Category Archives: Teenagers

Sophie Guiduli Helps Save The Sound

Sophie Guiduli is a junior at Staples High School. She’s a self-taught portrait artist. She is also a staunch advocate for Save the Sound, the non-profit that protects our waters and environment.

Jay Tsai grew up on Long Island Sound …

Sophie is melding both passions in a fundraiser she created herself. She’s drawing portraits of residents who recognize the value of the Sound, and want to support conservation efforts.

She set up a Facebook page to create aware of both Save the Sound, and her fundraiser. On it she says:

Growing up in Westport and as someone who loves the outdoors, the Sound is a place of beauty and tranquility. During this pandemic, the Sound has become a safe place where so many people in my community gather (socially distanced) and remember the beauty of nature and that life will at some point return to normal.

Sophie hopes that in addition to sending photos to Sophie (email that she can draw from — of themselves, friends or loved ones — advocates will add personal statements about their relationship to the Sound. She’ll post those on her page, along with the portraits. The result will be a virtual community, centered on the importance of Long Island Sound.

Donations can be sent to her GoFundMe page. She’s already raised over $1,200.

… as did his twin sister Anaya Tsai. (Portraits by Sophie Guiduli)

But Sophie is not stopping there. She hopes to find a local landlord who will display the portraits in the window of a store (or vacant space). That’s one more way of spreading the word about the Sound.

“In this time of social distancing, we all feel the loss of community,” Sophie says.

“I hope in my small way to bring people together so we can be thankful for the beauty of nature the Sound brings to us, and find ways to support efforts to restore the health of our waters.”

Candlelight Concert Re-broadcast Set For December 24

Sure, Thursday is Christmas Eve.

More importantly, it’s the day Staples High School’s 80th annual Candlelight Concert will be shown again.

Two livestreams are set: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. EST.

Click on to get your link.

The video — featuring performances by choral groups, orchestras and bands, along with interviews with current and past music instructor/legends, and alumni — wowed a worldwide audience when it was first shown on Saturday.

This will be your last chance to see the show, however. Copyright issues preclude posting the video permanently to YouTube or Vimeo.

NOTE: You can view the performance on your smart TV, Roku or Apple TV. Just click the Airplay icon on your phone, tablet or computer.

Despite masks and social distance, Staples musicians gave stunning performances. (Photo/Brandon Malin)

It’s “Almost Christmas” In Weston

SBE Studio is a Weston gem.

Run by Broadway actress Jodi Stevens Bryce (with her husband, actor Scott Bryce), it offers instruction and education for performers of all ages. Students are diverse, committed — and very talented.

Jodi’s students always bring joy to the community. That’s tough, in these COVID days. But now we need it now more than ever.

Every December SBE showcases its work with friends, family and — especially — seniors, at places like the Westport Senior Center. Students spread holiday cheer, and in return get a full performance opportunity with a grateful audience.

This year that performance was impossible. What could Jodi’s group do instead?

Jodi Stevens Bryce

The first plan was to carol door to door for older residents. As coronavirus cases rose and the Weston schools went all online, that became untenable.

Plan B was to sing at the Weston Senior Center’s holiday drive-up luncheon. New restrictions and an abundance of caution scotched those plans too.

But Jodi and her young performers realized that — just as they had gone virtual themselves — they could perform a song, film it separately and safely at home, then edit it together to give hope and joy back to the community.

“Many of our elderly are still sheltering in place, are ill, have lost loved ones, are lonely, or are otherwise unable to gather in public,” Jodi says.

Of course, they’re not the only once who could use a little cheer.

So here — for everyone, old and young, in Weston and Westport and far beyond — is SBE Studio’s “Almost Christmas.” The song from “A Little Princess’ shines a light on a simpler time.

But in these tough times, the joy in the hearts of students from Weston, Westport, Fairfield, New Canaan and Ridgefield is clear, palpable, and lovely indeed.

(Featured players include Hannah Johnson, Elana Nordstrom, Adia Hourihan, Emma Seoane, Eve Davis, Hannah Pressman, Sofia Abreu, Lauren Wasserman, Sophie Bud, Scarlet Tanzer, Ulma Hedge and June Skodis.)


Candlelight Concert Wows Worldwide Audience

Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert is always special. The 3 performances are the hottest ticket in town. For parents, other Westporters and alumni who attend, it marks the true start of the holiday season.

The coronavirus impacted the concert, as it has every other aspect of life. This year’s event — the 80th annual — went virtual. Choirs, orchestras and bands were recorded earlier this month. Performers and conductors were (of course) masked and socially distanced.

But one of the unexpected and joyful consequences of COVID is that this year’s Candlelight was extra-special.

Ryan Smith used several cameras to tape the performances. Brandon Malin led a superb high school lighting crew. The Staples Music Parents Association’s decorations turned the gym into a concert hall.

With the help of many, you’d never know this was the Staples High School gym. (Photo/Brandon Malin)

I was honored to be asked to conduct interviews with former music instructors and alumni. George Weigle and John Hanulik’s now-grown children, alums like Suzanne Sherman Propp, Shirah Lipson and Jon Gailmor — all provided perspectives, augmented by the current talented, passionate directors.

The Staples musicians were — as always — spectacular. Astonishingly, they had had only one in-person rehearsal a week together — and that was with only half the group. The other half was learning remotely.

Add in the fact that they performed apart from each other — no easy feat — and this truly seems like a holiday miracle.

A screenshot of the orchestra during last night’s livestream.

Nearly 3,500 people logged in to last night’s Candlelight Concert. The total audience probably reached 5 figures, as many viewers watched with family and friends.

They were watching in Westport, of course, but all over the world too — California, France, you name it. We know, because the “chat” function was filled with chatter. Strangers became fast friends, posting memories and praising the current crop of young musicians (and their teachers).

It was something old, something new. It was fresh and different — but there was still the processional, “Sing We Noel,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

It was the Candlelight Concert, COVID -style.

A screenshot of Luke Rosenberg conducting a choral ensemble. (Screenshots courtesy of June Whittaker)

New Staples Program Links 9th Graders, Upperclassmen

Transitions to new schools can be tough. For teenagers, the move from middle to high school can seem particularly daunting.

Since 1983 — the year 9th graders first moved to Staples — Westport educators have helped make freshmen comfortable in their new building. Meetings, tours, club fairs and more have all been part of the process.

But when the high school’s School Climate Committee recommended a more sustained, ongoing orientation approach, administrators and teachers went to work.

A national program called Link Crew seemed ideal. Lasting a full year, using upperclassmen as mentors, it promised the support and personal connections with school-age peers that 9th graders need.

A group visited Newtown and Hall-West Hartford Highs, where the program has thrived. They adapted it for Staples.

Three teachers — Jeff Doornweerd, Lauren Manosh and Jamie Pacuk — were identified as advisors. Guidance department head Bill Plunkett calls them “amazing, energetic, dedicated and warm. They’re exactly who you’d want as a the face of Staples for incoming students.”

Assistant principal Chase Dunlap recruited 120 rising juniors and seniors.  Staples and middle school PTA grants paid for advisor training.

Link Crew was all set to debut in August, with 2 days of social interaction and hands-on activities.

COVID shut all that down.

Despite the hurdles — and with less than half the school on campus on any given day — the Link Crew crew went to work. With creativity, persistence and problem-solving, they started the program.

Orientation sessions (masked and socially distanced) were held before school began. They’d been conducted in past years too. Link Crew’s, though, are more comprehensive and structured.

Freshmen toured in small groups with the mentors who would follow them all year. They’d already met online, through Zoom sessions that included ice-breakers and fun activities.

Emily Epstein and Owen Dolan introduced Link Crew to freshmen via video.

In a non-pandemic year, there would be more in-person meetings, and team-building activities. This year they’re improvising, using the weekly Connections period to get together virtually.

Schools with ongoing Link Crew programs have social events. That’s still ahead (perhaps virtually), along with more mentor training, and guest speakers, once Staples returns to normal.

Still, in an abnormal year the first-year program has worked well. “”Mentors have done a great job checking in with their groups of 3 to 5 freshmen through email and texts,” Doornweerd  notes.

“It could be just a simple thing, like asking for an emoji of how their firs day of school went. They’ve also been running small group activities.”

While Link Crew’s focus is helping freshmen feel safe, secure and informed, there’s another benefit: leadership development for mentors.

“They represent a cross-section of the student body,” Plunkett says. “We hope they all go back to their friend circles and activities, and infuse the Link Crew values there. This really can shift the culture in a meaningful way.”

“Some of the mentors have never held a leadership role, never been a club member of thought they had any leadership potential,” Manosh adds. “But they all had in common a desire to help incoming freshmen have a positive transition through their guidance.

“It has been inspiring to see the mentors step up to the task, embrace their role and lead their classmates through the year with the same enthusiasm they came to training and ran orientation with.”



Roundup: Fleet Feet’s Restaurants, Candlelight Concert, More

Looking for something to do on Saturday downtown?

Head to the Savvy + Grace Christmas tree. Child nutrition program Filling in the Blanks will sell reflective metal tags, which can hold a personal message or name to hang onto to the tree!  They’ll also collect 15-ounce soup cans.

Around the corner, the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra’s Brass Quintet will play in the pick-up circle outside Bedford Square on Elm Street, then move to Brooks Corner (1 to 3 p.m.)

Don’t forget to look at (and vote for) store window displays. Over 40 stores are vying for titles, in several categories. Click here for more information.

The Savvy + Grace tree.

Speaking of downtown: Like many retailers, Fleet Feet has been impacted by the pandemic.

But during the holiday season, the Sconset Square running shoe store is thinking about its neighbors — Westport’s restaurants.

So any customer who buys a $100 Fleet Feet gift card in the store gets a $20 gift card to a local eatery.

They’re open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays 8 to 11 a.m. (appointment only), and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What a great idea. Run on down to get yours! (Hat tip: Sal Liccione)


As of yesterday, Westport had 839 cumulative cases of COVID-19 (772 confirmed, 67 suspected). That’s up 53 from the previous week — and the rate more than doubled from that previous week, when it was up by 25.

There were no coronavirus deaths in Westport over the past 7 days. Total deaths since the start of the pandemic are 25.

Click here for full statewide statistics.

I know everyone is busy this weekend with tons of holiday open houses, carol sings and other festive gatherings. (In our dreams…)

But don’t forget tomorrow’s Staples High School Candlelight Concert (Saturday, December 19, 7:30 p.m.). The 80th annual gift to the town is fully virtual this year. It includes many wonderful choral, orchestra and band selections, as well as cool interviews with current and past music instructors, alumni — even legends George Weigle and John Hanulik’s kids.

Click here for the free link. Then sit back and enjoy a memorable show.

More Staples news:  Louisa D’Amore has been recognized for outstanding achievement. She is one of 4 national recipients of the Italian Language Foundation’s Teacher Recognition Award.


Louisa D’Amore

And finally … to get you in the Candlelight Concert mood, here’s this gem from 2015:


Amid A Pandemic, Young Artists Persevere

Some of the world’s best art has been produced in times of crisis.

Some of Staples High School’s best, too.

For proof, look at the first newsletter from the Visual Arts Department. It’s filled with stunning drawings, paintings, photography, digital works, animation, jewelry, ceramics and pottery.

Even more remarkably, the students’ creations were done at a time of uncertainty and upheaval — when time to study in a classroom or work in a studio was at a premium.

Self-portrait (Poppy Livingstone)

Painting students bring supplies to school the one day a week their class meets, then haul them back home. Teachers create demo videos outside of class time, to augment their lessons. Feedback takes different forms in cyberspace. Digital art students lack the powerful software available on school computers. And without potters’ wheels and kilns at home, students use air-drying clay, and focus on hand-building techniques.

Despite the challenges, it works. Teachers still teach. Teenagers create. At a time when we need it more than ever, Staples art continues to intrigue and inspire.

Akira Madique’s Graphic Design 2 poster.

The curriculum includes Advanced Placement Studio Art: Drawing, Honors Studio Art, Oil Painting, Watercolor Painting, Advanced Painting, Painting Big, Silkscreen and Advanced Silkscreen; Photography 1 and 2; Graphic Design 1 and 2; Animation; Digital Foundation Honors; Advanced Placement 3D Art; Jewelry Design and Advanced Jewelry Design; Ceramics, and Pottery.

A fast shutter speed image by Siobhan Jebb.

Click here to see the full Visual Arts News page. Click here for more information about Staples’ Visual Arts Department.

Adding stippling to a pot.

Madeline Bell designed and created this bracelet.

(The Staples High School visual arts staff includes Carla Eichler, Camille Eskell, Jaclyn Jeselnik, Stacey Phelan, Justin Shay, Angela Simpson and Tracy Wright.)

Roundup: Candlelight Concert, Dead Fish, Gingerbread Houses, More

Staples High School’s 80th annual Candlelight Concert will look nothing like the previous 79.

But it will still look very cool.

Yesterday, “06880” described this year’s COVID format: a livestream on December 19, with recorded performances and intriguing interviews. (Click here for details, and a registration link.)

Staples senior Brandon Malin was the lighting director for last weekend’s taping. It was a professionally produced event, as befits the music department’s traditional, beloved gift to the town.

Here’s what it looked like, when the masked, socially distanced musicians arrived:

Dead fish continue to pile up on the shores of Compo and Old Mill Beaches.

They’re bunker. They form large colonies, deprive themselves of oxygen, and die. It’s unusual though for it to happen so late in the season.

Patricia McMahon composed this grim but natural collage:

(Photo collage/Patricia McMahon)

Who doesn’t love gingerbread houses? But who has time to make them?

Members of the Westport Woman’s Club, that’s who.

They’ve created 20 gorgeous (and non-edible) houses for a special fundraiser.

Click here to see all of them. For a $20 ticket, you’ll be entered in a random drawing. It’s a great way to help the Woman’s Club fund many worthy projects. Tickets can be purchased at the link above; in person at the club (44 Imperial)Avenue, or mailed to the above address.

A few of the gingerbread houses.

Bruno Guiduli is a key defender on Staples High School’s soccer team.

But this winter, he’s scoring — not preventing shots. He’s shooting on a small cutout banner in his yard. By scoring 2,020 times, his “goal” is to raise money and increase awareness of TOPSoccer, a nonprofit that embraces children and teenagers with intellectual, emotional and/or physical disabilities. Players develop at their own pace, in a safe, fun and nurturing environment.

Bruno has set up a page for donations, while he shoots. Funds help special needs players participate. “No one should be turned away due to financial challenges,” he says.

“Soccer has been a source of competition, challenge and discipline,” Bruno says. “It has taught me the value of teamwork and reaching a goal (no pun intended). So I want to help kids of differing abilities reach their goals. and experience a similar love for the game as I do every day.” Click here to donate.

Bruno Guiduli, with the TOPSoccer goal he’s shooting at.

Dave Briggs is a pro.

The former CNN, Fox News and NBC Sports anchor’s Instagram Live interviews (@WestportMagazine) are consistently compelling and clever.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m his guest today (5 p.m.). Check us out!

The other day, Nile Rodgers testified before Parliament. The world-famous singer/guitarist/musician/arranger/producer told British lawmakers that streaming platforms should pay musicians more. He said he realized the situation when COVID curtailed his touring.

I’ve never been inside his Saugatuck Shores home. But if the Daily Mail photo below of his testimony — livestreamed, of course — was taken there, it’s got some pretty impressive decorations. (Hat tip: Mark Mathias)

(Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

And finally … today marks the first night of Hanukkah. Don’t let the light go out!

Staples Players Give Familiar “Carol” A Fresh Twist

The pandemic — and longer, darker days — have moved most entertainment indoors.

Streaming movies and board games are fun. But they can get old.

Somehow though, “A Christmas Carol” never goes out of fashion. Now there’s a new/old way to enjoy Charles Dickens’ 177-year-old classic: a live radio show.

Staples Players livestreams the ghost story this Sunday (December 13, 6 p.m.). It’s the 4th in a series of shows replacing the fall musical. The first 3 — “The Wizard of Oz,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” — were smashes.

“People sat together, relaxed, ate dinner and listened in,” says Players director David Roth. “They were totally into it. We’re thrilled we can introduce everyone to the pleasure of listening to stories.”

Great enthusiasm — by listeners and actors alike — impelled Roth and co-director Kerry Long to keep going. But in keeping with their longtime goal of stretching both their cast and audience, there’s a twist to the 1843 story: Ebenezer Scrooge is played by a female

“These days, there’s a big movement in theater and film to look at different types of people for roles,” Roth explains.

“Samantha Webster was a show-stopper last year as Rosie in ‘Mamma Mia!’ She did a great job as the mother in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ She was the strongest person to audition. She’s a natural.”

Samantha Webster starred in “Mamma Mia!” This year, she serves as Staples Players president. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Webster and her entire cast are enjoying rehearsals — virtually. Due to ever-changing COVID restrictions, Roth and Long decided to do the entire show remotely. Each actor — and the tech crew sound effects — logs in from home.

It’s not easy. But it worked well with “Wonderful Life.” It’s life — and live theater — during COVID.

TPlayers have fun emphasizing the ghost story aspects of “A Christmas Carol.” That’s how Dickens wrote it — and it fits in with what Roth says was a mid-19th century tradition: telling ghost stories at holiday time.

“We’re keeping the ghosts as scary as we can make them,” he promises. “We’re not Disney-fying this.”

The cast is also spending time polishing their British and Cockney accents. “They’re quite good,” Roth notes.

Players’ costume crew designed mock ups for “A Christmas Carol.” They did not create the actual costumes — it’s a radio show, after all — but it was an important exercise for when they return to a real stage. Above: a “mood board” by Ella Grace Worraker.

As with previous Players’ shows, this production will include “old-time” radio show ads for area businesses.

“We encourage Westport listeners to shop and eat locally,” Roth says. “We’re glad we can help support the town merchants who have always supported us.”

Of course, those ads will be heard by many people far from Westport. That’s the magic of a radio show — in our new COVID-and-digital age.

(“A Christmas Carol” will be livestreamed at 6 p.m. this Sunday, December 13, at The show is not funded by the Westport schools’ budget. Donations are welcome; click here.) 

Staples Candlelight Concert: The Show Will Go On!

COVID has canceled many holiday traditions: tree lightings. Carol sings. Office parties.

It can’t stop the Candlelight Concert. Can it?


The beloved event — Staples High School’s music department gift to the town — takes place Saturday, December 19.

Of course, there’s a coronavirus caveat.

The bad news: For the first time in its fabled 80-year history, there will be no in-person audience. The musical numbers were recorded this weekend — with strict adherence to safety protocols. The concert will be livestreamed a week from next Sunday, at 7:30 p.m.

The good news: It will be a fantastic production.

In addition to the usual, wonderful professional-quality choirs, orchestra and bands, there are compelling interviews with current and past music directors, famed alumni participants, and the children of legendary educators George Weigle and John Hanulik.

The even better news: Because it’s a virtual concert, there’s no limit to the audience. There’s no scrambling for tickets. Anyone, anywhere on the globe (with an internet connection) can thrill to this year’s Candlelight “live.”

Even the musicians will be able to enjoy the show, at home with their families.

Registration for the remote access link is available next Monday (December 14, 9 a.m.) at Mark that date — and the December 19, 7:30 p.m. showtime.


There won’t be hundreds of musicians together on stage this year. But the Candlelight Concert will be as inspiring and beautiful as ever.