Category Archives: Teenagers

Rising Talent Records At Studio 8

You won’t find Brody Braunstein in Westport this week. He’s in Australia, singing and touring with Staples High School’s elite Orphenians.

Music is the rising junior’s passion. He is also a member of the Fairfield County Children’s Choir, has sung at Carnegie Hall, and is lead singer for the popular band Kill the Chill.

In addition to singing, Brody plays piano, keyboard and guitar. He’s taken college classes in music production software. He’s a published songwriter. And he built a sound studio in his house.

Yet Brody understands that he can’t work creatively alone.

“Technology is great. It’s pretty much given everyone access to the tools they need to make music,” he says.

Brody Braunstein

“But just like in real life, technology in music can be isolating. You’ve got all these amazingly talented aspiring artists sitting in their bedrooms creating music on Garage Band. There’s access, but no connection to other people. No give and take.”

A few months ago, Brody heard Edge say that much of U2’s early creative process took place in the recording studio. The band went in with a vague idea and rudimentary tracks — and emerged with something they loved.

Unfortunately, Edge noted, that does not happen much today. Studio time is too expensive.

Brody — who realizes how lucky he is to have so many resources — had a flash of inspiration.

The result: Studio 8.

It’s a not-for-profit collaborative recording studio for teens. And run by teens.

No, it’s not a full, professionally equipped studio. But it has everything a young artist needs to record, mix and master their music.

It also has Brody to help.

And it’s free.

Brody Braunstein, at work in his home studio.

It’s also just one part of what Brody does. This fall, he’ll begin working with youngsters at KEYS. The Bridgeport organization provides music education to underserved communities.

It’s an amazing group, as Brody knows from previous experience. He’ll work with the choir this year — and hopes he can get them to record in Studio 8.

Meanwhile, Brody invites young people in the area to lay down tracks, test out a new piece, flesh out a cover or record something for a college portfolio.

He’s also looking for videographers, social media experts and sound editors (especially those into rap or EDM) to join Studio 8.

Brody is Down Under until July 21. Once he’s back, you can reach him by email: Studio8Collaborative@gmail.com.

(Studio 8 is free — but donations to the KEYS program are gratefully accepted. Use Brody’s email above for more information.)

Young Artists Featured At Bruce Museum

The future of art is alive and well in Westport.

And Greenwich.

The Bruce Museum is showcasing student works from Connecticut and New York. Its 8th annual “iCreate” exhibit drew more than 600 submissions, from 33 high schools.

Three Westport students made the cut. Their work is among 45 pieces on display, now through August 12.

Henry Koskoff created “Still Life” as part of his junior year Advanced Drawing class at Staples High School. It portrays a pile of shoes, seemingly toppling over each other and illuminated from above. Movement and spatial relationships enrich the piece with life.

“Still Life,” charcoal on paper by Henry Koskoff.

Recent Staples graduate Branton Zhang found inspiration on a trip to Paris. He found himself in a small, dark room disconnected from the rest of the Louvre. The only light appeared angelic, illuminating a desolate chair while revealing an “odd beauty.” He was inspired to create what he calls “my first important piece of art.”

“Empty Chair,” oil on canvas by Branton Zhang.

Recent Greens Farms Academy graduate Sophie Lewis has spent years sketching human faces. Her piece uses beeswax and ink to transform simple sketches into tactile, intricate and interesting works of art.

Untitled, watercolor transfer on encaustics by Sophie Lewis.

A People’s Choice Award will be announced August 5. Votes can be cast at the Bruce Museum. For more information on the iCreate exhibit, click here.

Do Know Much About History

Sure, STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — gets lots of education headlines.

But history is alive and well in Westport schools too.

Two Staples High students recently finished 8th in the nation.

Meanwhile, 4 Bedford Middle Schoolers landed in the national top 4.

Stapleites Shea Curran and Kate Enquist were students this past year in Drew Coyne’s sophomore US History Honors course. He asked his students to find a National History Day topic on the theme of conflict and compromise.

Initially, Shea admits, “Kate and I were not really looking forward to NHD. We imagined it was filled with history nerds and crazy parents.”

But as they searched for ideas, they found an article on Westport’s Nike missile sites on (ta da!) “06880.” They got hooked — and realized history can be interesting, exciting (and cool).

Nike missiles on display.

They spent months researching the topic, using old newspapers and other material — some of it previously classified. They also interviewed people who were there.

The process was not easy, Kate says. But it was rewarding.

Shea and Kate were amazed to learn that missiles were once stored on the current site of Bedford Middle School. They were stunned to discover how close the US came to nuclear war.

The project “opened our eyes to today’s society,” Shea says. “We realize the importance of civilians being able to voice their concerns, suggestions or opinions.”

During the Cold War, she notes, “if civilians did not speak up, the results of the Nike missile sites would be much different.”

Shea Curran and Kate Enquist

The entire National History Day experience has sparked Kate’s interest in government and history. She’ll volunteer in those areas this summer, and will take AP Government in the fall.

(To view Shea and Kate’s project online, click here.)

At the junior level, Bedford’s Jason Chiu-Skow, Jordan Chiu-Skow, Johann Kobelitsch and Lyah Muktavaram worked since October — during their lunches — with teacher Caroline Davis. They also spent hours together after school, and on weekend.

Their topic was “How the Treaty of Versailles Ended the Great War.” They chose it because they realized that compromise is not always fair.

The Bedford Middle School National History Day team, at the national competition.

As part of their project, the Bedford students learned how to do research, present a convincing argument, answer judges’ questions, and work as a team.

They finished 3rd in Fairfield County, then first in Connecticut, before earning 4th place at the national competition (which also included Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Singapore, South Korea and South Asia).

The National History Day winners will be honored — and their exhibits shown — at a reception on July 14 in Connecticut’s Old Sate House.

There certainly is a lot of history there.

ConGRADulations, Staples Class of 2018!

Staples High School sent 460 new graduates into the world today.

The 131st commencement went off flawlessly. The fieldhouse was packed (but not sweltering). The brief speeches were insightful and on target (and the sound system worked well). The graduates were happy and well-behaved (as were the parents, grandparents and siblings).

Congratulations, Class of 2018! Enjoy your day. Westport is proud of you.

Just remember: In a couple of months, you’ll be freshmen all over again.

Five of the 460 soon-to-be graduates are at the front of the line, before marching in to the fieldhouse….

… while most of the rest of the class gathered outside.

 

Empty diploma cases, ready to be picked up. Graduates get their actual diplomas after the ceremony.

Sarah Stanton waits for the processional to begin.

This sign hung from the rafters, for all the graduates to see.

From left: faculty marshal Nick Mariconda, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer and Staples principal James D’Amico. The marshal is the faculty member with the longest continuous service at the school.

A small portion of Staples High School’s Class of 2018.

Luke Rosenberg (right) directs the Orphenians in the national anthem. They also sang “The Road Home.”

Class speaker Josiah Tarrant talked about his swim team’s great victory over Greenwich, his discovery of culinary class, and many other joys of life at Staples. The mace (left) is carried by the faculty marshal, and remains at the podium during the ceremony.

The money shot: awarding diplomas.

Cheering on a favorite grad.

Many graduates decorate their caps. This one took plenty of work.

A classic post-graduation family pose.

No, they’re not wondering where the next party is. They’re trying to find their parents.

Cigars for the guys …

… and the girl.

After the ceremony, there were celebrations all around town. At A Better Chance of Westport’s Glendarcy House, Jarod Ferguson (bottom) posed proudly with current and alumni scholars.

Hats off to Staples High School’s Class of 2018! (All photos/Dan Woog)

Staples Interns Explore 3 Generations Of Fun

Back in the day, Staples High School seniors spent the last month before graduation marking time.

Stricken with severe cases of senioritis, with classes essentially over and warm weather beckoning, even the most diligent students checked out.

For nearly a decade though, Staples’ senior internship program has provided an excellent bridge between school and the real world.

Last week, over 450 soon-to-be graduates completed their 4-week internships. They worked for marketing and financial services firms; at Town Hall, the police station and in Westport schools. They helped doctors and lawyers, builders and caterers.

They got a taste of commuting, writing lesson plans, being part of a company team. They learned about punctuality and customer service; how to write business emails, answer the phone and (yes) make coffee.

Ella de Bruijn did her internship at Wakeman Town Farm.

I could highlight any one of 450 interns. But I chose Zach Howard and Alison Lindsey-Noble.

They interned at Aspetuck Land Trust. Part of their work was creating a video.

Together, they interviewed 3 generations of local residents. First, they asked: “What did you do for fun as a kid.”

The grandparent and parent generations talked about being outdoors: fishing, bike riding, playing games, jumping in leaves.

The youngest generation — today’s kids — mentioned video games, computers, watching TV with friends. One talked about rock climbing — the Xbox version, that is.

Asked what they can’t live without, the youngsters said Wi-Fi, technology, cell phones, and TV (“because there’s nothing else to do,” one girl added).

Two boys sitting on a couch playing video games

Zach and Alison then asked the older generations why it’s important for kids to go outside.

“To have a good relationship with the natural world,” one said. “You get a healthy perspective on life in general; how we relate to the environment.” That helps everyone make “good life decisions,” he noted.

The video ends with this message: “Aspetuck Land Trust has 45 trailed preserves available to you.”

Now, hopefully — thanks to Zach and Alison’s internship work — some kids may put down their phones, turn off their Wiis, and take a hike.

Click below to see Zach and Alison’s video.

Saugatuck Rowing’s Success: It’s In The (Fairfield County) Water

Earlier this month, Saugatuck Rowing Club’s junior women won the US youth 8+ championship in California. It was a remarkable 4th straight national title for the local club.

Two other boats medaled: the women’s youth lightweight 4+ earned a silver, and the men’s pair a bronze.

Nine of SRC’s champion rowers are from Westport.

Staples High School senior Kelsey McGinley, at US Rowing’s youth national championship.

Saugatuck Rowing is part of an area-wide hotbed of success. In fact, Rowing Magazine recently profiled 8 clubs on the I-95 corridor from Rye to Westport (and one in New Milford), with the headline “Connecticut Rules.”

The secret to their success, the story says, is “good water, good coaches and great athletes.”

“Fairfield County is an area of excellence,” notes Sharon Kriz, SRC’s director of rowing. “Everyone strives for the best, in everything they do.”

Rowing is a natural extension of that. But simply having “great kids, supportive parents and excellent facilities” is not all.

Since arriving in 2007, Kriz has developed an all-encompassing culture of sportsmanship and leadership. It filters down, from one group of rowers to the next. The boat that captured the 4th national title this month is completely different than the first winners in 2015.

Saugatuck rowers embrace after the youth 8+ national championship race. Behind them, director of rowing Sharon Kriz carries oars,

Alumni return often, to pass along the lessons they’ve learned. All 7 summer staffers are former SRC rowers. Some are still in college. Others plan to be full-time coaches — hopefully, at the handsome Riverside Avenue club.

A mentorship program has moved from the girls to the boys, and now to the parents. Every new rower and adult is pared with an experienced one. The result is twofold, Kriz says: support and relationships.

In a high-powered, hard-driving area like Fairfield County, managing expectations can be hard, Kriz admits.

“We have 60 boys and 60 girls. Not all of them will be star rowers. That’s the nature of a competitive team.

“But if they’re passionate and work hard, they’ll get results. Good communication can alleviate some issues.”

Winning is not the main goal of the club, she says. But it flows from the SRC culture. And, she notes, “You have to learn how to lose in order to win.”

Staples High School senior Isabelle Grosgogeat is coxswain on the national champion boat.

Saugatuck Rowing has plenty to offer, besides top-notch coaching, a clear and cohesive philosophy, and excellent equipment.

The facility itself is a draw. Parents — who come from several towns, besides Westport — can drop off their youngsters, go upstairs and work out themselves.

They can have a drink or meal at the restaurant, or just sit on the patio and gaze at the water. “It’s a special place,” Kriz says proudly.

Of course, the Saugatuck is also a tidal river.

“We’ve learned to adapt,” Kriz says. “Sometimes it’s pretty low. We make the best of it.”

But in the end, Saugatuck Rowing Club’s success — and draw — comes down to the people in the boats. And on land.

“We’ve got a great group of hardworking kids, coaches and support staff,” Kriz says. “I couldn’t be prouder of all of them.”

Director of rowing Sharon Kriz (far right) and junior girls head coach Gordon Getsinger (far left) pose with Saugatuck Rowing Club’s graduating seniors. All wear the logos of the colleges they’ll attend.

Clueless About The Arts

At School of Rock, kids who love ’60s and ’70s music find a home. They learn to play it — and perform in public. And they meet other young musicians just like them.

Several years ago, Staples High School juniors Zach Rogers and Jake Greenwald joined with Fairfield high schoolers Mike Chapin, Andrew Wasserman and Francesco Perrouna, plus Coleytown Middle School’s Ethan Walmark, in Clueless.

In a band of standout musicians, Ethan really stands out.

A keyboard prodigy, his “Piano Man” video has nearly 2 million views (and Billy Joel called the intro “better than mine”). Ethan has sung the national anthem in front of 25,000 fans.

He’s also on the autism spectrum.

Zach first befriended Ethan at Fairfield School of Rock.

“He was so amazing to be around,” the guitarist says. “He’s incredibly talented, and a dynamic performer. As I got to know him more, I realized how great it is that he’s found his expression in music.”

Clueless is (from left) Ethan Walmark, Francesco Perrouna, Andrew Wasserman,
Mike Chapin (drums), Zach Rogers and Jake Greenwald.

Zach helps Ethan at Hebrew School. “Watching him grow up is special,” the older boy says.

“He’s taught me to be positive all the time. The way he lives life so fully is inspirational.”

The Clueless rock/funk/fusion band headlined a fundraiser for Autism Speaks. They’ve performed in front of 30,000 people at Jones Beach, and opened for Lez Zeppelin, the 4-woman cover band.

Next up: “Clueless About the Arts.”

The Sunday, June 24 show (7 to 10 p.m., Fairfield Theatre Company) will raise money to provide free music lessons and education workshops for under-served Fairfield County youngsters.

Classic rock lives. And young local musicians are using the power of music to help others.

Clueless clearly has a clue.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on “Clueless About the Arts.”)

 

Pop! Go The Concerts

If you missed last Friday’s Staples High School concert, you weren’t alone. Tickets went faster than “Springsteen on Broadway” (and, being free, for a lot less cash).

But you don’t have to wait a year for the next one.

Here, thanks to the indefatigable Jim Honeycutt, is the entire show.

The symphonic band and orchestra, jazz band and choral group Orphenians — they’re all here.

So is a special tribute to retiring orchestra director Adele Valovich. The show is narrated by actor/director James Naughton.

Bravo!

BONUS REEL: As if that’s not enough, here’s the recent spring concert, featuring Nick Mariconda’s Staples jazz band, and their Bedford Middle School counterparts, led by Gregg Winters.

#How To Raise A Human

On Monday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” aired a sobering story about the “pressure cooker” environment faced by so many teenagers today.

Allison Aubrey could have focused on any high-achieving, high-expectations community like Westport.

She chose our next door neighbor, Wilton.

The piece — titled “Back Off: How to Get Out of the High-Pressure Parenting Trap,” with the hashtag #HowToRaiseAHuman” — described the “anxiety and despair” of Savannah Eason when she grew up there.

The pressure to take Advanced Placement and honors courses, play varsity or club sports and do many extracurricular activities was overwhelming.

The results — elevated risks of anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol use — can be seen in many youngsters raised in privileged communities.

(Francesco Zorzi for NPR)

“People choose communities like this to give their children opportunities, but it comes at a cost,” Savannah’s mother Genevieve says.

For Savannah, a crisis forced a change. Her mother said, “I know I was talking to her by 8th grade about how she needed to find out what her passions were, so she could get involved in the right activities … so that would look good on her college applications.”

After Savannah’s problems began, her mom backed off. She helped Savannah drop some tough courses. And, Aubrey reported, the family started to focus on well-being.

Her mom noted: “Up to that point, I totally bought into the idea we’re supposed to push our kids to achieve. When they encounter obstacles, we push them to overcome those.” But pushing too hard can backfire.

The NPR story said that 30 percent of Wilton High students showed sadness, anxiety, depression, and internalized symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. The national average is 7 percent.

Drug and alcohol use was higher than national norms too.

Aubrey quoted Suniya Luthar, professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who surveyed Wilton. Several years ago, she was involved in a longitudinal study in Westport.

Genevieve Eason has a solution: “We have to broaden our definitions of success, and celebrate more kinds of success.”

That means understanding when her daughter says, “I don’t want to work on Wall Street; that sounds miserable to me.”

Instead, Savannah enrolled in culinary school. She is training to be a pastry chef.

She has a new set of priorities. “It’s not about how big your house is and what kind of car you drive,” Savannah says. “It’s about happiness and peace.”

(Click here for the full NPR story.)

“The Hate U Give” Brings Schools Together

There’s tons of talk about the vast gulf between school districts in Connecticut. Westport and Bridgeport — just a few miles apart — offer particularly stark differences.

Much of the time, it’s only talk.

But a collaboration involving 2 schools, 4 English teachers, and 95 students this year showed what happens when people try to bridge the gap.

The project began with Staples High School librarian Colin Neenan. He thought The Hate U Give — a popular young adult novel about a girl who becomes an activist after witnessing the police shooting of her unarmed friend, and exists in both her urban neighborhood and a wealthy private school — would be a great vehicle to bring suburban and city students together.

Danielle Spies and Barb Robbins — who teach 3A and 2 Honors English respectively at Staples — were selected from among several volunteers. Neenan and co-librarian Tamara Weinberg connected with Fola Sumpter and Ashley LaQuesse, Harding High teachers who were enthusiastic about the collaboration.

First, Westport students went to the Bridgeport school. They met their counterparts, and discussed the first 26 pages of the novel.

One of Robbins’ students was nervous about meeting new, “different” people, the teacher says.

After the first session though, she told Robbins, “They’re just like me. We had so much to talk about.”

Staples literacy coach Rebecca Marsick — who was also involved in the project — adds, “They’re all teenagers!”

Staples and Harding High School students work easily together.

A dramatic reaction came from a Westport girl. She was stunned to hear Bridgeporters say that nearly every day they heard of a friend treated unfairly by police — and at least once a month, someone they knew was shot by an officer.

“I couldn’t think of even one person who had a really negative interaction with the police,” she said.

“I never doubted that people of color constantly face racism. I just never heard about it face to face. It’s crazy to me that I can live a town away from them, and have such a different life experience.”

The next step involved Flipgrid, a video education platform. For 6 weeks the teenagers exchanged videos, posted questions about the novel, and shared responses.

They also read articles about race relations throughout history, explored current events, and studied pop culture and poetry. The common thread was themes that both unite and divide communities.

After 6 weeks, the Harding students came to Staples. They gathered in the library for lunch, free-wheeling discussions, and a special activity.

They created “body biographies”: mapping out what various characters from the novel held in their heart and backbone, for example, and what their eyes focused on.

Collaborating on a “body biography.”

They dug deep — and shared their own lives and experiences too.

“The book is not easy. There are some hefty topics,” Robbins says. “But the interactions were sensitive, and very respectful.”

Then they all posed for a group photo.

The final project was to write stories about current events, and share them with everyone.

Some students said the project was the most important experience they’d ever had in high school. One called it “the most important event of my life.”

“It opened our kids’ eyes to their opportunities here,” Robbins says. “But they also saw how much they have in common with the Bridgeport kids.”

Last fall, two Staples girls wrote research papers on inequality in educational opportunities. To actually see that gap with their own eyes, they told Robbins, was “really compelling.”

The Staples instructor echoes her students’ reactions.

“It took a lot of work. There were logistical issues, and tons of preparation. But this is one of the best things I’ve ever done as a teacher. I learned so much!”

Fola Sumpter — one of the Harding teachers — adds, “This project gave my students confidence as readers, writers and collaborators. They have a new perspective on people, and I am seeing them operate as thinkers on a whole new level.”

A group shot, in the Staples library.

The collaboration may not end. Among other ideas, students from both schools talked about forming a book club.

That’s a great idea. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“In Westport, if we want to add a book to our curriculum, we pretty much can,” Robbins says.

“In Bridgeport, they have a tough time even funding the books they already study.”