Category Archives: Teenagers

Aw, Shoot!

The Westport Farmers’ Market is — like every other public gathering — socially distanced.

But that did not prevent dozens of young photographers from getting up close and personal with the produce and products at our town’s favorite Thursday event.

This year, 8- to 18-year-old entrants in the “Young Shoots” contest had a choice. They could showcase produce, flowers, prepared food — or anything else representative of the Farmers’ Market — at home or at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Just as they’ve done constantly over the past 6 months, the young artists demonstrated resiliency, creativity, and spunk.

Plus a great eye.

Awards were presented — socially distanced, of course — at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center last week.

Alexander Sod won 1st place in the 11-14-year-old category for his photo, “Unraveling.” His shot also captured the overall “People’s Choice” award.

“Unraveling” (Alexander Sod)

The contest is “an incredible way to show both my creativity and my love for food –the taste, its shapes, patterns, and textures you can’t find anywhere except in nature,” he says.

Rose Porosoff placed 2nd in that age group, for “Veins.”

Other winners include:

8-10-year-old:

  • 1st place: Kayla Stanley for “Rinsing Strawberries”
  • 2nd place: Nakul Sethi for “The Sunset Focaccia.

“Rinsing Strawberries” (Kayla Stanley)

15 to 18-year-old

  • 1st place: Morgan Freydl for “Seacoast Mushrooms”
  • 2nd place: Anooshka Sethi for “Sunshine Toast.”

“Seacoast Mushrooms” (Morgan Freydl)

First place was worth $100, plus WFM merchandise. Runners-up  get $50 each plus WFM swag,

Lori Cochran-Dougall, executive director of WFM, says Young Shoots is more than a food photography contest.

“Clearly it encourages creativity in young people. But it also reminds adults that kids see things with a lightness and simplicity that we might miss. To see the world of food through their eyes is refreshing.”

To see all the entries from this year’s contest, click here.

(The 7th annual “Young Shoots” contest and reception were sponsored by the Westport Farmers’ Market, in collaboration with the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center and Artists Collective of Westport.)

Alexander Sod and Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran-Dougall, at the “Young Shoots” awards ceremony.

 

Unsung Hero #158

Alice Ely writes:

As gardens chair at Wakeman Town Farm, I’ve had the privilege of knowing Staples High School senior Teagan Smith since she first volunteered in 2017.

She has stepped up to help the planet in ways large and small for her entire high school career. As a freshman she began with the fall harvest, and kept coming. Year after year, she has been on hand and willing to do any job – which at the farm are mostly dirty ones.

Teagan Smith, scrambling to help.

It quickly became apparent that Teagan’s passion is sustainability. Eager to learn more, she has been a quick study of the farm’s sustainable practices, such as composting, winter sowing and non-chemical pest controls.

She has educated visitors about what does (and does not) go in recycling. She reached out to officials at the town Department of Public Works, and created her own flyer of creative recycling projects.

As an upperclassman with many interests and responsibilities, Teagan has continued to make time for the farm. This summer she worked as a Save the Sound intern taking water samples, but still managed a significant commitment to WTF.

She set up the farm stand every Saturday morning, showcasing veggies and flowers in beautiful displays that attracted record numbers of customers. She even shows up for 7 a.m. stints on weekdays!

Teagan Smith, at the WTF farm stand.

Her quiet competence and leadership make it easy for a new crop of volunteers to follow her example.

This year she the helm of Staples’ Club Green. We look forward to hearing what the club tackles next.

For the rest of this challenging year — and, we suspect, the rest of her life — the world will look a little greener because of Teagan Smith.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Teagan Smith, down at Wakeman Town Farm.

 

Dracula Highlights Library’s StoryFest

From F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger to John Hersey and Peter De Vries, then on to A.E. Hotchner and Jane Green, Westport has long been a writer’s town.

Back in the day, a special Rabbit Hill festival celebrated the works of local children’s author Robert Lawson.

In 2018, the Westport Library introduced a new community-wide literary event. Dedicated to every genre imaginable, it celebrated the written word, in all its forms.

Because of COVID, StoryFest 2020 will be virtual. From Sepetember 15-29, more than a dozen live and pre-recorded events will feature top authors and creators in fiction, comics and young adult literature.

Highlights include:

  • A live opening: “Stoker on Stoker,” featuring Dacre Stoker — best-selling author and great-grandson of Dracula’s own Bram Stoker (Tuesday, September 15, 7 p.m.), followed by “Beyond Stoker: Contemporary Visions of Vampires in Fiction” (8:30 p.m.).

  • Bestselling thriller writes Wendy Walker and L.C. Shaw share their latest books, “Don’t Look For Me” and “The Silent Conspiracy” (Wednesday, September 16, 7 p.m.).
  • A panel with speculative fiction writers Charlie Jane Anders, Sarah Galley, Stephen Graham Jones, Tochi Onyebuchi and Paul Tremblay, diving into “The World in the Mirror: How Genre Imagines the Present” (Wednesday, September 23, 7 p.m.).
  • Josh Malerman explores the terrifying world of “Bird Box” and its recent sequel “Malorie” (Thursday, September 24, 8 p.m.).

Also scheduled:

  • “Displays of Affection: How Love Stories Reflect the World” (Thursday, September 17, 7 p.m.).
  • “What the Dark Teaches Us” (Friday, September 18, 7 p.m.).
  • “How the Story Tells Itself: The Unexpected Narrative” (Monday, September 21, 7 p.m.)
  • “In Our Next Issue: Comics and the New Worlds in Their Pages” (Monday, September 21, 8:30 p.m.).
  • “Then and Now: How History Shapes Stories for the Present” (Tuesday, September 22, 7 p.m.).
  • “Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles” (Thursday, September 24, 7 p.m.)
  • “Valuing the Spectrum of Identities in YA” (Tuesday, September 29)
  • “Finding Bravery Through Books (Tuesday, September 29, 4 p.m.).

All events are free. Click here for full details; click on an individual session to register. An email link will be sent 48 hours before the event.

Roundup: COVID Testing, College Help, Gatsby in Connecticut, More


A reader writes:

“I just got myself and my kids tested at St Vincent’s Medical Center drive-thru at 47 Long Lots Road.

“I called 860-972-8100 this morning, got an appointment (no symptoms, no suspected contact, just routine — I wanted a baseline before school starts).

“We drove straight over (they are open 8 a.m. to noon). There was no line, no cost, just a gentle nose swab. They said results would be available in 3-5 days. We got ours in 1 day!

“Boom! Easy! In my opinion, we should/could all be doing this before school starts.”


Since 1952, STAR Lighting the Way has helped people of all ages impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities live full, independent  lives.

They’re now launching a broader multi-lingual program for children experiencing, or at risk of, developmental delays. It expands services from birth through age 5, with additional options for children up to 8.

It includes direct coaching intervention by licensed occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapists, and special education teachers; developmental evaluations and consultations; transition to school support; group activities (birth to age 5) like feeding, movement, play and music groups, plus additional services (6 to 8) including behavioral supports, assistive technology, translation and family supports.

For more information, email Barbara Fitzpatrick (starrubino@starct.org), or call 203-855-0634.


There’s a new college counseling service in town. And the counselors are not even out of college.

Nishika Navrange and Genevieve Demenico are 2019 Staples High School graduates. Both are products of the entire Westport school system. They were presidents of Staples’ Science Olympiad team and members of numerous honor societies. They attend NYU and Georgetown Universities (right now, online). So they know high school — and college.

Through Zoom and outdoor, socially distanced meetings, they offer essay help (“it’s a narrow way of writing, and we help keep the student’s personal voice,” they say), Common App advice, and counsel on where to apply.

Because they know students at “nearly every popular school,” Neshika and Genevieve can connect high schoolers with current collegians, for a personal connection and even (when they resume) a college tour.

For more information, email ctcollegeconsultants@gmail.com.

Genevieve Demenico and Nishika Navrange.


“Gatsby in Connecticut” — the video by Robert Steven Williams chronicling F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Westport, and its impact on his classic novel (with Sam Waterston as the writer, and voiceover by Keir Dullea) — is now available to rent, download or buy.

It’s available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, Vimeo, Microsoft Xbox and YouTube, and via most cable providers. Click here for the trailer.

And click here to read an insightful review from The New Yorker. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)


And finally … what was the most popular song of 1920, the year F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in Westport (as noted above)? It was “Swanee” by Al Jolson — shown here in what to our eyes, 100 years later, is jarringly inappropriate blackface.

Tadeo Messenger’s Message

Every year, the New York Times’ Ron Lieber asks high school seniors for their college application essays. He selects a few, showcasing what’s on teenagers’ minds about work, money, social class or related topics. 

“We adults don’t talk about money and our feelings about it often enough,” Lieber says, “so it only seems right to try to learn from the teenagers who have figured out how to do it well.”

Yesterday, he published 4. Among them: Staples High School’s Tadeo Messenger. Lieber describes Tadeo’s topic as “an unlikely conveyance in upscale Connecticut.”

Tadeo wrote:

My friends and peers don’t understand my relationship with Big Betsy. This is mainly due to the fact that Big Betsy is far older, louder, and larger than what is considered “normal” at my school. She is constantly surrounded by others who serve the same exact purpose, but are more elegant.

Big Betsy was always different. Every time I went out with her I could feel judgmental eyes wondering why a kid like me would even want anything to do with her. Despite this, I was always proud of her and what we accomplished together. She was made fun of relentlessly, but I always knew deep down that we had something special together.

Tadeo Messenger

It was like we had known each other for years when I first laid eyes on her. I was sure that we would stay together for a long time. Since the day I bought Big Betsy on Craigslist, I have loved her unconditionally. I still remember driving down the winding country road to the seller’s sprawling ranch and instantly falling for her. The way that she glistened in the sunlight beckoned me to her. I had no problem spending the money for her that I had accumulated over years of saving birthday gifts, doing undesirable odd jobs and babysitting unruly children. To me, she was worth more than my entire bank account.

Big Betsy has been loyal to me throughout the past couple of years. She even provided me with the opportunity to set up my own business, The Westport Workers. My friend and I realized that all the dump-run services in our town were grossly overcharging their customers, so we decided to provide an inexpensive alternative. We have worked countless jobs together, including transporting an antique bar counter 50 miles away for a Gilmore Girls fan club meeting and hauling a battered boat motor through knee-deep sludge to dispose of it at the dump.

Big Betsy and I are constantly relying on each other to get things done. In the blistering summer heat she would wait patiently for me while I pulled weeds for hours on end. With sweat trickling down my face, I would take shelter from the sun in her soft embrace. She and I made a respectable living through our business, and I would always make sure to buy her the things that she required to keep her going.

In case it isn’t obvious, Big Betsy is my beloved truck, a 1998 Ford F-150 with over 230,000 miles. The first months I had her, I spent all my time between early morning football and work fixing her up, and it was worth it.

Tadeo Messenger, with Big Betsy. (Photo/Ike Abakah for the New York Times)

Not only has she been a great truck, she also helped me to realize how little other people’s judgments of me matter. I used to be shy and avoided differentiating myself from my classmates because I was very concerned about what others would think about me. In a school almost entirely minority-free, I was always uncomfortable with my ethnicity, and even my name. I felt extremely self-conscious every time that I pulled into the high school parking lot filled with Mercedes, Jeep Wranglers, and BMWs.

However, as time went on, Big Betsy became a bit of a local celebrity and I became more confident, and not only while driving. I found myself less anxious when voicing my opinions, applying for leadership positions, and challenging myself to do better in all aspects of my life. Big Betsy made me realize how damaging it can be to my potential when I become unwilling to stand out or take the risks required to achieve my goals. If it wasn’t for her teaching me how to be confident in myself and that it is good to be pushed out of my comfort zone, I would not be nearly as happy as I am today.

(Tadeo Messenger is now a freshman at the University of Michigan. Click here to read all 4 college application essays from the Times. Hat tips: John Karrel, Jim Honeycutt, Stefanie Lemcke, Jo Ann Davidson, Mary Hoffman and Carl Volckmann.)

Balloon Free Forever!

During the pandemic, Ben and Josh Marcus found a great place to social distance: the middle of Long Island Sound.

With their high school internships canceled, the Westport brothers — a rising senior and junior respectively, at the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy in Stamford — spent endless hours on their boat.

They fished, appreciated the beautiful coastline — and discovered an astonishing amount of pollution.

Some of the worst litter was helium balloons. We’ve all seen (and probably bought) them: they look happy, and say everything from “Happy Father’s Day” to “It’s Your Graduation!”

Ben Marcus …

As they fished hundreds of balloons out of the sound, Ben and Josh chronicled their catches on social media.

“When they let go of their balloons, it may be a fun photo op,” Ben says. “But the balloons land in our oceans. They can kill our wildlife.”

It can take 4 years for a latex balloon to decompose — even longer for a Mylar one. In that time they suffocate birds and marine life. They block the digestive tracts of animals that mistake them for food.

Their strings stay in the environment even longer, and can suffocate wildlife too.

… and Josh, with balloons they’ve fished from the sound.

Like many states, Connecticut has laws against releasing balloons (punishable by fine). Not many people know that — or know the damage balloons can cause.

The Marcuses started Balloon Free Forever. The objective is to educate residents about the dangers balloons can cause when not disposed of properly. The brothers hope their awareness campaign will have as much success as recent one limiting the use of plastic bags and straws, and Styrofoam products.

Ben and Josh have gotten their family interested in balloon collecting. They urge “06880” readers to do the same.

To help the Marcus brothers clean up local waters, click here. If you don’t have a boat, just head to your favorite shoreline or park.

You’ll be doing your part for the environment. You’ll feel good. You’ll even get a free “Balloon Collector” bumper sticker for your car or boat.

But not, of course, a helium balloon with big letters saying “Congratulations!”

(The Marcuses post photos of their balloon catches on Instagram: @balloonfreeforver. They invite you to share your photos too.)

A small part of the large haul.

Roundup: Young Performers, JPs, Debris Dump, More


Among the early casualties of COVID-19 last March: dozens of young performers, in the final days of rehearsals for school plays. Months of work went for naught.

Many students in canceled shows are in the acting program TheaterCamp4Kids! Broadway Academy. Owner/artistic director Laura Curley Pendergast decided to create a “Canceled Concert” video. The selection of short clips allows her young actors — from high school down through elementary age — to perform their “lost songs.”

Selections come from “Wizard of Oz,” “Seussical: The Musical,” “Shrek: The Musical,” “Legally Blonde,” “Beauty and the Beast” and more.

David Bibbey — an Emmy Award winner and talented producer of the Westport Library’s media studios — shot the video. Now just click on, sit back and enjoy!


It’s a good thing no one commutes to New York anymore.

After Tropical Storm Isaias, the town has used the Greens Farms railroad station parking lot as a spot to dump trees, branches and debri.

A few months ago, that would have wreaked havoc. Today: no problem.

There’s even plenty of room to expand.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)


Always dreamed of being a justice of the peace?

Now’s your chance!

Westport voters who are not members of a major political party but are interested in becoming a JP can request an application (email tclerk@westportct.gov) between now and November 1.

A voter must have been an unaffiliated or minor party member voter since May 1. Registered Democrats and Republicans must be named by their parties, and cannot now become unaffiliated to apply as an unaffiliated JP.

Justices of the Peace have authority to take oaths and depositions, perform marriages, and handle other duties.

Justice of the Peace Wally Meyer (left) performed a marriage at Old Mill Beach, during the first days of the pandemic lockdown.


Like so many nonprofits, Friends of Sherwood Island State Park is reinventing their annual appeal.

Theirs — an evening of food and drink at the pavilion, called the “FUNdraiser” — will this year be called … “Shorefest on a Roll.”

On Sunday, September 20, guests will enjoy a “rolling tour of the park.” As they drive through the 236-acre gem — Connecticut’s oldest state park — a podcast will describe its history and features.

There’s entertainment, including whirligigs, kites, disc golf, music and model plane flyovers. Plus: a lobster roll-to-go feast.

Proceeds support the Friends’ efforts, including the newly renovated Nature Center, tree planting, maintenance of the vast purple martin colony, and the 9/11 Memorial.

Tickets will be available soon on www.friendsofsherwoodisland.org.


And finally … true?

In A Pandemic, Staples Tuition Grants Marks A Record Year

For Staples Tuition Grants, it was the perfect storm.

In March — just when volunteers with the 77-year-old organization were finalizing awards for the 100-plus graduating seniors and alums currently in college who depend on donors to make education a reality — the coronavirus struck.

More students needed more aid. And fewer Westporters were able to give.

But the community rose to the challenge. A special drive brought in desperately needed funds.

So this spring, STG disbursed more money than ever: $375,000.

That means 107 Staples grads — at 72 colleges and universities across the country — can continue their educations.

COVID also knocked out STG’s annual June ceremony, always a joyful, inspiring event.

But Staples grad and STG booster Margot Bruce did the next best thing: She created a joyful, inspiring video.

It includes brief messages from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (who notes the importance of a tuition grant in his Ohio hometown, helping him become the first in his family to go college); Staples principal Stafford Thomas; former recipient Scott Bennewitz, the son of a single mom and now a Princeton grad, plus many current and recent recipients.

The video is well worth the 6 minutes. And when it’s over — or even before — you can click here to help Staples Tuition Grants reach its 2021 goal.

Teen Writers Confront Stereotypes

There’s a reason it’s called a “challenge.”

Every year, TEAM Westport — our town’s multicultural commission — challenges high school students to think hard about an important topic. They’re then challenged to write about it.

The 2020 Teen Diversity Essay Contest prompt said:

In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.

As always, they responded. The winners include a Sikh American woman, a gay teen, and a blonde girl.

Their writing is honest, powerful, raw. And it is very, very important.

Sahiba Dhindsa — a Staples High School graduated headed to Cornell University — won the $1,000 first prize for her essay “Stereotypes, Stories, and the Worlds We Create.”

Second place — and $750 — went to recent Staples grad Zachary Terrillion for his story, “Stereotypes: Crippling Standards.” He’ll attend Oberlin College.

Third place, worth $500, went to rising Staples junior Tori Holoubek-Sebok. She wrote “Bombshell.”

The awards were presented virtually Thursday night, at the Westport Library. Click here to see the ceremony (beginning at the 6:50 mark). Better yet, scroll down, and read them below.

1st place: Sahiba Dhindsa, “Stereotypes, Stories, and the Worlds We Create”

Stereotypes are reductions. In a culture of compression, stereotypes reduce long, rich stories into a few descriptive words. By the time we realize what stereotypes are and the damage they do, we have already started internalizing the very ideas from which we seek to break free.

From a young age, I faced many stereotypes. It was easiest for me to assume that others’ actions against me were based on stereotypes rooted in my skin color. I failed to see that it was so much more than my skin color. As a young Sikh American woman, religion and race based stereotypes have driven the microaggressions I have faced in my school and town.

In elementary school, I understood that the lack of knowledge on Sikhism led people to assume I was part of a strange tribal religion that forced me to not
cut my hair. I didn’t tell my peers I was Sikh for 11 years to avoid assumptions about my personal life.

In eighth grade, I had a classmate tell me that I should be his slave because my skin was brown. My gut response was to be defensive. I lashed out and told him that he needed to find a better set of jokes.

Sahiba Dhindsa

I was astounded that someone would say that to me. Through self-reflection years later, I still find it difficult to understand the origin of my classmate’s comment. Because I felt so hurt by these words, and I felt so small––that my whole identity lay in my skin color––I started subconsciously internalizing these
ideas. When I described myself, I was the brown Indian girl who was Sikh and that was it. When I saw others, I immediately differentiated them from myself before they had a chance to differentiate me.

I othered myself to protect myself. Every person who was not on my “side” was the “threat”. I started stereotyping my white peers out of my own frustration.

Angry and frustrated that I was required to defend myself, I started seeing them as ignorant, difficult, and uninterested in making social change.

Freshman year, I had a disagreement with a boy sitting a few seats away from me. I don’t remember what the disagreement was about, but I do remember what he said to me: “Trump’s gonna send you back to wherever you came from.”

It was his final statement––a way to shut me up and make me insecure about my skin color and my ethnicity. While I brushed it off in the moment, it pained me to hear such a hateful comment. I had worked so hard to create a place for myself in this community––to feel as  though I was no different than anyone else despite having a different skin color and religious background.

In that moment, I felt that the confidence I had built for all these years was crumbling. Being brown, being Indian, being Sikh didn’t make me any more immune to hate speech. The stereotype that because

I’m brown, I’m not American, and I don’t belong here, has dominated much of the narrative that others had written for me.

Two years ago, for my U.S History final, my group and I did a presentation on the history of Sikh discrimination in America. At the end of our presentation, my teacher asked me about the correct pronunciation of Sikh and the significance of turbans. To others it may have been a normal expression of curiosity, but to me it was more. It was an individual approaching me from a position of inquiry rather than a position of seeking to reduce me for the sake of simplification.

I now realize that this was a turning point in realizing that I did not have to define myself with a few words simply because some of my peers had done so to me. I could take those words and re-write my story and then share it back with others. I could remove those phrases and instead define myself through the rich story I know I have.

Through this, I learned the true power of storytelling. Storytelling is so much more than simply sharing anecdotes and life experiences. Storytelling is fighting against the desire to define someone or something in a few words. Instead, it is a way to allow one to look at people with a nuance that does justice to their spirit, who they are, what they represent, and what they aspire to be.

We live in a world where everything is compressed and simplified. We’ve shortened our words from long phone conversations to texts to comments on social media. We communicate less and less with each other and by virtue of that compression, compassion becomes harder to come by. I knew if I had
gone through this journey of confronting stereotypes and reimagining myself, my other peers must have gone through it as well.

Due to my desire to hear the stories of others and share my own, I created a club called Unity in Diversity with a friend. The club’s aim was to work on minimizing stereotypes through storytelling. Beyond advocacy, the club became a safe space for individuals from varying racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual orientation backgrounds to tell their stories.

I would like to summarize my experiences and ideas in a few ways. First, I hope my experiences serve as a reminder that racism and prejudice based in ignorance is not a thing of the past, even in a community as inclusive as our own.

Second, I want to express how the acknowledgement and support of an educator can make a monumental difference in the life of a student experiencing microaggressions on a regular basis.

Third, there are few things as therapeutic as being able to share your own experience and being heard by your peers and your teachers. We often underestimate the importance of telling your authentic story: a story that has been defined entirely by you. These are the collective stories that change
the world.


2nd Place: Zachary Terrillion, “Stereotypes: Crippling Standards”

Stereotypes are a fixture of human society. Groups always look towards other groups and create pictures of their surfaces before exploring their depths. They are snapshots that have molded entire perceptions. These snapshots in their narrow borders have been hard to escape.

They are often a burden, sometimes a blessing, but for me, they are an ideal to reach. I have always forced myself to fit these societal Polaroids. For better or worse, I have been defined by these delusional struggles.

To begin, what comes to mind when you think of a gay man? Flamboyant? Outgoing? Sassy? It is these depictions that make up most of the representation, whether it be in dated ’90s sitcoms or even recent gay produced works, such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race or Queer Eye, both of which I still adore.

I am not saying these contemporary, effeminate representations are insensitive or even inaccurate, but they are a single story that has come to dominant the gazes of the heterosexual mainstream. They encompass a vision of a “traditional” gay man. How he walks, talks, and acts. To be considered genuinely gay, I must be fabulous and extroverted, just like the ones on TV.

Before I held myself to standards of queerness however, I dealt with standards of
masculinity. I was never one for sports, which can be difficult as a little boy wanting to fit in with all the other little boys. When my parents thrust me into the world of peewee soccer, I rejected the ball and ran about the field, pretending to be a Jedi. My parents, to their credit, realized manly sports were not my forte, and my overactive imagination was put to practical use within the realm of theater, an environment in which many gay people thrive. It was here where
my queer and creative facets came to fruition, as a supportive space was provided for these elements to emerge without fear of derision by society.

Stereotypes and expectations were not a player in the fluidity of improv or amateur playwriting. Still, because of being exposed to such loving communities from such a young age, I never felt the need to speak up for myself. Thus,
my introversion grew, and my burgeoning queerness became withheld, as no reason was provided for it to arise and be defended.

It was a presence in my life but not readily embraced or expressed. It was a strange median between self-hatred and love. Self-tolerance is how I would
describe it.

I expected my queerness to finally manifest in all its rainbow-colored flamboyance in high school. But, like the soccer fields of yore, I was the odd one out. The gay culture present was the same confident, expressive vision glimpsed on TV. Gays who preferred reading in corners or sitting on their phones at the edges of dance floors proved a rare find.

I was not just clashing with standards of masculinity as most gay men do, but also gayness itself. I somehow fit into neither societal trope. I loved to “spill the tea,” I adopted the feminine gestures shows and films so love to emulate, but I also enjoyed videogames and superheroes, familiar tropes of generalized masculinity. I could not connect with others from either spectrum of sexuality, as I seemed to inhabit elements of both, but resided in neither.

Zachary Terrillion

Because of these stereotypical divides, my introversion would soon devolve into social anxiety and immense insecurity, dreading rehearsals and classes that were once highlights of my week. I figured the only way to achieve social success was to emphasize my queerness above all else. To play right into the tropes
society had established for me, even if it did not connect to my personality.

My anxiety peaked the summer before my sophomore year when I attended a sleepaway program for the first time. Here, my plan to play up the gay would take effect. I escalated my flamboyant mannerisms, exaggerated my tone of voice, and emphasized that I was, in fact, very gay.

My earnest attempts backfired spectacularly. My anxiety only worsened by the end of the program, with not a single friend gained and even more insecurity to top. I wondered whether I was genuinely gay or just some poser. Was I worthy of being in the company of Johnathan Van Ness or was I just some guy who liked other guys.

Through all these struggles however, one aspect of my identity that society could not pin down remained constant. That being the creativity that bloomed on the soccer field, theater, and, currently, my writing.

Through writing, I had a voice true to myself, finding a diverse community of people through which I could thrive and depend on. A community discovered not by playing up parts of myself to adhere to the rules of stereotypes, but instead through the expression of my multifaceted truth.

All my interests and traits, both masculine and feminine, could be put into highly dynamic works of prose and poetry. These were pieces that explored the nuances of queerness that the media could not.

Overall, I have never taken stereotypes as villainizing in the conventional sense. I have not suffered through discrimination or oppression instigated by their hand. Instead, they worked to force me into a box, a servant following the will of a director in a performance society mandates.

However, through honing my traits, those too complex and niche to be generalized, these stereotypes no longer must apply. One can discover their truth through distinction in the face of generalization.

We must encourage our marginalized youth to explore the nuanced parts of themselves in order to evade standards and achieve authenticity. Only then, will the maligned snapshots of yore fade away, so more layered, accommodating portraits may come to the forefront.


3rd place, Tori Holoubek-Sebok, “Bombshell”

Blue eyed, blond haired, athletic, female. With just those words you already have a picture in your mind of who I am, or who you think I am. The “dumb blonde” persona is an excruciatingly common stereotype, but one that is often overlooked. Everyone knows of it, yet no one considers it to be a legitimate offense.

Compared to others, it appears to be trivial; merely a lighthearted joke. However the consistent repetition and application of this stereotype, on both personal and general levels, has transformed the label into something with much more substance and impact than many can see.

In an era of political correctness and common decency, it is important to acknowledge that this stereotype in no way is any comparison to those applied with strong racial, religious, or truly hateful undertones. I understand that I am privileged in numerous ways and want to make clear that I would never compare my experiences to the endless number of minorities who face racism and discrimination daily, any member of the LGBT+ community who experience violence or negativity for being who they are, or any other individual who has to live through the hardships of prejudice and hate.

Though all examples, including my own, are instances of assumption and judgement based on physicality, the stereotype that I am labeled with is at a
lower degree than the others, and that should be made clear.

Despite this, being classified as the common dumb blonde is a hurtful label that I have faced my entire life. People repeatedly making assumptions about who I am from the way I look impedes my mindset and the way I view myself.

However, it is not only the direct labeling I experience that makes an impact. The media presence of this stereotype is outstanding and has its own consequences.

Actresses like Marilyn Monroe have been characterized as naive and
materialistic, acting as merely symbols of attraction when they have significantly more substance. Monroe was classified as a “blonde bombshell” and was virtually only cast for parts which represented that. The color of her hair was enough to form her identity and her true self was hidden by the layering of the same character over and over. People began to perceive her as
the characters she played because of the constant repetition of the same persona.

No matter how far her personality strayed from that of a dumb blonde, it did not matter. People saw this stereotype, and transformed it into who Marilyn was.

The overwhelming presence of stereotypes in the media also has effects on its consumers; people can second guess themselves and be overly critical when they are constantly surrounded by these personas.

No matter the stereotype, seeing its representation can prompt insecurities and doubts within oneself. I have often been unsure of my intellect because of these reasons. I see the negativity inflicted on women as soon as I open Instagram; anonymous accounts criticizing models or people of influence, saying that their words should not be taken seriously because they are blonde and therefore incompetent.

Tori Holoubek-Sebok

Often times in my classes I can be confident in an answer, but hesitate sharing it aloud, too afraid of what my classmates or teacher will think of it. The dumb blonde stereotype has created paranoia in my brain, leaving me to wonder if I do embody the characteristics of this persona.

Whether it be in school, at home, or by myself, I am never free from the labels I am assigned. From the people all around me to even myself, my integrity and
intelligence are consistently in question.

In most cases, a family is made up of the people that know you the most, the people who will always support you. Never did I think that those same people would make such a bold assumption of my character. I have always been athletic and have played a variety of sports, but exercise has never been an interest of mine nor something I had thought about until one Christmas day when my grandparents gave my siblings identical coding kits and gave me
exercise equipment instead.

I had never given my grandparents any reason to think that I would want a core exercise ball and a set of weights over the coding sets my siblings received, and yet, that is what I got.

Blondes have been commonly classified as vain and shallow, notorious for only caring about the way they look. My blonde hair represented a stereotype, so I was assumed to be this stereotype and appearance was taken as my main priority.

Meanwhile, I would have much preferred experimenting with coding just like my siblings. This particular occasion prompted a spiral of increasing self awareness in the way that I look and the way others perceive me.

I have since found myself constantly needing to prove my integrity to those around me. In my experience, the application of the dumb blonde stereotype is rarely intentional. Though there are instances of real hostility communicated through stereotypes, I believe that labeling in this manner is most often a subconscious ordeal.

Because of this, reasoning is not the necessary method to eliminate the beliefs in stereotypes Raising awareness of the presence of the stereotypes is. Spreading consciousness is the best way to begin the decrease unfair judgments, because ensuring that people know that these stereotypes exist will prompt them to be conscious of the way they may regard others.

Change can seem like an ambitious request, but all we need is a few people. These people can initiate the process and share it amongst the people in their lives and from there it can take off; going from towns, to states, to countries, the recognition of stereotypes will spread like wildfire.

If globally, and as a community, we can expand our wealth of knowledge and share insights with our peers, everyone will gain a greater understanding of their impact on those who surround them.

School Days: Scarice Recommends Hybrid Model

With less than a month to go before the school year begins, the look of that year is becoming clear.

Last night, in a Zoom meeting with the Board of Education, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice recommended a hybrid model. It’s different at each level, but consistent in one way: All students — at least, all who do not choose full-time remote learning — would spend half their time in school, half at home.

Staples High School would have 2 cohorts, based alphabetically on last name (A-K, L-Z).

One cohort would be in school Monday and Tuesday; the other, Thursday and Friday. There would be 4 classes a day; each class is 80 minutes long. When students are not in school, they’d be online.

On Wednesday, all students would learn remotely. The highly touted Connections group meetings would be held that day too.

The final 30 minutes of each day are set aside for teachers to support and connect with remote learners.

Staples high School

The middle school model divides students into cohorts too — both alphabetical, and based on their “home school” (Bedford or Coleytown). One group would in school Monday and Thursday, online Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The other group is in school Tuesday and Friday, online Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

All middle school students would be online Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On that day, teachers will have professional responsibility time from 12:30 to 3:15.

Bedford Middle School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The elementary school model was developed thanks to “herculean, unparalleled work” by professionals at all 5 schools, Scarice said.

The elementary model — which emphasizes literacy and math for live instruction — splits youngsters into morning and afternoon groups. There would be live “online specials” when students are home; phys. ed., art, music and Spanish are taught once a week. Small group instrumental lessons and ensembles would be taught virtually. Students would eat at home.

Stepping Stones Preschool would be “business as close to usual” as possible. The class size is 9 to less than 14, meeting state guidelines.

Long Lots Elementary School

Scarice pulled no punches in his introductory remarks. “This is not a 100% data-driven decision. Nor should it be,” he said.

Noting “we are a community and nation enveloped in fear and uncertainty,” he acknowledged that any decision would impact “students, families, teachers, staff members and the entire community. We will not be able to answer every question. This is something we’ve never done before.

“There will be a perception of winners and losers,” he acknowledged. “We must remember: Our purpose is to serve students.”

Although there is a national debate over the role and conduct of education and educators, the superintendent said, “This is a moment for our profession to shine. I am fully confident we will do this very, very well.”

The Board also heard a proposal to move the first day for students back a week, from September 1 to September 8. Those extra days are needed for staff training.

The Board of Education will vote on the hybrid models, and the calendar change, at their next meeting, on Monday.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice, during last night’s Zoom meeting.