Capozzi and Leslie Hammer prepare for the onslaught. Spencer Daniels and Kenny Brill hover hungrily nearby.

But one Staples drink of choice — coffee — will not be available next year.

Inklings — the school paper — reports that in the fall, Connecticut public schools that sell coffee to students will lose state aid.

Wow.

It’s a legal beverage. Older students — many of whom can drive, donate blood, vote (and who must, if they’re male, sign up for the draft) — drink coffee. With the 7:30 a.m. start time, it’s a necessity for some — just like their parents.

If they can’t buy it at Staples, they may stop at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Where they’ll pay more. Then race to school.

Ah, the Law of Unintended Consequences…

 

SafeRides Saves Lives

For years, the Westport Youth Commission tried to develop a Safe Rides program. Members knew it’s a very effective way to keep teenagers out of cars after they — or their friends — have been drinking. But organizers could never overcome thorny insurance questions.

In 2009 Alex Dulin solved the problem. The Staples junior had just moved from Mercer Island, Washington, where she was deeply involved in a SafeRides program. They ran it through Boy Scouts. Voilà!

Julie Mombello

Julie Mombello

Julie Mombello — head of volunteers for the Staples PTA — was inspired by Alex’s passion. Julie, Alex and a host of others became driving forces (ho ho) behind Westport’s SafeRides program.

Five years later, it’s thriving. Every Saturday night at 9:30, a team of student dispatchers (and 1 adult volunteer) gathers at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. They eat food donated by Westport Pizzeria.

And every Saturday — until 1:30 a.m. — 4 cars are constantly on the go. Each has a backpack with a first aid kit, rubber gloves and water.

There’s also a bucket. Westport Wash & Wax has offered to split the cost of an interior wash and detail, if someone gets sick and misses the bucket. That’s happened once in 5 years.

Giving up a Saturday night is a huge commitment. But this year 46 seniors, 59 juniors, 28 sophomores, 11 freshmen — and 28 adults — did it at least once.

Every volunteer must pay to work with SafeRides. Additional funds come from the Staples and middle school PTAs, and some elementary schools’, and the PAL.

SafeRides volunteers, before the calls come in.

SafeRides volunteers, before the calls come in.

The calls offer a (confidential) window into Westport life. Some come from teenagers who know they have drunk too much, and should not drive home. Some come from their friends.

Some come from babysitters, who do not want to get in a car with a father (or mother) who has been drinking.

SafeRides tries not to be a taxi service. Sometimes, though, it is.

“We brainstorm all the time how to avoid it,” Mombello says. “We can’t come up with a way. But we can’t limit the people who use SafeRides. It’s okay to be a taxi service once in a while, so long as we’re saving lives.”

SafeRides logo

A criticism of SafeRides — before it began, and now — is that it promotes teenage drinking.

“I can’t believe someone drinks because of SafeRides,” Mombello counters. “What SafeRides does is keep someone who has been drinking from getting behind the wheel — and it keeps their friends out of the car too. If we save one life, it’s worth it.”

SafeRides drivers and navigators will not leave until they’ve seen their rider get safely inside the home. A few times, Mombello says, drivers have rung the bell, to make sure their rider was met by an adult.

Occasionally calls are made to parents, to say their child is being delivered home by SafeRides. Drivers have waited in the driveway until the adults arrived.

“Parents have been incredibly appreciative of that,” Mombello says.

SafeRides 1No one has ever had to call 911. But every member trains for that eventuality.

“SafeRides has really established itself,” says Mombello. “Our feet are firmly on the ground.”

After 4 years as director, she’s stepping down. Mark Dulsky — a longtime volunteer with Service League of Boys (SLOBs) and baseball — takes over.

Tomorrow is the final night of the school year for SafeRides. In September — when school begins — they’ll start again.

And they’ll continue saving lives, even if no one ever knows whose.

A Greenwald Graduation Gracias

Longtime Westporters (and Staples grads Tom Greenwald and Cathy Utz) write:

Our youngest son, Jack, graduates from Staples this month, so it seems like a good time to express our thanks.

Thank you to the entire Westport school system, and every teacher, administrator, librarian, custodian, kitchen staff member, counselor, principal and member of the Board of Ed.

Thank you for steering our 3 children safely through their formative years.

Jack, Joe and Charlie Greenwald then...

Jack, Joe and Charlie Greenwald then…

Thank you for guiding them, helping them, praising them, chastising them, coaching them, directing them, comforting them and informing them.

Thank you for giving them the opportunity to run, jump, sing, dance, play, work, act, read, write, add, subtract, make friends and make strides.

Thank you for letting them join teams, casts, groups and clubs.

Thank you for letting them run around at recess, sit around at lunch and hang around during free periods.

...and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald today.

…and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald today.

Thank you for the kindergarten birthday parties, the 8th grade dances and the senior proms.

Thank you for teaching them how to respect others and think for themselves.

Thank you for returning them to us better people.

We will be forever grateful.

 

 

Not Always As Easy As Riding A Bike

Every child’s life is marked by developmental milestones: Potty training. Shoe tying. Bike riding.

But — as basic as those sound — not every kid achieves every milestone with ease.

Barbara Greenspan

Barbara Greenspan

Westporter Barbara Greenspan is a pediatric occupational therapist. Working primarily with preschoolers to develop gross and fine motor skills — jumping, skipping, handwriting — she knows the physical and emotional benefits of being able to do everyday tasks.

Barbara is also a devoted bike rider. She works out at Sherpa, does the CT Challenge and enters triathlons. “Kids need to ride bikes,” she believes. But they don’t always have the ability to.

In 2007 she asked Westport Parks and Rec to help organize a bike-riding class for children with disabilities. “Inclusion” is part of their mission. Cyndi Palaia worked with Barbara to develop a “Cycle Club.”

They’ve run it every spring since. For 6 weeks at the Compo Skate Park, a half dozen or so youngsters learn about balance, starting and stopping, and safety.

Easy does it...

Easy does it…

Every Monday — with help from Staples’ Service League of Boys (SLOBs), and other high school students — the kids hesitantly, then confidently, move from training wheels to independence.

Some are autistic. Others have Down Syndrome, or ADHD. All achieve an important milestone.

Barbara calls the teenage helpers crucial to the program’s success. “They literally hold the bikes, say when to pedal, and slowly let go.”

She notes that the teenagers “have to think about how to teach. They have to be empathetic. They’re in close proximity to the kids, physically and emotionally. I think they get as much satisfaction out of helping, as the kids do themselves. It’s a process, and they’re there for the kids every step of the way.”

Some of the teens return every year to help.

The Cycle Club is one of Westport’s lowest-key, littlest-known programs. But it has a major impact.

The other day, Barbara saw one of the program’s graduates on a bike near Roseville Road. “I rode to the beach with my dad, and back,” he proudly told her. “I rode 6 miles!”