Category Archives: Teenagers

Troop 39 Honors Our Troops

Yesterday, many Westporters enjoyed the first real day of summer. The start of a holiday weekend saw Compo Beach packed, the roads filled with bicyclists, backyard grills all fired up.

Meanwhile, Boy Scout Troop 39 was busy remembering the real meaning of Memorial Day.

They placed new American flags at the graves of military veterans, and decommissioned worn flags, at 4 local cemeteries: Assumption on Greens Farms Road, Greens Farms Congregational by the Sherwood Island Connector, Willowbrook on Wilton Road, and Christ & Holy Trinity on Kings Highway North.

Scouts at Assumption Cemetery, off Greens Farms Road.

It was definitely a good — no, a great — deed.

If you see Troop 39 at tomorrow’s parade, be sure to give them an extra-proud wave.

Terry and Eamonn Brannigan, with their flags.

Friday Flashback #92

In honor of Monday’s Memorial Day parade, here’s a look back nearly 50 years.

Ed Stalling posted this family home movie on YouTube. Shot in 1969 or ’70 on Riverside Avenue — mostly opposite King’s Texaco (now Sunny Daes) — it shows cops, veterans, the Red Cross, state police cars (with comical 1-bubblegum lights on top), Indian Guides, Little Leaguers, and the Long Lots Junior High band.

Very briefly at the end there’s a shot of the Long Lots band downtown, opposite the old post office (now Design Within Reach).

Half a century ago, the Vietnam War raged. Our country was torn apart — politically, socially and culturally.

But — as shown in the video — Westport had a great Memorial Day parade.

We will on Monday, too. See you there!

 

Staples Students Demand Action

In March, over 1,000 Staples High School students walked out of class. Massed in the fieldhouse, they honored the 17 slain students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and demanded sensible gun legislation.

It was a powerful display of activism. But many Westporters wondered whether the teenage leaders could sustain their momentum.

A month later, a smaller — but still substantial — group of students headed to the high school courtyard. In the afternoon, a few dozen assembled on Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.

Again, their message centered on stopping gun violence.

And again, the question hung: Are these kids in it for the long run?

They are.

Last month, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. (Photo/Ali Feder)

There’s now a Staples chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage. Westport leaders include Elana Atlas, Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren.

The end of the school year is in sight — the busiest time of year. Seniors have already headed off to internships.

But Students Demand Action are in the thick of things. They meet regularly, to strategize and plan activities.

Their first big event is a #WearOrange campaign. That’s the official color of gun violence — because it was what Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore to honor her. She was killed at age 15 — just a week after performing at President Obama’s 2nd inauguration.

On the weekend of June 1-3, the group will paint the town orange. It’s part of a nationwide effort.

“We’re fighting to take back power from the gun lobby,” says Staples chapter co-founder Elana Atlas.

“We would love for the rest of the community to fight with us as we demand action from legislators on a local, state and federal level, as well as businesses and schools to implement common-sense gun reforms. We need to end the epidemic of gun violence in America.”

(For more information, email westportstudentsdemand@gmail.com)

Staples Sings With One Voice

Staples High School’s many choral ensembles — male, female, mixed, from freshmen through elite Orphenians — came together last Friday for a special “One Voice Concert for Unity.”

They sang by themselves and together. There were featured solos, and soaring, intricate group selections. Orphenians performed 2 pieces by Jake Runestad, the heralded composer whose work they’ll showcase this summer in Australia.

And there was a compelling rendition of “Tell My Father,” Sullivan Ballou’s tender Civil War letter to his wife, put to music.

It was an outstanding evening. Just when you think choral director Luke Rosenberg and our town’s teenagers can’t set the bar higher — they do.

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt, videographer)

Color My (Volleyball) World

It’s a Staples High School sports tradition.

Before post-season tournaments, some boys teams shave their heads. Others get Mohawks.

This year, the volleyball guys decided that instead of looking fierce (or stupid), they’d look good.

Yesterday, they headed to Effi’s Salon in Saugatuck.

There, owner Effie Andriotis colored the Wreckers.

The 2018 Staples High School volleyball team — and Effie.

But make no mistake: This team is tough.

The volleyballers finished their regular season last week with a perfect 19-0 record.

Even more incredible: They won 57 sets this spring, and lost just 2.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, May 23), the top-seeded Westporters take on Trumbull in the FCIAC semifinals. Game time is 5 p.m., at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.

They’d love a huge crowd to cheer them on.

They wouldn’t mind some props for their hair, too.

Staples’ 12 Angry Men (And Women)

Nine years ago, Staples Players produced “Twelve Angry Men.” The classic courtroom drama was staged in the Black Box Theater — in the round.

The audience surrounded the set, on all 4 sides. I saw it 3 times — always in a different spot. Each vantage point was unique. I saw 3 versions of the same play.

This week, Players again produce “Twelve Angry Men.” Once again it’s in the round.

“With racial profiling and challenges to justice ever present in the news today, this felt like the right time to bring back the show,” Roth says.

“It feels like the actors are in a fishbowl — being watched and judged by society. That’s what we want.”

“Twelve Angry men” explores the dynamics between 12 jurors, from different backgrounds, as they meet on a hot summer day to decide one man’s fate. Though the play was first performed live on CBS in 1954, the preconceptions and assumptions of the characters are quite relevant today.

Tempers flare as jurors deliberate in “Twelve Angry Men.” From left: Tucker Ewing, Nick Rossi, Sam Gusick, Chad Celini, Jack Watzman and Kristin Amato. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Kristin Amato — Juror #8 — says, “The show really makes you think. It is all about the questioning of morals and personal prejudices. I think many audience members will go home reflecting on their own actions, and how they may have acted if they were in the same circumstances as the jurors in the show.”

She adds, “As much as I love the main stage, there’s something special about the intimacy of the Black Box. I love the interaction with the audience. Because we’re so close, when anyone claps or laughs or even gasps, we as actors can really play off of it. The energy just builds.”

For several seniors, “Twelve Angry Men” — which Roth and Long have cast to include female jurors — will be the final Players show before college.

Sophia Sherman — who will study acting at the University of Michigan — plays a Russian immigrant. Her passion for democracy, and strong statements about immigration, race and class difference, are “eye-opening,” Sherman says.

My eyes were opened — in 3 different ways — 9 years ago. I look forward to seeing the same show, in yet another way, soon.

(“Twelve Angry Men” will be performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 24, 25 and 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 27 at 3 p.m., in the Staples High School Black Box Theatre. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the Black Box Theatre lobby 30 minutes prior to performances.)

Buy One, Give One: The Meloria Model

Tutoring is big business. Westport youngsters from kindergarten on spend untold hours honing their reading, writing, math, science, singing and sports skills. They — okay, their parents — pay big bucks for the opportunity.

Of course, not everyone can afford a tutor — not even in a group setting.

Meliora Education is doing something to help. The Westport-based college prep company, provides SAT, ACT and academic tutoring with a twist. Every hour purchased buys an hour for Bridgeport-area juniors and seniors.

Meliora offers the service through Fairchild Wheeler. The magnet school on the Bridgeport-Trumbull line is actually 3 high schools: aero/hydrospace engineering, biotech/zoology and information technology. There are 500 students in each.

Tuck Northrop

Tuck Northrop teaches literature at the engineering school. A Westport native who left investment banking for a more fulfilling career in education, he loves both his job and his school.

“The kids here are really smart,” he says proudly. “And you can’t learn aircraft design and naval architecture at other schools.

Fairchild Wheeler has been recognized as a Magnet School of Excellence. Graduates go on to Ivy League and other top schools.

But getting ahead is a constant struggle. The gap between the haves (like Staples) and the have-nots (like Bridgeport schools) is enormous. That’s where Meliora rides to the rescue.

Founder Yearsley Winkler — a baseball and soccer star at Staples, who after graduation in 2003 earned degrees from Yale and in England — hired Northrop as Fairchild Wheeler’s first after-school SAT tutor.

Northrop recruited others. They now teach 2 sessions each afternoon. Students attend two per week.

It’s tough. But, Northrop says, “it gives students a chance they otherwise would never have.”

Tuck Northrop and his students.

The classes are free. Students do pay $20 for an SAT prep book (a $24 value). If they do not miss a class, they get their money back.

Meliora’s buy one/give one model does not cover all the costs. A recent $25,000 grant from the Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Memorial Foundation funds the rest.

Results are very encouraging. Northrop worked with one class that scored very low on the first diagnostic test, and one that scored high. Both improved dramatically during the program.

Bridgeport students took the SAT last month. Scores are not yet in. But they felt good about their preparation, and comfortable knowing what to expect.

Meloria will run the course again next year. And in the fall — thanks to the Culpepper grant — they’ll help the soon-to-be-seniors with their college essays and applications.

Krish Crushes Cubes

If you’re like me, you can solve a Rubik’s cube in about the time it takes a spaceship to reach the Andromeda galaxy.

And return.

If you’re like Krish Shah-Nathwani though, you can do it in 1 minute, 41 seconds.

Blindfolded.

He’s been cubing since 2014. He was a Bedford Middle School student, and spent days teaching himself with an online tutorial. Very quickly, Krish got hooked.

Pyraminx

His first competition came a few months later, at Yale. His time of 17.89 seconds — yes, you read that right — was not good enough to earn honors (you read that right too). But Krish had fun, made friends, and loved the cubing community.

He began specializing in pyraminx (a tetrahedron puzzle with nearly a million different positions). Before year’s end, he placed 2nd at an MIT event.

2015 brought Krish’s 1st sub-10 second solve; his 1st win, and a trip to the nationals in Portland, Oregon.

He loved competitions. “They’re a great social gathering with like-minded people,” Krish — now a Staples High School sophomore — says. “I’ve made friends all across the country.”

Last year, he entered 13 competitions. Computers generate “scrambles.” Each cuber gets 5 different “solves.” The best and worst scores are discarded, because a lucky scramble can allow a contestant to skip a few steps. Scores are based on the average time of the middle 3 solves.

Krish got his first sub-10 second average. That was a “huge milestone.”

Kirsh Shah-Nathwani intently works a cube.

He also had his first blindfolded success. When the timer starts, cubers memorize what they see. He imagines a sequence of letters, then solves the cube using a mnemonic.

So that 1:41 time? It includes the seconds he spent memorizing the cube.

Last year, at nationals in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Krish reached 2 semifinals and 1 finals.

At Penn, he finished second in the “normal” category (a regular Rubik’s cube solve). The winner was the North American record holder for fastest solve. “He’s one of my idols,” Krish says. “So I didn’t feel that bad.”

6×6 Rubik’s cube

Competitions involve many different categories. Krish can do 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, 5×5 and 6×6. He’ll do 7×7 this June. (It’s worth noting — though Krish says it very casually — that he does 3×3 with only one hand — and blindfolded.)

He also does square 1 (shape-shifting) and megaminx (a dodecahedron).

Is there anything Krish can’t do?

“I can’t solve with my feet,” he admits. “It takes me like 10 minutes. I have a friend who did it in 16.9 seconds.”

A key characteristic of a good cuber is resilience, Krish says. You do not need “genius IQ,” or a mathematical mind. “Once you understand how a cube works, it’s simple,” he claims.

As you may have figured, Krish is the real deal. He’s sponsored by Speed Cube Shop, an online seller of cubes, timers, lubricants, carrying bags, and anything else a competitive cuber could want.

Krish gets his cubes for free (and displays their logo prominently).

That’s a big help. Each cube turns differently, he explains. And each cuber has his particular style. A serious cuber needs lots of cubes.

Krish puts them to good use. You can see them on his YouTube channel. He has over 1,500 subscribers. He’s so well known, in fact, that at competitions he gets asked for autographs and selfies.

In March, Krish won his first competition, in Poughkeepsie, New York, with an average time of 8.36 seconds. He set a personal best time there too: 6.73 seconds. That got his name on the World Cube Association home page.

This summer, Krish heads to Nationals in Salt Lake City, to compete against some of the best in the world.

But, Krish insists, all this competition is not about beating others.

“It’s cool to get accolades. But it’s more about competing against yourself. I’m ecstatic when I better myself.

“And we’re all supportive of each other. When Daniel Gutierrez beat my state record, I was so happy. He practiced so long, and worked so hard.”

Speaking of practice: Krish spends 2 to 3 hours a day on his cubes.

“It’s not an obligation. I enjoy it,” he says. “I do it while I’m on video calls with friends in other states. We talk with each other about everything. And we race too.”

Every month or so, he sees those cubing friends in real life, at competitions.

Krish and friends, at a cubing competition.

His other friends — those at Staples — think his cubing is cool. Teachers are impressed too.

The entire school saw see Krish in action recently, at the talent show. He was just as entertaining as the singers and dancers.

Which leads to this important detail about Krish Shah-Nathwani: He has a life beyond cubing.

A member of Staples Players, he has performed onstage in “Music Man,” “Newsies,” and the One-Act Play Festival.

“It rounds me out as a person,” he says. “Cubing brings out my analytical side. Players brings out my artistic side.”

But he can’t resist one final plug for his greatest passion.

“Give it a try!” he urges. “We need more Connecticut cubers.”

Bedford Actors Take “Higher Ground”

On May 11 and 12, Bedford Acting Group will present a controversial play about bullying in middle school. It’s a hot topic now, all over the country.

Co-directors Karen McCormick and Ryan Smith have planned “Higher Ground” for a while.

It’s not the first time they’ve addressed the issue.

In 2010, then-8th grader Will Haskell played the lead. He’s now running for a state senate seat — and will speak to the cast during rehearsals.

Will Haskell, in Bedford Middle School’s 2010 production of “Higher Ground.”

The play deals frankly with important issues like body image, race and sexuality. Characters are taunted for various reasons, before banding together and standing up in the end.

One boy is teased, harassed and assaulted after he shrugs off a misunderstanding about whether he is gay or straight. Other students are bullied for their weight, ethnicity, dress, interest in academics and being in special education.

“Higher Ground” was written in 2008 by Sherwood, Oregon middle school teacher Jennie Brown. Her principal called it “too mature,” and ordered it rewritten. Students countered that it depicted middle school life accurately, and refused to perform if it was censored.

The show was canceled. But the community rose in support, and “Higher Ground” enjoyed 3 sold-out performances at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

Eight years ago McCormick found the script online. With the full support of BMS administration, the play was presented. It earned raves.

Brown has updated the play to reflect today’s technological and social media environment. But the message remains the same.

And it’s one every Westporter should see.

(“Higher Ground” will be presented on Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 p.m. in the Bedford Middle School auditorium. Click here for tickets.) 

Top row (from left): Ryan Porio, Alex Waterworth. Bottom row: Sydney Gusick, Quinn Mulvey, Isabella Roberts.

BMS Science Olympians Strike Gold

When I hear “science competition,” I think of nerdy kids next to poster boards, explaining styrofoam experiments to nerdy judges.

When Bedford Middle School students hear it, they think of Science Olympiad. Which is pretty similar to the actual Olympic Games.

Instead of swimming, boxing, biathlon (and curling!) though, there are events like anatomy and physiology, hovercraft and towers.

Body tape and energy bars are replaced by duct tape and battery chargers.

But — just like the Summer and Winter Games — events are timed. Adrenaline runs high. There are big prizes for the winners.

Last month, BMS placed 1st and 3rd at the state competition in Farmington. The gold winners now represent Connecticut at the 34th annual Science Olympiad national tournament. It’s May 18-19, at Colorado State University.

Hail to the champions: Bedford Middle School’s Science Olympiad stars.

That’s no small achievement. 15,000 schools participate across the country. Teams of up to 15 students compete in 23 events, covering science, technology, engineering and math.

Some require constructing a project ahead of time. Others involve on-the-spot skill-solving. Like athletes, “SciOly” teams train for hours each week.

Fortunately, Bedford is led by a coach who is John Wooden, Geno Auriemma and Pep Guardiola rolled into one.

During the day, Art Ellis — the first student at Princeton University to seek a combination degree in engineering and public school education — teaches design and engineering.

Teacher/coach Art Ellis in action.

After school, his classroom transforms into the Science Olympiad workshop. Middle schoolers build, study, perform lab trials, make mistakes and hone their performances.

After a dinner break, he opens the room again. Students focus on different events.

On weekends he’s either at BMS, or in Glastonbury coaching his flyers for the SciOly “Wright Stuff” event.

Many of this year’s Olympians worked during school breaks — including last summer vacation. They’ve been inspired by Mr. Ellis, who teaches them exactly how competitions work.

Once the students understand how good their opponents are — and they’re very, very good — they’re hooked on beating them.

But there’s no trash talk or foul play. Bedford wins with grace. They congratulated the runners-up profusely. After all, Mr. Ellis reminded them, if the other team wasn’t their rivals, they’d likely be their good friends.

After winning a gold medal, two Bedford Middle School Science Olympians show their joy.

Mr. Ellis also coaches the Staples High School Science Olympiad team. Formed last year, they’ve already snagged a pair of 3rd-place finishes. Coleytown Middle School competed at the state meet this year too, and earned an individual medal.

There’s only one thing Mr. Ellis can’t do: create money out of thin air. The cost of sending 25 students and 5 advisers to Colorado is $35,000. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880 (put “Science Olympiad” in the memo line).

Congratulations to BMS Science Olympians Jackson Benner, Julia Berg, Tavan Bhatia, Aalok Bhattacharya, Kristina Chaney, Rhea Choudhury, Joshua Deitch, Tatiana Dragun, Hannah Even, Amy Ginzburg, Tanvi Gorre, Sharmila Green, Anja Gubitz, Finnbar Kiely, Lucy Livingstone, Emma Losonczy, Annabelle Luo, Colin Morgeson, Alexander Pirkl, Jeffrey Pogue, Ishan Prasad, Naomi Rosen, Zachary Rybchin, Samira Saad, Kaitlyn Seo, Tegh Singh, Clara Smith, Mallika Subramanian, Maxwell Tanksley, Whitman Teplica and Jy Xu, plus Mr. Elllis’ fellow coaches Kathryn Nicholas and Dr. Daniel Cortright.

Good luck going for another gold. And have fun along the way!

(Hat tip: Danielle Teplica)