Category Archives: Teenagers

Staples Players Bring “Laramie Project” To Life

When Staples Players director David Roth announced the spring Black Box Theater production — “The Laramie Project” — 80% of the actors had no idea who Matthew Shepard was.

But why would they? The oldest were 2 years old when the gay University of Wyoming student was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in the Laramie night.

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are adept at presenting theater that educates audiences. This time, they’re educating their cast too.

“I don’t think kids in this community have any idea how tough it still is to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans in other parts of the country,” Roth says. “A lot of teenagers here don’t realize how we’ve gotten to this place of acceptance.”

Part of the reason Staples is a high school where students feel comfortable being who they are — whoever they are — is because of John Dodig. The principal has worked hard to create an environment of acceptance and inclusion. He retires this spring after 11 years at Staples — and 47 in education — so Roth and Long are proud to dedicate this year’s “Laramie Project” to him.

Sophia Sherman, Keanan Pucci and Nick Ribolla, ensemble members of “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

It’s the 2nd time Roth and Long are directing this show with Players. The 1st production was 8 years ago.

This set design is completely different. So is the use of technology, showing the use of TV cameras as world media descended on Wyoming.

Different too is that “The Laramie Project” now has a companion piece. In 2008 — 10 years after Matthew Shepard’s murder — the Tectonic Theater Project returned to the town. They interviewed many of the same people who contributed to the first play, as well as others — like Matthew’s mother Judy, and his 2 killers. All showed what had — and had not — changed in the intervening decade.

The result was another play: “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” It recently become available for licensing. Players will be one of the first companies anywhere to produce that show next year.

Each cast member plays multiple roles in

Each cast member plays multiple roles in “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth and Long are excited about the opportunity to do their 1st-ever cycle. Some of this year’s cast will audition for the same roles a year from now. It’s a challenging way for them to look at their character’s growth — and their own.

The directors savor the chance to work with an ensemble. The cast of 18 covers over 60 roles. Each actor must understand multiple, nuanced characters. The hate crime evoked complex reactions among many Laramie residents.

It’s all part of the educational process that began when this generation of Staples students first heard the name “Matthew Shepard.”

(“The Laramie Project” will be presented in Staples’ Black Box Theater on May 28, 29, 30 and 31. Click here for times, and ticket information [available starting Saturday morning].)

Staples Seniors End With Class

On Monday, several hundred Staples High School seniors head off on internships. From hedge funds to organic farms, and ad agencies to pre-schools, they’ll spend 4 weeks learning about life in the real (work) world.

A week after that, they graduate.

Principal John Dodig will “graduate” with them, too. But in the last weeks of his 47-year career in education, he instituted a new tradition he hopes will last for decades.

When classes ended today for seniors, administrators invited them to a cookout on the football field. A band played (really well). Seniors ate, played, and hung out together for the last time until prom.

It was a classy end of classes, for a very classy class.

Alexander Baumann (left) and Jack Baylis both contributed to Staples in many ways.

Alexander Baumann (left) and Jack Baylis both contributed to Staples in many ways.

Will Dumke (keyboard) and Andrew Puchala (guitar) rocked the house -- er, football field.

Will Dumke (keyboard), August Densby (drums) and Andrew Puchala (guitar) rocked the house — er, football field.

Molly Procter Earns Duke Of Edinburgh Award

Valedictorian. Eagle Scout. All-America.

Those are teenage honors that everyone knows, and understands.

But the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award? Not so much.

What a shame.

Molly Procter is a Staples High School sophomore. She’s been hard at work on the project. She’s not looking for press or praise — but she deserves both.

Its website calls this “the world’s leading youth achievement award.” That’s debatable. But no one can dispute its rigor.

Molly Procter volunteers at the Senior Center.

Molly Procter volunteers at the Senior Center.

Established in the UK in 1956 by (duh) the Duke of Edinburgh for people ages 14-24, the award has spread to over 140 countries. It recently became available in the New York area.

The Edinburgh Award includes 4 “sections” that each candidate must complete: Volunteering, Physical, Skills and Expedition. There are bronze, silver and gold levels.

Molly began working toward her bronze in August. She’s about to complete it. She is believed to be the 1st Westporter to do so, and one of the first in the tri-state area.

For the Volunteering component, Molly has worked at the Senior Center almost weekly since November. She fulfilled the Physical part by playing junior varsity volleyball at Staples.

Her Skill is her passion: art. She studied with renowned Westport artist Roe Halper twice a week since November. Molly’s work was included in an exhibition of students’ work at Roe’s home in April.

The Expedition was an overnight trip that participants do in small groups after 3 training sessions. It includes orienteering, hiking 15 miles in 24 hours, and camping outdoors without a tent. Molly completed that challenge in late April.

The Award process provides opportunities to give back to the local community; empowers participants, and builds leadership, teamwork, confidence and self-esteem in young people.

Molly’s ceremony is set for tomorrow (Wednesday, May 6) at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. No, the award will not be presented by the Duke of Edinburgh — aka Prince Philip.

It will be given instead by his son, Prince Edward.

(For more information on the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award — including how to participate — click here.)

Molly Procter, surrounded by her art.

Molly Procter, surrounded by her art.

Staples Students Are Complete SLOBs

Today was as sweet as it gets.

Staples students could have celebrated the spectacular weather by going to the beach. Playing tennis, golf, frisbee or with each other. Studying for AP tests that start tomorrow, even.

Instead, over 100 boys — and 80 or so parents — spent the day on community service projects all around Westport.

The Staples Service League of Boys — SLOBs for, lovingly, short — headed out to the Bacharach Houses, Gillespie Center, Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, Wakeman Town Farm, Linxweiler House, Powell House, Project Return, ABC House and Earthplace.

They wielded tools...

They wielded tools…

They weeded, planted, mulched, picked up garbage, painted and cleaned.

...got dirty...

…got dirty…

They worked long and hard. They did manual labor, and learned some skills. They worked side by side with their parents, and a few siblings.

...picked up garbage...

…picked up garbage…

It’s all part of SLOBs’ ongoing commitment to their town. So far this year, they’ve contributed more than 2,300 hours of service.

And how did you spend your day?

...filled and hauled wheelbarrows...

…filled and hauled wheelbarrows…

...learned new skills...

…learned new skills…

...took down branches...

…took down branches…

...bonded with their parents...

…bonded with their parents…

...and siblings...

…and siblings…

...and left the town far better than it had been just a few hours earlier.

…and left the town far better than it had been just a few hours earlier. (Photos/Emily Prince)

O Say Can You See This Amazing Honor Court?

Boy Scout Courts of Honor are special events. Achieving Eagle Scout — and sharing the day with fellow troop members, leaders, family and friends — is a moment any Scout will always remember.

But last Sunday’s Court of Honor at Christ & Holy Trinity Church was extra special.

To open the ceremony — at which Westport’s Troop 100 feted Aaron Samuels, Cole Moyer and John Foley — 3 Staples Orphenians sang the national anthem.

A blog for adult Scout leaders callled it  “musical gold that’ll make you proud to be a Scout or Scouter, and proud to be an American.”

Those weren’t just 3 random juniors plucked off the stage. All are connected with  Troop 100. On the left is former Scout Keanan Pucci; on the right is Life Scout Wellington Baumann.

And there in the middle is Aaron Samuels — singing before becoming an Eagle Scout, on a day no one there will ever forget.

(Hat tip: former Scoutmaster Jennifer Jackson)

Maker Faire: Westport’s Greatest Collection Of Nerds, Geeks, And Way Cool People

Westport’s 4th annual Mini Maker Faire is in full swing today. Up to 6,000 creative, inventive folks of all ages are expected to flood Jesup Green and the library. They’ll spend the day building, designing, creating, hacking, learning, connecting, eating, drinking, listening and playing.

And that’s just at one of the hundreds of interactive, interdisciplinary, interesting exhibits.

The Maker Faire runs till 4 p.m. today (Saturday, April 25). The inspiration will last forever.

“The Great Fredini” is constructing an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

Anyone can play regular foosball. It takes a certain type of person to be part of a human foosball game.

Anyone can play regular foosball. It takes a certain type of person to be part of a human foosball game.

Getting set for the Nerdy Derby: a Pinewood Derby with no rules.

Getting set for the Nerdy Derby: a Pinewood Derby with no rules.

A scavenger hunt includes -- naturally -- QR codes. As noted, this event was developed by the Kids' Committee.

A scavenger hunt includes — naturally — QR codes. As noted, this event was developed by kids. Participants earned a free download of digital goodies; the randomly selected 1st prize was a gift certificate to robotics camp.

Where can you find a real live violin-maker? At the Maker Faire, of course.

Where can you find a real live cello-maker? At the Maker Faire, of course.

But sometimes it was fun just to play with a low-tech toy: the sculpture outside the library.

Sometimes it was fun just to play with a low-tech toy: the sculpture outside the library.

Play Ball!

Normally, the news that 2 Westport Wreckers 13-and-Under teams — Blue and White — competed in a New Haven tournament would not be “06880”-worthy. This is a blog, not a sports section.*

But last weekend’s championship game is of interest for another reason: It was not played.

The fact that Westport fields 2 teams in the same age group has caused “issues” in the past. Parents in particular have sometimes been caught up in the competition between the 2 squads.

Yet when it became clear that both the White and Blue teams would be playing for the championship, the coaches saw a chance to put the entire program first.

Jeb Backus and Sal Latella announced that the final game would not be played. Both teams would be co-champs.

Westport's Blue and White 13-and-Under baseball team: New Haven tournament co-champs.

Westport’s Blue and White 13-and-Under baseball team: New Haven tournament co-champs.

In years to come they’ll have plenty of opportunities to play together, for more important prizes. They’re great athletes, and “06880” will follow their progress with interest.

Even if we don’t post the results of every game.

*No offense to every other baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, soccer, hockey (ice and field), gymnastics, tennis, golf, swim and other parent who contacts me about every other championship, meet, match, game and practice.

Robot World

Westport robots may soon take over the world.

Or at least the Robot World Championships.

A local team — i²robotics — has qualified for that prestigious event. The 25-team event will be held April 22-26 in St. Louis. i² — comprised of 9 Staples High School students — is the only Connecticut high school-aged team there. (It is not, however, an official Staples organization.)

But they won’t even be the only Westport robotics squad in St. Louis. Team SNAP — Coleytown Middle School 8th graders Theo Davis, Nick Durkin, John McNab and Daniel Westphal — will be there too. They’re part of the FIRST Lego League World Festival for younger students, held at the same time.

Team members include co-captains Alex Davis and Peter Sauer, plus Ken Asada, Ben Davis, Julian Garrison, Kiran Nandagopal, Luke Sauer, Julia Schorr and Alex Somlo. The coach is Terry Sauer.

Team members include co-captains Alex Davis and Peter Sauer, plus Ken Asada, Ben Davis, Julian Garrison, Kiran Nandagopal, Luke Sauer, Julia Schorr and Alex Somlo. The coach is Terry Sauer.

The tournaments are sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit that uses a sports model to inspire students about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).

It also teaches marketing, collaboration, public speaking, writing, videography, public relations and business skills (like budgeting, fundraising and pitching sponsors).

For this year’s tournament, the high school i² team had to build a robot that could fill “goals” with Wiffle- and golf-sized balls, ascend a ramp, and perform other tasks. At times the robot is autonomous; at other times it is driver-controlled.

At one point this season, i²’s robot held the world record for the most amount of points in a match.

i² has reached out to the local community for funds — and given back too. They raised $2,000 for FIRST in Haiti. They also developed a Mars Rover simulator for Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, which will be brought to local schools.

Now they’re seeking more funds, to pay for World Championship registration fees, travel and robot parts. Their Indiegogo page is here. It’s run by humans.

Leaving Childhood Behind

Among his many gifts, Staples High School principal John Dodig has mastered the art of communicating important truths with simplicity and grace.

Recently, he sent a note to parents of graduating seniors. But its message is far broader. It should be read by anyone with children, of any age — and anyone who ever was a child. Dodig wrote:

Each year at this time I send a message to senior parents warning them to be ready for the feelings of loss as graduation day nears. This year, you and I are in the same boat. Both of us will face the end of our involvement in our child’s/student’s school life. Whether you have only one child or several, you will be hit with this intense sense of “the end” at some point between now and graduation day.

Graduation is a time for looking ahead -- and back.

Graduation is a time for looking ahead — and back.

What makes the American high school experience unique in the world is that high school is so much more than simply a place to go each day to learn. In most of the rest of the world, if you want to learn to play the cello, learn to draw or cook, or be competitive at a sport, you do so on your own time on weekends.

In America, all of these experiences are wrapped up in the same package. Our children leave home each morning and return sometimes late at night having studied French and calculus and then done something after school.

Chances are, you and I were on the sidelines to watch the team, or in the audience to hear the concert and to support our child/student. We become so much a part of their lives that facing the end of this experience is difficult to imagine.

Parents support many activities -- including the annual pops concert in the Staples courtyard.

Parents support many activities — including the annual pops concert in the Staples courtyard.

Think back, for a moment, on the 1st day of school for your child. Try to imagine holding his little hand as you walked him to the bus or to school or even to the classroom.

You might remember your child not wanting to let go of you, maybe even crying. You knew you had to let go and allow her to begin the 12-year journey through public school.

That journey was sometimes difficult and sometimes easy. Those little hands got bigger and, at some point, didn’t want to be held in public any more.

Growing up

Once in high school, these little boys and girls began changing into young men and women. Their bodies changed, their minds changed, their emotions changed, and they began to become somewhat independent people.

You still fed them. You still washed their clothes. You still paid for everything, but you sensed that they were beginning to separate from you and to prepare for a life apart from you and family.

On graduation day you will share in an emotional experience with your son or daughter. You will hug, get photos taken, have a party with family and then face a long summer where they will start preparing for what will come after high school.

They will always be your children, but you will never again be a part of their lives in the way you have been for the past twelve years. That will come to an end.

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Among the “graduates” this year: principal John Dodig (right).

I will share your sense of loss, because I have watched thousands of young kids walk into our high school and begin to grow into competent, well-educated young adults only to leave us on graduation day. This will be the last graduation day for me, and I am grateful to share it with your child.

Use the next few months to revel in your beautiful creation. Your son/daughter will take a part of you into the future and perhaps create a new generation. Make that last hug in school at graduation tighter and stronger than normal, so that the feeling of that hug will last forever.

Birthday Ball

Today is opening day for the Staples baseball team.

Who better to sing the national anthem than senior pitcher Jack Baylis?

Jack Baylis

Jack Baylis

It’s quite a day for him. After the game, he’ll hustle over to Southport’s Trinity Episcopal Church, to sing with Orphenians.

Plus, it’s Jack’s 18th birthday.

Play ball!

1st inning action: Newtown (at bat) against Staples.

1st inning action: Newtown (at bat) against Staples.