Category Archives: Staples HS

Mark Lassoff: A Framework For Technical Education

WWPT-FM — the Staples High School radio station — dates back to the 1960s. The first TV production class was held in 1982.

Both programs were flourishing in 1988, when Mark Lassoff moved to Westport. He still remembers guidance counselor Paul King proudly showing off the  studios, to the incoming freshman.

Lassoff had never thought about TV or radio. When he graduated 4 years later, he’d made a major mark in both. He also starred on the wrestling team.

After the University of Texas — where he majored in communications and computer science — Lassoff stayed in the Lone Star State. He worked for himself, training startup companies’ staffs about technology.

Ten years ago, he moved back to Connecticut.

Mark Lassoff

His timing was fortuitous. Almost immediately, Lassoff was diagnosed with colon cancer. Here, self-employed people could get health insurance. In Texas, that was impossible.

Though he’d traveled far and wide for work, cancer kept him close to home. So he developed online courses. He started with Introduction to JavaScript, then added more. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to sell $1 million worth of courses online.

Over the past decade though, the business model changed. As the barrier to entry got lower, more courses flooded the market.

Lassoff found a new platform in digital TV. Roku, Hulu, Amazon Fire — all seemed ripe to deliver technical education.

So Framework TV now offers tech ed streaming videos on the web, and online. The goal is to prepare people for jobs in the digital world.

And, Lassoff says proudly, it’s done “at prices people can afford.”

Mark Lassoff (upper right), as part of a Framework TV offering on Roku.

In fact, the first step — certification in HTML – is free. Users can move on to professional-level certification in areas like CSS and upgraded JavaScript for $10 a month. Then come deeper dives into web development, iOS and Android.

Lassoff recently opened a studio at the Palace Theater, the newly renovated and very funky South Norwalk space.

Among the Framework crew: video editor Jack Smith, a 2011 Staples grad. After taking TV and radio production at Staples — like Lassoff — he majored in digital media at Sacred Heart University.

Jack Smith, at work in Framework’s South Norwalk studio.

Today, anyone can access Mark Lassoff’s technical education courses, from any device anywhere in the world.

But he could not be happier providing it just a few miles from where his love affair with TV and technology all began: the Staples High School media lab.

Teachers Whip Up A Tasty Day

For years, the Westport Farmers’ Market and Staples High School’s culinary arts program have teamed up to bring great food to folks in need.

Once a month, students shop for provisions at the market. Then they prepare and serve a delicious, nutritious meal at the Gillespie Center.

Yesterday, many more people got in the act.

As part of Westport’s Professional Development Day, culinary students and staff helped interested teachers — from throughout the district — shop for ingredients, then create and serve a meal too.

The initiative was led by Staples’ 3 culinary instructors: Cecily Gans (owner of The Main Course Catering, and a member of the Farmers’ Market Board); Alison Milwe-Grace (owner of AMG Catering and Events), and Laura Wendt.

Staples’ 3 culinary instructors (from left): Laura Wendt, Alison Milwe-Grace, Cecily Gans.

The goal was to give educators in the district “an overview of the culinary program’s relationship with the community, the Farmers’ Market, the farmers who provide the raw product for meals the students create, and the challenges those students face as they put meals together,” Milwe-Grace says.

Gans adds, “Building relationships around local food, and connecting farmers to the recipients of the food they grow, catch or raise is fundamental to the Farmers’ Market mission.” The Professional Development Day event strengthened other relationships too: those between students and teachers.

The Farmers’ Market and culinary instructors are dedicated to helping students “grow” — as cooks and people.

Yesterday, those students turned the tables on some of our town’s top teachers.

Westport teachers cook for the community.

Since Parkland

Yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the Marjory Douglas Stoneman massacre. Across the country, we remembered the 17 students and staff members murdered in their Florida high school.

Survivors — and countless others with no connection to the school — believed that finally, something would change. At rallies, online and in legislatures, calls for new gun regulations grew stronger.

Yet in the year that followed, 1,200 children and teenagers have been killed.

Far fewer people know their names, or where they lived, than know the Parkland students. Their stories have never been told.

Until now.

Since Parkland” is a powerful media project. With the help of the Miami Herald, McClatchy publishing company and The Trace — an independent, non-profit news organization — 200 journalists set out to profile all 1,200 people 18 and under killed by guns. Since Parkland.

The Since Parkland home page.

Sophie Driscoll is a proud participant in this important effort.

Like many Staples High students, she’s busy. She’s an editor-in-chief of Inklings, the school’s award-winning newspaper. She’s president of the Young Democrats.

But she made time for “Since Parkland.” And she helped make it a stunning piece of journalism.

A year ago, Sophie published a story in Ms. Magazine. It started as a piece about Reshaping Reality — the Staples club that helps middle schoolers and their parents deal with body image, eating disorders and social pressures. But it soon became much more.

Sophie’s piece highlighted teenage feminists who started clubs at their high schools. She interviewed students in all over the US. It was “interesting and exciting,” she says. She worked with an actual editor, Katina Paron.

Sophie Driscoll

Last summer, Sophie joined 83 other rising seniors for a 5-week journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While she was there, Katina called. She was looking for students with “good research skills,” for a project she described only vaguely.

In early August, Sophie and dozens of others participated in a video conference. They learned a bit more about “Since Parkland.”

Sophie was assigned 6 stories. There was Nicholas Glasco, 18 of Stone Mountain Georgia, shot accidentally by a friend a month before his high school graduation.

Christopher Jake Stone, 17, was one of 10 killed and 13 injured at Santa Fe (Texas) High School, 3 months after Parkland. He was trying to block the door to his classroom to prevent the gunman’s entry.

Tahji McGill, 17, was shot outside an Illinois club.

Chavelle Tramon Thompson, 17, was murdered while walking with friends to a store in Union City, Georgia.

In Virginia, a 2-year-old died when his 4-year-old brother accidentally shot him in the head. The very same day — also in Virginia — another 2-year-old was killed. He shot himself with a handgun he’d found.

The story that resonated the most with Sophie was Xantavian Pierce’s. She wrote:

The Brunswick High School athlete played basketball and football. The numbers on his jerseys were 15 and 28, respectively. Throughout his athletic career, the 17-year-old worked to make his mother proud. She said he succeeded.

“He was amazing,” his mother said. “He was wonderful. He was a loving, God-fearing child. He  was just a wonderful person. He was my heartbeat.”

Xantavian “Tae” Pierce was helping someone move when a gun went off inside a box he was carrying, accidentally shooting him in the stomach at the Eagles Pointe Apartments in Brunswick, Georgia, on March 25, 2018.

“He was a straight arrow, close with his family,” Sophie says. “He was just like someone I’d know at Staples.”

Xantavian Pierce

The process was wrenching. Sophie tracked down news reports, and scrutinized Facebook pages. She read what family members, friends and teachers said.

“They seem like such vibrant, alive, regular kids,” she notes.

Each profile is 3 paragraphs long. The first 2 give life to each young person. The 3rd describes his or her death.

That was hard. “I had to take a step back, and write as if he was alive,” Sophie says. But they were not.

The research itself was arduous. Sophie was stunned to discover there is no national database to track gun deaths. State records might list a date — but no name. Sometimes, there was not even a local news report.

It was a truly collaborative process. The 200 young writers — from across the nation — used the Slack app and Zoom video conferencing to work together. They helped find information, and supported each other through tough times.

Still, they did not realize the scope of the project — or how it would appear online — until nearly the end.

And “the end” was, literally, 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13. Just as they had every day — Since Parkland — young people were killed that night.

The project drew immediate attention. The New York Times highlighted it. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy — a staunch gun regulation advocate — tweeted about it.

Sophie — who hopes to pursue journalism in college, and beyond — notes, “this was journalism, not activism.” But — like all good journalism — she hopes it will force people to think about an issue in deep, different ways.

Her goal — and that of every student journalist — was to humanize all 1,200 young people lost to gun violence Since Parkland.

“The statistics are staggering,” Sophie says. “But each statistic is a human being.

“These kids are not statistics. They’re athletes, artists. A lot were college bound. It’s so hard to think about the people they were, and could have become.”

It is hard. But — thanks to Sophie Driscoll, and scores of other determined high school students across America — right now we are doing just that.

(Click here for the 6 stories written by Sophie Driscoll. Click here for the “Since Parkland” home page.)

More Grammy News

I knew there would be more than one Westport connection to last night’s Grammy Awards.

In addition to Daniel Tashian’s part in Kasey Musgraves’ Album of the Year, Staples High School grad Justin Paul picked up his 2nd Grammy. He and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek were honored for “The Greatest Showman” — named Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.

Pasek and Paul are great showmen — and songwriters — for sure. They will pick up many more Grammys (and other honors) for years to come.

Justin Paul (left), Benj Pasek and their Grammys.

 

Word

Daria Maya is a sophomore at Staples High School. But the teenager sure has a way with words.

The other day, she was chatting with her parents. Casually, Daria said that American politicians and the media engage in missuasion.

Daria’s parents, Joseph and Susan — both lawyers — looked at each other. They’d never heard that word. They asked her what it meant.

“There’s misinformation that politicians and the media are trying to persuade me to believe,” she replied. Then she gave Mom and Dad that oh-my-god-everyone-knows-what-I’m-talking-about look.

The Maya family (from left): Daniel, Joseph, Daria and Susan.

So Joseph did the natural thing: He emailed Merriam-Webster.

The dictionary folks were all over it. Associate editor Neil Serven wrote back that they found no previous use of “missuasion” anywhere in their citation database.

It wasn’t in the LEXIS-NEXIS periodicals database either.

There was one hit on a Reddit Bernie Sanders forum — “Cult-like powers of missuasion” — from June 2017. It described another politician.

Digging deeper, Serven discovered that the OED includes the verb “mis-suade” (labeling it “obsolete, rare”). Google Books found examples too, including 2 from an early 20th century Scottish writer.

“At a glance it strikes me as a useful and relevant word that could catch on,” Serven concluded.

“But since we only enter words in the dictionary once they’ve demonstrated established use (particularly in edited media), that work of getting other people to use it is up to you and your daughter.”

So what do you think, “06880” readers? Can we persuade enough people to use the word so that it earns a spot in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary?

Or would that simply be missuading them?

The Sun Comes Out On “Annie” Actors

Since opening night in 1931, Broadway actors have starred on the Westport Country Playhouse stage. Their talent (and famous names) have contributed to the magic of the long-running theater.

The current production is no exception. Many members of the large cast of “Annie” boast Broadway credits. (Sunny — who played Sandy in the 2012 production — revives her canine career here too.)

Joining them are 45 young members of Broadway Method Academy. For them, “Annie” is the latest — or in some cases, first– production that they hope leads them to their own Broadway shows.

Among that group: Westporters Brenna Connolly and Jackie Peterson.

Jackie Peterson and Brenna Connolly in “Annie.”

BMA offers training in acting, singing and dancing. Its Fairfield facility — including a 130-seat black box theater — is designed to feel like a New York boutique studio.

BMA serves as the resident conservatory of the Playhouse. Brenna (a freshman at Staples High School) and Bedford Middle School 8th grader Jackie are excited to be on the storied stage.

They’ve learned a lot about professional theater. Rehearsals began last month. During tech week, they were at the theater from 4:30 to 10 p.m. every day.

But the cast and crew have been welcoming. Brenna and Jackie are all in.

“Annie” is a great opportunity for friends and family members to see them perform. It’s a popular show, in a historic theater.

And it’s only an hour from what may be the Broadway Method Academy actors’ ultimate destination: Broadway.

(“Annie” is performed this weekend and next, at 1:30 and 7 p.m. Click here for exact performances and tickets.) 

John Dodig: He Does “I Do”

The other day, a Facebook post caught John Dodig’s eye.

A couple was getting married. But because they’re gay, one set of parents refused to attend. So a friend of one of the men stepped in, and took the place of the father.

The two acts — of ignorance and understanding — hit home.

John Dodig

“I understand growing up with the burden of trying to hide who you are,” says Dodig, the popular and highly respected principal of Staples High School who retired in 2015.

“I was terrified too. And one of the worst fears about coming out was losing my parents.”

Dodig did not say the words “I am gay” out loud until he was 46 years old. That day — in front of a mirror — he repeated them several times, just to be sure.

Two years later, he met Rodger. Dodig was principal of Fairfield High School, so they would not be seen together. If someone said “Hey, Mr. Dodig!” when they strolled down Main Street in Westport, Rodger was “trained” to walk away.

By the time he was 60, Dodig was no longer terrified. He was the principal of Staples High School, out publicly and on a mission to make his building a safe place for every student and staff member, no matter who they were.

In June of 2013, Dodig and Rodger were married at the Saugatuck Rowing Club. The joyful ceremony included Dodig’s ex-wife, her current husband, their daughter and her fiance, and Dodig’s daughter, her husband and their children.

Rodger’s mother and his 3 brothers were there too.

“It doesn’t get better than that,” the former principal says.

So when he read that Facebook post about the gay couple, and the friend who stood in for the parents at their wedding, he had 2 thoughts: “The good news is, people are coming out and getting married when they’re young. The bad news is, there’s still a chance they’ll lose their parents.”

Dodig — who is as active in retirement as he was during his 47 years as an educator — decided he could help.

He’s offering to stand in — as a parent, grandparent or friend — for any gay man or woman whose loved one refuses to attend a wedding.

“I’ll go to any ceremony where 2 people commit to love each other forever,” Dodig says.

“The thought that someone finally comes to terms with who they are, and wants to get married, but someone else refuses to be there for them — that’s heartbreaking.”

He posted his offer on Facebook. Almost immediately, a female friend offered to accompany him, so there can be both a “mother” and “father” at a wedding.

“I may never get called,” Dodig says. “But I’m ready to help.”

He invites “06880” readers to spread his offer far and wide. Just email dodig8095@gmail.com.

He’ll even walk you down the aisle.

Staples Offers New Pathways To Success

Every educator knows there are many pathways to students’ success.

At Staples High School, that now includes Pathways Academy.

Opened this fall, it’s a “school within a school.” Pathways provides alternative educational opportunities for students experiencing academic, behavioral and/or life challenges in the traditional school setting.

That’s the long description.

Here’s the short one: For some students, Pathways is a life-saver.

They may have school anxiety or avoidance issues. Perhaps they made mistakes, and fell behind in credits for graduation. Regular classrooms and standard schedules didn’t work for them.

Pathways — created by a team of Staples administrators, counselors, social workers and others — occupies a suite of rooms near the cafeteria.

Warm and welcoming, with a lounge area, computer room and small instructional spaces, it’s where students and 4 teachers spend every morning, from 7:30 to 10:45.

Freed from traditional bells — with more flexibility to move from idea to idea, and room to room — Ann Neary (English), Daniel Heaphey (social studies), Tony Coccoli (science) and Anthony Forgette (math) — work together in a warm, welcoming setting.

Each day begins with a community meeting. On Wednesdays, school outreach counselor Ed Milton offers insights. Every Friday, there’s college and career counseling.

Academic expectations are the same as for traditional core classes. The differences include individualized instruction, peer coaching, experiential learning and interdisciplinary projects.

When the Pathways day ends, students head to electives, world language and phys. ed. classes, community service, work study or internships.

At first, students were referred to Pathways by teachers and administrators. Eight began in September. Now — thanks to word of mouth — that number has doubled, to 16.

The application process includes written answers to questions like “What is your biggest challenge in the traditional  high school setting?”, “Describe a situation that did not go well for you (interaction with a teacher, administrator, friend, etc.). Thinking back, how would you have handled it differently?” and “”Describe something you did, made or completed in school that made you proud.”

Acceptance is not automatic. Each student must embrace the idea of the Pathways community.

The main classroom at Pathways. Other rooms — and the lounge — branch off from here.

Pathways is overseen by Meghan Ward. The assistant principal had experience in other schools with alternative education. “‘Other’ is okay,” she says, echoing the academy’s mission. “Students learn the same things, even if the setting or delivery looks different.”

Ward calls the Pathways teachers “incredible. They work really hard — and that’s only half of their course load. They also teach other classes. It’s really a challenge.”

In just half a year, Pathways has already made its mark. Students with attendance issues are coming to school — “and smiling,” Ward notes. Those who previously felt disconnected from Staples now have a “home base.”

There are tangible results too. The other day, Neary’s students completed a play-writing project. They read their works in the Black Box Theater, for members of Westport Senior Center’s writing class.

It was a huge success. The audience loved hearing the powerful, honest voices of teenagers. They provided great feedback — and plenty of support.

Just as Pathways does every day, in its own way: a school within a school.

Chef’s Table Returns To Westport! Cross Highway Rejoices.

When Christie’s Country Store closed in December, a shiver went through the Cross Highway neighborhood.

The breakfast/sandwich/grill/grocery place had been around since 1926. It served nearby residents, Staples and Bedford students, and plenty of landscapers and workers nearby or passing through.

But it was a non-conforming use, in a residential area. Now it was shut. These things don’t usually end well.

Fortunately, this one does.

Chef’s Table is moving in. Rich Herzfeld will pick up right where John Hooper left off.

It’s a homecoming of sorts. Herzfeld — the Culinary Institute of America-trained baker/chef, who honed his trade under Jean Yves Le Bris at La Gourmandise in Norwalk — set off on his own in 1995. He opened his first Chef’s Table at 44 Church Lane.

It was, Rich recalls, “like a small Hay Day.” High-end prepared foods and fresh salads drew a devoted downtown crowd. Two years later, Herzfeld added soups.

In 2001 he opened a 2nd Chef’s Table, on the Post Road in Fairfield. Two years later he added a 3rd, in the former Arcudi’s pizza restaurant next to  Carvel.

The 2007 market crash hit the 2 Westport locations hard. Suddenly, Rich says, everyone was brown-bagging lunch, or eating fast food. Corporate catering dried up.

The Fairfield site — with a broader demographic — did fine.

Rich sold the Church Lane spot to the Wild Pear. Arcudi’s returned to its original spot.

Wild Pear took over from Chef’s Table, on Church Lane. It closed in 2013. After extensive renovations, it is now the site of Aux Delices.

The 2 locations changed hands again. Today, both — coincidentally — are Aux Delices.

Meanwhile, Rich had asked commercial realtor (and Staples High School graduate) Tom Febbraio to keep an eye out for any place here that was already set up for a Chef’s Table-type operation.

Last year, John Hooper’s Christie’s lease was up. Tom told Rich. He was not only interested — he’d loved it for a long time.

“I knew Christie’s well,” Rich says. “It’s a great location. It has history. And the space is perfect for us.”

He’ll sell his signature soups, salads and sandwiches. A few years ago he got back into baking, so there will be plenty of croissants and baguettes.

Rich Herzfeld, with his delicious sourdough bread.

There’s a pizza oven in back — something the Fairfield Chef’s Table lacks — so Rich will make sourdough pizzas too. (The crust is great, he promises — “it takes 3 days to make!”)

The Fairfield location — not far from Fairfield University, Fairfield Ludlowe High and 2 middle schools — is “student-centric,” Rich says. His new Cross Highway spot is even closer, to Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools.

“I have a 21-year-old and a 14-year-old,” Rich notes. “I know what kids want.”

He plans to sell old-fashioned candy, ice cream — and items like milk, sugar and toilet paper, for neighbors who just need one or two quick items. And he would love to resurrect the Frosty Bear ice cream gazebo.

“We’ll be listening closely to what neighbors and customers want,” Rich says. “We’ll try to make it happen.”

Though Chef’s Table will operate from around 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Rich predicts his bread-and-butter will be breakfasts and lunches. He’s especially excited to serve breakfasts — “good food, providing great energy” to folks working in the area.

Christie’s — with its handsome front porch — has always been a welcoming, neighborhood place.

The Cross Highway store will be overseen by Rich’s son David. Now 29, and the breakfast guru at the Fairfield spot, he grew up at Chef’s Table on Church Lane. When he was just 9, David was baking cookies — and selling them at a table there.

Rich hopes to open by April 1. (No fooling!)

And the name?

It will be “Chef’s Table at Christie’s Country Store.”

Rich knows the 93-year history of the spot he’s moving into. He loves the legacy.

He can’t wait to begin writing the next chapter.

(Hat tip: Suzannah Rogers)

Staples Squashes Foes; Wins US Title

Squash is Staples High’s newest interscholastic sport.

It’s also the school’s newest national champion.

The Wreckers — seeded #2 — beat three teams this weekend, to capture the Division 8 HEAD US High School Team Squash Championship. The event drew 207 boys and girls teams from around the nation to Connecticut. There were 8 boys divisions, in what US Squash calls the biggest event in the country.

The Westporters defeated Calvert Hall 6-1 and St. Joseph’s 7-0 to reach the finals, at Trinity College in Hartford. The championship match against Loyola was tight — but the blue-and-whites prevailed, 4-3.

During the winter season, Staples competes in the Fairwest league — the largest public school league in the US. The Wreckers qualified for nationals by going unbeaten in the league’s Division II. They defeated New Canaan, Briarcliff, Greenwich, Fairfield, Bronxville and Darien.

Staples’ home court is Intensity in Norwalk. The coaches are Eddie O’Rourke and Zac Alexander.

The future looks bright. All 7 players on the national championship squad return next year. Congratulations to juniors Tyler Edwards (captain) and Spencer Carey, sophomores Quinn McMahon and Patrick Looby, and freshmen Isaac Bunan, Eli Shorrock and Devon Saunders.