Category Archives: Teenagers

Mark Hennessy’s Covenant With Chicago

It’s never easy being homeless.

But for 2,000 or so young people, being homeless in Chicago is especially tough.

The city has experienced high rates of violence. The weather is often bad.

Aged out of foster care, escaping dysfunctional homes, Chicago’s homeless young people try to sleep on trains. At McDonald’s. Or with dangerous folks who take them in — often for sex.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy loves Chicago. It’s where he grew up; where he and his wife Tracey started a family; where their kids Jack and Mollie now live.

Hennessy is passionate about helping young people. He did it during his family’s 13 years in Westport, often through his children’s sports teams.

He did it on a larger scale too, as a longtime board member of Covenant House International. That’s the wonderful organization that offers housing, counseling and much more, through 30 programs in the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America.

Hennessy is a tireless volunteer. But he does much more than strategize. Every November, he takes part in the Covenant House “Sleep Out.” Spending a night on the street — as he’s done in 3 different cities — helps raise both money and awareness of the plight of homeless youth.

It’s an empowering event. “The stories I’ve heard, the kids I’ve gotten to know, the people I’ve met who are committed to this cause — it’s so worthwhile. And it really reminds you how difficult being homeless is.

Mark Hennessy heads to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Mark Hennessy heads to the Lincoln Tunnel for his first “Sleep Out,” 5 years ago.

A couple of years ago, Covenant House launched its first expansion in 17 years. Board members studied 11 cities. Chicago was identified as the most urgent.

Hennessy — who retired in 2015 after 34 years with IBM, most recently as general manager — has worked ferociously to make Lawson House a reality. Located on the corner of West Chicago Avenue and North Dearborn Street, it opened February 10.

Covenant House Illinois serves breakfast and lunch. It offers showers, laundry, storage, legal aid, mental and physical health services, drug and alcohol counseling, and educational opportunities.

Immediately, staff members went to work. A girl who showed up the first day has already been placed in long-term housing. A boy who came hours later is now receiving substance abuse treatment.

On the 2nd day, 14 youth showed up before noon.

All that happened even before the official ribbon-cutting, on Valentine’s Day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, many aldermen, and leaders of Chicago’s key service providers and foundations were there.

The mayor and many others have been steadfast supporters of Convenant House, Hennessy says.

So have a number of Westporters. Hennessy asked for help — “time, treasure and talent” — and they responded. “I’ve been so impressed by the love and compassion of this community,” he says.

He used “love” again, describing Covenant House’s philosophy.

“We treat every young person with unconditional love and support,” Hennessy says. “The kids at Covenant House are like kids everywhere. They just need a chance.”

Covenant House logoChicago has gotten a bad rap lately, in the national press. But Hennessy sees much that is good in his home town.

“In these times, what we’ve done with the help of the city and so many private groups is a great example of people stepping up to make a difference,” he says.

Lawson House has been open only a few days. But Hennessy is already looking  ahead.

Covenant House Illinois will team with an adult jobs program, and the University of Chicago, to develop job training for 18-24-year-olds.

He adds, “We’d really like a new facility, for residential services. We have a lot of innovative ideas.”

And, he knows, the need is definitely there.

(To learn more about Covenant House, or to donate, click here.)

Allison’s Story

Allison Kernan’s mother and stepfather were “incredible.” They raised her well.

She had a tougher time with her biological father. Still, life growing up in Fairfield was good.

A dozen years ago, Allison began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. Her brother — 3 years older —  was getting into it, and she hung out with his older crowd.

Plenty of kids her own age tried those substances too. She found them.

She was still in middle school.

“I knew it was wrong. But instantly, I felt good,” Allison says. Her self-esteem issues receded.

Crack cocaine

Crack cocaine

Her brother got into crack cocaine. When she was in 8th grade, he was sent to rehab. That day, Allison vowed never to smoke weed again.

In a family education program, she learned about addiction. She realized that by not telling her parents what her brother was doing, she’d enabled his usage.

As a freshman at Fairfield Warde High School in 2006, her brother’s former substance abuse counselor urged Allison to join a support group for children and siblings of alcoholics and drug addicts. She realized she was not alone.

She became an advocate, talking to middle schoolers about the many ways her family had been affected by addiction.

“I didn’t know that in 2 short years I’d be in my brother’s shoes,” she says. “But 10 times worse.”

Self-esteem issues led Allison into an abusive relationship. At 16, she hung out with a party crowd. Drugs made her feel better than a previous method: self-harm. She pushed her brother, and his struggles, out of her thoughts.

marijuanaShe was drinking shots and smoking weed. Her boyfriend used prescription pills: Xanax, Percocet, Oxycontin.  He said it was just like marijuana, without the smell. When he popped pills, he did not hit her.

Soon, he coerced Allison into trying pills too.

“I’d paid attention in health class, but just to pass the tests,” she says. “I never thought I’d be addicted.”

But she “fell in love” with the feelings pills produced. She was calm and relaxed; all her problems were numbed.

Drugs turned on a switch in her brain. She spiraled out of control. She was using pills on weekends, and after school. Still, her grades remained fine.

“I thought pills were like pot — I could do it every day,” she recalls. “I was a teenager. I didn’t go out and research the effects!”

She found opioids everywhere: on the street, in medicine cabinets, at her high school.

She graduated with her class, and entered Sacred Heart University. She got a job and lived on campus.

opioidsAt first, Allison says, she could not imagine anyone doing pills there. But she soon realized a lot of students did. She became a “low-key” dealer — which meant her drugs were free.

One morning she ran out of pills. She had cold sweats and diarrhea. She vomited and shook. She thought she had the flu.

She found a pill. Five minutes later, her symptoms disappeared. A friend told Allison: “You’re addicted.”

She tried to stop, cold turkey. She failed. During 2nd semester Allison missed lots of classes. She left Sacred Heart.

“That was a sign I had a problem,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘I’m a college dropout.”

Allison Kernan, after dropping out of college.

Allison Kernan, after dropping out of college.

She started dating her dealer, and moved into his Black Rock house. She did cocaine and PCP — anything she could get her hands on. Every day.

People told Allison it was only a matter of time until she used heroin. She thought that would never happen.

At 19, she tried heroin for the first time. Instantly, she was hooked.

“It was cheaper, stronger and more effective than pills,” she says. It was also more accessible.

Allison went from sniffing to shooting. Her life spiraled even more downhill.

Within a year, she’d sold all her belongings. Without furniture, lights or heat, she fell into a deep depression.

Allison was homeless, on the streets of Bridgeport. She broke into cars and hotel rooms, and stole candy bars to eat.

She was 21, 5-1, 75 pounds, with dark circles under her eyes and track marks all over her arms.

Allison Kernan, a year later.

Allison Kernan, a year later.

Allison was arrested, carrying 15 bags of heroin. The charge was a felony — “intent to sell” — but she got a slap on the wrist: 15 drug education classes, and community service. She had a year to complete her sentence.

She was arrested again, selling to an undercover officer. On April 1, 2014 — just after her 22nd birthday — Allison was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Behind bars, she had “a huge spiritual awakening.” Released after 9 months, she got a job, got her life together.

She also got cocky. “I got this!” she thought. “I’m good. I don’t need anyone — not even God!”

She went with an old friend, to an old bar. She had one drink.

Two hours later, she did heroin again.

This time, she did not become homeless. She lived in her mother’s house, and kept her job. But she was a full-blown addict.

Then Allison got pregnant. She was excited, but realized she was not ready to have a baby. Against her best judgment, she had an abortion.

“I’d rather be homeless than go through that pain again,” she says.

After months of using heroin — around Thanksgiving 2015 — Allison told her mother she was addicted. She asked for help.

On December 2, Allison checked into a detox clinic. She’s been sober ever since.

Ally Kernan today.

Ally Kernan today.

Today, she has 2 jobs. She’s a program coordinator at Shana’s House in Westport — an 8-bed home that’s the only women’s sober living halfway facility in Fairfield County. A certified recovery coach, she also works as a communication specialist at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board in Norwalk.

“I’m good at my jobs,” she says. “When a girl says ‘You have no idea what I’m talking about,’ I roll up my sleeve.”

Allison Kernan wants her story — and her name — to be known.

People say they’re surprised that she is so open about her life.

She has a strong response: “Someone has to be.”

She pauses.

“I was right next door. I sold to kids in Westport.

“Now I’m here. I can’t be anonymous anymore. People need to know that all that is real.

“But they also need to know: There is hope.”

(To read Ally’s blog about her life, and living in recovery, click here. Hat tip: Giovanna Pisani)

CNN Covers “White Privilege” Controversy — And Adds A Prize

The Great White Privilege Essay Contest Debate reached CNN this morning.

A few minutes ago, Michael Smerconish interviewed TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey on his TV show. The segment was long, detailed, fair and balanced.

And — before it ended — the host invited the eventual essay winner to come on the show.

(That should spur entrants from Westport high school students! Interested? Click here for details. To view the segment on the CNN website, click here.)

michael-smerconish-cnn

(Hat tips: Lyn Hogan. Barbara Wanamaker and Lisa Metz)

Kelly Powers: Westport Privilege Meant Straddling 2 Worlds

TEAM Westport’s essay contest on white privilege has sparked plenty of conversation, both on “06880” and — thanks to an AP news story that went viral — everywhere else.

Alert reader and Staples High School graduate Kelly Powers has a unique vantage point. She writes:

It was my first day at Saugatuck Elementary School. I had moved to Westport that summer, and was less than thrilled to enter a new school.

Little did I know I was extremely lucky. The Westport school system opened doors and granted opportunities I could only have dreamed of in my hometown of Port Chester, New York.

Yet instead of basking in my fortunate circumstances, I noticed — and pointed out, without hesitation — that no one looked like me.

Everyone stared. I had kinky hair, a “boys” haircut, tanned skin, and I used alien vernaculars no one seemed to understand. Those who did understand were quick to teach me the “proper” way of speaking.

I’d love to say that I had a remarkable ability at age 9 to deconstruct the stigmatization that was placed upon me. But I didn’t. Instead I answered questions like, “Do you live in Bridgeport?” I watched the confusion as people saw me with my white dad. Then came the next question: “So you’re adopted?”

I’m not denigrating my classmates for their curiosity, nor did I take offense. I’m simply noting that from the very beginning, I learned I would be under the microscope. To escape these confines, I would have to fully integrate into the new culture I was thrown into.

Kelly Powers (center), with Staples High School friends.

Kelly Powers (center), with Staples High School friends.

It didn’t take long to mold myself to Westport’s standards. The only thing I couldn’t mold was my skin color, which proved to be a blessing and a curse. I was just as much a Westport kid as my classmate who got a hand-me-down Audi for their 16th birthday. (I got a Subaru, which could be argued is more Westport than an Audi. But that’s not the point.)

I lived and breathed the bourgeois lifestyle. I expected the world to work with me, never against. Did I notice the bits of microaggression, stigmatization or alienation I endured? No, because I was feeding them. To escape the microscope, I fed into the hegemonic ideologies that form the bubble that encases the town, and more specifically, Staples High School.

I was not surprised to see a Facebook page filled with “mean spirited” (every “ist” you can think of) memes, from Staples students.

The Staples environment is filled with racism. The quicker you accept that, the easier it is to assimilate. For a student of color at Staples, it always proved beneficial to juggle the “us not them” and “them, but not really” outlook.

For Kelly Powers (right), life was not always a day at the beach.

For Kelly Powers (right), life was not always a day at the beach.

“Us” meant being a part of the Westport world, where we complained about having to put our laundry in the hamper for the cleaning lady. The “not them” referred to the other people that who match our skin tone but lived an incomprehensible, and disregardable, lifestyle.

On the flip side, “them, but not really” allowed students of color to pick and choose the desired traits of their racial background when it was encouraged and deemed appropriate by those around them, even if they really had nothing to pull from. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a student of color who grew up in Westport say, “I’m totally afraid of black people, I wouldn’t dare go to Norwalk alone at night,” but then turn around and say, “I’m that loud because I’m black.”

The way to survive was to feed the biases, which began by belittling the group of people your peers associated you with. I constantly stoked the fires of prejudice, to stay afloat.

The “us, not them” and “them, but not really” outlook paved the perfect path to shaping one’s identity by the group that was in power: white, privileged, heterosexual teenagers.

I experienced this first hand by constantly being told the way I acted was because of my racial background. However, the real reasons lay locked away. If I ever combated this assumption, I would have been ostracized.

I saw it happen to students of color who called kids out for their prejudice. Not only did I not realize how confining it was to be forced into a tightly woven box using the fabric of essentialism, but they didn’t even realize that it was wrong.

Even though I’m biracial, I was labeled “black.” Even though I’m Italian, I was labeled “ghetto.” Even though I lived in Westport, I was associated with Bridgeport.

Kelly Powers today.

Kelly Powers today.

In the Westport I grew up in, a place people would not dare call anything other than “open, inclusive, and liberal,” these issues simply weren’t discussed.

I believe Westporters are so afraid of the word “racist” because it’s heavy and is seen as a binary. In reality, it’s a spectrum. We all have racial biases — it’s natural for our brains to categorize based on superficial attributes — but it’s not okay to denigrate entire groups of people due to perceived differences.

However, is it fair to expect a group of students who very rarely escape homogeneiy to be empathetic to other walks of life?

We can break this cycle. We must encourage students to talk about it, encourage the difficult conversations, write essays about white privilege, volunteer at a soup kitchen outside of Westport.

It’s never too late to unlearn prejudice. But first you must acknowledge that it exists.

Remembering Harold Levine

Harold Levine — a giant on the local philanthropic scene — died peacefully at home yesterday. He was 95.

Professionally, he’s known as the co-founder — with Chet Huntley — of the Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver ad agency. Highly regarded for its creativity, the firm was in the forefront of providing career opportunities for women and minorities. In 1996, Levine received a diversity achievement award from the American Advertising Federation.

Levine was also a lifelong champion of education and the arts.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, as chair of the Freeport (New York) Board of Education, he steered that school system during a period of racial and political unrest. He later served as chair of the board of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

After moving to Westport, he committed himself to providing educational and arts opportunities to Bridgeport children.

As chair of Neighborhood Studios, he helped a small arts program grow into a large, thriving organization that now provides a broad array of music, fine art and dance education.

He often — and successfully — sought financial and other support from Westport, to benefit Bridgeport youngsters.

Levine is survived by his children, Rita and Jay; 4 grandchildren, and a great-grandson. He was predeceased by his wife Sue and brother Josh.

A funeral is set for Monday (February 13, 10:30 a.m.) at Temple Israel. Memorial contributions may be made to Neighborhood Studios, 391 East Washington Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06608.


In 2015, Harold Levine asked me to spread the good word about Neighborhood Studios. I was happy to oblige. At 93, he wrote the following plea:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

Remembering Emelia Worth

In the past few years, media reporting on transgender issues has moved from rare and/or gawking to serious and respectful.

Because of press attention, many Americans now know that suicide is an enormous issue in the trans community. Over 40% of people identifying as transgender have attempted suicide — 92% of them before the age of 25.

But statistics are just numbers. Now, one of those suicides has struck very close to home.

Earlier this month, Emelia Worth killed herself at the Kent School. She was 18, and a few years earlier attended Saugatuck Elementary School. Students there knew her as Carl.

A few weeks before her death, Emelia had given a chapel talk to the school.

According to the Norwalk Hour, she said:

For once, I’ve actually chosen my words very carefully … Let me explain myself to you, not as Carl the experienced senior giving a chapel talk. But as Carl, the really scared child who is worried that they may have waited too long to get real.

After announcing she was battling depression, she said: “I am transgender. I puzzle every day why I came out a boy.”

Emelia Worth

Emelia Worth

Emelia’s mother, Elsa Worth, said that suicidal depression — not a lack of support from family, friends or school officials — led to her death.

Emelia — a 4-year class representative at Kent, senior prefect, orchestra and jazz band musician — had already been accepted to the Universities of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Her mother told the Hour that she wanted to study linguistics and be a professor.

Worth also said that Emelia also planned to begin hormone treatments in March. The newspaper reported that Kent was planning to allow her to live in a girls’ dorm. No one there knew of any bullying.

Her death surprised a former Saugatuck El classmate. The boy — now a senior — had known Emelia as Carl: “an insanely good artist.” The two had camped out in New Hampshire as children, and played card games.

“I realized that he was gone. This kid who had only been happy, and made everyone around him happy, was dead because she was so sad.”

The senior says that at his public high school in Fairfield County (not Staples), there are 2 openly trans students.

“They are treated with the utmost respect,” he says. They can change in their own locker rooms if they choose, and use non-gendered bathrooms. Staples has the same options for trans students.

The senior says, “We treat our trans friends just like anyone else. They’re some of the nicest people I know.”

We’ll never know how much that feeling of being trapped in the wrong body contributed to Emelia’s depression. Sadly, we do know she leaves behind her mother and father (Steven), and brothers Bo and Orion.

Memorial services are set for Friday, February 10 (St. James Church, Keene, NH) and Tuesday, February 14 (Kent School). In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Emelia Carl ’17 Scholarship. Click here, or send to Kent School, PO Box 2006, Kent, CT 06757.

The Y’s Very Special Swimmers

Special Olympics is a special program. Since its founding in 1968, the non-profit has transformed countless lives through sports. Nearly 5 million athletes in 169 countries — and over a million volunteers — participate each year.

But the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s Special Olympics program is extra special.

It began just over a year ago, as a dream of Westporters Marshall and Johanna Kiev. Working with Y officials and members, it quickly grew to include a basketball program (13 special needs athletes and 13 partners practiced weekly, and competed at a Holiday Sports Classic). A track and field team will be added soon.

But it’s the swim program that’s really made waves.

Having fun with the Westport Y's Special Olympics swim program.

Having fun with the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program.

Two dozen youngsters, of varying physical and intellectual abilities, practice every Sunday — under the guidance of real, professional swim coaches. They’re one of the few Special Olympics teams anywhere that does that.

Barbara Bachuretz has spent 30 years training swimmers. Erin Ritz is a Westport Y Water Rat coach.

They’re backed by a corps of dedicated volunteers. The group includes former Amherst swimmer and water polo player Peter Nussbaum, and Hopkins School freshman Henry Fisher. Both live in Westport.

In June — proudly bearing the name Water Rats — 24 swimmers traveled to the Summer Special Olympics Games at Southern Connecticut State University. They were the only team there whose special needs youngsters swam all 4 laps of the relay. All other relay teams included unified partners.

The Water Rats Special Olympics team amassed over 30 medals. It was a great event for the entire group.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat Special Olympics team (with coaches) (and friends!).

The Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat Special Olympics team (with coaches) (and friends!).

But individual stories stand out too.

Y senior program coordinator Jay Jaronko remembers a 14-year-old who was very nervous. Jay and his coaches assured him he could watch other swimmers before his race, to feel comfortable about the event.

But when they got to the meet, the boy was scheduled to race first. Casting aside his fears, he focused directly on his lane. He got in the water, stared straight ahead — and finished first by an astonishing half pool length.

Then he headed off with teammates to the concession stand. His amazed parents told Jaronko, “he’s never done that in his life.”

“I was hooked on Special Olympics before that,” Jaronko says. “But that was the point when I really, truly got it.”

Smiles all around on the Y's Special Olympics swim team.

Smiles all around at the Special Olympics swim meet.

Another story: After the Summer Games, a father told Jaronko that teammates would be at his son’s upcoming birthday party. That too was a first.

This year, Jaronko reports, that boy is swimming and playing water polo for his high school.

“We’re doing a lot more than just teaching kids to swim,” the program director says proudly.

Here’s something even more special: The entire Y Special Olympics program is free.

There’s no registration free, no charge for apparel — nothing. Even meals are covered.

The Y covers all the funds. The Kiev family has been great, throwing fundraising parties to help.

This year’s budget is $46,000.

The program is worth every penny.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email jjaronko@westporty.org.  To read more about the Kievs and their daughter Chloe, click here.)

This is what the Westport Y's Special Olympics Water Rats program is all about. (Photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

This is what the Westport Y’s Special Olympics Water Rats program is all about. (Photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

 

Teenage Depression — Through Teenage Eyes

Depression in teenagers is rampant.

We see young people who look like they’ve got it all together. Inside, they’re crumbling.

That’s the foundation of a compelling and fascinating public service video. In just 2 minutes, it shows the agony some kids go through — and the ways they mask it. It’s well worth your time.

Particularly because it was produced not by a big New York ad agency, but a pair of Staples High School juniors.

Sydney Carson and Jillian Gault made the video — called “I’m Fine” — as a project for Kelly Shamas’ health class.

They chose this topic because they know depression is all around, and very real.

During their research, they were stunned to find out that only 30% of teenagers with depression are being treated for it.  They used that as their powerful final message.

Click below to see Sydney and Jillian’s video. Be proud of their work.

Then pass it on.

(Hat tip:  Eileen O’Brien)

All’s Well With Staples Midterms

Midterm exams are stressful for high school students. In recent years, as the importance of grades — both real and imagined — has risen, so have student stress levels.

Last week at Staples, staff and administrators — prompted by Student Assembly, and supported by the Collaborative Team — addressed midterms directly. In fact, proponents noted, reducing stress can actually raise test-takers’ scores.

Guidance counselors Leslie Hammer and Bill Plunkett, physical education department chair Dave Gusitsch and others created a broad menu of “Midterm Wellness and Enrichment Activities.” Students could choose any (or none) of them during last week’s midterms.

And — tweaking the no-room-to-breathe schedule that had been in place for decades — those activities took place during a 50-minute period between each day’s 2 exams. Previously, the break was just 30 minutes.

Organizers learned that high schools and universities around the country have brought in “therapy dogs,” for students to pets. Research shows that playing with animals is a great way to relax and clear the mind.

Petting dogs has been shown to release endorphins in the brain, leading to relaxed feelings.

Petting dogs has been shown to release endorphins in the brain, leading to relaxed feelings.

The dogs were a smash. Students lined up to chill with the friendly, tail-wagging pooches. One student — whose stress sometimes caused her to have tics — said she’d never felt better in a school environment.

Some activities were physical. There was basketball and track walking in the fieldhouse; badminton and “pound fitness” (drumming) in the gym; free swim in the pool, dance in the pool lobby, and ping pong near the cafeteria. The fitness center was open for cardio, free weights and machine exercise; yoga was in a library classroom, and principal James D’Amico offered “walk and talk” sessions around the school.

Emerson Anvari chose ping pong as a way to reduce midterm stress.

Emerson Anvari chose ping pong as a way to reduce midterm stress.

Some options — liked “guided meditation” — were more mindful.

Other activities appealed to special passions. String players were invited to the orchestra room to play Mozart; Players director David Roth directed theater games, while some students played board games.

David Roth got students up and moving with theater games.

David Roth got students up and moving with theater games.

In addition, guidance counselors offered free snacks. Healthy food was on sale in the cafeteria. That was a first for midterms — and sales were brisk.

Guidance counselors provided snacks -- and positive messages from a bowl.

Guidance counselor Deb Slocum (left) and colleagues provided snacks — and positive messages from a bowl.

No one was forced to choose an activity. Some students studied in the library, or chatted with friends in the hall.

Fifty minutes between exams allowed students time to study in the library -- and relax, eat healthily and participate in activities too.

Fifty minutes between exams allowed students time to study in the library — and relax, eat healthily and participate in activities too.

Everyone seemed influenced by the environment. Early skepticism was replaced by increasing enthusiasm to try something new, day by day.

Guidance counselor Deb Slocum noted, “The entire mood of the school shifted. It was a great vibe.”

Colleague Bill Plunkett added, “There was a lot of positive energy — and plenty of smiles. Even the kids just sitting around felt relaxed.”

Not every kid got an A+ on every test.

But Staples’ newest midterm tradition passed with flying colors.

“Pound fitness” is a full-body cardio jam session, perfect for de-stressing between exams.

(Photos courtesy of Victoria Capozzi and Dave Gusitsch)