Category Archives: Teenagers

Putting The “Class” In 2016

It’s a tradition at Staples High School for senior girls to start the year by painting their cars.

They try to include their graduating year, along with slogans. The results range from funny to meh, proud to X-rated.

But this year saw something new: An homage to a former principal.

John Dodig retired last June. But — as this photo sent to “06880” by Lily Bloomingdale shows — he is certainly not forgotten.

John Dodig - 2016

A very classy move indeed!

Virtually Oculus

Two months ago, the Westport Library bought an Oculus Rift. They lacked a computer with a graphics card big enough for the virtual reality headset that generates a crazy, immersive virtual world — but that’s the way the library rolls.

The Rift was about to hit the general consumer market. Library staffers knew it would be big. They snagged one of the last 2nd-generation developers’ kits. Then they went to work, figuring out what to do with it.

Nate Allen — a Maker Space volunteer who’s home-schooled in Fairfield — put the appropriate computer pieces together. (I asked him if it took all summer. Nope: 2 hours.)

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

The other day, I took it for a test drive. I’d never donned a virtual reality headset before — I’m not exactly a hardcore gamer — but despite a warning from Alex Giannini, the library’s manager of digital experience, that I might get nauseous, I opted for the Rift’s rollercoaster ride.

I have to say: It’s pretty freakin’ cool. I zoomed up, down and through some crazy Alice in Wonderland-type scenes. But with the Rift, I also looked all around — even over my shoulder — and became immersed in some great virtual reality scenes.

The Rift will be available for everyone 13 and up. But, Alex knows, the core demographic is teenagers.

“That’s great,” he says. “This will get them to the library. They’ll play video games, but they’ll stay to help out. Maybe it will inspire some of them to get into developing games too.”

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Rift will be unveiled Labor Day weekend, at the library’s Blues, Views & BBQ booth. Later this fall it will be used as part of the library’s Teen Gaming Night.

Alex loves the Rift. “It’s so far beyond previous generations of virtual reality, I can’t even describe it,” he says. “We’re on the verge of something huge.”

As usual, the Westport Library leads the way.

Farmers’ Photo Fan Favorites

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Sunday, August 23.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

Farmers’ Market Needs Us!

It’s National Farmers’ Market Week (!).  So here’s your chance to vote for the Westport Farmers’ Market as the best in the area.

I usually don’t promote contests of this kind. But if we win — we’re currently 2nd, behind Black Rock but ahead of Norwalk/Rowayton, Old Greenwich and Ridgefield — our fantastic farmers (and bakers, meat purveyors, honey sellers, etc.) earn an important prize: They won’t have to pay their usual 4% fee on sales for one week.

Click here to vote for what we all know is the greatest farmers’ market around.

In other Westport Farmers’ Market news, members of the Staples High School boys soccer team were on hand today, shopping for goods.

Chef Luke Lampanelli (5th from left) joined Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers' Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli (5th from left) joins Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center. (Missing: Andres Marmelo)

Community service is an important component of the boys soccer program, and the athletes were getting ready to cook a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli is also volunteering his time and expertise. He’ll cook with the Wreckers tomorrow. That evening, they’ll serve fajitas, pasta, salad and dessert at Westport’s shelter.

Funds come from a previous effort this summer. Staples soccer players helped shoppers carry bags to cars, in exchange for voluntary contributions.

It’s a great team effort — just like the team voting effort that will make the Westport Farmers’ Market #1!

Farmers Market

Skate Park Utopia

Last fall, when the skate park was threatened during controversial plans for the Compo Beach renovation, dozens of sk8trs and their parents spoke eloquently for its survival. They described its importance for kids in passionate, athletic, community-building — even life-saving — terms.

It was spared the hook. This summer, I — and I’m sure many other Compo lovers — have looked at it with new, more appreciative eyes.

Recently, the skate park has sported a new look. Colorful, mural/graffiti-type painting has turned gray concrete into something much jazzier.

Skate park - Compo

But some Westporters wonder about the advertisement (top) for Utopia Skate Camp. It’s also visible from other angles. A bit out of place — and overly commercial — they say.

Time for an “06880” debate. What do you think about the new look of the Compo skate park? Have you had any personal experience with it? Who (or what) are these Utopia dudes? Click “Comments” — and please use your full, real name.

“Godspell” Spills Across The Staples Stage

“Godspell” is no stranger to Staples High School.

But Players’ 2 previous productions of the parable-based musical were performed as student-directed studio theater pieces.

Next week, “Godspell” spills across the main stage.

Part of

Part of “the tribe” of “Godspell.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Over 50 students — all between ages 14 and 18 — present the vibrant show July 23, 24 and 25.

A cast that big presents challenges, notes director David Roth.

The original production includes only Jesus, Judas and 8 followers. Roth and co-director Kerry Long expanded that core group, then added an ensemble. They listen to Jesus’ words, and join in the celebration.

This production is also special because “Godspell” enjoyed a major Broadway revival in 2012. It featured new vocal arrangements, and script changes with plenty of modern references. There’s rapping, puppets — even a game of Pictionary.

This year’s Staples version includes those additions, along with a song not previously used on stage, “Beautiful City.”

Caroline Didelot and Jack Baylis share a duet. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Caroline Didelot and Jack Baylis share a duet. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth says he grew up loving the show. Its upbeat message of love and tolerance make it a great summer choice.

“Some of our recent productions, like ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Sweeney Todd,’ were very moving, but also very dark,” Roth adds. “‘Godspell’ is equally poignant, but in a joyous and exuberant way. It’s also a great show for the entire family, regardless of your religious beliefs.”

With opening night near, Players are working hard to make this the best summer production ever — day by day.

(“Godspell” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 23, 24 and 25, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 25. Tickets are available at www.StaplesPlayers.com, and at the door.)

All’s Fare In Uber And Taylor Swift

It was a First World problem: Maggie Fair, Jenna McNicholas and Jamie Tanzer were headed to Taylor Swift’s MetLife Stadium Saturday night, with an extra $201 ticket.

A friend backed out at the last minute. What to do?

The girls — all June graduates of Staples High School — called an Uber. Driver Khalil Calixte offered them a cord to play music.

They chose Swift. Calixte sang along.

Jenna McNicholas, Jamie Tanzer and Maggie Fair with their new friend, Khalil Calixte.

Jenna McNicholas, Jamie Tanzer and Maggie Fair with their new friend, Khalil Calixte.

Then — according to a story on a great celebrity website, Business Insider — the girls looked at each other.

“We were like, wait, he needs to come to the concert with us,” McNicholas said.

He was all in. So instead of dropping the girls off at Penn Station, he headed out to Jersey.

They all had a great time — especially Calixte. It was his 1st concert ever.

“It was like we were already friends,” Fair told Business Insider. “We danced and sang the whole night. It was so much fun.”

Well done, girls!

And thanks too to Will Haskell — himself a Staples grad (and, oh yeah, a Business Insider writer) — for telling that tale so well.

(For the full Business Insider story, click here.)

New Driving School Offers Compelling Videos, Cool Simulators And Fresh-Baked Cookies

Across America, high school is marked by certain rites of passage. Some — like Homecoming — are fun. Others (zits) are not.

Then there is driver’s ed.

For decades, it has not changed. Bored instructors cover boring material like braking distances. “Road hours” progress from parking lot practice, to real roads, to highways. Then comes the license, and — 5 or 6 hours later — the first accident.

Just about everything else in education has evolved. Whiteboards replaced blackboards. Kids no longer pass balled-up notes in class; they now send Snapchats. The cafeteria serves sushi, not Sloppy Joes.

Yet driver’s ed remains stalled in the hand-crank era.

A Weston couple, Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler — importantly for this piece, parents of 4 teenage drivers — hope to change all that.

Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler, with a Fresh Green Light car.

Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler, with a Fresh Green Light car.

They left careers in corporate marketing, and founded Fresh Green Light. The company’s mission is to “reinvent the way teenagers learn to drive,” making it “safer, simpler and more fun.”

Their 1st driving school was in Rye, New York. After expanding to 5 towns in Connecticut and 1 in Illinois, they’ve opened a new outlet just a short drive from home: 1362 Post Road East in Westport.

A press release promised “a more modern driver’s education experience that’s more engaging, convenient and more effective for teens and parents today.” Before wadding it up deleting it, I wrote back: “Prove it.”

Mochel and Shuler replied quickly.

They’re “more modern,” they say, because Fresh Green Light uses tablet computers in hybrid cars, providing parents with feedback on their fledgling drivers’ progress. The company also offers tips on what to practice together.

The fleet.

The fleet.

FGL also uses in-car cameras to record lessons, and “coach” their instructors. (Who, by the way, “have experience and passion as teachers, coaches, counselors and tutors.” No more “stereotypical driving instructors.”)

Fresh Green Light says it’s the 1st school in the US to have all instructors trained and certified to work with ADHD students.

They “constantly update the curriculum with video and new clips of current event topics related to driving.” For example, the recent Texas floods demonstrated how to drive in severe rain. Out, apparently, are those memorable training films featuring head-on wrecks and decapitations.

Classrooms have “the latest technology programs and devices for students, in addition to being visually appealing beyond the typical driver’s ed classroom.” Some include simulators that allow students to experience “the real-world outcomes of dangerous driving behaviors without putting them or anyone at risk.”

(To be fair, I’m not sure that traditional driving schools actually do put people at risk.)

A typical non-Fresh Green Light driver's ed scene.

A typical non-Fresh Green Light driver’s ed scene.

All classrooms have flat-screen TVs for videos and “interactive PowerPoint presentations.” Because nothing says engaged learning like PowerPoint!

Oh, yeah: FGL also offers “the best home-baked cookies during class breaks!” Take that, traditional driving schools!

The company surveys graduates 6, 12 and 18 months later. Their students have “75% fewer accidents” than the national average.

Fresh Green Light also features “convenient home pick-up and drop-off, and online scheduling.”

The company has drawn notice from CNN, NBC Nightly News, Money Magazine and Crain’s New York Business, as an innovative small business.

I must admit, I’ve never gotten a press release from a driving school before.

Well, maybe I did. But it probably was so boring, I slept right through it.

Just like most kids at traditional driving schools.

 

 

It Takes A Village To Raise A Village…

…and in today’s interconnected world, those 2 villages can be halfway around the world.

In 2009, T. Sampath Kumar started an organization called Save Our Daughters India. It helps orphaned girls continue their education beyond high school.

His granddaughter, Maddy Sampath, is a rising senior at Staples High School. On visits to India she has volunteered at the orphanage in Coimbatore.

Maddy Sampath (center), with 2 girls from the orphanage in India.

Maddy Sampath (center), with 2 girls from the orphanage in India.

Spending time with far less fortunate girls her own age inspired Maddy. She, 8 Staples friends and her Bedford Middle School sister Maya spent this past 2nd semester organizing a fundraiser. They secured silent auction donations and corporate matching grants.

The event was run in collaboration with the Westport Rotary Club. Maddy’s grandfather is a Rotarian too.

They raised $10,000. The result: the 2015 graduating class of 13 orphan girls will go to college.

You probably didn’t hear much about this. Maddy and her friends worked quietly, but efficiently. And very, very effectively, to change the lives of 13 teenage girls, on the other side of the globe.

Maddy (left) and Maya Sampath, with their grandfather T. Sampath Kumar.

Maddy (left) and Maya Sampath, with their grandfather T. Sampath Kumar.

 

Harold Levine: Westporters Must Help Bridgeport

Harold Levine emailed me recently. He’s 93 years old. But the famed  advertising executive — who is also chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, an after-school, weekend and summer music, arts and dance program for Bridgeport students –is as passionate as ever.

Frustrated, too. The longtime Westporter writes:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

(To donate to Neighborhood Studios, click here.)

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.