Category Archives: Teenagers

How The FAA Learned To Love Ryan Felner

Ryan Felner has many interests.

Ryan Felner

The Staples High School sophomore is on the tennis team. He’s taking AP courses. He loves photography, and making and editing videos. For the past 2 years, he’s developed websites for family and friends.

A year and a half ago — when the price of drones dropped and the market soared — Ryan started researching options. His parents agreed to fund half a DJI drone. He agreed to work, and pay back his half.

He followed Federal Aviation Administration rules, registering his drone as a Small Unmanned Aircraft System. He agreed to fly below 400 feet; not fly within a 5-mile radius of any airport, and always keep his drone in sight.

Ryan started taking beautiful photos and creating gorgeous videos, including the beach and — during family sailing trips — the New England coast. (Click here to see his website.)

His photos of his own house — with Compo Beach and the Sound in the background — were fantastic. That gave him the idea to reach out to real estate brokers, offering to shoot for them (free at first).

Word got out. He spent most of last summer taking real estate photos.

Owenoke Park, from Ryan Felner’s drone.

The Norwalk Hour ran a big story — “Student’s Drone Photography Business Takes Off” — last October. He was thrilled…

…until later that night, when he saw the comments. The story had been picked up by drone enthusiast sites. People posted harsh messages, saying what Ryan did was illegal.

Apparently, the FAA had released new regulations a few weeks earlier. To “Fly for Work,” a drone operator had to possess a Remote Pilot Certificate, and be 16 years old.

There were a few supportive comments. Some people noted that — like many operators — Ryan probably did not know about the new rules.

But he was horrified. He woke his parents, who were upset they’d allowed the situation to happen.

The next day, things got worse.

Richard Aarons — a volunteer counselor with the FAA’s safety team — emailed him. He told Ryan to contact him ASAP — and warned him he could face huge fines.

Ryan panicked. He was scared about the money. He worried his reputation was ruined for life. He feared for college, and beyond.

His parents helped him respond. Ryan said he was devastated to be out of compliance with regulations. He promised to cease all commercial operations immediately, and said he’d wait until his 16th birthday to take his pilot’s exam and apply for a proper license.

SAarons’ response was fantastic. He told Ryan he completely understood what happened, and said he was now doing exactly the right thing.

Aarons forwarded the emails to Marilyn Pearson, an aviation safety inspector with the FAA Unmanned Aircraft System division. She’d been working hard to educate drone enthusiasts, while implementing the new regs. She too commended Ryan for the way he’d communicated with the authorities.

Ryan Felner with his drone, on Martha’s Vineyard.

As Ryan’s 16th birthday approached, he contacted Pearson and Aarons. Both offered to help, if there was something he didn’t understand as he studied for his FAA exam.

On Tuesday at Sikorsky Airport, Ryan passed his FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge test with a very high score of 87.

Two days later — yesterday — he turned 16.

And tomorrow at 12 noon, in the Westport Library’s McManus Room, Ryan will give a talk at the Maker Faire. His subject: “Adventures of a 16-Year-Old Drone Pilot.”

But wait! There’s more!

When Pearson heard about Ryan’s speech, she was so excited, she said she’d come down from Hartford for it.

So before his talk — at the 9:45 a.m. Maker Faire opening ceremony, in the Taylor parking lot — she will present him with his Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.

Ryan’s spirits are sure to be sky high.

Right up there with his drone. And the possibilities for his great, professional — and now completely legal — business.

Please Excuse Eli And Lulu …

This is the time of year when 12th graders suffer serious cases of senioritis.

But Eli Debenham and Lulu Stracher are 2 of Staples’ most politically aware — and active — students.

So this morning — instead of school — they headed to Norwalk Community College.

Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal discussed gun violence. The forum was moderated by Westport attorney Josh Koskoff.

It was an important, informative event. But afterward, Eli and Lulu had a typical high school worry: They needed a note for missing class.

No problem!

They just asked Senator Murphy to write one.

He happily obliged.

Lulu Stracher, Eli Debenham, and the man who excused them from class this morning.

The note read:

Please excuse my friends for their absence. I required their attendance in my forum on violence — under penalty of arrest! — Chris Murphy

You may like Connecticut’s junior senator or not. But you gotta admit: That’s great constituent service!

Lulu and Eli’s note.

Staples Snags An Emmy

Over the years, Westport has been known for many things: Artists and writers. Advertising and marketing executives. Hedge fund titans.

Add another: Sports broadcasters.

From the 1950s through today, this town has been home to national names like Win Elliot, Jim McKay, Jim Nantz, Sal Marchiano, Mike Greenberg, Chris McKendry and Rebecca Lowe.

Staples’ WWPT-FM has produced its share of stars too, like David Lloyd, Jon Stashower, Evan Makovsky, DJ Sixsmith and Eric Gallanty.

Add in Kyle Martino and Jeremy Schaap — Staples grads who did not work for the school’s radio or TV station, but are now doing great things on NBC and ESPN, respectively — and we’ve got enough folks here for our own 24/7 network.

The list gets longer. Cooper Boardman and Jack Caldwell have just led a Staples Television Network crew that won a National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences regional award for Best Student Production.

In other words: An Emmy.

Cooper Boardman (left) and Jack Caldwell, with trophies won earlier at the IBS National Broadcast Awards ceremony.

The honor — presented by the Boston/New England chapter for best high school TV sportscast — was for a live Staples boys basketball broadcast this winter.

In addition to Boardman and Caldwell — a senior and junior, who serve as co-directors of sports for the TV and radio stations and have won multiple awards previously — other contributors included Ben Klau, Buster Scher, Jackson Valente, Alex Massoud and Aaron Leopold.

Remember those names. A few years from now, you can say you knew — and heard — them when.

(Hat tip: Mark Lassoff)

Golfers Give Back

While many Westport students are on spring break, Staples High School athletes remain in town. They’re practicing and playing.

The Wrecker girls and boys golf team made the most of their week — and gorgeous weather — yesterday. They hosted young golfers from Bridgeport’s Sheehan and McGivney Centers.

The Stapleites introduced their guests at Longshore to the game of golf, with a fun clinic. They also gave them equipment, which had been donated through Golf to Give.

The organization is the brainchild of Sophie Carozza, a Staples junior on coach Patty Kondub’s team.

There were smiles all around yesterday, as Staples’ girls and boys golf teams hosted Bridgeport youngsters at Longshore.

Golf to Give plans more events — and they’re still collecting donations of clubs, balls, shoes, etc. They’ll even pick up at your house! Click here, or email sophiecarozza@gmail.com for more information.

Sophie Carozza, with some of her first donations.

You’ll Want Fries With This Squash

The Staples High School squash program is only 2 years old.

But in at least one respect, it’s similar to other, much longer established varsity sports: community service.

Last year, Shane Fries helped form Staples’ boys and girls squash teams. His dad introduced him to the game. As he took lessons he was attracted to its competitiveness, both individually and with teammates.

Last year he and fellow Stapleites Kion Bruno and Mia Krishnamurthy wanted to start a squash club. Athletic director Marty Lisevick gave approval for varsity status. They compete in the Fairwest League against Connecticut and Westchester public schools, and add private schools to the schedule too.

Staples High School’s boys and girls squash teams.

The athletes fund the venture themselves. They pay for court time — last year at Southport Racquet Club, now at Intensity. Costs range from $700 to $1,000 per player.

But they also raise money for others.

With the mission of using the sport to help students get into college, the National Urban Squash & Education Association runs a coaching and tutoring program called Street Squash.

In mid-March, Shane joined Staples students Jack Bautista, Tyler Edwards and Chloe Palumbo, plus Bedford Middle School’s Quinn McMahon, New Canaan’s Tara Chugh, St. Luke’s Haley Bloch and Street Squash player Nasir Finch at the Street Squash Junior Cup in Harlem.

Each team committed to raising as much money as possible. Thanks to anchor donor Jen Gabler, Staples players and their friends, the Wreckers donated over $12,000 to the program. The entire event brought in $82,000.

Shane Fries stands 3rd from right. Also representing Staples in the Street Squash event (from left): Tara Chugh, Haley Bloch, Chloe Palumbo, Quinn McMahon, Shane Fries, Tyler Edwards, Nasir Finch; Jack Bautista (kneeling).

“Squash is a big part of my life,” Fries — who also plays rugby — says. “Helping kids succeed through the sport is really cool.”

He’ll keep doing what he can. NUSEA runs a squash and education program in New Haven. That’s where Shane — who in his spare time is a Top Hat tutor — will spend his one-month senior internship in May, coaching and offering academic support.

Concussion Care: Cocooning Is Out

Audrey Paul’s son is a hockey goalie. He’s had 2 concussions.

The first occurred 4 years ago, soon after the family moved to Westport. She felt “completely in the dark.” Doctors did not offer a clear treatment strategy. Paul had a tough time finding up-to-date information.

The second — last June — was different. The 14-year-old was treated at a concussion center. His recovery — spurred by new evidence that forgoes “cocooning” in favor of targeted therapy — went much more smoothly.

That could be a typical Westport story, except for one thing:

Dr. Audrey Paul

Paul is a doctor, trained in pediatric emergency medicine. She teaches at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. And she’s the founder of Heads Up Westport Concussion Center on Imperial Avenue.

Paul did not treat her own son after either concussion. She prefers having an objective professional take charge. But the difference in protocols over those 4 years was striking.

After her initial experience, Paul asked 7 Mt. Sinai doctors for their treatment plans. She got 7 different answers.

Paul went to work. She got a grant to study more than 600 emergency centers nationwide, looking at discharge instructions for patients. They were “all over the place.”

In Westport, she says, pediatricians advised everything from “go back to school tomorrow” to “rest inside for 3 weeks.”

She wanted to create a central space for information. The goal of Heads Up is to provide comprehensive baseline testing, and personalized recommendations for concussion management.

“Targeted therapy is important,” Paul says. “Every concussion is different.” Some primarily affect the eyes; others, balance, or the spine.

While practitioners still recommend 2 to 3 days of strict rest, they’re now moving toward “a more proactive approach” to concussion management, she adds.

It’s empowering to learn “you can do something about concussions,” beyond sitting in a dark room without a TV, computer or phone screen, Paul notes.

Despite — or perhaps because of — her focus on concussions, she does not advocate banning youth contact sports.

“You can’t live your life hiding under a bed,” Paul says. “Kids should be active.”

But, she warns, “if you do get injured, it’s important to be treated appropriately.”

FUN FACT: March was Brain Injury Awareness Month!

Read TEAM Westport Winning Essays Here

Tonight, TEAM Westport announced the winners of their 4th annual essay contest. Local students in grades 9-12 were asked to reflect on what white privilege means to them.

Here are the top 3 essays:

The Colors of Privilege – First place, Chet Ellis (Staples High School sophomore)

It was second period and our US History class quieted once the bell rang. But not just because of the bell. Our classroom, usually busy with thought provoking conversations was anxiously anticipating the lecture today on racial equality. My teacher was thankful to have at least some diversity in class this year. We three African American students in the same classroom at Staples High School was a rare sight. Since our town is 92.6% white and just 1.2% black, she explained how most years when addressing issues of race in the classroom she would get to use the line, “let’s ask all the black people in the class…” to a silent room. Her joke broke the ice, and we dove into a thoughtful discussion about race relations in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

In the midst of our discussion, a student raised her hand to add an anecdote about seeing a student from another school holding a sign at a football game. She said that on the sign was written, “Warde [High School] has N******,” except she used the actual word. In US History class. In our 92.6% white Fairfield County suburb.

My body froze. Time stopped. I never did hear the end of her story. The air became viscous and the tension in the room felt palpable.

The teacher deftly interjected to continue the flow of the conversation, pointing out the power, sometimes, of confronting such ugliness head on, but for the rest of class, I sat stunned. I knew the student hadn’t used the word in a malicious way, but the response from my body was primal.

Chet Ellis

The N-word is a word that takes African Americans back to 1619 on the tobacco fields of Jamestown and the very beginnings of the American tragedy of human enslavement. It reminds us of Jim Crow, of the senseless beating of Rodney King, and of the killings of 258 black people by the police in 2016. Nevertheless, several of my white friends want to use the N-word in recounting their favorite lyrics. Others even claim that keeping them from saying it is some form of reverse racism. They, like the student in my class, don’t understand how the word takes my breath away.

As a black teen in Westport, race issues in and outside the classroom are unavoidable. One afternoon at track practice, some white friends were discussing how hard it would be to get into college and then out of nowhere one said, “Chet you don’t have this problem because you’re black.” I was stunned and mumbled something instead of firing back, “Your parents are third-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund and yet you think my ride is free?”

Even seemingly safe discussions about our sport can be racial minefields. I remember a terrific runner on our team saying after he lost, “I mean I was running against two giant black guys” and the other teammates nodding with understanding.

All of this casual black envy doesn’t take into account American history. A history where slavery and segregation were the law, and black inferiority the unwritten law. In 1940 an experiment was conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark to help understand the physiological effects of segregation on children. Today this study is colloquially known as the “The Doll Tests.” In these tests, students would be given identical dolls, except for color, and asked which one they liked more, which one was more pretty. An overwhelming amount of participants from both white and black communities chose the white doll.

My own “Doll Test” occurred in the fifth grade, when I moved to Westport from Manhattan where I thought we were upper middle class. I would look up at all the houses bigger than our rental and imagine what life would be like if I were born lighter and richer. I had no grasp of the deep social issues that had been keeping my people from attaining such heights of prosperity; didn’t yet understand the lack of truly wealthy black residents in my town as indicative of larger social issues. Now as a sophomore in high school, I have a better understanding of the legacy of institutionalized racism. Now I see the history behind the big houses.

I see my fifth grade envy mirrored in my classmates’ jealousy of how fast I can run or how high I can jump. I know my classmates know about the deep social issues African Americans have had to face and are still facing today, but in our peaceful bedroom community that struggle is not present on a day-to-day basis. Students get blinded by the thought that a student could get into college more easily because of their skin color, while not seeing that African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed, and once employed earn nearly 25 percent less than their white counterparts. They don’t see that despite making up 12% of the population, we are 35% of jail inmates and 24% of people shot by the police.

Honestly, I never really thought much about white privilege until I moved to Westport. From a young age, I was taught that not everything is meant to be fair and to deal with it. But living in this place where almost everyone is white makes me question, when I’m in Walgreens and the manager follows me around the store, would this happen if I looked different? Now I see the need to speak out, to address white privilege when it happens, so that people know that it’s real despite their best intentions, like the girl in my class pointing out that despicable sign at the football game. We need to make sure there is an open discourse that includes a more diverse history and a sensitivity to each other. In our town it’s impossible to have three black students in every class, but maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak out.


White Privilege and Me — Josiah Tarrant (Staples High School junior)

At 16, I’ve lived in the comfort of Westport my whole life. With the exception of a brief eight-day stint in Ethiopia while bringing home my little brother when I was seven-years-old (the first time I became acutely aware of the ghostlike whiteness of my skin), I really never thought much about race. Crazy considering the family I grew up in. Somehow my brother was always “just my brother.” Our family was normal to me, even though we often drew attention from strangers when we were out and about. I grew up surrounded by teachers, coaches, principals, and doctors, all of whom looked like me and shared my skin color. Like most Westport kids, the thought of this never crossed my mind. This is white privilege.

It wasn’t until I was 12-years-old that my learning on racism really began. I still remember the day we returned from swim practice and my mom began yanking all of my childhood books off of the shelves. She enlisted my help to find my brother, then 6-years-old, an Early Reader book featuring a kid that looked like him. I stood next to her and my brother on those visits to libraries and bookstores when we were shown to the “slavery section.” That day marked the beginning of an awareness of how much I had taken my white experience for granted and a realization that things would not be the same for my brother.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for me. I still remember being appalled at my mom’s use of the word “black” as if she had said a bad word. “Mom you can’t say that, that’s racist,” my 12-year-old white male self said. In school, for as long as I could remember, we had been taught not to acknowledge differences of race. The messages I had received had been: “we are open-minded,” “slavery is over,” “we don’t have racism here.” President Obama was the only President I had ever known.

As I grew up, I started watching. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, their deaths marked my teen years. I started reading. Peggy McIntosh, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates began to inform me. Recently I heard Professor Tricia Rose speak about “post-racial” racism, reinforcing that my childhood belief system had been a convenient myth. We were taught we must remain colorblind, and look at people of color and whites the same way. While I agree, it only makes sense if everyone is already on an equal playing field, which we are not. This is why a discussion of white privilege is critical.

Josiah Tarrant

When I saw the negative reaction of some community members and whirlwind media coverage of the white privilege essay contest “controversy”, I knew that I could not let my white privilege prevent me from taking a stand. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So, this teenager who still has much to learn on this topic sat down to write.

What I do with the knowledge of my own privilege is what I have been thinking about most. Acknowledging it is a crucial start. It puzzles me that some white adults react so defensively to even discussing the term. The fact that we live in a town where we can and do strive to discuss white privilege makes me proud to live in Westport. To those who rail against it, I ask, how, when the fact remains there is so much not being taught in our schools? We are not learning that our economy was built on free slave labor, nor about voter suppression, mass incarceration and blocks to mortgages for non-whites, nor that nearly one in three black males will serve time, losing employment opportunity and voting rights, while white kids around me face minimal consequences for their mistakes.

To those who argue “white privilege” is a liberal tactic that creates white guilt, I say explain to me the racial gaps in our country’s education, healthcare, employment, wealth and incarceration. I invite you to sit down and assure me when my brother is a teen out in the world, he can walk with his black friends freely down Main Street as I did, and that clerks and customers alike will look upon him as the great future promise of Westport as they did on me.

Assure me that other parents will not call him out for being “aggressive” when their sons are being just as intense on the soccer field, that his teachers will hold him to the same high standards to which they have held me and push him to reach his fullest academic potential.

Assure me that when Westport parents tell my mom that “he’ll have no problem getting into college,” my brother will know that these schools want him for his brilliance and talent and not his skin color. Assure me that these same adults will educate themselves on how challenging it is for most students of color to get into prestigious universities without strong public schools, alumni legacies, and financial resources for tutoring and college visits. Assure me that when police pull him over (statistically they will), the extra training my parents instill in him will keep him safe. Assure me that I will not have to watch my brother, or someone else’s brother who looks like mine, be the next tragic TV news story.

Until you can assure me of all of that, I will continue to educate myself and use my advantaged status to speak up. So, you ask how does white privilege affect me? How doesn’t it? My abundant white privilege motivates me to use it for good, but I also must do this so that my brother knows that wherever life takes him, I have his back. I vow to be right there alongside him as we together show the Westport community that white privilege is not a black issue, but an everyone issue.


The Privilege of Ignorance — Claire Dinshaw (Staples High School senior)

When I was born, I was placed at the top of a predetermined racial hierarchy. Magazines told me my skin was beautiful. CVS carried bandaids that matched my skin tone. History textbooks and acclaimed novels told the stories of people like me. When I was born, the world made sure to tell me I was important.

Not everyone received the same welcome.

White privilege is like a trust-fund, a bonus given to every white American as a result of an ingrained societal prejudice that ascribes certain traits to white Americans and certain, often less flattering traits, to non-white Americans. Because white is seen as the ‘norm’ in America, white Americans have been granted the power to define what is moral, ethical, and successful. As a white American, I have not always been aware of my privilege, but I have come to see the innocence, predictable success, and overrepresentation I benefit from as byproducts of my race.

In elementary school, I had no concept of race, and I certainly did not see myself as benefitting from any type of white privilege. Westport schools did not involve elementary schoolers in discussions of race, and adults had evidently decided that the history of American racism was not my problem. After all, why explain racism and white privilege to the little white girls and boys?

Partially as a result of this prolonged, privileged innocence, most Westport students, including myself, initially fail to see the ways white privilege has contributed to our success. We study for a test and receive an A; we apply to summer programs and gain admittance to one; we find a job and save money. To us, hard work is the cause of every success. What we fail to question is why the outcome of our hard work is always success. There is never a time when we study hours for a test only to have a hard time getting a ride to school the next morning, prepare for an interview only to get turned away because of prejudice, or work desperately hard only to consistently be the victim of racial profiling by law enforcement.

Many in Westport will ascribe this privilege of predictable success to wealth, not race. However, while it is true that all Westport residents enjoy the privilege of living in a safe community with highly rated public schools, non-white Westport residents still face barriers. Whereas I can find skin care products easily, non-white Westport residents will find that stores mostly carry beauty products designed for white skin; whereas I can turn on the news to find countless white role models, non-white Westport residents will find that the majority of politicians, anchors, and corporate leaders resemble their white classmates; whereas I have been taught by countless white teachers, non-white Westport residents are forced to contend with the fact that, although research published in The Economics of Education found that test scores increase when a student has a teacher of the same race, Staples High School has only recently hired its first full-time black teacher in quite a while.

Claire Dinshaw

I know from personal experience that wealth cannot overcome the deficits of underrepresentation. About twelve years ago, the only female power-players in Washington D.C. who frequently appeared on the news were Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. At the time, women were so underrepresented in Washington D.C. that when I first saw Pelosi on television I asked my father whose wife she was because I did not believe women like me could be politicians. If I had been born a black women, I might still believe I could not be a politician.

Furthermore, the wealth privilege argument fails to consider the role that white privilege plays in someone’s ability to move to Westport. The societal impact of white privilege means white Americans are more likely to hold college degrees due to education inequality, less likely to go to jail for drug offenses due to a prejudice criminal justice system (even though white men, according to hospital records documented in The New Jim Crow, are three times as likely to use illegal drugs), and more likely to face discrimination in the housing and job markets due to stubborn racist beliefs. This equates to white Americans being more likely to be able to afford a home in Westport and other upper-middle class suburban towns.

As a result, despite the fact that segregation is illegal, integrated regions and school districts are rare, and white Americans are often quick to fight plans to increase diversity. When parents from the predominantly white Francis-Howell school district in Missouri heard that approximately 1,000 students from the predominantly black Normandy school district were going to attend Francis-Howell schools, they were outraged. The incident was documented in the This American Life episode “The Problem We All Live With.”

“We are talking about violent behavior that is coming in,” one parent says during the broadcast. “Is there going to be a metal detector?” another parent asked. The truth is, once white Americans have control of something, whether that be a school district or corporate America, the choice of whether to share that privilege with others also becomes our privilege, and we have not historically been very open-minded.

To be clear, I am not blaming anyone for failing to recognize white privilege. It is a complex concept to grasp, especially in Westport, a town that is over 90 percent white. Growing up here, students like me rarely see the contrast between the way they are treated and the way non-white Americans are treated.

In fact, even as I conclude this essay, I know I have failed to describe the ways white privilege has impacted my life. I know there are sources of privilege I have failed to recognize.

The truth is, I still do not fully understand the extent of my privilege, and that is something I have to work tirelessly to rectify. After all, being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself.

TEAM Westport finalists (from left) Josiah Tarrant, Claire Dinshaw and Chet Ellis, before reading their TEAM Westport essays.

TEAM Westport “White Privilege” Essay Winners Announced

When TEAM Westport announced this year’s essay contest topic — the personal impact of white privilege — a national uproar ensued.

Spurred by sensationalism and misunderstanding, news outlets wondered why a vastly white community would address the subject.

The winning responses — announced tonight at the Westport Library — prove the point.

Honest, powerful, insightful, sensitive and clear, the top 3 essays — as judged by a panel of writers — tackle the hot topic exactly as it should be: head on.

And, noted TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, this year’s winners had the option to be anonymous — perhaps to avoid backlash like that which engulfed the announcement of the 4th annual contest’s prompt.

All 3 chose to stand up tonight, read their essays, and use their names.

TEAM Westport finalists (from left) Josiah Tarrant, Claire Dinshaw and Chet Ellis, before tonight’s announcement of the winners.

Out of a record number of entries, Chet Ellis won the $1,000 1st prize. The Staples High School sophomore describes the rare experience of being one of 3 African Americans in his US History class — and hearing a white student use the “n” word.

It took his breath away.

Chet Ellis

He writes about casual conversations with fellow track team members laced with stereotypes about black runners, and the assumptions he hears that it’s easier for African American students to get into college than white ones. He regrets not firing back: “Your parents are 3rd-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund, and yet you think my ride is free?”

Chet says he never thought much about white privilege until he moved to Westport. Now, he realizes, “In our town it’s impossible to have 3 black students in every class. But maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak up.”

Josiah Tarrant, a Staples junior, took 2nd place. and a $750 prize. Though his younger brother is adopted from Ethiopia, Josiah grew up “surrounded by teachers, coaches, principals and doctors, all of whom looked like me.” The fact that he never even thought about that, Josiah says, epitomizes white privilege.

Josiah Tarrant

But as he heard about Trayvon Martin and read Ta-Nehisi Coates, he realized silence about race is not acceptable. Then, seeing the reaction to the TEAM Westport essay contest, he knew he had to take a stand.

“So this teenager who still has much to learn sat down to write,” Josiah says.

He writes that he wants his younger brother to walk down Main Street as freely as he himself does, and be held by his teachers to the same high standards as white students.

Until Josiah has those assurances, he says, he will use his “advantaged status” to speak up. White privilege, he concludes, is “not a black issue, but an everyone issue.”

Staples senior Claire Dinshaw’s 3rd-place essay, which won her $500, notes that in elementary school, race was never discussed.

Claire Dinshaw

Partly because of this “prolonged, privileged innocence,” she writes, most Westport students — including her — believe that their own hard work is the sole reason for their success.

Wealth has much to do with it, she says. So does being white.

Even as she concludes her essay, Claire writes, “I know I have failed to describe the ways white privilege has impacted my life. I know there are sources of privilege I have failed to recognize. The truth is I still do not fully understand the extent of my privilege, and that is something I have to work tirelessly to rectify.

“After all, being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself.”

(To read all 3 essays in their entirety, click here.)

Heat Kills!

Last summer, a Ridgefield toddler died when he was left inside a parked car.

Brandon Malin — a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader — thought of that, when he saw “Heat Kills” signs in Fairfield parking lots. He knows that every year, children and pets are left in cars that quickly become sweltering — even on mild days.

But Brandon did more than think.

He acted.

With the support of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, First Selectman Jim Marpe and other town officials, he’s creating signs. They’ll remind drivers not to leave kids — or pets — in closed vehicles, especially in warm weather.

The signs will be installed in town-owned parking lots, where police feel the risk is greatest. Possibilities include Parker Harding, the Baldwin lot, the beaches, Longshore and library.

After the initial rollout, Brandon will contact owners of private parking lots too.

Right now he’s working with the Staples High School art department on the design.

He’s also trying to raise the $2,500 needed to produce the signs. All donations are tax deductible, and the target deadline is April 8. Click here to help!

But whether you donate or not, remember one thing: Heat Kills!

Brandon Malin and his dog Cali.

 

Jack Norman’s Very Positive Direction

Jack Norman’s parents divorced when he was young. His dad had a drinking problem. When he lost his job, Jack’s mother picked up a second job, to support Jack and his younger brother.

One day when Jack was 13, he stayed home from his school sick. His dad came to take care of him. When Jack woke from a nap and asked for a sandwich, his father stood up — and passed out. He’d been drinking all morning.

Jack cut off all contact with him. Two months later, his father died.

Soon, Jack’s mom — 1985 Staples High School graduate Jen Rago — returned to her hometown from Atlanta. She’d be closer to her family, and her sons could attend better schools.

Jack thrived as a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader. The next year, at Staples High, he discovered Players and the Teen Awareness Group. He stage managed 18 shows, as well as music department and other performances. He served as TAG’s treasurer; this year as a senior, he’s president.

Last summer, he worked at A Child’s Place. He also babysits through CrossFit Westport’s daycare program.

Jack Norman, working behind the scenes as stage manager. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Jack is a role model for many students. Through TAG, he talks to freshman health classes about the challenges of growing up, and the toll addiction takes on individuals and their families. He is open about his life, and the devastating effects of his father’s alcoholism.

Now, Jack is reaching an even broader audience. “Jack’s Story” has been posted on Positive Directions’ website. And he’s featured in the organization’s new PSA.

When the non-profit mental health and addictive behaviors education/ prevention program asked for volunteers to share their stories, Jack never hesitated.

His TAG presentations — which began when he was a sophomore — have convinced him of the importance of letting students know they’re not alone.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have resources, and a support system,” the articulate, insightful and very energetic teenager says.

“My mom has been there for me. Mr. Frimmer at Coleytown, and the theater family at Staples, they’ve been great too.”

So Jack talks — at Staples, and now online. He describes growing up with an alcoholic father. His painful decision to cut off contact. Writing something that was read at the funeral.

When he first moved to Westport, Jack says, new friends asked about his parents. Jack tried to protect them from hearing the truth.

However, he soon realized, “death is a reality. If you can’t talk about it, it consumes you.” TAG gave him the opportunity to break down the stigma surrounding addiction, and to encourage, empower and inspire many others.

Jack Norman

The day after one of Jack’s talks, a freshman approached him during a Players rehearsal. Tearfully, she said she was sorry for his loss.

“I’m okay,” Jack replied. “But how are you?”

“It’s just good to know other people understand,” she said simply. They hugged.

“Knowing someone felt less alone, that’s very satisfying,” Jack says. Even if they don’t tell him everything, he’s helped them take one step on a long journey.

The Positive Directions PSA does the same thing. “The whole idea is to get the message out there,” Jack explains. That message is: It can happen to anyone.

This fall, Jack heads to college. He hopes to study stage management.

And he knows he will continue to speak up.