Category Archives: Education

Custodians’ Kudos

Thousands of Westport students return to school this week. They’ll be greeted by hundreds of administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals who work hard to help our youngsters grow into wise, empathetic and confident adults.

Those students and staff work every day in buildings that are maintained with skill and care by men and women we always see, but seldom acknowledge. Often, we look right past — or through — our custodians.

David Johnson did not. A retired administrator from upstate Connecticut, he has spent the past 7 summers traveling to Westport to run a certification coach for area middle and high school coaches.

The other day, he wrote to Staples principal James D’Amico:

I have come to enjoy my journey to Westport. I am also enriched by being able to share important knowledge and information with those working with our student-athletes. What I have come to look forward to the most, however, is my interaction with your custodial staff directed by Horace Lewis.

Staples' popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

Staples’ popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

I travel to numerous high school facilities to teach these classes throughout the year. Nowhere is there a custodial staff as professional and welcoming as the one at Staples. I am always greeted with a smile, which makes me feel like I am visiting family.

Horace is there to meet my needs, making sure I have whatever is necessary. Then he asks what more he can do. He and/or one of his staff check and make sure we are ready to go. He checks with us during the class, and also at the end.

It is not easy to go into someone else’s facility and use unfamiliar equipment. But I never have a concern at Staples. I always know I have the support of Horace, Tom Cataudo and their staff.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

We have no problem complaining when something is not right or does not go well. Therefore I feel we have an obligation to recognize work that goes “above and beyond” the  call of duty. After 35 years in public education, I know that these individuals (especially a custodial staff like yours) are the lifeblood of the school community. You are most fortunate.

Thank you again for not only sharing your facility with us, but also for sharing such professional staff as well. Best wishes for a great school opening, and an even better school year.


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Ev Boyle: Reporting From 2 Conventions

If you’re like me, you spent the past couple of weeks processing everything you saw and heard during the Republican and Democratic conventions.

If you’re like Ev Boyle, you did that too — but with a special perspective. The 2001 Staples High School graduate was on the scene — including the floor — in both Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Ev’s official title is associate director, University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He organizes programs and events in government, journalism and technology.

Ev Boyle (left) never knew who -- or what -- he'd see next. This was outside the Republican National Convention.

Ev Boyle (left) never knew who — or what — he’d see next. This was outside the Republican National Convention.

But he’s also a political junkie. So working with Annenberg professors like David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson, Nixon’s son-in-law) and Geoffrey Cowan (former director of the Voice of America, author of a recent book on presidential primaries) is a dream come true.

Ev brought 6 student-journalists to the 2 conventions. “We pushed our students to go in with open minds and hearts. We wanted them to talk to as many people as they could.” They — and Ev — did exactly that.

They reveled in breakfasts with delegates, the controlled chaos of floor sessions, and random sidewalk meetings with everyone from Katie Couric and Samantha Bee to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and UK Brexit leader Nigel Farage (who knew either of them were at the conventions?).

Ev realized that being on the floor was interesting and special — but it was also cramped, hot, and hard to know what was happening. “You could see and hear a lot better on TV,” he notes.

Marjorie Margolies — a former Pennsylvania congresswoman, and Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law — helped arrange a meeting with former presidential candidate John Kasich. The Ohio governor famously stayed away from the convention in his home state — but he met the Annenberg group for a long, insightful conversation.

Ev Boyle (3rd from right) and David Eisenhower (next to Ev) heard political insights directly from Governor (and former presidential candidate) John Kasich (4th from left).

Ev Boyle (3rd from right) and David Eisenhower (next to Ev) heard political insights directly from Governor (and former presidential candidate) John Kasich (4th from left).

Texas Republican congressman Pete Sessions — chair of the House Rules Committee — was especially “kind and accommodating” to the group, Ev says.

Delegate breakfasts were particularly intriguing. At California’s — on the 1st day of the Democratic convention — Ev and his students heard the thunderous boos from Bernie Sanders supporters that greeted Nancy Pelosi and others. That incident did not get a lot of press, but it presaged the California delegation’s actions through the rest of the week.

Ev and his group learned something everywhere they went. In Cleveland, 100 congressional pages — ages 15 to 24, from all 50 states — gathered. When asked how many had supported Donald Trump from the beginning, no hands were raised.

Two other questions: How many were Trump supporters now? How many were “Never Trump”? Ev says they were split 50-50.

Republican and Deomocratic symbolsEv helped his young student journalists seek out interesting stories. They interviewed hotel workers, female Trump supporters, a delegate who at 17 years old was younger than they, and Democratic officials who switched parties to vote for Trump.

The 2 conventions provided “an eye-opener into the process of politics,” Ev says.

And stories he can tell through the 2020 election.

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, begins Monday (August 8).

The program provides gift cards to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Families can then buy new backpacks and school supplies together.

Last year, 152 kids from 102 families received assistance. That’s almost 8 full classrooms of kids.

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations — of any amount — made payable to “Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs” (memo:  “Back to School”) can be sent to, or dropped off at, Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

Gift cards of any amount to stores like Target, Walmart, Old Navy, Staples, etc. are appreciated too. They can be dropped off at Room 200 of Town Hall weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4;30 p.m.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, call Elaine Daignault: 341-1050.

“Footloose” Dances Onto Black Box Stage

Westport’s very talented Cynthia Gibb — herself a Staples High School grad — has been hard at work this summer, molding a teenage Continuing Education troupe into a foot-stomping cast.

“Footloose” — the dancing/rock musical — will be performed tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday (July 28-29), at 7 p.m. in Staples’ Black Box theater.

Tickets are available at the door.

The "Footloose" cast.

The “Footloose” cast.

 

James D’Amico: The Time Is Now For New Staples Principal

Timing is everything.

For James D’Amico, fortuitous timing has been part of every career step. Last week — just a few days into his new job — he reflected on the turns of fate that brought him to the post he’s most excited about: Staples High School principal.

D’Amico grew up in New Fairfield. His mother was a nurse; his father commuted every day by car and train to Brooklyn, where he worked for the New York Transit Authority.

After graduating as an all-state chorus member (tenor) and avid musician (clarinet, sax, a little piano), D’Amico headed to the University of Connecticut. He loved his time there — and met his wife in the marching band. But if he had anything to do over, he says, he’d have taken a gap year to explore himself, and the world.

James D'Amico

James D’Amico

He earned a BA in communications science, but also fell in love with history. He’d always admired school and his teachers, so with the encouragement of his wife — a teacher – he added a graduate degree in education.

Westport had an opening in 2001. D’Amico parked in front, tried to figure out where the main entrance was, entered the moldy, low-ceilinged building, and interviewed with principal Gloria Rakovic and social studies department chair Elliot Kraut. “I couldn’t believe this was Westport,” he says of the soon-to-be-demolished school.

“They took a chance on a green kid,” D’Amico recalls. It was a wise choice.

His new colleagues were “so creative,” D’Amico says. “And creativity was encouraged.” Friends teaching in other districts were handed curriculum binders; he was encouraged to teach to his strengths.

“From Day 1, my colleagues trusted me. They were very kind — and real characters. I knew I’d found a home.”

Led by challenging, student-oriented mentors like Stephanie Muson, Jackie Boland and Rich Mott, he thrived in the classroom.

When Kraut retired in 2004 and a replacement could not be found, D’Amico became temporary “department liaison.” He enjoyed learning how the entire school ran, and helping staff set goals. The next year, he was appointed social studies chair. He taught 2 to 3 classes, led the Junior State of America club, and also got involved in the rest of the building.

When that position was expanded to include the middle schools, D’Amico gained even more experience. He hated leaving the classroom — but kept his beloved JSA club.

James D'Amico and director of elementary education Julie Droller, in Westport school district headquarters at Town Hall.

James D’Amico and director of elementary education Julie Droller, in Westport school district headquarters at Town Hall.

After 9 years as department head though, he felt he was growing stale. He looked for jobs beyond Westport.

But when the director of secondary education position became open, he threw his hat in the ring. Older, more experienced administrators applied. A different Elliott –superintendent of schools Landon — again took a chance on D’Amico.

He liked the curriculum and assessment aspects of the job. He helped teachers grow professionally. But, D’Amico admits, “It was an office job. I really did not like being in Town Hall. I learned a lot there — but I realized I need to be in a school.”

He was on the 2015 search committee to find a replacement for retiring Staples principal John Dodig. No one could be found. An interim was hired.

Several months ago, D’Amico’s wife said, “You’re going to apply for that job, right?”

“She knows me so well!” he says. “She knew I’d be happier around kids.” Though they have 4 young boys, involved in a variety of activities in Bethel, she encouraged him to go for it.

In March, Landon announced D’Amico as Staples’ next principal.

“Every morning when I walk through the doors, I say, ‘I’m home!'” D’Amico says.

James D'Amico stands proudly in the foyer of Staples High School.

James D’Amico stands proudly in the foyer of Staples High School.

He believes that his district-wide experience gives him a sense of how the elementary and middle schools fit in to Staples.

He also knows many Staples staff members.

“Any job is about relationships,” D’Amico notes. “I have a feeling for how this place works. I know the secretaries, the custodians, the people who make it go.”

As a former social studies teacher, he also knows its history. “I was here with the jackhammers outside my room.”

But he knows he has a lot to learn. He’s spending time with the assistant principals, maintenance supervisors Horace Lewis and Tom Cataudo, and many others to really understand how the many high school pieces fit together.

He gives props to secretary Karen Romano, who has served — and guided — several principals. “On Day 1, she had a folder for me outlining the entire summer,” D’Amico laughs.

Starting at the same time as new superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer is “fun,” says D’Amico. “There’s a clean slate. We’re figuring out where we want to take the high school.”

However, having been a teacher, he’s well aware that ideas need to be shared — not imposed.

“We’ve got a great school,” D’Amico says. “Our job is: How can we make it greater?”

He plans to listen to ideas. They’ll come from teachers, parents and students.

James D'Amico (left) and former Staples High School principal John Dodig chat during the 2016 graduation ceremony.

James D’Amico (left) and former Staples High School principal John Dodig chat during the 2016 graduation ceremony.

“It’s clear Staples is a competitive, high-powered place. We have courses and opportunities other places only dream of. Most kids come here wanting to learn and participate. But what about those who don’t fit into the prevailing goals, or feel too much pressure?”

He’s spoken with Dodig about ways to offer “emotional support.” As a strong supporter of the district’s “Guiding Principles” initiative, D’Amico is eager to carve out time to help implement them.

“How you spend time shows what you value,” he explains. “Right now we value moving kids through 6 or 7 periods a day. I think about systems and policies a lot. There’s a lot of different ways we can do things.”

His 1st staff meeting next month will provide a good introduction to the new principal, and his philosophy. His plan that day is to bring the large, often departmentalized faculty together — in a fun, kind, sincere way.

There’s a lot ahead. But D’Amico understands he needs his own life too. “If I’m not good with my family, I won’t be good with the school.”

His 4 boys are 11, 9, 8 and 6. He’s been involved with their Cub Scouts, baseball, soccer and church activities. He’ll cut down to 1 or 2 of those — but he plans to stay active.

James D’Amico’s career has been all about timing: being in the right place at the right time.

The right place now is Staples. As for timing: School starts September 1.

It Really Is The “Class” Of ’66

Staples High School’s Class of 1966 has always been special.

Growing up in postwar Westport, then coming of age in high school as a turbulent decade picked up steam, they were an active, accomplished bunch.

The Class of ’66 included 14 National Merit semifinalists, 29 All-State musicians and 5 All-State actors. The Orphenians traveled to the Virgin Islands; student government brought the Beau Brummels and Animals to Staples, and as a gift to the school — a tradition that unfortunately has disappeared — the class donated a handsome sign for the entrance on North Avenue.

John Lupton (left), Class of 1966 president, shakes hands with '67 president Dick Sandhaus at the sign's dedication ceremony. Principal Jim Calkins looks on.

John Lupton (left), Class of 1966 president, shakes hands with ’67 president Dick Sandhaus at the sign’s dedication ceremony. Principal Jim Calkins looks on.

But in the 50 years since graduation, the Class of ’66 has really stepped up its game. A few years ago they paid to refurbish the exterior of the Lou Nistico Fieldhouse at Staples, and added lighting to the current North Avenue entry sign. They’ve also organized their own special scholarship fund through Staples Tuition Grants.

Over the years I’ve become friends with many of the members, who I knew only by name and legend as a kid growing up in town. They’ve accomplished amazing things — in music, the arts, journalism, religion, education, even modeling and wine importing — but for half a century they have remained tight and loving. (Very, very fun-loving too).

A number of them remain — or became — reconnected to their hometown through “06880.” I’ve been honored to be a guest at their 2 most recent reunions.

This year’s 50th was fantastic. It began Friday night at the VFW (with kick-ass music from, among others, Rob Carlson, Jon Gailmor and Roger Kaufman). It continued with a lobster dinner last night at the Westport Woman’s Club (and a moving memorial to the 65 classmates who have died). It ended this afternoon at the beach.

Jon Gailmor, Steve Emmett and Rob Carlson reprised the famed Triumvirate group at the VFW. Gailmor replaced the late Chris Avery.

Jon Gailmor, Steve Emmett and Rob Carlson reprised the famed Triumvirate group at the VFW. Gailmor replaced the late Chris Avery.

There were many highlights for me, as I mingled with so many heroes and heroines from my youth. But the coolest came as I was leaving.

Each class member received a goody bag. In every one was a stone — collected, over a long time, from Compo Beach. They were stamped “Staples High 50th reunion, Class of 1966.”

Class of 66

And wrapped around them were these words:

Each stone carries memories created by the gentle and loving spirit of Compo Beach — our playground, our retreat, the safe haven of our youth. Compo loves us unconditionally. It is the beautiful link that will — like each stone and echoes of friendships — last forever.

While they were growing up, the members of the Class of 1966 — like most teenagers — probably did not realize the gifts they were gaining from their school, and town. I did not realize it several years later, and kids today don’t either.

The passage of time does something powerful and good. But it takes a special group of people to actually stop, think about and honor that time.

Well done, Class of ’66. Very, very classy indeed.

Colleen Palmer: A Chat With Westport’s New School Superintendent

Not much gets by Colleen Palmer.

“I noticed the Westport Public Schools website has very few photos of students,” the town’s new superintendent of schools said last week, at the end of her 1st week on the job.

She knows there are privacy issues involved. But, she said, if students are the primary focus of the district — and she is emphatic that they are — they should be a visible focus online too.

It was a whirlwind week for the incoming education leader. She’d just finished 5 successful years in Weston; before that, she was superintendent in Monroe. Palmer also served as a high school prinicipal at Nonnewaug, Hamden and Simsbury.

Dr. Colleen Palmer.

Dr. Colleen Palmer.

She was not looking to leave Weston. She’d invested a lot of time and energy there; the schools are excellent, and she was deeply rooted in the community.

Yet when Westport’s search firm tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around.

Palmer knew this town, from working many years with then-superintendent Elliott Landon. The closer she looked at Westport — learning about initiatives like the 2025 Lens and collaboration with Teachers College — the more excited she became.

The opportunities and challenges here — in a district larger and more diverse than Weston — offered “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Palmer says. “I realized if I didn’t apply, I would always regret it.”

Westport Public SchoolsAfter her appointment this winter — she was the only finalist — Palmer did her homework. She read documents and reports. She made phone calls. As the budget process unfolded, she watched every Board of Education, Board of Finance and RTM meeting she could.

Now, she’s got a nice Town Hall office. But she’s not spending too much time there.

“I’m visiting every school, and meeting every person I can,” she says. “I’m getting to know the facilities, and what goes on behind the scenes. I’m trying to listen and learn.”

Her initial impressions?

“Westport is a very authentic place. Everyone is focused on what’s right for students. They’re passionate, dedicated and inspiring.”

Educators “want to share what they’re doing,” she adds. “There’s a can-do attitude, and a lot of collaborative problem-solving.” One immediate example: addressing space issues at Kings Highway Elementary School.

That’s wonderful. But, I wonder, don’t all teachers and administrators focus on kids?

“There are great educators everywhere,” Palmer counters. “What I see here is such a high level of performance, throughout the entire district.”

In that context, she says, “I tell people: ‘dream big.’ My job is to remove barriers. We’re all looking for better ideas, and better ways to do things.”

Colleen Palmer's Town Hall office has a great view. But she is getting out and around, meeting as many Westporters administrators, teachers and residents as she can.

Colleen Palmer’s Town Hall office has a great view. But she is getting out and around, meeting as many Westporters administrators, teachers and residents as she can.

Palmer looks forward to building on the strong foundation that already exists. She is particularly excited by the “Guiding Principles” initiative, fostering emotional intelligence.

“We have to look at the whole child,” Palmer says. “Success is not bound by academics alone. There’s also the quality of life as they go through the school system, and the tools they have for life.”

She hopes that Guiding Principles values like “kindness with sincerity” will be part of the entire district culture, for adults as well as students.

Using 2 of her favorite phrases — “Failure is not an option” and “Hope is not a strategy” — Palmer calls herself “tenacious and realistic.” She cites a major achievement in Weston — getting a waiver from the state, in order to do holistic rather than formulaic scoring for teacher evaluations — as an example of her ability to do what’s right for students and staff, unencumbered by rigid thinking.

She is not anti-data. But, Palmer says, “we have to be smart. My job as superintendent is to be effective, efficient and coherent. Any goals we set need realistic timelines. And then we have to all hold ourselves accountable.”

Though she calls a superintendent’s job “24/7,” Westport’s new leader has a life beyond school. Three years ago, driving across the Saugatuck River, she saw scullers on the water.

She took lessons at the Saugatuck Rowing Club, and fell in love with the sport. Now, at dawn, she rows a single.

“There is nothing more beautiful than the flat Saugatuck River, as the sun comes up,” Palmer says. “It’s so peaceful and serene. It’s where I do great thinking.”

Palmer — a swimmer — recently joined the Westport Weston Family YMCA too.

She loves cultural events, travel, and her 3 sons and 5 grandchildren. She just built a lakeside house in Vermont. It’s her “grandchild trap.”

The new superintendent — who prefers “Colleen” to “Dr. Palmer” — replaces a man who served a mind-boggling 17 years, in a very difficult public position.

How long will she be here?

“I love my work. I thrive on it,” she says. “I have a healthy balance in my life. This job has long hours, but I take care of myself.

“I have no exit plan in mind. I look forward to a long tenure here.”

Abby Merlis Dances With The Stars

Abby Merlis’ high school years were grueling.

Every afternoon at 2:15, she rushed from Staples to the train station. She did homework on the way to New York; hurried to ballet for intensive classes; raced back to the train and did more homework, arriving home at 10 p.m.

Abby loved it.

She’d been dancing since she was 3. At Westport’s Academy of Dance she did it all: modern, jazz, tap. But at age 10 Abby began watching classical ballet performances, and found ballet videos on YouTube. She was hooked.

Her Academy of Dance teachers saw her potential. They encouraged her to study in the city.

Abby commuted to New York after school from freshman through junior years.

Abby Merlis (Photo/Rosalie O'Connor)

Abby Merlis (Photo/Rosalie O’Connor)

It was tough. She learned focus and diligence (and how to run to catch trains). But she gave up plenty: tennis, friends, writing. She did not feel like part of the school community, though she loved her teachers and classes.

Those were sacrifices she made willingly. And, in retrospect, she thinks they were worth it.

She had nearly enough credits to graduate early, and finished online. She walked at commencement last June, with her Class of 2015. But she’d already spent a year away, training with the Boston Ballet.

There were 15 dancers in her class. Only one was offered a contract for the coming year. Abby was that one.

She’ll be in the 2nd company, performing in nearly every production that needs a sizable corps. Boston Ballet II also does its own shows, and offers outreach programs to schools.

Boston Ballet is a very versatile company, Abby says. She is immersed in traditional classical, neo-classical and contemporary dance.

Abby Merlis in action. (Photo/Rosalie O'Connor)

Abby Merlis in action. (Photo/Rosalie O’Connor)

This is all a dream come true, Abby says. She loves the physicality of dance — the jumps and turns. Artistically it is fulfilling too. “Dancing to beautiful music is a gift,” she explains. “It’s a unique art form, and you can explore it endlessly.”

As for the discipline ballet demands, Abby says, “you have to keep improving. You can never be complacent.”

She calls Boston Ballet “a community. It’s competitive, but I’ve never had closer relationships with people. We bond over so much.” Dancing on stage with friends, knowing all their hard work has paid off, is a wonderful feeling, she says.

So will dance be her ultimate career? Abby is still not sure.

Last year, she was accepted by Princeton University. She deferred admission for a year, and can do so one more time.

“I’ll see how this year as a professional dancer goes,” she says. “I’ve worked for this my entire life, and Boston Ballet was my first choice company.”

Yet she knows though that anything can happen. Dance is “a young person’s career — and it’s short.”

During all those high school trains rides, Abby studied subjects she loved, like sustainable development and public policy. They loom as possible post-dance careers.

For now however, she looks forward to her first year with the Boston Ballet.

It will be at least as hectic as all her high school days.

And — hopefully — even more rewarding.

Sam Appel: Westport’s Newest Official Rock Star

Sam Appel is redefining the food and beverage industry.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Zagat.

The go-to restaurant guide has just named the 2006 Staples High School grad one of its 30 New York influencers under 30 years old.

Or, as the headline reads: “Rockstars Redefining the Industry.”

ZagatSam was recognized for her work as director of community and programming at Journee. The members-only club for restaurant professionals focuses on career development and continuing education. She helps build and sustain the community — with programming, classes, networking and other projects — in Journee’s 21st Avenue space.

Of course, no one becomes a rock star by herself.

At Staples, Sam took every culinary class she could. She served as a teaching assistant for instructor Cecily Gans; worked at her summer cooking camp; helped with her catering jobs, and assisted on a cookbook.

Sam was drawn to Chef Gans’ “personality, artistry, and beautiful food.”

She was similarly inspired by English teacher Gus Young. He introduced her to the “art and magic” of food writing.

Not surprisingly, Sam’s college application essay was about food writing.

Sam Appel

Sam Appel

She had thought about culinary schools. But when she discovered Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration — with its focus on hospitality — she realized that the business side of food was as intriguing as cooking it.

After graduating from Cornell in 2010, Sam joined restaurant software company Avero as a consultant. She then moved to a marketing position with Chipotle. (Her territory included Westport — so she was involved when they expanded here.)

As a founder of the Toklas Society, she helped build, market and run a nonprofit fostering the professional development of women in food and hospitality.

Sam’s goal is for hospitality to be taken “as seriously as any other career.”

Like, say, rock ‘n’ roll.

Kevin Clark’s Point Motion Rocks

Staples High School is justly famous for the number of alums who have gone on to great careers in music. (Here’s lookin’ at you, Alisan Porter!)

Ditto the legendary media lab. (You too, Daryl Wein!)

Now — in an era defined by jobs that did not exist 2 years ago, do-it-yourself technology and crowd-sourced funding — it’s natural that Staples grads make their marks melding the arts and apps.

Kevin Clark was inspired by 2 mentors: choir director Alice Lipson and audio production teacher Jim Honeycutt. They encouraged him to pursue his passions. The bullying he endured while younger spurred him to prove he could do whatever he set his mind to.

The 2009 graduate applied to 5 music colleges. He was rejected by all.

Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark

Moments before joining the military, his father convinced him to try Western Connecticut State University. He was selected as 1 of only 2 piano students — though he had only begun to play.

A year later, he applied to Berklee College of Music. Again, he was turned down.

The 3rd time was the charm. Determined more than ever to prove he belonged there, Kevin roared through the prestigious school. He was signed to Berklee’s Jazz Revelations Records his 1st semester, and last year wrote the music for his class’ graduation ceremony.

“Music has changed my life,” he thought. “Being able to create it has made me happier. What if everyone could experience this job, this sense of self-expression that often eludes us?”

Kevin likes to move. Suddenly, he realized: People need a way to create music by merely moving their bodies. He knew of experiments using  handheld or wearable devices.

But what about hands-free? That could open musical expression to everyone in the world.

With 3 friends, Kevin figured out how to connect his Kinect camera to his computer and audio production software. Then he plugged away, eventually creating entire songs using body motion, a Kinect and a computer.

The Point Motion

Point Motion

The camera tracks body movements. Data is sent to the computer, where Kevin’s app translates each motion into a specific sound or musical phrase.

There are over 1500 pre-programmed sounds and instruments. Users can also upload their own.

Kevin applied for patents, and established a company: Point Motion. An Israeli firm, Extreme Reality, liked his platform.

Together, they moved from Kinect to using common 2D cameras found on cellphones and computers. This opened up a wide range of opportunities.

Kevin is proud of the result. “For the first time in history,” he says, “people can access musical expression using motion control technology for just a $40 download.”

The first 2 apps focus on health and wellness practices (enabling expression for users with limited mobility and special needs), and creative tools for musicians (extending the creative capabilities of artists).

The 2nd app — “Puppet Master” — allows users to do things like lean forward to add distortion to an electric guitar, or raise an arm to add reverb to vocals. The system is compatible with existing music production programs.

Point Motion is now in the fundraising phase. His Indiegogo campaign has a $50,000 target.

For every donation, Kevin will donate Point Motion to a hospital or clinic in the US.

Clearly, Kevin Clark learned a lot more than music and technology at Staples and Berklee.

(For more information on Point Motion, click here. For the Indiegogo fundraising campaign, click here.)