Category Archives: Staples HS

Michael Connors Finds A Career

Michael Connors has had several careers.

Michael Connors

The Staples High School football player did not go to college. Instead, after graduating in 1999 he traded commodities, helped run Juba’s coffee shop, and got involved in skincare. Eleven years ago, he started an excavation constructing firm.

He began selling his own equipment online. Then he sold lamps, and a dining room table. 

The process attracted him. Last May, 2 Westport women offered him a partnership with their consignment shop.

It did not work out. But he loved the space.

Six months later, with construction work slow, his phone rang. The consignment space — on Taylor Place, across from Tiffany — was available.

Which is how Connors became the new owner of a consignment boutique, known simply as Taylor Place.

He enjoys helping people who have no idea what to do with items they own (or have inherited). He loves the challenge of “seeing pieces with character and craftsmanship find new homes.”

And he appreciates the chance to meet interesting people: artists, designers, anyone who wanders in the door. “This is never boring,” Connors says.

His shop is small. So he’s selective about the pieces he chooses — furniture, home decor, lighting, art and accessories — and how he displays them. He uses his walls to display the works of one artist at a time.

As a merchant on Taylor Place, Connors can apply for a permit to use Jesup Green for events. He anticipates a show with a bounce house, antique cars — the sort of stuff that makes Westport fun.

And that can’t fit inside 24 Taylor Place, the newest venture for a man who has finally found his true calling.

 

“2, 4, 6, 8! We Just Want To Graduate!”

It was a day of activism, for hundreds of Staples High School students.

From 10 a.m. until the end of school, the courtyard was packed. Speeches, poetry, music and more drew attention to the very real issue of gun violence.

One girl said she was told there were consequences for leaving class. “I can’t get a detention if I’m dead!” she replied.

Signs say it all. (Photo/Ali Natalia)

Walkout leaders in the Staples High School courtyard. (Photo/Audrey Bernstein for Inklings)

At 3 p.m., a smaller group of students — bolstered by other Westporters, of all ages — gathered on Veterans Green across from Town Hall.

Politicians of both parties were in attendance. But the students — noting the non-partisan importance of legislation — took charge.

It was their day.

After all, it’s their future.

Staples students look ahead to turning 18 — and turning out to vote.

First Selectman Jim Marpe (far left) and 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane flank Staples students.

Registrars of both parties were on hand to enroll new voters.

“Arms are for hugging,” says the sign.

Former Staples High School assistant principal Lee Littrell (left) and chemistry teacher Bruce McFadden came to Westport to support the activism of current students.

Among the chants from this group of Staples High School students: “No more silence! End gun violence!”

Jack And Neal: They Got (Every) Game

It’s not easy being a high school athlete. Or fan.

You’ve got the ups and downs of wins and losses (and injuries). There’s the pressure of school, extracurriculars, family and social life.

And — thanks to weather, facilities and a thousand other factors — the game schedule constantly changes.

Jack Sharkey and Neal Soni can’t do anything about Xs, Os, concussions, sprains, rain or snow.

They can, however, make following your favorite team a snap.

And they have. With an app.

Jack Sharkey (left) and Neal Soni show off their CT Sports app.

The Staples High School seniors spent 2 months creating CT Sports. An outgrowth of their Building Web Applications class with teacher Dave Scrofani, it’s simple, clear, and tremendously useful.

Users select any of Connecticut’s 183 high schools, and any of the 27 sports administered by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Fan of Staples sports? Here’s when and where all the spring teams play!

Instantly, you see the schedule, opponent, location, bus time and level (varsity, JV, freshman). The information is up-to-date: As soon as a change is made to the CIAC website, it appears on CT Sports.

You can add events to your personal calendar — along with reminders.

All information is pulled directly from the CIAC site. So why use this one?

“Our interface is much cleaner,” says Neal. “For theirs, you have to choose each parameter separately, each time. On ours you can save features. And it’s much easier to switch schools.”

Visually, it’s appealing too. Neal and Jack added each school’s colors to the site — tedious, but a welcome feature. (They considered using logos. But if they sell ads later, there may be copyright issues. These guys think ahead.)

The potential user base is enormous. But Jack and Neal had no sure way to reach them.

The CIAC helped. They emailed every athletic director in the state, encouraging them to send information about CT Sports to all students, parents, teachers and coaches.

Feedback was immediate — and very positive — Jack says.

A small Google ad at the bottom brings in a few dollars. But the app was not designed as a moneymaker. Neal and Jack hope to use it to build name recognition, for future endeavors.

They’ll create more apps, juggling all their other activities. Jack is president of both the Unified Sports Club and Kool To Be Kind, and is a Top Hat Tutor. Neal is president of Top Hat, and a national taekwando competitor.

Unfortunately, martial arts is not a CIAC sport. But if it becomes one, Neal and Jack will make sure you never miss a meet.

(To download the app, search for “CT Sports: HS Sports Schedules.” Right now, it is available only for iOS devices.)

Two more app functions: Choose one specific sport, or select from every high school in Connecticut.

Students Rally Tomorrow At Staples; Townwide Event Set For Veterans Green

When students across America walk out of classes tomorrow — to commemorate the Columbine massacre exactly 19 years ago, and demand an end to gun violence — there will be a strong Staples High School presence.

A passionate group of students has planned a day of activities. From 10 a.m. — when the Colorado shooting began —  until 2:15 p.m., they’ll fill the large courtyard.

The rally will include student speakers, music, poetry, calls to senators and congressmen, a petition, poster-making, and voter registration.

Students who attend will be marked “unexcused” from class. But, leaders say, that’s a small price to pay for taking a stand on an important issue.

At 3 p.m., Staples students invite the entire town to a post-walkout rally on Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. State senator candidate (and Staples graduate) Will Haskell will speak. There will be student speeches too, along with music and poetry.

“We have a lot to say, and we want our voices heard,” say Brooke and Peri Kessler, 2 student leaders.

“We’re not partisan. But we do want everyone to be educated and informed. This is about our safety, and our future.”

The national walkout — an outgrowth of activism after the Parkland shootings in February — was organized just a few miles from Staples, by Ridgefield High School student Lane Murdock.

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Staples Lacrosse Sticks Up For Soldiers

James Hazelip does not live in Westport. But the US Army combat veteran — who deployed twice to Iraq — considers this his adopted home town.

He’s seen the kindness, care and generosity of Westporters personally, on visits with 2 non-profits: Sticks for Soldiers and Catch a Lift.

“Sticks” uses lacrosse to raise funds to support wounded vets and their families. Catch a Lift provides gym memberships and home equipment, fitness programs and motivational peer support to post-9/11 combat-wounded military personnel.

Staples lacrosse players wear special pinneys for the “Sticks for Soldiers” game. (Photo/Shelley Burger Sports)

In the past year, Hazelip has been to Westport twice. Both times, he says, “I met amazing people. They really care about and take action for the welfare of our service members and veterans.”

This Saturday (April 21), Hazelip returns the love. He’s the keynote speaker at Staples High School’s 7th annual Sticks for Soldiers event. After the girls’ 4 p.m. game, and before the boys’ 6 p.m. contest, Hazelip will deliver inspiring remarks to the football stadium crowd.

James Hazelip

He’s got quite a story. PTSD nearly cost Hazelip his life. He struggled with substance abuse, gained 100 pounds, and spent more than a month in a coma. Speaking to Westporters is part of his journey to rebuild his life.

That’s not all he’ll do. The Army vet will also address the Wrecker boys team in the locker room before and after their game.

A Navy lieutenant who served on 4 destroyers during her 15-year military career will speak to the Staples girls team too.

Staples lacrosse coaches, and their PAL counterparts, have planned an important afternoon. The ceremony between the boys and girls games includes presentation of the colors, and remarks by Sticks for Soldiers president Jeff Casucci.

The 2016 Sticks for Soldiers lacrosse game at Staples included a speaker and color guard — and this intriguing double image. (Photo/ Shelley Burger Sports)

During halftime of both games, PAL youth teams will play scrimmages.

A suggested minimum donation of $5 raises funds for Sticks for Soldiers. Proceeds from food and drink sales will also benefit the organization.

Whether you’re an avid lax fan or have never seen a game, te sure to “stick” Saturday on your calendar. You’ll welcome James Hazelip back to Westport — and help many other soldiers too.

(To donate to Sticks for Soldiers, click here. For more information on Saturday’s event, email edward.iannone@gmail.com)

Staples Books Its Own Final Four

Earlier this month Villanova, Michigan, Kansas and Loyola held America spellbound, as they battled for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship.

But that was nothing compared to the halls of Staples High School. There, it was a fight to finish for the first-ever title of Favorite Book Ever.

Who would win? Weeks of voting had whittled 64 contenders down to the Final Four: Fahrenheit 451, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Just like in San Antonio, the semifinals produced an intriguing mix of old standbys and surprising newcomers. Some top seeds won; others advanced through upsets.

The contest was organized by Mary Katherine Hocking. A few years ago, the English teacher saw a similar idea on Pinterest.

But which books? She found Business Insider’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” — and used the top 64.

Those choices may be less controversial than that used by the NCAA selection committee.

Or more. There are a lot more great books than good Division I men’s basketball teams.

The top 4 seeds were — in order — To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Diary of Anne Frank and 1984.

Like the NCAA’s tournament, the rest of the field was all over the map. The Old Man and the Sea, Huck Finn, Night, Hamlet, The Giver, Frankenstein, Catch-22, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Color Purple, Anna Karenina, Lord of the Flies — all (and dozens more) had a chance to advance.

Game on!

Hocking sent email blasts to students and staff. She used Twitter and Instagram too. The Staples library’s Twitter feed, the TV show “Good Morning Staples,” the school paper Inklings, and colleague Rebecca Marsick’s Instagram also helped spread the word.

Hocking had no idea who would respond. It was, she admits, a somewhat nerdy concept. But votes poured in.

Each round drew more interest. In addition to regular email updates from Hocking, an enormous bracket in the English hallway stirred plenty of conversation.

“Students seemed really engaged,” she says. “They were eager to find out what was next.”

She expected the Lord of the Rings trilogy to advance far. It’s a popular book (and film) series. But it fell in the Sweet 16 to Fahrenheit 451.

“That was a surprise,” Hocking says. “Far fewer kids have read that one.”

From the first round on, To Kill a Mockingbird was the team to beat. It kept winning, by huge margins.

Favorites, of course, don’t always win.

But Harper Lee’s 58-year-old novel about prejudice and integrity in a small Southern town knocked off the much more recent Harry Potter fantasy.

That set up a highly anticipated championship match, between 2 American classics: Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.

Did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Westport connection propel him to victory? Or, in these days of great focus on racial inequality, did Staples voters go with that dramatic tale?

And the winner is ……………….

………………………………………….

………………………………………….

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..

To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s a worthy champion.

But it won’t be back to defend its title next year.

Unlike basketball Final Four, Hocking is looking for 64 entirely new contenders.

Perhaps the best young adult books of all time? Or the best non-fiction works?

Bring it!

The Final 4, on display at Staples High School.

 

Westporter Earns Huge Country Music Honor

Earlier today, “06880” highlighted a recent songwriters’ “boot camp” academy held on Saugatuck Island.

Last night in Las Vegas, a Westport musician made headlines of his own.

Guitarist Brad Tursi — a 1997 Staples High School graduate, best known here for his soccer prowess — and his band Old Dominion was named Vocal Group of the Year, at the 53rd annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

Billboard called it”the biggest upset of the night.” They beat Little Big Town, winners 4 of the past 5 years. Other contenders were Lady Antebellum, Lanco and Midland.

Brad Tursi (right) with fellow Old Dominion members, after being named Vocal Group of the Year. (Photo/New York Daily News)

Old Dominion’s 3rd straight nomination came on the heels of their 2nd album, Happy Endings — nominated for ACM Album of the Year, with Number 1 singles “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” and “Written in the Sand” — and a world tour.

They continue to tour and record this year.

No word on whether the Vocal Group of the Year will make a stop in Westport.

(Hat tip: Jeff Lea)

Staples Students Learn Mindfulness

As mental health issues arise frequently in the news — through stories on gun violence, homelessness, incarceration and more — there’s been a new emphasis on education.

Dr. Alec Miller spoke recently in Westport. He’s a leading expert on dialectical behavior therapy for adolescents — an increasingly popular treatment for people with significant difficulty regulating emotions and behaviors.

Because DBT skills are applicable to everyone, it’s being used more and more in school settings.

Westport, it turns out, piloted a mental health therapeutic curriculum 4 years ago.

Wellness Seminar is a half-credit class at Staples High School. And it may be the first anywhere in Fairfield County.

It’s not therapy or counseling, says Thomas Viviano, one of Staples’ 4 school psychologists. It is a skills group, with an emphasis on mindfulness.

The idea, he explains, is to “move from assumptions and judgments, to observe and describe what you’re seeing and feeling. It’s the difference between saying ‘that person’s yelling at me’ to ‘wow, his voice is very loud.'”

Students learn stress tolerance: practical skills to help them cope with negative emotions. For example, when you’re angry you can do an activity you enjoy, or help someone else, rather than focusing on that feeling.

Students also learn interpersonal skills, like developing healthy relationships, maintaining self-respect, and skillfully dealing with peers, teachers and parents.

Parents meet monthly, to learn the same skills as their youngsters. That helps reinforce DBT at home.

Each class includes 15 or so students, and is co-taught by a social worker and psychologist.

The class, Viviano emphasizes, is applicable to everyone. The skills prepare students for college, including dealing with roommates and professors, and help them with problem-solving and decision-making, and for general problem-solving and decision-making.

Students say say they used “pleasant imagery” to ease stress before a test; employed the “cope ahead skill” to feel calm during a presentation, and do coloring at night to fall asleep more easily.

Maintaining good mental health is a complex issue. At Staples, Wellness Seminar is an important first step.

Michael Martins’ College: The Last Frontier

Parents, teachers and counselors always tell teenagers: “Don’t worry. There’s a college for everyone. You’ll do fine.”

It’s true. Just ask Michael Martins.

You can find him at the University of Alaska.

At Staples High School, he served on the WWPT-FM board. For his Eagle Scout project he worked with alumni, bands and DJs to make the radio station’s 40th anniversary fundraiser a success.

But during his college search — ranging from upstate New York to the far west — there was no place he truly wanted to go.

“I love learning,” Michael says. ” I wanted to do college the right way.”

After graduating in 2016, he did not go directly to school. He kept searching, and found the Fairbanks campus online.

He’d never been to Alaska. He knew no one in the entire vast state. It was isolated, different and a challenge. Michael liked that.

The nation’s “northernmost land, sea and space grant university and international research center” is a global leader in studying climate change. Michael could use his math skills in Arctic research — in the Arctic itself.

And because his mother is a veteran, tuition in that military-friendly state is less than what he’d pay at the University of Connecticut, Michael says.

He’d seen photos of UAF online. But when he stepped off the plane, it finally hit him. “I’m in Alaska!” Michael thought.

Friends and family members have many misperceptions. They picture tundra and igloos. They ask if he has Wi-Fi.

Sure, the temperature reaches 40 below. But in many ways, UAF is a normal college campus.

Michael Martins on campus. “If it’s snowing, it can’t be that cold,” he says.

It has normal college problems. Like not enough pianos.

Michael has played for 3 years. He doesn’t take music courses — he’s a math major, and French minor — so he couldn’t just play whenever he wanted to.

He picked his residence — Bartlett Hall — because it was the only one with a piano. But the instrument was in an out-of-the-way place, and not well tuned.

So one of the first things Michael did after arriving was organize a piano fundraiser. He brought the piano into a common area. He asked musicians to play for an hour each night — with a tip jar. He set up online donations too.

Michael Martins, at the Bartlett Hall piano.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner picked up the story. Immediately, 6 people in Fairbanks — a city of 32,000 — called to donate pianos to residence halls.

The goal was $300. Michael raised twice that amount. The extra funds will go toward appraising, tuning and transporting the pianos.

But that’s not the only way Michael has reached out to others. For spring break he decided to help people he didn’t know, in (another) place he didn’t know.

So he spent a week in Houston, helping victims of Hurricane Harvey rebuild their lives. It was far from Alaska — and far from the wild spring break experiences of some college students.

Michael Martins doing mold prevention work in Houston.

Michael loved Houston. He was also glad to get back to Fairbanks.

“I’m thriving here,” he reports. “There’s a great attitude of ‘let’s make it happen.’ And tons of support.”

He calls himself lucky: to have gone to Staples, to have had the idea to apply to the University of Alaska, and now to go there. “I love where I am,” he says.

He has a message to Staples students: “There are a lot of places where you can feel important, and make a difference.”

It’s something parents, teachers and counselors say all the time here to teenagers.

Perhaps it will have impact coming from someone else who knows Westport well, now thriving thousands of miles away.

Michael Martins, in front of typical Inuit art. Over 20% of the more than 8,000 graduates are of Alaska Native or American Indian descent.