Category Archives: Teenagers

Step Up To Help Volunteers

It started small.

Staples High School junior Parker Cuthbertson and sophomore Eddie Kiev organized a club: Step Up Volunteering. The goal was to match students with local organizations that needed help.

Parker Cuthbertson and Eddie Kiev.

Be careful what you wish for.

Almost 120 Staples students stepped up to volunteer. Homes With Hope, the Westport Library, Malta House, the Senior Center, Earthplace and the Westport Weston Family Y Special Olympics programs all asked for help.

But there are more willing volunteers than those organizations can handle.

So Parker and Eddie have put out a call. If you know of a local group that could benefit from ready, willing and able high school volunteers: please ask.

The Westport Police Department has offered to serve as the community go-between. Please contact administrative assistant Janet Suchsland (jsuchsland@westportct.gov) if you’d like Step Up Volunteering to consider helping your organization.

Remembering Meghan Gannon

At a very young age, Meghan Gannon was diagnosed with a rare degenerative neuromuscular disease. She had special education services at Kings Highway Elementary, Coleytown Middle and Staples High Schools.

Meghan Gannon with her brothers, Bryan and Dillon.

But you’d have been hard pressed to know anything was wrong.

Meghan was irrepressible. She skied, did ballet, and was a Girl Scout.

She was lively, with a tremendous sense of humor. She never felt sorry for herself, and always cared about others.

Meghan went to the Staples Class of 2016 senior prom, then graduated a few days later.

Meghan Gannon: Proud Class of 2016 Staples High School graduate.

But her disease caught up with her. She soon had trouble chewing and swallowing. She was hospitalized twice that summer.

On September 10, 2016, she entered the hospital again. She was put on a ventilator, and got a feeding tube. She underwent many procedures. She fought off pneumonia.

After stints in Yale’s pediatric, neurological and medical ICUs, she was moved to Gaylord Special Health Care Hospital in Wallingford. She was there from December until last month. On August 21, Meghan died.

But — as tragic as it is to lose someone so young — Meghan’s mother Sue wants to make sure her daughter’s life is remembered for its spirit, perseverance and love.

Meghan Gannon

“She was extraordinary,” Sue says. “She never stopped smiling. She never complained or cried. She was resilient and strong. She was the most inspiring person I’ve ever known — and I said that even when she was a little girl.”

That’s not just a mom speaking.

Her wake in Westport was filled with Meghan’s admirers. Her kindergarten teacher came. So did the Gaylord staff, and her ambulance driver.

The director of a youth program at the Wilton YMCA spoke at the service. Meghan had been a counselor in training there for several years. The woman described the many lives Meghan touched.

“I never knew the impact she had on all those other kids,” Sue says. “She was a tiny thing, and quiet. But she was very fierce. Whenever a bar was set, Meghan rose above it.”

After her hospitalization last September, Meghan could not speak. She communicated by writing. But she never lost her sense of humor. Sue laughs as she remembers Meghan summoning a nurse. Meghan showed her a text she’d written — and translated into German.

Hospital tubes did not dampen Meghan Gannon’s smile and spirits.

Each day when Sue visited, she says, “Meghan wanted to know about my day. She never asked, ‘Why me?'”

Meghan’s bulldog Hoagie was the light of her life. He often visited other Gaylord patients. Sue promised her that Hoagie would be trained as a therapy dog.

Meghan Gannon, with Hoagie.

Sue also promised her daughter that she would live life as she did.

“We all complain about the little things that happen every day,” Sue says.

“But she had such joy out of life. She loved Broadway shows, and the Italian food on Arthur Avenue. She had an incredible sense of humor, literally to the end of her life.

“She was an inspiration to a lot of people. And she truly was an inspiration to me.”

(Contributions in Meghan’s memory may be made to the Gaylord Specialty Health Care Hospital, 50 Gaylord Farm Road, Wallingford, CT, or the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, 8085 Saltsburg Road, Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15239.)

Fashion Show Stomps Out Bullying

In elementary school, Emerson Kobak was the target of bullies.

“I was really short. I wore glasses. People just weren’t nice,” Emerson recalls.

The result, she says, was that “for so long I didn’t feel like I had a voice. I was always nervous about speaking. I worried that whatever I said was wrong.”

Emerson Kobak, in elementary school.

Middle school — with its intense social pressure — was even worse.

Looking back, she says, if she saw someone sitting alone during lunch, she’d go over and join them.

“One act of kindness can change a whole life,” she says.

When Emerson entered Staples 3 years ago, she looked around for kindred spirits. She founded the Fashion For a Cause Club with like-minded designers. On weekends she studied drawing and sewing at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

As a sophomore, Emerson joined Kool To Be Kind. Last year she discovered the Anti-Defamation League. Emerson co-wrote the introduction to a schoolwide “Truth About Hate” assembly, then spoke at it. She also addressed Staples’ school climate assembly.

The girl who was once afraid to speak up had found her voice.

That voice — and Emerson’s drive to fight bullying — has found an important outlet, thanks to her passion for fashion. Her 2nd annual “Fashion For a Cause” show is set for this Sunday (September 24, 5 p.m., Toquet Hall).

Emerson Kobak, before the junior prom. She made her dress herself.

Emerson will show one collection. Fellow senior Alessandra Nagar will show another. Students will model all outfits — all of which were created by club members. There’s also live music by a Staples band, and food from local restaurants.

Proceeds benefit Stomp Out Bullying, a national non-profit.

This is Emerson’s 2nd “Fashion for a Cause.” Last year’s event raised over $8,000 for Dress for Success.

Bully for Emerson Kobak!

(For tickets to “Fashion for a Cause,” and more information, click here.)

Designers at last year’s “Fashion for a Cause” show.

Players Learn From A Real-Life Newsie

Most high school theater groups prepare for a show by listening to the cast album. They watch a video. The director adds whatever insights he or she can.

Staples Players is not most high school theater groups.

For one thing, this fall’s main stage production is “Newsies.” Players scored a coup last spring, when Disney asked directors David Roth and Kerry Long to pilot the production. They’ll provide executives with feedback. A year from now, other amateur companies across the nation can produce the show too.

For another thing, Players’ cast and crew learned about “Newsies” from an actual newsboy.

Actual, as in one who was on Broadway.

Adam Kaplan — the former Players star who graduated in 2008 — played a newsboy (and Morris Delancey) in the New York production. He also understudied for lead Jack Kelly.

Last week, Kaplan returned to the Staples auditorium. He shared stories about his time with “Newsies,” including how he got the role and how he trained for it.

Adam Kaplan (center) with Nick Rossi and Charlie Zuckerman. The Staples students are double cast as Jack Kelly –the role Kaplan understudied on Broadway. (Photo/Kerry Long)

He also offered advice on how the young actors can take care of themselves, while doing such a physical show.

The students seemed awed when Kaplan walked in. But they quickly responded to his enthusiasm and charisma.

They loved when he joined them in “Zip, Zap Zup” — a popular theater game he played, when he was at Staples.

And when he himself dreamed about making it to Broadway.

The cast and crew of Staples Players’ “Newsies”pose with Adam Kaplan. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(Click here to join Staples Players’ email list, for ticket information on upcoming shows.)

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

Pic Of The Day #141

Teen volunteers at Wakeman Town Farm

Sam Gold: Apple’s Archive Savior

When Sam Gold was 13, his parents gave him a bar mitzvah choice: a party, or a trip.

He went to San Francisco. But he wasn’t interested in the Golden Gate Bridge, or curvy Lombard Street. He wanted to visit the headquarters of Apple and Google.

Sam is now a Staples High School sophomore. He hasn’t lost his fascination with some of the most innovative companies on the planet. If anything, he’s teaching them some lessons.

Sam Gold recently, at Google’s pop-up shop in SoHo.

Sam has already made a name for himself on YouTube. Posting as Sam Henri, he’s a content creator and social influencer. Sam’s 5,800 subscribers love his unique take on all things techs.

He’s high enough on the food chain that Google sent a web router, and Philips shipped WiFi-enabled light bulbs, for him to review. Check out his channel — he’s going places.

Sam is also a very talented graphic designer.

Sam Gold had fun editing this photo. Yes, that’s him on the wall.

But it’s as an Apple fan that he may be most impressive.

From age 3, when he got his first iPod Nano (from his Nana), he has loved all things Apple.

So last April — when the man running the biggest Apple archive on the internet suddenly terminated his channel — Sam took notice.

And instantly flew into action.

He’d already spent years using tools like the Wayback machine to archive over 800 Apple-related videos. They included ads, keynote speeches, even weird internal training tapes.

The earliest video was from 1979 — decades before Sam was born.

In 2001, Steve Jobs introduced the iPod. Sam Gold has that video — and many others.

Within 24 hours he’d uploaded them all to his own, new unofficial Apple archive YouTube channel.

As you’ve figured out by now, Sam knows his way around the internet. Before posting his 80 gigabytes of videos, he checked YouTube’s Terms of Service. He was sure his archives were legit.

But a week later YouTube flagged Sam, for violating their TOS. They called his Apple channel “spam” — although he was not charging anyone, or making any money off it.

Repeated requests for clarification from YouTube went unheeded.

So Sam turned to the tech-savvy Reddit community. Suggestions poured in.

His archives were not gone, of course. He kept them on a disk. That was perfect for one Reddit user, who had a petabyte worth of storage on his server. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes. Or, in layman’s terms, “a shitload.”)

He offered it to Sam. The teenager quickly transferred his archives from a disk to the server. That’s where — right here — they are now, available free to the world.

Apple’s amazing video archives — all in one place, courtesy of Sam Gold.

But that’s not the end of Sam’s story.

A reporter for Vice heard what happened, and contacted Sam. That led to a front-page story on Motherboard, Vice’s tech platform.

Which, in turn, led to the possibility of Sam freelancing for that well-read, edgy and influential site.

Which leads to this “06880” request.

Later this month, Apple makes a big announcement. They’re expected to announce the next generation iPhone.

Sam has tried to get on the press list. So far, he’s been unsuccessful.

So: If any “06880” reader has Apple connections, please help Sam travel (once again) to California.

It’s the least Apple can do for the kid who saved their entire video archives.

BONUS FUN FACT 1: In addition to Google and Philips, Apple sent Sam some products. Unfortunately, it’s not an iPhone or other device. The largest information technology company in the world gave him a hat, pen and water bottle.

BONUS FUN FACT 2: This summer, Sam decided to see how many certifications he could get online. He is now an official Universal Life minister, ordained to perform weddings, funerals and (I am not making this up) exorcisms. Sam declined to get certified as a lactation consultation, however. He saved that $35 fee — perhaps for his upcoming trip to California.

Scott Pecoriello Predicts WeatherOptics Will Disrupt Meteorology

In kindergarten, Scott Pecoriello was curious about rain. His parents showed him a radar map. Hooked, he checked it every day.

The next year he drew a map of the Northeast, and colored in storms. Soon, he was trying to figure out how tornadoes form. (He was completely wrong.)

Scott Pecioriello drew this map -- freehand -- when he was 10 years old.

Scott Pecioriello drew this weather map when he was 10 years old.

From there Scott advanced to the Weather Channel. Then came online forums like AWE (the Association of Weather Enthusiasts), filled with people who share his passion. He taught himself all about meteorology.

Six years ago — as a Staples High School freshman — Scott got tired of sharing his maps and forecasts with a few family members. He started a blog called Wild About Weather. It drew about 12 followers (mostly family members).

When he started a Facebook page, his audience exploded. With each storm he forecast correctly, his followers grew. During Hurricane Irene, the numbers snowballed (so to speak). In one blizzard, he had a web reach of 2.3 million people.

Soon, Wild About Weather became a real business. Scott recruited college meteorologists. He opened a premium section, with customers paying for personalized forecasting, weather consulting and exclusive content. He soon had 200 subscribers.

Next, Scott created an app called “Know Snow.” It predicted the chances that school would close, for every town in Fairfield County. With 4,000 downloads, it was the go-to app for students, parents, teachers — and administrators.

In 2015 Scott changed his website’s name to the more professional sounding WeatherOptics. With 25,000 followers — and over 1 million hits a week — it attracted plenty of media attention.

Scott Pecoriello is interviewed on CNBC.

Then things really exploded.

In July, meteorologist Henry Margusity — his childhood idol — told Scott he was retiring from AccuWeather. Henry wondered if Scott wanted to partner up.

At the same time, another meteorologist — Jason Bowman — wanted to merge his My Weather Concierge with WeatherOptics and Know Snow.

When the merger — and Henry’s partnership, starting next January — were announced, something even cooler (as in awesome, not temperature) happened. Top meteorologists like Tom Moore, Steve DiMartino and Larry Cosgrove jumped on board.

A screen shot from earlier this month.

Now — with what Scott calls “a team of incredibly elite meteorologists with a fast growing brand, and connections to clients and other meteorologists around the world” — his company is about to “disrupt the weather market. And change it for the better.”

In October, a WeatherOptics app will launch with new features.

Users can choose their own meteorologist. He’ll provide a daily synopsis on that day’s, and upcoming, weather — along with an instant chat option.

Soccer game that afternoon, and a 40% chance of rain? Shoot your meteorologist a message, asking what exactly that means.

Other widgets include personalized ski and beach outlooks.

There are also district-by-district snow forecasts of chances that school will be closed. A data scientist from Harvard is building an algorithm for that.

Snowfall predictions last winter, from WeatherOptics.

Those are just the consumer sides of the company. WeatherOptics will soon launch an enterprise solution platform to provide larger businesses — commodity traders, travel agents, transportation companies, etc. — with personalized forecasts.

Scott — who is transferring this fall to Syracuse University, where he’ll major in psychology and minor in entrepreneurship — foresees partnering with school districts, so they can send real-time information directly to students, parents and teachers.

“Our goal is to change the weather industry for the better,” he says.

“We want to push out accurate, interesting content to millions of people. We want to take personalization to the next level, and provide solutions to every sector of business that relies on weather to run their company.”

An example of a chat with a personal meteorologist.

Right now, Scott’s team includes 6 senior meteorologists and 4 developers (one of whom is 2016 Staples High classmate Nate Argosh). With 30,000 followers on social media, he predicts 5 million visitors this winter.

“06880” forecasts that number to grow substantially in the year ahead.

Teens Swim 15.5 Miles, Raise $9,000. And What Did You Do Last Sunday?

The easiest way to cross Long Island Sound is on the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry.

You can also sail, motorboat or yacht across on your own.

It’s a lot tougher to actually swim those 15 1/2 or so miles yourself.

It’s especially difficult to do it faster than anyone else.

But that’s what a team of 6 Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmers did last Sunday. And they finished in just 6 hours and 20 minutes — beating 150 competitors by a wide margin.

It was hardly a day at the beach. Before taking the Swim Across the Sound plunge, they secured $9,000 in pledges for St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

Congratulations to the intrepid, strong and very fast group of 16-year-olds: Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan, Josiah Tarrant, Austin Twiss and Charlie West. All except Richard swim for Staples High School.

From left: Austin Twiss, Charlie West, Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan and Josiah Tarrant.

 

Fun fact: Swim Across the Sound director Liz Fry is a former Staples High School swimmer.

(Fast forward to the 10:00 mark below, for an interview with the Water Rat swimmers.)

 

Wait Until 8th?

I don’t have an 8th grader. I don’t have any grader, in fact.

I’m not a Westport mom. I’m not any mom.

But I do love WestportMoms.com. And the other day the moms — Megan and Melissa — posted an interesting story.

Whether you’ve got an 8th grader, a 3rd grader or no grader at all, if you’ve lived or spent any time at all in Westport, you’ve noticed cellphone creep. More and more, younger and younger kids carry phones.

Which means they’re texting, swiping, and in every other way glued to their devices.

All the time.

OMG!

The WestportMoms story was headlined: “The ‘Wait Until 8th’ Pledge — Let Kids be Kids a Little Longer.”

The idea is for parents to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade. “By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike,” they wrote.

The story offered several reasons to wait — and noted that “top Silicon Valley executives” agree.

Smartphones:

  • Are addictive
  • Are an academic distraction
  • Impair sleep
  • Interfere with relationships
  • Increase the risk for anxiety and depresson
  • Put children at risk for cyber-bullying
  • Expose children to sexual content.

(They are of course also fun, empowering, and facilitate communication between kids, friends and parents. That was not in the story, but I felt compelled to toss it in.)

What do you think? As the school year races toward us, is the “Wait until 8th” pledge important? Necessary? Unnecessary? Futile?

Click “comments” below.

And kids, if you want to text me — wait, no..