Category Archives: Teenagers

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.

Orphenians Rock Yankee Stadium

It’s been quite a year for the Staples Orphenians.

In March they traveled to — and wowed — San Francisco, as part of the prestigious Chanticleer festival.

Tonight they did the same at Yankee Stadium.

Choral director Luke Rosenberg directs the Orphenians at Yankee Stadium. (Photo/New York Yankees)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg directs the Orphenians at Yankee Stadium. (Photo/New York Yankees)

They had to wait out an hour-and-20-minute rain delay — hey, that’s show biz — but when they finally stood at home plate, they delivered a strong, sophisticated and inspiring rendition of our national anthem.

The largest crowd ever to watch the Orphenians perform gave them a loud, well-deserved hand.

Best of all, they made it onto the Jumbotron.

For the Yankees’ official high-def video, click here.

For Jim Honeycutt’s video — including scenes of the Orphenians greeting Jimmy Fallon and Lorne Michaels before they leave the field — click here:

To see Kim Mathias’ video, click below (or here, if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube):

To see Chip Stephens’ video, click below (or here, if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube):

John Dodig: ReSpect

There is only one Derek Jeter.

And there is only one John Dodig.

Inspired by the fantastic Jeter “Re2pect” video honoring the Yankee great on his retirement — with everyone from little kids, cops and Rudy Giuliani to Jay-Z, Spike Lee and even Red Sox fans tipping their cap to the superstar — Staples seniors Zoe Brown and Taylor Harrington set out to give their retiring principal his due.

The result is a remarkable tribute to the high school’s one-of-a-kind leader.

If you know Dodig, and understand all he has meant during his 11 years as principal, you’ll look at this video, smile — and shed a tear.

If you don’t know Dodig, watch anyway. You’ll see the impact he’s had on everyone — administrators, teachers, athletes, actors, musicians, artists, kids who might have fallen through the cracks, secretaries, cafeteria workers, custodians, security guards — and you’ll wish you’d known him.

Zoe and Taylor clearly got the most out of their 4 years in Dodig’s Staples. And turning Jeter’s “Re2pect” into Dodig’s “ReSpect” is pure genius.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

Congratulations, Class Of 2015!

Staples celebrated its 128th graduation in fine fashion this afternoon. The weather was (thankfully) cool; the speeches were brief but meaningful — and most importantly, the day was about the 460 graduates. This great class got the sendoff they deserve!

The

The “Congratulations Class of 2015″ sign refers to principal John Dodig too. After 47 years in education, he retires this month. He called himself a proud member of ’15.

Plenty of reading material for early arrivals: the graduation program, and the year-end issue of Inklings.

Plenty of reading material for early arrivals: the graduation program, and the year-end issue of Inklings.

Hip surgery just a few days ago did not keep Jake Atlas away.

Hip surgery just a few days ago did not keep Jake Atlas away.

Friends to the end: Sarah Sawyer, Zoe Brown, Sarah Herbsman and Sophia Hampton.

Friends to the end: Sarah Sawyer, Zoe Brown, Sarah Herbsman and Sophia Hampton.

Less than 24 hours after soloing with the choir at baccalaureate, Jack Bowman gets ready to graduate.

A day after soloing with the choir at baccalaureate, Jack Bowman graduates.

Jim Farnen is the very proud assistant principal for the Class of 2015.

Jim Farnen is the very proud assistant principal for the Class of 2015.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the processional.

Valedictorian Everett Sussman earned praise for his insightful -- and quick -- speech.

Valedictorian Everett Sussman earned praise for his insightful — and quick — speech.

Next stop for Jacqueline Chappo: Boston University.

Her cap indicates the next stop for Jacqueline Chappo: Boston University.

Good friends Scott Pecoriello and Patrick Beusse are eager to receive their diplomas.

Good friends Scott Pecoriello and Patrick Beusse are ready to receive their diplomas.

The traditional cap-tossing, in slow motion.

The traditional cap-tossing, in slow motion.

Seniors painted a sign in the courtyard, showing the many places they'll go next.

Seniors signed a poster in the courtyard, showing the many places they’ll go next.

Nicole DeBlasi -- the 2015 yearbook editor -- is a proud graduate...

Nicole DeBlasi — the 2015 yearbook editor — is a proud graduate…

...and so is wrestler Alexander Baumann.

…and so is wrestler Alexander Baumann.

2015 grad

Eniola “Timmy” Kolade celebrates with family members.

Congratulations, Kristen and Pam Onorato -- and everyone else in the Class of 2015.

Congratulations, Kristen and Pam Onorato — and everyone else in the Class of 2015!

Meanwhile, here’s a video shown at last night’s baccalaureate ceremony. Directed by Ken Asada, it features many members of Staples’ Class of ’15 — with a couple of cameos by retiring (but not in the active-participant sense of the word) principal John Dodig:

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

“Welcome To Westport” Video: The Back Story

As the “Welcome to Westport” video continues to rocket around cyberspace — and rack up comments — a bit of background adds some intriguing context.

The film was a group project on “satire” for an Advanced Placement English Language class. While I credited Nick Ribolla for it alone, he wrote and directed it with Jimmy Ray Stagg and Harrison Knapp. It was filmed all in 1 day.

But wait! There’s more!

Part of the inspiration came from a 1985 video called “Westport’s Got It All.” Produced by MCA as a gift for the town’s 150th anniversary, it was a very upbeat ode to the town.

Nick, Jimmy Ray and Harrison subtly satirized the cheesy music, and the opening scene of a man with a newspaper on the banks of the Saugatuck — though I’m sure the Staples juniors have no idea that guy was famed “ABC Wide World of Sports” anchor and Westport resident Jim McKay.

Nick Ribolla (right) channels Jim McKay.

Nick Ribolla (right) channels Jim McKay.

The final line — “Westport’s got it all!” — is a direct ripoff of the 30-year-old video. That’s the mark of great satire: It works for everyone, but it’s especially sweet for those who are in on a deeper joke.

Back in 1985, here’s what Westporters were saying about their town:

  • “I’m worried the town is losing its mix of a variety of people.”
  • “Westporters have extraordinary aspirations for their children. And they’re willing to pay for it.”
  • “Westport has the sophistication of New York, the exuberance of a California town, the quaintness of New England — and a sense of humor.”
  • “We do have latchkey children, as more and more parents go off to work.”
  • “The Post Road is a disaster. But every town has its Post Road. This one looks better than many.”
  • “Commercialization has really changed this town. It’s been good and bad.”

So check out “Westport’s Got It All”:

Then look (again) at “Welcome to Westport” (click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Now tell me Nick, Jimmy Ray and Harrison don’t deserve an A+ for satire.

Some Of You Will Love This Video. Others Will Splutter With Rage.

A video — with the innocuous title “Welcome to Westport” — has been rocketing around the interwebs. At least, that portion of cyberspace that is interested in all things our town-related.

It certainly does not make our town look like Our Town.

Created by Nick Ribolla — a very smart, multi-talented (Players, choir) and energetic Staples High School junior — it offers a teenager’s cynical eye on his hometown. As of last night, it had been viewed nearly 10,000 times.

With jangly music, clever cinematography and near-professional editing, Nick takes on (and down) much of Westport life: our values, our diversity, our drivers, our downtown.

Nick Ribolla, introducing his video.

Nick Ribolla, introducing his video.

More than a dozen “06880” readers have emailed me the link. Some think it’s hilarious. Others have called it “offensive,” “childish” and “anti-Semitic.”

I think Nick has treated everyone equally cynically. (For the record: He’s Brazilian, and a good friend in the video is Indian.)

There are hits and misses. (Though everyone will agree the scene outside Toquet Hall is spot on.)

Driving laws, Nick notes, are

Westport driving laws, Nick notes, are “completely unnecessary.”

It’s something I probably would have made when I was at Staples if I were as talented as Nick, and had all kinds of modern technology at my disposal.

And if I had made it then, I’d probably look back on it now and say, “Wow — that was pretty good. But I can’t believe I actually said…”

Judge for yourself. Here’s the video. Then click “Comments,” to let everyone know how much you do or don’t welcome “Welcome to Westport.” (If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

Staples Baseball Scores

Today at noon, the Staples baseball team plays for its 1st state championship since 2001.

The Wreckers — a strong, deep team with excellent pitching — have a great shot. But years from now, no matter how the players remember this game against Amity, chances are good they’ll remember something else from the season.

Wrecker baseballIt happened a few days ago. Staples had just defeated Hamden 7-0, in round 1 of the state tournament.

Hamden’s star player was Jim Magson, a 6-2, 190-pound shortstop with plenty of college offers. But he turned them all down.

He’s enlisting in the Marine Corps. In August, he heads to Parris Island boot camp.

The loss to the Wreckers meant that Magson had just played his last baseball game ever. During the ceremonial handshake line, Staples coach Jack McFarland impulsively invited Magson into the Wrecker dugout.

He introduced the Hamden senior, and told the players about Magson’s decision to become a Marine.

“He’s a real hero,” McFarland said. “In a few months, he could be on a mountain somewhere. He’ll be risking his life, so that you can have all the freedoms you take for granted.”

It was a powerful, teachable moment. In the glow of victory, the Staples baseball team had plenty to think about — far beyond the next game.

(The state class LL baseball championship is set for 12 p.m. today [Saturday, June 13] at Palmer Field in Middletown. The game will be broadcast and livestreamed on 90.3 WWPT-FM; click here to listen.)

The 2015 Staples baseball team.

The 2015 Staples baseball team.

Staples Students Take Over Town Hall

For a town that celebrates arts in every way, our Town Hall has been a bit art-free.

Until now.

For the past few weeks, Sue O’Hara’s English 3A students have worked on a multi-disciplinary project. All year long, the Staples High School juniors studied the intersection of literature, art and life. Now they’ve put their knowledge, insights and research skills to the test.

Noah Staffa, Daniel Perez Elorza, Graham Gudis, senior intern Allie Benjamin and Staples English teacher Sue O'Hara describe the research and writing process. The

Noah Staffa, Daniel Perez Elorza, Graham Gudis, senior intern Ale Benjamin and English teacher Sue O’Hara describe the research and writing process. The “Westport scenes” shown behind them are located just inside the entrance to Town Hall.

They scoured the town’s vast art database for intriguing paintings, drawings and photographs. They plucked their favorite pieces from wherever they were — storage, private offices, whatever — and installed them in Town Hall corridors.

But that’s not all. They dug deep, to learn about each artist and piece of art. They delved into history, culture and social development. They figured out which works would be appropriate where. And they designed multimedia effects — narrations, poems, songs, sound effects — to go along with each, via QR codes.

Liam Abourezk, BK Browne and Jack Sila, with superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon, using QR codes on their smartphones to access more information on the illustrations outside the educator's office.

Liam Abourezk, BK Browne and Jack Sila, with superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon, using QR codes on their smartphones to access more information on the artwork outside the educator’s office.

For example, the Town School Offices on the 3rd floor are now graced by 2 Stevan Dohanos Saturday Evening Post covers — both drawn in Westport, one of the 1946 Staples High School band — as well as a number of photos showing children playing.

Two 1946 illustrations by Stevan Dohanos -- both using Westport models -- hang on the 3rd floor of Town Hall.

Two 1946 illustrations by Stevan Dohanos — both using Westport models — hang on the 3rd floor of Town Hall. “Star Pitcher” shows a gang of boys waiting for their friend to finish mowing, so they can play baseball. “Big Game of the Season” shows the Staples band in action. Both were Saturday Evening Post covers.

Around the corner on the 3rd floor, outside the town’s Finance Department, the art is different. “Westport is about politics, culture and money,” say students in the group overseeing this section — and the art there shows it.

Of course, Town Hall was not totally artless before yesterday. Several large murals already hung above the auditorium, and outside the first selectman’s office and Westport Community Theater.

O’Hara’s students researched each mural, and wrote in depth about what those murals mean to Westport.

Thanks to the Stapleites, Town Hall looks a lot jazzier today than it did before.

And that’s fitting. The nerve center of town — housing not only our chief politicians and educators but also planning directors, engineers, election clerks and the tree warden, among others — was not always municipal offices.

For decades it was Bedford Elementary — a school.

[UPDATE: As Thomas Greene notes in the “Comments” below, he was the boy mowing the lawn in the Stevan Dohanos illustration. All the boys used as models were 6th graders at Bedford Elementary School. So that piece of art now hangs in the building where it began.]