Category Archives: Teenagers

Last Ollie For The Skate Park

Everyone’s talking about the big changes proposed by the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee: a new entrance, renovation of the bathhouses, elimination of perimeter parking.

Hardly anyone has mentioned a smaller plan: the end of the skate park.

Eddie Kim knows the stereotypes of skateboarders: “hooligans, drug dealers and delinquents.” He also knows the Compo park attracts a wide variety of people, like a fearless 8-year-old girl who loves riding down ramps.

She loves the park, and would be devastated to see it close.

The Compo Beach skatepark

The Compo Beach skate park.

Kim works at the park. But during the school year he’s a teacher. He practices Bikram yoga daily, and founded his own theater company. He’s a skater too. For him, skating is a creative way to relieve stress.

Kim wants Westporters to see the value of the skate park, and the community that has grown around it. He asked several regulars to offer insights. One of the most eloquent is James Bowles, a Staples freshman.

James knows that many people can’t understand why he’s spent “every free minute” of the past 6 years on a skateboard.

He says that when he was 6, at Long Lots Elementary School, he was diagnosed with OCD. For the next couple of years he hated his life. But the moment he set foot in the Compo skate park — “heading into the great unknown” — he was hooked.

His fears and stresses vanished. He was hooked.

He visited the park every day. He dreamed of skateboarding at night. He met his best friends there. They’re different ages, but they gave him a sense of self-worth, of potential, of community. That’s something every kid needs.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

This summer, James worked as a counselor-in-training at the Compo Beach Skate Camp. “Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they finally roll away from a trick they worked extremely hard to land is mesmerizing,” he says. Some of them may have been going through their own troubles, as he had.

He adds:

Even though I’m still young, I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. Kids my age are swept up into partying, drinking and general idiocy. Most people assume that because I skateboard, I get caught up in that sort of stuff.

I believe that if it weren’t for skateboarding, I would have been more likely to do that. The amount of times I’ve turned down plans to do ludicrous things, because I wanted to go skate, is enough to know I’m doing something right. Skateboarding has been one of the best investments of my time.

James says that the freedom of skateboarding has allowed him to work through his OCD. It has also helped him learn to be polite, pick up after himself, and look after others.

“Compo has always been a safe haven for people to skate legally,” he notes. “It’s a space where parents feel safe leaving their children. Compo has been my favorite place for 6 years, and I can’t imagine what losing the park would be like.”

Plenty of skaters gained confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Plenty of skaters gain confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Others agree. University of Colorado sophomore Casey Hausman made lifelong friends at the Compo park. “It’s a great community,” he says. “Everyone is supportive. Kids don’t need to worry about disappointing teammates or parents. Any progress is encouraged and applauded by everyone, no matter what the skill level.”

Kim Celotto’s 13- and 8-year-old boys have been skateboarding at Compo for years. She calls the instructors “patient, wonderful teachers who all the boarders look up to and admire. They learn skills and confidence, while having fun with friends.”

And, she says, skateboarding’s emphasis on fun and individual growth — not “fierce competition” — appeals to youngsters who may not be interested in team sports.

Parent Debra Newman has seen many kids flocking to the park in 90-degree weather, with no shade. “Would we rather have them sitting in front of the TV, exercising their thumbs?” she wonders.

But the final word belongs to James Bowles, the OCD sufferer who found a haven and a home at the Compo Beach skate park:

“I know that the argument of a 14-year-old high school freshman hardly compares to that of a town representative. But I hope anyone reading this will see my point of view.”

Phoebe And Her Phantastic Phriends

A Westport girl named Phoebe was 11 years old — just finishing 6th grade — when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The malignant bone tumor is usually seen in teenagers.

At Sloan Kettering she was treated wonderfully. But it was tough: grueling chemotherapy, plus numerous surgeries on her leg.

In September of 2011, she underwent a groundbreaking surgery. She was the 1st patient in New York to try a new device that uses magnetic force. After 2 years on crutches, she could walk again.

Phoebe’s positive spirit was unwavering. She and her family went on a vacation that included scuba diving.

Phoebe (right) and her friends.

Phoebe (right) and her friends.

She worked hard in 8th grade to prepare for Staples. Always an avid athlete, she found a new sport — archery — in which to compete.

Phoebe also became involved in volunteer organizations. Knowing how much support and love she had received, she wanted to give back.

On March 1, 2013, during her 2-year anniversary checkup for being cancer-free from osteosarcoma, Phoebe was diagnosed with secondary acute myeloid leukemia.

She endured more terrible chemo, and 8 days in intensive care.

On May 23, 2013, Phoebe received a bone marrow transplant. Her sister Hallie — a perfect match — was the donor.

Phoebe’s intelligence, kindness and inner strength kept herself, her family and friends going. Now post-transplant, she is getting back to “normal” life.

 

She appreciates every second of it. And that is why she was inspired to start “Phoebe’s Phriends”: to help find a cure for pediatric cancers.

The xxx is a colorful event, for sure.

The Colorflash 5K run promises to be a colorful event, for sure.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday, September 21, the Phriends group — now a 501(c)3 — sponsors a “Colorflash 5K” run. It’s a great distance to run (or walk) — and fun. Participants will be splashed with color dust at 4 stations. Post-race festivities include food trucks.

All proceeds will be donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for Pediatric Cancer Research.

“06880” gets 10 to 15 requests a day to publicize worthwhile events. Westport is filled with them, and it’s tough to say no. But “06880” is a blog, not a community calendar.

Every so often, though, a fundraiser comes through that is so special — with such a compelling back story — that I gladly say “sure!”

No matter what else you are doing on Sunday, September 21, Phoebe and her Phriends deserve our support.

(Registration is $25 pre-race; $35 the day of the race. Of course, larger donations are accepted too. For details, click here.) 

Phoebe's Phriends logo

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.