Category Archives: Teenagers

Jonathan Stumps For Joe

In December I posted a very inspiring story. For his bar mitzvah, Bedford Middle School 7th grader Jonathan Costello made a heartfelt video about his stutter.

It went viral. Stutterers of all ages found they had a voice.

Among those who saw it: Joe Biden.

His staff reached out to Jonathan. The former vice president — a stutterer himself — wanted to meet the young Westporter.

It happened a few days ago — in New Hampshire.

Jonathan and his dad Sean knocked on more than 30 doors for the campaign, before heading to a rally.

Jonathan Costello, on the campaign trail.

The presidential candidate was excited to meet the 13-year-old.

“They had a very heartfelt and touching conversation,” Jonathan’s mother Lauren reports.

The meeting …

“It ended with Biden asking for Jonathan’s phone number. What a moment!”

… and the hug, captured by C-SPAN.

No word on whether Jonathan heads now to Nevada or South Carolina to help in the next caucus and primary.

Or whether he’ll just give advice by phone.

Ben Saxon Brings Tech Tutoring To Kids

Ben Saxon loves all things STEM. Ask him anything computer, microcontroller  or Arduino related. He admires Elon Musk — for all he’s accomplished, as well as his approach to problem-solving.

But the Staples High School freshman does not simply hole up in his room, surrounded by gadgets. He’s outgoing, articulate and active — on the varsity squash team, and a black belt in karate.

Ben also shares his STEM/tech passions. He wants others to hone the critical thinking skills so necessary for success in many fields.

Now they can. Ben created Simply Academic, a tutoring service specializing in math, robotics and coding. Clients range from age 6 to 14.

Ben Saxon with a youngster who takes Simply Academics’ robotics course twice a week. Check out the LEGO Mindstorms robot!

Sessions are held at the tech-friendly Westport Library. Ben and his fellow tutors bring all necessary components: robotics kits, math test prep and review sheets, coding material.

A free, initial consultation helps them plan lessons. “If you want to build a car, we do something different than if you want to program it,” Ben explains.

He and the other tutors — Tegh Singh and Ben Seideman — don’t simply give answers. They challenge their students, them, guide them, and help them find different paths to an answer — just like Elon Musk does.

Individual sessions are $40 an hour; small group sessions cost less. Fees include all materials. For more information, click here or call 203-291-9270.

Elena Rossi: She’s A Winner!

For many Westport youngsters, the path to college is clear and (at least relatively) smooth.

For some, it’s strewn with obstacles and challenges. They may be so formidable, it’s hard to even see college as a realistic option.

Which is why I’m turning today’s “06880” space to Elena Rossi. She’s a Staples High School senior. This is her story.

All my life I have struggled in school, due to my disabilities of autism spectrum disorder and ADD.

I have gone to 9 different schools, including 2 years at boarding school. As a junior I left boarding school, for Staples.

I was very scared to go to a big public high school, after so many specialized schools for children with disabilities. When I got to Staples, I was overwhelmed. The social groups were not inclusive.

But I focused on doing a good job there. I did not want to take medication. I wanted to do my best, being my true self.

For years I was told to take medication for ADD. I hated it. I put my foot down.

I just received a letter in the mail. I was awarded a Presidential Scholarship for academic achievement of $21,000 a year — for 4 years — from Manhattanville College.

Elena Rossi, with her Manhattanville letters.

All my life, I was told “you can’t do this or that.” I have been told I am not good enough for various things.

Receiving this letter is proof that a person with disabilities can rise above all else and succeed, when putting their mind to it.

All my teachers at Staples, especially my team of social workers, study skills and counselors through the Board of Education, have been a great support to help me achieve my goals.

I want to share my story with other people who suffer from disabilities, and have been told their whole life they are note able to do whatever it is they want to do.

This letter proves that anything is possible. I want to share my story so it can help others.

“We The People” Needs We The Westporters

In 2020, we celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which recognized the right of women to vote. Despite recent controversy, the Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been ratified. What are the similarities and differences between these two amendments?

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)  To what extent has this view influenced American culture?

In the 1793–94 Pacificus–Helvidius debates, Alexander Hamilton contended that the power to declare war was both legislative and executive in nature. James Madison disagreed, saying that this power was exclusively legislative. Whose opinion do you favor and why?

Could you answer those questions?

Staples High School’s “We the People” team is confident they can.

That’s not just teenage we-can-conquer-the-world cockiness.

In December, 23 students in Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Politics and Government class were crowned state champs in the annual competition. The momentous win broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

Now the students are preparing for April’s national contest, in Leesburg, Virginia.

It’s quite a task. Each team is divided into 6 groups. Each must be ready to answer 3 separate questions on history, politics and law.

Only one will be asked in the oral question round. But all team members must participate. And each of the 6 groups must be strong. If one falters, the entire class score suffers.

Like all schools, the Staples students, teachers and parent supporters will be isolated in one room. They can’t watch anyone else. It’s a pressure-filled day, as judges shuttle in and out to question the teenagers.

Many schools — including Trumbull — treat “We the People” as a separate course. At Staples though, it’s just one part of the AP curriculum.

In the past, Trumbull prepared for the national competition by enlisting a host of townspeople — lawyers, college history professors teachers, politicians — to assist.

The Staples students get help from just a couple of parents. Andy Laskin — an attorney — takes time off from work. He attends class in person, and FaceTimes too.

For example, for 4th Amendment search and seizure issues, he brings in school resource officer Ed Woolridge. Laskin creates hypothetical police issues, then tweaks the conduct slightly to see how that changes the officer’s suspicions and reactions. It’s complex. And exactly the type of preparation the students need.

Another lawyer, Jamie Dockray, works with them in person, during the week and on weekends at the library.

But it’s labor-intensive. Each adult can only be with 4 students at a time, because each group gets separate questions.

So the “We the People” advisors are asking we — the Westporters — for help.

A lawyer in town who offers his or her conference room; former college history majors who love to talk about politics, law and the Constitution; actors to work on presentation skills — all are welcome.

Volunteers could also help as “judges,” during a practice competition before the April trip.

All could be “game-changers,” Laskin says. The key is to help teenagers “look, sound, act and think like lawyers — and learn the skills to do the research and pull off the argument in front of real judges. It’s very cool.”

“We have plenty of brilliant minds in Westport,” he notes. “There are parents of former We the People students, parents who can get involved before their kids are juniors and seniors … this could be a feel-good, come-together Westport story.

“Suzanne Kammerman puts her heart and soul into this. Some kids say We the People was the defining moment of their high school careers. Let’s all support this amazing program any way we can.”

Interested in helping? Email andylaskinesq@gmail.com, or text Andy Laskin: 203-610-7065. For the full text of all 18 “We The People” questions, click here.

Pics Of The Day #1021

Two formal events for high school students — Counties, and Red & Whites — were held this weekend.

Among the attendees: actors from Staples Players …

(Photo courtesy of Ian Warburg)

… and a different kind of players: Staples High School soccer seniors …

Sam Gold’s Archives: Apple Bites Back

Sam Gold is an Apple fanboy.

For his bar mitzvah, he chose a visit to San Francisco — and the company’s headquarters — over a party.

His YouTube channel covered Apple the way the British press covers Harry and Meghan.

But Sam’s greatest accomplishment may be The (Unofficial) Apple Archive. Painstakingly and lovingly, using tools like the Wayback Machine, he amassed over 15,000 print and TV ads, keynote speeches, internal training videos and other material — even macOS and iOS wallpapers. The earliest is from 1979.

Previously, the material was posted on his own YouTube channel, and a Google Drive folder. Earlier this month, he uploaded all the video — nearly a terabyte of data* — to Vimeo.

Last week, the $1 trillion company sent him hundreds of takedown notices. Apple had removed nearly every video. Just 200 or so remain.

Sam is a Staples High School senior.

Sam Gold, as a Staples High School sophomore.

The news rocketed around the internet. The Verge — Vox Media’s tech news network — noted:

The takedowns shouldn’t really surprise anyone, since 1) these videos do presumably all belong to Apple, not Gold, 2) companies generally have a duty to protect their intellectual property, and 3) because Gold and Apple have seemingly been playing a game of whack-a-mole for a while now.

First came shock. “Do you know what it’s like getting 700 email notifications on your wrist in like 2 minutes?” Sam asked The Verge, referring to his (of course) Apple Watch. “Your wrist sorta goes numb from the vibrations.”

Then Sam fought back.

“My videos may be down but my spirit is up,” the homepage of Sam’s Apple Archives reads. “Standby please.”

A screenshot of Sam’s home page.

Sam — who has not heard directly from Apple or its lawyers, despite emailing Apples’s VP of marketing communications — told The Verge that company employees, both past and present, have shown “overwhelming interest and support for what I’m doing.”

He understands that Apple “doesn’t dwell in the past.” But, he adds, “public company history preservation is invaluable for their devoted consumer base and researchers alike.”.

Sam would love to work with Apple, to create an official archive.

But for now, he’s figuring out how to get his massive archives back online.

Any copyright lawyers want to help? Email samhenrigold@gmail.com.

As a bonus, Sam will help you with any tech questions you have, for the rest of your life.

*Exactly how much is a terabyte? “A shitload,” Sam explains.

An early Apple ad, on Sam’s archive.

 

 

Max Rudin’s Truly Dead Rock

Growing up in Westport, Max Rudin was fortunate to have excellent teachers. Some sparked his interest in science. Others taught him to write.

Their work paid off. Max recently published his first book. “A Truly Dead Rock (The Solar System Century)” imagines life 82 years from now, when the moon has been colonized — and residents want to become independent.

Writing a book is a fantastic achievement. That’s especially true for Max.

He’s only a sophomore in high school.

Max Rudin

He credits Coleytown Elementary School teacher Edward Wolf and Coleytown Middle School’s Keenen Grace for encouraging his passion. At CMS, Max was part of the Science Olympiad team.

Last year, as a Staples High School freshman, English instructor Heather Colletti-Houde taught him how to delve into texts. “So I didn’t just write a story,” he explains. “I really delved into the theme.”

Max began writing around Christmastime 2018. It took him nearly a year — and 7 drafts — before he finished. He published via Amazon on Thanksgiving.

His research included arcane topics like lunar geography. “I had to plan a realistic route they would take, from the moon’s north pole to south pole,” Max explains. He also had to study nuclear fusion.

As for the writing process, Max says he learned about “putting myself in the minds of my characters. I had to see myself on the moon, and how I’d venture across it.”

He’s marketed his book via his YouTube channel — another outlet for Max’s science interests. “Gravity Max” began when he was 10. Every week, he and his friend Sebastian Malino share their love of astronomy, astrophysics, math and sci-fi.

Feedback to “A Truly Dead Rock” has been good, Max says. Readers appreciate both the hard science, and the plot that is “grounded in reality.”

Max — who is now a sophomore at Pineview in Sarasota, Florida, where his parents moved — is already working on a sequel.

Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke: Move over!

(To order “A Truly Dead Rock,” click here.)

Substance Misuse, Mental Health Survey Now Live

Substance misuse and mental health are national issues.

Local ones, too.

But how prevalent are they? And if we don’t know the answers, how can anyone help?

Today, the Westport Prevention Coalition launches an online survey. It was created by the Human Services Department, in partnership with the Westport Prevention Coalition and Positive Directions.

The anonymous survey will “provide helpful information as the Coalition embarks on prevention and resource development efforts addressing substance misuse, mental health services and overall wellness across the lifespan,” says Human Services director Elaine Daignault.

The goal is to gain input from a cross-section of age groups. It will
complement the youth and parent surveys administered through Positive Directions bi-annually in partnership with Westport Public Schools.

Click here for the survey. For more information, or to obtain a paper copy, call 203-341-1050.

 

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Tackles Stereotypes

For 6 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to consider — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year, the town’s diversity action committee takes a different tack.

The 2020 contest asks teenagers to address a broad — but very important — theme: stereotypes.

TEAM Westport says:

A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a person, frequently based on that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender-identity. Stereotypes are often unconscious and may be introduced and reinforced — intentionally or unwittingly – by many sources, including family, peers, the popular media, curricula, and society at large.

This year’s challenge states: 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.”

“In order to dismantle bias, it’s important to first understand the factors that build bias,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“Stereotyping is a first step toward bias in what historians and sociologists call ‘othering’ — behavior that places the stereotyped group outside the normal considerations of society. History has proven that this can lead to dangerously impactful results.”

The entry deadline is February 28. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, at the discretion of the judges up to 3 cash prizes will be awarded. The first prize is $1,000; second prize is $750; third is $500.

Any student living in Westport — or attending school here — can enter.

The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the event. Winners will be announced at a ceremony there on April 2, 2020.

(For more information, including full contest rules and an application form, click here.)

Westport Y Puts Special Focus On Special Needs

Every day — at all hours — the Westport Weston Family YMCA pulses with activity.

The gym, pool, spin center, yoga and fitness rooms — all are filled with boys and girls, men and women, all active to whatever degree of intensity works for them.

It’s a friendly, vibrant place. Many members come regularly. They greet fellow basketball players, swimmers, runners and Zumbaists with smiles and waves.

Some of the heartiest greetings go to members with special needs. They may be in wheelchairs, or come in groups with aides. They may talk loudly, or not at all. All are welcome at the Y.

Enjoying the gym at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Their swims, workouts, classes and social interactions are among the highlights of their days. The folks who share the pool, fitness center and classrooms are happy to see them too.

The Westport Y offers group membership programs to 5 group homes in Fairfield County. Over 100 clients take advantage of the facility off Wilton Road.

Membership director Brian Marazzi says that STAR has the longest association with the Y: more than a decade. Clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities take part in a wide array of activities. Some arrive independently, to exercise.

STAR clients, outside the Westport Y.

St. Catherine Academy — a Fairfield-based private school — uses the warm pool for recreational swim and aqua-therapy for severely disabled clients. The group then socializes with a large group lunch in the lobby.

St. Catherine’s appreciates the family and dependent care locker room, which includes a private special needs shower and changing room. Staff also store equipment at the Y.

Ability Beyond and Keystone House clients focus on the Wellness Center. Members of Abilis — the newest group home to join the Y — primarily walk on the treadmill, and use the gym.

Some of the more independent clients come on their own. A few have become volunteers themselves, meeting and greeting guests.

But that’s only part of the way the Westport Y serves the special needs population.

Sixty kids and young adults ages 8 to 21 play basketball and floor hockey, swim and do track and field, under the guidance of paid and volunteer coaches. Many are involved in Special Olympics, but that is not a prerequisite for Y participation.

A special needs swimmer, and an equally enthusiastic volunteer.

The Sunday morning swim program is particularly popular. A 1:1 ratio of volunteers — many of them members of the Westport Water Rats team — to athletes ensures education, safety and fun. The special needs swimmers are also called Water Rats, and proudly wear the team’s logowear.

Strong bonds are clear. Over Christmas break, as volunteers returned from college, there were joyful reunions and hugs. Parents of special needs swimmers develop their own community too, as they watch from the deck or gym.

Oliver Clachko has made a special impact. He was last year’s near-unanimous choice as Westport Weston Family Y Volunteer of the Year. He enjoys working with the special needs program so much, he’s recruiting friends and classmates to help too.

This spring, the Y hosts its first-ever special needs swim meet.

The Westport Y Water Rat Special Olympics swim team.

Up in the gym, basketball players hone their skills. They compete too, in a “Hoopla” against other area Ys.

Special Needs Teen Nights are another popular event.

Marazzi says the Y has gotten very positive feedback — from clients, group home workers, parents of special needs youngsters, and other Y members too.

Occasionally, he says, members complain about noise or behavior. Marazzi quickly counters, “We love having them here. We’re very inclusive.”

It’s the Westport Weston Family YMCA, remember.

And don’t forget: There are many ways to define family.

(The Westport Y’s Special Olympics and other special needs programs rely in part on fundraising. Starting on her 10th birthday, Chloe Kiev asked that instead of gifts, friends and family donate to the effort. Click here for more information.)