Category Archives: Teenagers

Tutors Bridge Westport/Bridgeport Gap

Chris Winkler played baseball and soccer at Staples High School. After graduating in 2003 he went on to Yale (where he majored in English), and England (where he earned a master’s degree). As soon as he finishes his dissertation, he’ll have a Ph.D. from Temple.

Winkler — who now goes by the first name Yearsley — knows his way around academia. But he hasn’t forgotten his Fairfield County roots.

Yearsley Winkler

Yearsley Winkler

From growing up here, he realizes the outsize role played by tutoring and college prep services. He also knows that — just a few miles from Westport — there are students who, by the unfortunate luck of where they live, have no access to those advantages.

Even at Bridgeport’s Fairchild Wheeler Magnet Schools, Winkler says, there’s only a once-a-week SAT Club, run by teachers with no special training in test-taking.

Winkler also knows testing. He worked for 8 years with Andover College Prep. A year ago he went out on his own.

Now he’s formed his own company. Meliora — that’s Latin for “ever better” — offers 1-on-1 SAT, ACT and AP tutoring, along with college advising (picking schools, writing essays, etc.). All his tutors are affiliated with Yale.

But here’s the business model twist: For every hour of tutoring or college prep purchased, Winkler’s company will provide an hour to students from Fairchild Wheeler.

He did not choose Fairchild randomly. Westport resident Jay Lipp is principal of one of the 3 smaller schools housed within Fairchild Wheeler. And former Westport superintendent of schools Claire Gold is a longtime consultant for Bridgeport’s education system.

“Growing up here, with all the advantages, it’s hard to even realize the systemic differences between good high school experiences and kids who don’t have the same fortune,” Winkler says.

meloria-logoOther tutoring and college prep companies offer pro bono services to less advantaged students. Winkler says Meliora is different, because its 1-to-1 model — an hour-free-for-every-hour-paid plan — is “fully devoted to this collaborative project.”

Winkler adds, “I’m realistic. I know Westport parents are not paying directly to help Bridgeport kids. But I hope they realize they’re doing some good.”

There’s an enormous gap between schools and services in our affluent suburb, and those less than 10 miles away.

Yearsley Winkler hopes to make the gap smaller, and the effort to bridge it “ever better.”

(Meliora launches in January. For more information, click here.)

76 Trombones, 5 Musicians, 2 Posters, 1 Painting

Exactly 70 years ago today — on October 19, 1946 — the Saturday Evening Post cover showed 5 high school band musicians.

As many “06880” readers know, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used 5 Staples High School students as models. Seven decades later the painting hangs in Town Hall, right outside the first selectman’s office.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos' 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos’ 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover.

In 2001, David Roth was in his 2nd year as director of Staples Players. To promote their production of “The Music Man,” Roth asked graphic arts teacher Alan Dodd to recreate the iconic artwork — this time using 5 actors from the upcoming show.

There’s one girl in the painting. Roth chose Samantha Marpe to pose. In “The Music Man,” Samantha played Zaneeta — River City’s mayor’s daughter. In an amazing coincidence, Samantha’s father — Jim Marpe — is now Westport’s first selectman (mayor).

The 2001 poster is also on the wall, next to Marpe’s office. Every day at work, he sees his daughter’s image.

Staples Players' 2001 poster.

Staples Players’ 2001 poster…

Fifteen years later, Players is once again staging “The Music Man.” Once again, Roth is using Dohanos’ painting as inspiration for the publicity poster.

There are some differences between the 2001 and 2016 versions, of course. Dodd has retired; this year’s photo was taken by co-director Kerry Long, and created by graphic arts instructor Carla Eichler.

A decade and a half after the first poster, she’s able to do much more with special effects. For example, in Dohanos’ original painting the football team was reflected in the sousaphone. That was tough to recreate in 2001, so the reflection showed only the 5 musicians.

This time, Eichler reflected Jacob Leaf — who plays Harold Hill, the “music man” — in the sousaphone.

...and the 2016 version.

…and the 2016 version.

Speaking of which: simply finding a brass sousaphone for Long to photograph was a herculean task. These days, they’re all fiberglass.

Roth put out a townwide call. Finally, he found one. It’s owned by Shari Levy. In another great coincidence, her son Jon was part of the quartet in the 2001 production. She lent it to Roth for the photo shoot — and the show.

Across America, people know “The Music Man” for its 76 trombones.

In Westport, it’s all about Stevan Dohanos — and David Roth’s — 5 musicians.

That’s no shipoopi.

(Staples Players present “The Music Man” on Friday and Saturday, November 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 13 and Saturday, November 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets go on sale this weekend at


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Westport Community Theatre Welcomes Kids, Worries About Future

For nearly a century, the Westport Country Playhouse has stood proudly as one of the nation’s leading regional theaters.

For many decades too, Staples Players has pushed the boundaries of what high school actors can do.

Since 1956, the Westport Community Theatre has quietly served as our town’s “other” stage.

Low-key, little-publicized and itinerant until 1978, the WCT produces 5 mainstage shows a year, plus readings and workshops. Its productions draw small but devoted audiences to its spare, intimate auditorium in the basement of Town Hall.


Now — as town officials examine whether to reclaim that space — one woman is reaching out to a demographic the WCT has long ignored: kids.

Cindy Hartog studied film and television at NYU, then got a degree from the Neighborhood Playhouse conservatory. But she realized she preferred teaching to acting, and after earning a master’s in educational theater from NYU, Cindy organized drama workshops for children and teens.

She married Mark Hartog — best known locally as deputy director of Westport EMS, but also a community theater guy. Cindy worked in the Temple Israel nursery school for over a decade, taught cooking to kids, then a couple of years ago created the WCT Juniors program.

In less than 2 years it’s grown to encompass a 12-week program of performance skills, theater games, improv and scene work, as well as weekend master classes in improv.

A Westport Community Theatre improv class, directed by Heather DeLude.

A Westport Community Theatre improv class, directed by Heather DeLude.

Unlike other theater programs, these are not performance-based. The goal is to teach confidence, public speaking and performance skills, along with scene-writing and technical expertise.

Cindy’s Juniors classes draw youngsters from 6 to 16. On Friday afternoons they warm up together, then split into 3 age-appropriate groups for voice work and other activities. They come together at the end for improv and games.

The older kids are not involved in their own high school theater programs. One, for example, attends Hopkins; 2 are home-schooled.

Cindy notes, “They find a place here, and end up making great contributions.”

Cindy Hartog

Cindy Hartog

She believes in the power of theater to change lives — whether youngsters perform a play onstage or not.

Cindy’s program “tries to help kids become better people,” she says. “We want them to be well-rounded, confident and happy.”

Yet as she uses theater to prepare youngsters for life, she worries about the future of the Westport Community Theatre. Town officials are studying how space is used in Town Hall. When its yearly lease is up, the WCT — which before 1978 bounced between Westport, Weston and Fairfield — may be forced to find a new home.

It’s a search many Westporters are oblivious to.

“We put up lawn signs,” Cindy says of the WCT’s publicity for its mainstage shows.

“We have a banner on Main Street. We march in the Memorial Day parade. But a lot of people still don’t know about us.”

Interested in learning more? Click here. For info on the Juniors program, click here

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Kids, Cops Join Forces

Across America, police departments and the communities they serve are examining their relationships.

For several years, Westport cops and teenagers have worked together, playing dodgeball and meeting informally.

Now we’re kicking it up a notch.

The Westport Police and Department of Human Services are teaming up in a Police-Youth Collaborative. Students will meet with officers throughout the year, planning fun events and doing community service projects in town.

The idea is to get 15-20 teens, and 5-7 officers who don’t regularly interact with youth, to build stronger, healthier relationships, develop mutual respect, and create a better community.

Then deputy, now chief Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team last fall.

Then deputy, now chief Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team last fall.

Two activities are already scheduled for this month: a high ropes course (Sunday, October 9 at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport) and a distracted driving event at Staples (Saturday, October 22),

Sergeant Sereniti Dobson and Human Services’ youth services program director Kevin Godburn secured a state Office of Policy and Management grant of nearly $10,000. It pays for some police overtime and team-building exercises.

“Kids can be catalysts. They can bring change to their peers,” Godburn explains. “Kids need to understand cops more, and police officers can understand where Westport kids are coming from.”

Everyone is excited, Godburn adds. “There’s always a positive response when kids and cops work, play and interact together. Both sides really do want to get to know the other.”

Next Attraction: A Drive-In Theater!

Today’s teenagers have out on a lot of things:

Dial phones. Dial-up modems. Drive-in movies.

Stephen Rowland is a very involved Staples High School senior. Among other activities he’s a varsity soccer player, serves meals at the Gillespie Center, and is a Homes With Hope youth board member.

A year ago, his father casually mentioned drive-in movies. Intrigued by the concept, Stephen searched online for more.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Not long after, the Homes With Hope youth board was casting about for a new, exciting fundraiser.


Producing a pop-up drive-in movie in Westport is not easy. But Stephen and the rest of the youth board found a company with a 40-foot screen, projector and sound system.

Compo Beach — near the kayak launch — seemed like the perfect spot.

Permits were needed, from town commissions. But Stephen and his peers pushed hard.

“The idea of driving up to a movie, not getting out of your car, being comfortable and having fun, is pretty cool,” Stephen says.

So this Saturday (October 1, 7 p.m.), “Ghostbusters” — a 1984 classic chosen for its broad appeal to kids, teenagers and parents — will be shown on what is believed to be Westport’s 1st-ever drive-in movie screen.

The only other better choice would be “Back to the Future.”

(The Westport Cinema Initiative is a partner with this project. The cost is $30 per car — cheap enough so that no one has to hide in the trunk. Besides, proceeds benefit Homes With Hope. Beach stickers are not required. Joey’s by the Shore will be open for food. For more information, click here.)

New York Sports Club Lives On

When the Westport branch of New York Sports Club closed in July, they left behind a number of disappointed clients.

They also did something wonderful for a 16-year-old boy.

new-york-sports-clubMorgaine Pauker was one of those customers. Her husband Mark works with a man from Easton whose son Zach had just been paralyzed from the waist down, in a car accident.

Mark and Morgaine wondered if NYSC would donate some upper body strength equipment.

The club usually distributes excess machines to other NYSC locations. But they considered the request, and said they were happy to help

Then they went the extra mile. The other day, a machine was delivered to Zach’s house — and installed.

New York Sports Club is gone from Westport. But in one nearby home, it will never be forgotten.

(Click here to contribute to Zach’s medical fund.) 

Delivering the strength machine to Zach's home.

Delivering the strength machine to Zach’s home.

One Small Step For Mental Health Awareness

A few days after the Sandy Hook massacre, Max Eigen was in Florida with his family.

Walking the beach on vacation, he and his brothers thought of a small way to help. They collected shells, threaded them with string and beads, then brought them home to sell.

That tiny gesture raised more than $5,000 for Sandy Hook families.

A few months ago, Max was in Florida again. This time, it was the aftermath of 3 suicides: a Staples High School student, Staples teacher and Westport police officer.

Once again, Max wanted to make a difference.

He collected more shells. Once again, he raised $5,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

“It’s hard to sit in Westport and watch all of this,” the Staples sophomore, lacrosse and basketball player, and Service League of Boys (SLOBs) member, says.

“At first I thought there was nothing I could do. But there is.”

He’s talking to the school’s outreach counselor Ed Milton, and Department of Human Services’ Elaine Daignault. He wants them to help organize a club, to keep the issues of mental health and suicide in the forefront of students’ minds.

It’s still in the planning stages. But twice already, Max Eigen has proven he gets to work.

And gets things done.

“Lost Film” Resurfaces

In the 3 days since it was posted on YouTube, a “Lost Film” has rocketed around the internet.

Well, at least on Facebook groups filled with folks who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s.

The 4:30 color video — grainy and jerky, with scenes of teenagers, Weston center, downtown (including the old YMCA and Mobil station, now Vineyard Vines), a 1-light cop car and the 9-building, 1-story Staples High School — is made much more compelling by dream-like music. For those who lived here then, it’s almost like stepping into a time warp.

A scene from "Lost Film." The Main Street building on the left -- now the Gap -- was then a furniture store.

A scene from “Lost Film.” The Main Street building on the left — now the Gap — was then a furniture store.

It’s safe to assume that “Lost Film” — the YouTube title — means that whoever shot it finally found it, decades later.

The story is stranger than that.

It turns out that in 1970 or so, Staples Class of ’72 member John S. Johnson and 2 friends — Wayne Vosburgh and John Fisher — found the 16mm film on campus.

Because home projectors then were 8mm, they asked the librarian for help. She set them up in a room. They did not think much of what they saw.

For the past 46 years, the spool remained in Johnson’s dresser drawer. He sometimes thought about transferring the film to video.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Last week — before leaving on a trip to Westport — he dropped it off at a local shop to get it done.

After viewing the digitized version, his perspective changed. Johnson realized each scene went by too quickly to dissect and reminisce.

He slowed it down about 50%. Then he added the ethereal music.

The video says “circa 1967.” Johnson now believes it was made around 1969.

It shows teenagers in Westport in a very specific point in time.

But it’s also timeless.

(Hat tips: Bill Scheffler and Mary Gai)

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Birth, Life And Death: Westport’s 9/11 Babies

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001.

Another 13,328 Americans were born that day.

Hillary O’Neill was one of them.

Her parents — Coleytown Middle School teacher Glenn, and Heather, a landscape designer — spent that awful morning at Norwalk Hospital. They watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon burned, and the world wondered what would happen next.

Hillary arrived at 2:55 p.m. Outside the delivery room hospital staff rushed around, preparing for an overflow onslaught of victims from Manhattan who never came.

Hillary O'Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Hillary O’Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Today, Hillary turns 15. Her birthday feels like none of the other 364 days of the year. This month, published her insights.

Hillary says that her parents never tried to hide her unique birthday from her. They showed her videos and news stories about 9/11. She heard “the panic in people’s voices.”

When she was 9 days old, President Bush declared a war on terror. It’s been going on ever since. “It’s the norm for me,” she told Esquire.  “And I feel like it’s only going to get worse.”

Like her friends, the Staples High School sophomore thinks — and worries about — the high cost of education. Conflicts in the Middle East. Terror attacks.

But in the tales she’s heard about the day she was born, Hillary also finds hope. She says:

When I heard the stories about how 9/11 was in the days afterwards, I heard how everyone came together, and everyone was nicer to each other. To me, it’s important to be able to be that sense of hope. I know some of our family friends lost their spouses or parents, and on my birthday, they always make sure to send me a card or text. I think it’s such a hard day for them that thinking about it as my birthday is a lot easier—something happy on a day that would otherwise have no joy.

For me, my birthday is big because it’s happy and marks me getting older, but for the rest of the world, my birthday means one of the worst days they can remember. On my birthday—I don’t know how to put it into words. Conflicting, is what I’m trying to say.

It’s conflicting emotions, because I feel like it’s really important to have a day to remember the victims of 9/11, but I also want to celebrate. I’ve come to the point now where I can find a way to do both. Now, honoring victims has become the celebration of my birthday—like volunteering, which I did last year. That’s just as good as any celebration to me.

Heather and Hillary O'Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Heather and Hillary O’Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

I’m proud to be an American. I’m glad I live in a country where change can happen, even though it might be difficult. My dad for example, he’s from Ireland, and when he moved here, his whole family wanted to be in America because it represented this hope and future you could have. It’s represented hope for so many people from other countries. I feel like we need to get that feeling back.

Being born on 9/11 is a part of who I am. It’s a responsibility to bring hope to the world that I try to carry with me every day.

(Click here to read the full Esquire interview with Hillary O’Neill.)

Another Staples High School student — Gabriel Dick — was born 6 days after Hillary.

His birth was tinged with even more sorrow: His father was killed when the North Tower collapsed.

He never knew his dad, Ariel Jacobs. But Gabi imagines him on the top floor, he told

“I think he knows he’s gonna die, but he’s at peace and he’s just hoping my mom and I are gonna be okay.”

Gabi believes his father is “out there — somewhere, guiding me along my path in life.” He and his mother release red balloons on 9/11, with notes to Ari.

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Fifteen years later, Gabi says, “I know that I missed out, but I don’t need people to feel sorry for me because there’s nothing for me to remember. I just need them to understand that I lost something.”

(Click here to read the full People magazine interview with Gabriel Dick.)

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

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Charlotte Rossi Cycles Through America

Most Staples High School athletes prepared for this fall season by running, working out and attending camps.

Charlotte Rossi biked 3,250 miles — and over 3 mountain ranges — from Charleston, South Carolina to Santa Monica, California.

It was the 3rd bike trip she took with Overland Summers. But compared to this, her others — a 250-mile, 2-week journey Vermont journey and a 1,000-mile, 4-week trek from Seattle to San Francisco — were strolls in the park.

Charlotte Rossi: Staples High School soccer star.

Charlotte Rossi: Staples High School soccer star.

Charlotte — a Staples soccer captain who attributes her love of biking to her parents, Paul and Marguerite (and who also serves as Staples Players senior manager for the front of the house, plays French horn in the band and volunteers with the National Charity League) — wanted to do the cross-country “American Challenge” last year. She spent it instead going to soccer recruitment camps for college.

Last February — the day after she committed to Fordham University — she called Overland Summers.

The organization sends out training regimens. But at the end of April Charlotte sprained her ankle — playing soccer, of course — and for the next 5 weeks wore a boot.

It came off a week before the trip. Charlotte did only 5 20-mile rides. “I thought the South was flat, and I’d be fine,” she laughs.

The biking on this trip was far more intense than her previous 2. To beat the heat, the group rose every morning at 4 a.m. They covered 70 to 120 miles a day. There was no support van, so each person carried 50 pounds of gear.

The dozen teenagers and 2 leaders camped out often. Other times they slept in churches, rec centers and private homes.

With no cell phones, everyone spent time actually talking as they rode. Charlotte discovered “the importance of conversation. We didn’t check each other out on Facebook. We actually got to learn who each person was.”

The American Challenge riders, en route.

The American Challenge riders, en route.

She also learned how to talk to strangers — the many folks they met who took time to ask the riders what they were doing, and why.

But some parts of the trip were unexplainable. As one leader said, “This is the only group of people who will ever really understand what you’ve been through.”

Charlotte adds, “I could not have gotten through the trip without this group. Whenever someone didn’t want to get on their bike, someone else said, ‘You can do it!'”

That encouragement meant everything. Riding across America, Charlotte saw places she’d never otherwise see — like the tourist town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas and the very friendly stopover in Scott City, Kansas.

The hardest days were the ones crossing the Ozarks, Rockies and San Gabriel Mountains. But the views — particularly from Durango, Colorado — were “unreal,” Charlotte says.

Only 2 states to go!

Only 2 states to go!

The California range was especially memorable. The group spent their last night at a campground, reflecting on the previous 6 weeks.

The next morning, they still had 20 miles to climb. After all they’d been through, it was a snap.

Then came a long 10-mile descent. Suddenly they saw Los Angeles: civilization!

When they reached Ocean Boulevard, most sobbed with emotion. There were banners and flags — and, waiting at the bottom, the Overland support team and the bikers’ parents.

A large crowd had no idea what they were cheering for, but they urged the group on.

At the beach they threw their bikes down, took off their front wheels, and sprinted to dip them in the Pacific.

Charlotte Rossi, taking a rare rest.

Charlotte Rossi, taking a rare rest.

Back in Westport, Charlotte found herself in great physical condition for the new soccer season.

She was in even better mental shape.

“Whenever I had to do something hard in training, I told myself I’ve just done something much harder,” she says.

As a captain, she’s learned the importance of supporting teammates. “Just a little high 5 or word of encouragement means so much,” she explains. “I know how much it meant to me this summer.”

So — as she looks forward to a great season, and then Fordham — does she plan any more bike trips?

“I hope so,” Charlotte says. “I really want to be a leader for a bike company. The ride is a real challenge for them — plus they’re responsible for 12 kids.”