Category Archives: Teenagers

Staples Students Pack Trunks. You’ll Be Amazed What’s In Them.

As last year staggered to an end, Staples High School English teacher Ann Neary had an idea.

She asked students in her AP Literature and AP World Literature classes to reflect on what they’d seen, felt and observed since the pandemic struck. The assignment: “Pack a trunk with the positive things you learned and/or came to appreciate in 2020, and want to travel with in 2021.” 

The answers were perceptive, poignant, and beautifully expressed. I asked Ann if it was okay to share them with “06880”; the students agreed.

Here are a few. As you read them, you’ll be inspired. You’ll tear up.

And you’ll know that the future is in great hands.

I started learning things I enjoy on my own time.

The importance of patience.

Lots of introspection.

Crocheting so many shirts.

Learning to live with and find joy in being by myself.

Seeing the beauty and value in the small things around me.

One Staples High School student’s trunk.

In high school we all go with the flow and let life carry us in the direction it does. But without sports and less social activities, quarantine forced me to control what I did on a daily basis, and be more proactive in living the life I want to live.

I grew to love rock climbing even more.

Really having to focus on self-discipline.

I learned to appreciate simplicity in life.

Once I came to terms that there are things out of your control that will affect you, and that all you can do is improve yourself through things you can control, life is a lot happier.

I became a better reader.

I took more opportunities to help my community.

The Staples lacrosse team was one of many student groups that embraced community service.

I became more confident, outgoing and assertive.

Dinners and 1,000 piece puzzle moments with my family that I really valued, and hope to see more of.

How much I value normal school, going daily, packed cafeterias, etc.

I developed deeper and more meaningful relationships with people.

I became more self-sufficient.

Noticing how everyone is working together, and trying their best to make things work.

I understood that my happiness isn’t dependent on other people, and life is what I make of it.

I started meditating.

Strengthened current friendships, and made new ones.

Hanging out with friends — as in this 2017 photo — became more precious and meaningful.

I developed a better and more diverse appreciation for music.

I realized how much I genuinely like being home. I also realized how much goes into keeping our house going, like doing laundry, cooking, grocery shopping and taking care of our dog.

Bought my truck, and furthered my interest in automotive work.

I realized how much fun and work can be had at any time. There’s always so much to do.

Writing poetry is therapeutic.

We can’t just take family for granted, at least for us who are lucky enough to have loving and kind parents and siblings.

How to handle disappointment, and deal with things that are less than ideal.

How to be a productive member of society, and advocate for change that doesn’t affect me personally.

Many Staples students were galvanized by summer protests about systemic racism.

To prioritize my mental health.

I realized how much I took for granted.

Patience, flexibility, motivation, gratitude, time management, getting out of my comfort zone.

How to be content with only my own company in quarantine. How to entertain myself without copious stimuli.

It’s okay to spend time learning about what you love and what you want to do, instead of always being around people and trying to please others.

Nothing went the way we planned this year, but for the most part things worked themselves out. They usually will.

Taking time to appreciate the outdoors and our yard, and little things like feeding the birds.

(Photo/Lexi Gay)

Mental health is a lot more important than always trying to prove myself to be perfect.

I’ve picked up new hobbies like aquarium keeping.

Be kind not only to people around you, but especially the people less fortunate than you.

Reading and watching the news; becoming more aware.

Hikes and walks at the beach.

Seeing what other families have gone through with COVID or other issues makes me feel so grateful that my family is healthy and safe.

Whenever I was stressed I would drive around Fairfield County and listen to music.

Learning to appreciate nature when I walk my dog.

In-person school becoming something I look forward to.

Many Staples students realized how much they missed their high school. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Time to pause and make sure I’m doing okay and improve myself, instead of just worrying about improving my grades.

There is such great value in complimenting others — especially in the few moments we get to see people in person.

I seriously read epic poetry of my own volition. It’s a unique way to tell stories.

It’s much more challenging to spend time with friends, so I try to live in the moment and enjoy it when I am able to do that.

Cook new foods.

Lack of school-related stress.

I have a new understanding of and respect for my family.

Never expect what is expected. Situations arise instantly. We are always responsible to face them.

I got perspective on the small but important things we may not think about when we have them freely, and in abundance.

My sister is usually at boarding school. I’m grateful she was in quarantine with me, because she makes everything more fun.

I’m proud of learning to value my feelings more. In the past I have been a bit of a people pleaser. This year I finally allowed myself more joy in doing what I wanted, while obviously making sure others were okay.

I love going on 6-mile walks with my friend at 6 in the morning.

Spending every single moment with my family for 4 months allowed me to create amazing memories.

The bond I created with my football team. Despite playing only a few games, we always stayed hungry and excited to play whenever we could.

2020 allowed me to surround myself with the people I love.

Roundup: Timari Rivera, Polo Ponies, Free Range Children, More


It was a gorgeous sunrise on Soundview Drive this morning.

Let’s hope it foretells a better week ahead than the last one. (As for that “red sky in morning” stuff … there’s no rain or snow in the forecast.)

(Photo/Susan Ford)


The family of Timari Rivera — the Staples High School senior who died last week — has released his obituary:

Timari Raquan Rivera, 17, was greeted in heaven on Monday, January 4, 2021 from his earthly home.

He was born August 5, 2003 to Timothy Rivera and Anglie Edmounds in Bridgeport. He attended local schools and began his love of the game at age 6, when his pediatrician suggested that if his mom didn’t put a basketball into Timari’s hands, he would.

His passion for basketball grew from PAL league, leading him to play in several leagues – including Weston Wilton Travel Team, NE Playaz, and CT Elite AAU, but his varsity position with the Staples High School Wreckers remained his primary focus.

Timari was a math whiz, fluent in basketball statistics, and loved pottery. He enjoyed spending time with family, friends, playing 2K, and every teen’s passion, eating. He was set to graduate from Staples this year.

In addition to his parents, left to cherish the memory of this “gentle giant,” are stepfather Devin Robinson, big little brothers Taurean and Tyron Rivera, 9 additional siblings, nephews Amir and Tristian Rivera, bonus niece Marlo Perkins, and a host of family and friends.

A private Service of Celebration will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, January 12, at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, 729 Union Avenue, Bridgeport. Friends may greet the family from 9 to 10 a.m. at the church. The family will proceed to a private interment immediately following service.

The family wishes to thank those who have expressed their love and condolence in various ways. It is truly appreciated. To plant memorial trees in memory, click here.

Timari Rivera


Seen yesterday at Sherwood Island:

(Photo/Mary Sikorski)

Photographer Mary Sikorski reports that the riders’ jackets said “Yale Polo.”

So that’s why they look like 3 Wise Men.


Those kids playing on Saugatuck Shores are so adorable, you could just eat them!

(Photo/Les Dinkin)


And finally … on this day in 1972, East Pakistan officially renamed itself Bangladesh.

 

GoFundMe Page Honors Timari Rivera

COVID has prevented the Staples High School boys basketball team from being together on the court.

But they and their parents have come together to help the family of Timari Rivera, their teammate was died suddenly Sunday night.

A GoFundeMe page has been set up by the Staples Boys Basketball Association, to help Timari’s family with funeral and other costs.

Wrecker captains Lucas Basich, Sean Clarke and Derek Sale write:

Timari was an inspiration. He was a passionate student of the game and a leader on and off the court. Timari loved being part of Wreckers basketball and was happier cheering on and encouraging his teammates than celebrating his own personal success. Timari Rivera was a big man with an even bigger heart.

In memory of Timari, we are asking for donations to help his family through this difficult time.

Click here to contribute.

Timari Rivera

 

Marpe, Scarice Address Capitol Attack

In response to yesterday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:

As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the Chief Elected Officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting.

I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.

In addition, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice wrote to parents:

I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness.  By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting President.  All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.

My purpose for addressing the school community is to reassure parents that our team will be ready to receive our students Thursday and serve them in the most professional manner. This is our calling, among the noblest of professions.

Our team is working this evening to make certain that faculty and staff have resources assembled to support their work tomorrow and beyond. Each building principal will meet with faculty and staff to prepare them for the day. Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Each level will work to maintain an age-appropriate approach. The elementary level will not initiate group discussions on this topic but will be responsive to individual students as the need arises. We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners. As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.

The middle school level will address the events of the day in their social studies classes, primarily with a civics lens. It is likely that middle school students have encountered a good deal of unfamiliar historical and political language today related to the process of certifying the election, and the manner in which the behaviors at the Capitol have been characterized by the media, and also social media.

Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events. Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward. Any student in need of additional intervention will be addressed through our support staff at the middle school level.

The high school level will also address these events in social studies classes.  Teachers will facilitate the discussion as students generate the questions. Our high school students are close to voting age. Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics. Alternative spaces will be provided for students during lunch waves and throughout the day to provide support when needed on an individual basis.

This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear. There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. Our high school community is just beginning to grieve the loss of a beloved classmate and the lingering emotional impact of the pandemic remains.  We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.

These strong feelings will be experienced by both students and adults. In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities. We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.

Staples Wrestlers Tackle Tough Jobs

High school winter sports are on hold until January 19. Basketball courts, hockey rinks, swimming pools — all are quiet.

The Staples High School wrestling team can’t practice or compete either. But they’re not taking the layoff lying down.

The Wreckers keep in shape by lifting. Not in the weight room, of course — that’s closed too.

Instead, the grapplers lift treadmills. Sofas. Pianos. You name it — if you’ve got a moving job (or any other work), they’ll do it.

And the service is free. (Donations to the wrestling program are gratefully accepted, for sure.)

Need a stone wall dismantled and moved? Call the Staples wrestling team!

The wrestlers form one of the tightest, most cohesive teams at Staples. (Their sport is one of the toughest, too.) Much of that is built on the foundation laid by Terry Brannigan. The former Staples wrestler’s son TJ graduated last spring after a stellar career. His second son Eamon is a junior on the squad.

As part of Brannigan’s effort 3 years ago to boost the morale of what was then a flagging program — and introduce the community to the team and sport — he realized that strong, enthusiastic teenagers could fill a need.

Facebook’s Westport Front Porch page often featured requests for help with jobs no one seemed to want to do. They were heavy, messy, small or required a truck.

One day Brannigan responded: “I know 30 fit, polite and responsible young men who are happy to do it: the Staples wrestling team!”

Quickly, someone asked how much they’d charge. He replied, “Nothing. If you’re happy, just say something nice about the team. If you feel like making a tip, it will go to the team.”

That was 100 jobs ago.

Among the wrestlers’ jobs: moving a chicken coop. This was before the pandemic, which is why they’re not wearing masks.)

The first request was to clear wood and brush from a yard, left there by an unscrupulous contractor. The homeowner could not pay what Brannigan calls “extortion prices” of area companies. After the wrestlers’ final trip to the dump, she tearfully said, “you’ve restored my faith in this town.”

Word spread. Soon they were working nearly every weekend. Along the way, they met “the nicest people,” Brannigan says. “And we’ve had a great time.”

They have moved, cleaned and transported everything imaginable. The heavyweights do the heavy lifting; the light guys maneuver in tight spaces.

Since the pandemic struck, they’ve done a booming business moving treadmills. Some are ordered online, delivered to the garage, and need to be brought downstairs. Others are bought from someone in town, and must be transported.

“We’ve gone up and down and around obstacles no one else would touch,” Brannigan says.

The wrestlers put the treadmills together too, if needed. One of their favorite jobs was for a 103-year-old military veteran, who was excited to get back to exercising.

The wrestling team specializes in bringing big items down small spaces.

The list of jobs is long. The teenagers have moved hot tubs, patio furniture and a chicken coop. They maneuvered a piano down stairs that a professional mover would not touch (“without even touching a wall,” Brannigan says proudly).

They’ve planted 900 tulip bulbs, fixed awnings, removed snow too, took apart a stone wall, and broke down the Remarkable Theater after a concert.

Each time, Brannigan says, “we make a friend. We receive a donation. Most importantly, they meet our athletes.”

It’s a fun event for the boys. They meet at Brannigan’s house or the diner for breakfast before work, or have a donut afterward. (Hey — the season has not yet begun!)

Most weekends, 2 crews work. Sal Augeri helps Brannigan supervise, but the bulk of the work is done by the teenagers. Five have pickup trucks; one has a trailer.

It takes money to run a sports program, beyond what the athletic budget provides. The wrestlers are earning funds to pay for extra coaches, equipment, and some of the extras that make their program one of the best in the state.

Now all they need is a season. They certainly earned it.

(Need some help? Email terrybrannigan5@gmail.com or call 203-644-8403.)

Candlelight Vigil For Timari Rivera

Relatives, teammates, classmates and friends from Westport and Bridgeport mourned Timari Rivera last night.

A candlelight vigil at Longshore paid tribute to the Staples High School senior. He died Sunday at home, from a recurrence of a medical condition.

He was best known at Staples for his basketball talents. After being sidelined as a sophomore with a health issue, Rivera captained last year’s junior varsity, and also saw varsity time.

An ankle injury cut that season short too. Head coach Colin Devine had big plans for the 6-7 senior this year. The season has not yet started, due to COVD-19.

Dave Ruden, whose Ruden Report covers FCIAC sports, lauded Rivera’s “lovable disposition and tireless work ethic.”

Devine told the Ruden Report: “He was a very, very good basketball player, a great teammate, a beloved member of our basketball family and the entire Staples High School community.

“He was a gentle giant with a great heart and loved his teammates, loved the game of basketball and was a true student of the game.”

Timari Rivera wore #44. His Staples basketball teammates hold up 4 fingers on each hand.

Staples senior Dylan Goodman took these photos of the vigil for her classmate. Click here for more images; click here for the full Ruden Report story.

Making the “L” hand sign, for “love.”

(Photos/Dylan Goodman)

Staples Mourns Death Of Timari Rivera

Timari Rivera, a senior at Staples High School, died suddenly from a previously existing medical condition.

A 6-7 native of Bridgeport, he was a member of the Wreckers’ basketball program. Tryouts for this year’s team have been postponed by COVID, to January 19.

A scouting report on social media said he had “the unteachables in D1 size and strength and a soft touch….an excellent target and a scoring threat.”

School officials are providing support to Timari’s friends and classmates, and to the Rivera family.

No further information is available at this time.

Timari Rivera, on the sideline …

… and the court.

 

 

Sam Zuckerman: Staples High Senior, International President

In the spring of 2017, Bedford Middle School 8th grader Sam Zuckerman got an email from Annie Glasser. The Conservative Synagogue youth group director said there was an opening for a 9th grade representative on the local United Synagogue Youth board.

Sam was not the only one Annie contacted. But he was the only one to respond. He got the job.

Sam spent his Staples High School freshman year watching older members lead. In 10th grade he was named to a religion and education position on the board. It was out of his comfort zone, but he learned a lot more about leadership.

Sam Zuckerman

Last year, as a junior, he became chapter president. Despite challenges like staff turnover and the pandemic, he grew the group.

Last January, Sam broadened his involvement beyond Westport — way beyond.

He applied for a spot on USY’s international general board. He’s not the first Westporter on it — senior Even Siegel served too — but it was “eye-opening” to have an influence far beyond his home town.

In May Sam added another post: president of the New England USY region. He helped organize a convention with upstate New York and eastern Canada chapters, and worked on outreach.

All of that work prepared him to run for the top USY job: international president.

Sam got signatures. He videotaped a speech. He developed a platform, stressing inclusion of smaller regions, addressing mental health issues of members, and opening communication with other Jewish youth groups.

And he won.

He’s now in charge of 15 regions, with over 350 local chapters. There are 20,000 members in USY.

“A year ago, I was only a Westport chapter president,” Sam says. “I didn’t see myself being where I am. But I’m looking forward to leading an organization I love.”

United Synagogue Youth logo

Sammi Henske’s “Rocky” Idea Takes Off

You might hear Westport middle schooler Samantha Henske’s latest idea — sending rocks to friends — and think she has rocks in her head.

Then you hear the concept behind it:

  • You buy a rock for $10, to let a friend know you’re thinking of them.
  • The friend loves the rock (inscribed “Inspire kindness,” “See good in all things,” with a smiley face, or a custom design), and sends one of her own to another friend.

  • You both enter a special code (unique to those rocks) into Sammi’s website, and track that chain as it spreads all over the country.
  • You smile as you learn that the rocks are called “Huggs” — so Sammi is helping send hugs everywhere.

Then you hear that most of the proceeds go to charity — the first one Sammi’s chosen is Westport’s own Al’s Angels — and you realize she does not have rocks in her head at all.

Just a brain that has come up with a simple, fun idea that brings smiles to friends, and sunlight to strangers.

At a time we desperately need all the joy we can get.

(For Sammi Henske’s Huggs website, click here. For her Instagram, click here. For a WTNH Channel 8 story on Sammi, click here.)

Samantha Henske

 

Zac Mathias: Young Influencer With Flair

Zac Mathias jokes that he’s “homeschooled at The Granola Bar.”

He’s not. But the Weston High School junior is clearly a unique young man.

True, he spends a lot of time at the popular Playhouse Square spot. He’s also a regular at nearby Pure Barre.

Zac Mathias at Pure Barre.

If you follow Zac on Instagram. you know that already. And you’re not alone. Zac has 15,000 followers. He’s one of the area’s top social media influencers.

He posts — several times a day — with a focus on lifestyle and design. Clothes, beauty, skincare, furniture — if it’s chic, cool and/or helps you live better, Zac will let you know about it.

But he’s not all lipsticks and lotions. Zac also delves into politics, and LGBTQ issues.

As I said: He is not your average 11th grader.

Zac is passionate about what he does. And he discovered his passion early. At 5 years old, he rearranged his parents’ house. (A babysitter helped.)

He soon started designing for his friends — and his friends’ mothers. He got ideas from magazines, but trusted his intuition. It served him well.

It’s not easy being different. Zac was bullied. Fifth grade was the worst, he says. But his teacher let him stay inside during recess — and asked him to rearrange the room.

“Weston is small,” Zac says. “You’re with the same 200 kids from kindergarten on.” But he had plenty of “kind” friends, and they’re still tight. As he — and his classmates — have grown, many have recognized his gifts.

Zac Mathias

Zac always followed his dream. The summer after 7th grade, he interned at Dovecote. Owner Sarah Kaplan — who knew him from his fledgling Instagram presence — “embraced me,” he says. He worked with store stylist Ronny Carroll, learning all about artwork, accessories and more. Sarah gave him plenty of responsibility, including helping customers.

In 8th grade, Zac focused on social media. Businesses asked him to feature them.

He moved from designer to marketer to connector. Now he’s a bona fide influencer.

Zac is grateful for the opportunities he’s had (and created for himself). “I’ve met amazing people,” he says. “Coming from a small school where being different makes you ‘odd,’ I’ve been able to connect with so many other people.”

The other day, a woman whose 9-year-old is being bullied contacted Zac. He met the youngster. “It meant a lot to them to see me living my life,” he says proudly.

As for pride: Zac is a founding member of Westport Pride, a new LGBTQ organization. He looks forward to getting involved in activities like designing a rainbow crosswalk. He’s previously worked with the Triangle Community Center and Trevor Project.

Zac Mathias with shampoo by Better Natured, a Fairfield County company. Part of the proceeds from sales of his t-shirt support the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention effort for LGBTQ youth.

Local — as in, Fairfield County — is Zac’s focus right now. He highlights area businesses, not big brands. That’s why he hangs out at The Granola Bar. “It’s not Starbucks,” he explains. “You’re handed your coffee by someone in the community. Dana and Julie (the owners) are right there for you.”

In fact, Zac says no to “90% of the offers I get. Whoever I work with has to be the right fit. And if I like them, but let’s say the shoes are ugly, I’ll say that too.”

His father taught him an important business tenet: Never say a quick no. He cites one example: He kept communication open with a brand whose packaging he did not like. But he tried the product, and liked it. He gave advice on repackaging; now they are partners.

This summer, Zac posted some political thoughts. (You don’t need to guess who he supported for the White House.) If he lost any followers because of his stands, he says, “they weren’t the right followers. There are other followers who have different views than mine. We get along fine, beyond politics.”

He’s branching out too. Recently, Zac posted about his driver’s permit test. “I want people to laugh,” he says.

But it is “classic chic” that he most focuses on. He leans toward any product or service that lets someone be “unapologetically yourself.” That can be a handbag or shoes, he says. It can also be almond milk. It’s all about lifestyle, and fostering a community, an environment.”

Though Weston is small — and Westport is not exactly a metropolis — Zac like the area. “There are so many creative people here. They’re doing good things, with a big footprint. There’s a lot of opportunity.”

Zac Mathias at one of his favorite spots: The Granola Bar. (Photos/Julia Dags)

What’s next? Zac is working on a new project with a young woman from Massachusetts. He could see branching out to his own product line, or perhaps a reality show.

“The sky’s the limit,” he says confidently. “I could be the gay Martha Stewart — minus the jail time.”

(You can follow Zac on Instagram: @zac.mathias.)