Category Archives: Teenagers

WWPT Rocks National Radio Awards

You don’t have to be a Staples student to love WWPT.

Plenty of folks in Fairfield County with no connection to the high school tune into the station — 90.3 FM — for news, sports, music, even dramatic readings.

It was one of the first high school radio stations in the country.

Now the John Drury High School Radio Awards confirm: It’s also the best.

For the 2nd year in a row.

Yesterday at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, “Wrecker Radio” walked off with the top prize: Best High School Radio Station.

But that’s not all.

Individual staff members won for:

  • Best News Feature Story (November 11, 2018: Jack Gersh, Cameron Manna)
  • Best Sports Play-by-Play (Basketball final, Trumbull vs. Darien: Greg Settos, Jake Gersh)
  • Best Sportstalk Program (Open Season – 2.o “The Return”: Jake Thaw, Nick, Kornfeld
  • Best Sportscast (A Sports Update: Greg Settos)
  • Best PSA (Don’t Text and Drive: Ben Gross)

The entire station also won Best Radio Drama – Adaptation for “A Christmas Carol – Act 1 of 2.”

WWPT-FM members who attended yesterday’s national awards ceremony in Illinois (from left): Brad Cox, Greg Settos, Reilly Caldwell, Jake Gersh, Cameron Manna and adviser Geno Heiter. (Photo/Jack Caldwell)

Those were not the only nominees from Staples. Others included Greg Settos for Best Newscast; Brad Cox for Best News Feature Story; Reilly Caldwell and Settos for Best Promo; Seettos and Lefty Penderakis, Jack Borowsky and Mark Didio, and Jake Gersh and Cameron Manna, Best Sportstalk Program (3 separate nominations); Art Shapiro and Settos, and Brad Cox, Best Sports Play-by-Play (2 separate nominations); Ethan Frank, plus Cox, Zach Iannacone, Will Rosenthal, Tim Luciano for Best Public Affairs Program (2 separate nominations); Jake Gersh and Isabella Siskind (Best PSA, 2 separate nominations); Gersh, Siskind, Dylan Mace, Dan Chu, Oscar Hachter, Jack Noble, Ben Howard and Matt Hirschler (Best Radio Drama – Original).

Congratulations to all, and of course adviser Geno Heiter.

Now set your radio to 90.3 FM!

(Hat tip: Jack Caldwell)

Meet Christine Jewell: New Continuing Ed Head

Christine Jewell grew up in Vermont. Her elementary school had 4 classrooms.

Today, her office is in sprawling Staples High School. She’s not a teacher. But she’s in charge of over 2,000 students, 4,000 adults, and more than 700 programs a year, all over town.

Jewell is the Westport Public Schools’ new director of continuing education.

Enrichment and make-up courses, SAT prep, driver’s ed, fitness, dog obedience, technology and computers, crafts — all of those (and many more) are part of Jewell’s portfolio.

She comes well equipped for her job. A fine arts graduate of State University of New York at Purchase, with a master’s in social policy (focused on the arts) from SUNY Empire State, the self-described “lifelong learner” most recently worked at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, as director of education and community programs.

Her experience in outreach serves her well here. Jewell looks forward to collaborating with organizations like the library and Wakeman Town Farm.

“I love creativity, and helping reinforce 21st-century skills like critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration,” she says.

Christine Jewell plugs Continuing Ed’s summer programs.

She inherited some programs, and is developing others. She is especially excited about summer initiatives like the Discovery Camp for children at Greens Farms Elementary School, and the Summer Teen Theater for rising 5th through 9th graders. (It’s “The Little Mermaid.”)

“I love Westport,” Jewell says. “Something about it is so cool. It’s very tight-knit. I’ve met so many great teachers and kids. People really care. My goal is to elevate programs even higher, to reflect the integrity of the schools and town.”

(For information and registration details on Westport Continuing Education, click here.)

Jeffrey Pogue Picks Xis

Alert reader/nationally known tech guru/writer/TV star/proud Westport parent David Pogue writes:

Last year at this time, I wrote a guest post for “06880” about the Hasbro North American School Scrabble Tournament. The huge, 2-day event for kids was in its 16th year. First prize for the middle-school division: $10,000.

The reason: Last year, my son Jeffrey — then a Bedford Middle School 7th grader — and his partner Noah won it.

This weekend, they went back to defend their championship.

The North American School Scrabble Championship competition.

There were reasons for optimism: The boys had had another year to prepare, playing Scrabble online every day and studying lists of obscure words.

On the other hand, their team — the Rackmasters — caught everyone by surprise last year. “They kind of came out of nowhere,” said Kevin Belinkoff, a play-by-play commentator (it’s live-streamed, so far-flung family can watch). “They weren’t one of the favored teams coming in, and did a tremendous job.”

Great! But that meant another “out of nowhere” team could sweep the tournament this year.

And of course, luck is a factor. If you get terrible letters — all vowels, for example— it’s hard to win.

This year’s event was held in a Marriott ballroom in Philadelphia. It did not start well. Jeffrey’s partner, Noah Slatkoff, lives in Canada. Thunderstorms canceled his flight. So Noah and his dad drove through the night — 7 1/2 hours — to get there on time.

Nonetheless, the Rackmasters dominated the 6 games of Day One. They defeated their opponents by huge margins (like 603 to 271!). That’s important, because in the event of a tied record at the end, the total point “spread” determines who advances to the finals, for all the marbles.

Jeffrey Pogue (right) and Noah Slatkoff, in the zone.

There weren’t as many marbles this year. Hasbro had a tough 2018 — the demise of Toys R Us  hurt sales — and cost-cutting affected the Scrabble championship.

The top prize was $3,000, down from $10,000; the venue was an airport hotel instead of a sports stadium, and the opening party was a ghost of its traditional carnival-like self.

Nobody cared. A kids’ Scrabble tournament is a friendly affair, a chance to spend a weekend away from home, running around with fellow word nerds. It still felt thrilling and well-run.

Day Two did not begin well for our Rackmasters. They lost their first game by 7 points — their first championship loss in 2 years. Their opponents (the Scrabble All-Stars) drew some amazing tiles, including 3 incredibly useful “S”s, both of the blank tiles, and all of the high-point ones: J, X, Q, K, and Z.

The Rackmasters’ 1st loss in 2 years was livestreamed.

Our boys were no longer undefeated, nor in first place. Their spirits crashed.

When they won their next game though, their record was 7-1, tied with the All-Stars and another team. Who would advance to the final, against the sole 8–0 team?

Rackmasters! Their huge point spread from the previous day ensured them a place at the big table onstage.

Their opponents — the Dyslexic Manic Shop — weren’t strangers. One boy had been Jeffrey’s partner 2 years ago at this event.

The final game was brilliant. First one team pulled ahead, then the other, over and over again. Parents and players, sequestered in a different room and watching by video, shrieked and applauded each play.

As usual in high-level Scrabble, many of the plays were not common English words (oolite, scry, haj awa …).

As the letters ran out, Jeffrey and Noah faced a tough call. They could play “ixia” for 39 points (as everyone knows, that’s a South African plant of the iris family), or “xis” for 19 (the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet).

They played the lower-scoring word.

It was strategic. They figured on their next turn they could add an A, forming “axis,” thus harvesting all 8 points of that X tile a second time. That A could also be a part of a new word going down — and landing on the juicy Triple Word Score tile in the lower-left corner.

Ta-da!

That’s exactly what happened. The Rackmasters won — for the 2nd straight year.

It will be their last victory. Next month, Jeffrey graduates from Bedford. As a Staples freshman he’ll no longer be eligible for the middle school division. That’s the main event, with big cash prizes and the most participants. In the high school division, you play alone.

The winners: Jeffrey Pogue and Noah Slatkoff.

It’s time for the next generation of Westport Scrabble champions to emerge. Jeffrey got involved (and met his partner Noah) through Cornelia Guest, a national Scrabble figure. She runs a weekly club at the Ridgefield Library, where she teaches, coaches  and nurtures young players. (Email corneliasguest@gmail.com for details.)

Jeffrey also plays at weekly Scrabble Club meetings at the Pequot library in Southport, closer to home.

Jeffrey highly recommends Scrabble clubs to your kids (so does his dad). It’s a full-brain activity, requiring skills in language, math and strategy. It’s non-electronic and tactile. It’s social. And it’s every bit as exciting as any sporting event.

For Jeffrey there are benefits far beyond prizes, trophies and thrilling weekends in Philly. For the rest of his life, should the conversation ever turn to Greek letters or South African flowering plants, he’ll be ready.

Jeffrey Pogue with his proud father, David.

Staples’ SLOBs Are Spectacular

Yesterday’s wet, chilly weather forced a week’s postponement of the Main Street Outdoor Market, and Saugatuck Church’s Blessing of the Animals. It kept many Westporters indoors.

But it did not stop — or even bother — over 300 SLOBs.

Staples’ Service League of Boys’ 10th annual Service Sunday drew all those volunteers — high school boys, and their parents — to 18 work sites, in Westport, Fairfield, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

Westport venues included Earthplace, Wadsworth Arboretum, Homes with Hope’s Bachrach and Linxweiler houses, Sherwood Island State Park and Wakeman Town Farm.

Staples’ SLOBs cleaned pathways at the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum in Westport …

The groups whacked weeds, mulched, sorted charitable donations, power-washed, prepared food drive collection bags, cleaned playgrounds and paths,  painted mailboxes, removed invasive plants, hauled and spread compost, and assembled toiletry kits.

They also donated over $5,000 worth of school supplies, snack bags and used Legos to Bridgeport schools

That was SLOBs’ Sunday. How did you spend yours?

… and helped out at the Green Village Initiative cooperative garden in Bridgeport.

As Graduation Nears, A Mother Reflects

The other day, Jerri Graham posted a heartfelt message on Facebook’s “Westport Front Porch” page.

“WFP” is a popular online community. But Jerri’s words deserve to reach far more people than those who are members of that group. I asked if I could repost her comments. Jerri graciously said yes.

She wrote:

This just came in the mail:

When I opened the envelope, tears flowed. My daughter will graduate from high school!

While it’s not a big deal for some, it means so much more to me.

We live in a town where we aren’t the norm. We are a minority on top of a minority on top of a minority. I’m a black woman raising a biracial daughter on an at-times stretched income of one.

I haven’t any family in sight. It has been just Cat and me for over a decade.

She’s been this solid child with a heart that is loving and giving. She’s never once complained when she’s had to go without.

Each week since she’s started working — whether at Sugar & Olives, the Y, babysitting or now at Westport Pizzeria — she gives me her pay. She knows that each dollar she gives makes up where her other parent failed her.

She’s been a great passenger in my sidecar during our life here in Westport.

Cat Graham

I came to this town to one day have this invitation in my hand. To raise a child in a clean environment, and where education matters.

I saw it in the faces of the kids around her who gobbled up chapter books, and inspired her to do the same.

I felt it in the parents who sat next to me year after year at school events when we didn’t always want to be there, but always were.

While I was forced to do it on my own, I do know that raising and educating my daughter here — where at least she had a good education, and friends — made it a lot easier.

I’m so proud of who she is, and who she will become. I’m thrilled that she knows herself well enough to forge her own path, regardless of what everyone else around her does.

Oh, the simple power of a card in the mail.

Congratulations, Staples High School Class of 2019!

And congratulations to two wonderful women: Jerri and Cat Graham!

Have Faith: Church And Temple Teens In B-Ball Battle

Last week, Easter and Passover coincided. Across the globe, Christians and Jews celebrated important holidays at the same time.

Tomorrow (Sunday, April 28), 2 religions converge again. This time the setting is local. At 6:30 p.m., teenagers from Assumption Church, St. Luke, Temple Israel and the Conservative Synagogue meet on the Westport YMCA basketball court.

They’ll compete in the 4th annual Full Court for Kindness tournament. The round robin event is for bragging rights in the Staples High School cafeteria and on social media, sure.

But it’s also a fundraiser. Proceeds from the player and spectator entry fee of $5 (or more!) go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation (in honor of Christopher Lanni, a St. Luke parishioner who died while at Staples) and the Catch a Lift Fund, which provides physical and mental recovery therapy to wounded veterans.

Captains of the 4 faith youth groups, and organizers,meet before last year’s tournament.

Last year’s event drew a packed house. Staples Orphenian Brody Braunstein sang the national anthem. A priest and rabbi delivered blessings. A moment of silence followed, in memory of Christopher.

Then the 4 teams took the court. They battled hard. This was not Sunday school.

Still, there were tons of smiles. Everyone understood the tournament values: friendship, kindness and tolerance.

Temple Israel won last year’s tournament. Another highlight was St. Luke’s come-from-behind victory over rival Assumption.

Who will win tomorrow?

God only knows.

Defending champs: Temple Israel.

(Hat tip: Michele Harding)

At The Arts Center: Facing Micro-Aggressions, Head On

In March, the Westport Arts Center opened a new exhibition with an old idea.

“Tête-à-Tête: Reinventing the Conversation Bench” is based on the old Victorian “courting bench.” Its S-shape allows couples to hold intimate conversations without touching. Twenty-eight reimagined contemporary designs and prototypes are on display through May 25.

One of the many tete-a-tete benches at the Westport Arts Center exhibition.

In April, TEAM Westport announced the winners of its annual student essay contest. The topic was micro-aggressions.

Those 2 seemingly unrelated events come together next Wednesday (May 1, 6 to 7:30 p.m.).

The WAC gallery’s tête-à-tête benches are the perfect setting for dialogues on micro-aggressions.

Staples High School students Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno — the 4 TEAM Westport contest winners — will read short pieces from their essays.

(From left): TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, with essay contest winners Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Former Staples principal and Westport Arts Advisory Council member John Dodig, and Westport’s Human Services director Elaine Daignault, will moderate the tête-à-tête discussions that follow.

It’s doubtful attendees will find solutions to this contemporary problem.

But as they sit facing each other on the WAC benches, they’ll have a unique way of looking at it — both metaphorically, and for real.

(Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 203-222-7070.)

Human Services Helps Young Grads Look And Feel Great

As high school and middle school graduations approach, many Westport students worry about what’s ahead.

Some have more immediate concerns: having the right clothes for the ceremony, and the festivities that surround it.

For 16 years, Westport’s Human Services Department has eased those fears. Its “Ceremonies and Celebrations” program helps purchase new clothing for graduates who cannot afford them.

Last year, 29 Westport students were able to purchase “special event” wear.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault says she always receives “numerous heartfelt notes of thanks and photos of the proud young people, as they walk across the stage or stand with relatives on their special day.”

In the grand scheme of things, the right clothes for graduation might not seem like much. To a teenager, it can be the biggest thing in the world.

“Small investments can enhance a young person’s self-esteem, mark new beginnings and celebrate their hard work despite financial challenges,” Daignault notes.

“Helping a young person feel good about their appearance is a momentous gift that can impact them for a lifetime.”

Tax-deductible checks (payable to “DHS Families Program”; memo line: “Ceremonies”) may be sent to the Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport CT 06880, or dropped off in Room 200 of Town Hall daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Gift cards of any amount (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Trumbull Mall/Westfield Shopping Center) are also gratefully accepted.

Human Services notes that donations honoring a teacher or special person in a student’s life will be acknowledged with a letter to the honoree.

If you know people who could benefit from this program, email familyprograms@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1050.

“Fractured Fairy Tales”: The Story Behind The BMS Show

This has not been an easy year for middle schoolers.

Coleytown was closed in September due to mold; 6th and 7th graders have been at Bedford ever since. Every day, administrators, staff and students of 2 schools make compromises. Everyone involved has done a great — and often unheralded — job.

But it’s one thing to move classes, or share gym and cafeteria space. It’s another thing entirely to accommodate 2 different drama productions simultaneously.

Traditionally each spring, CMS stages an all-school musical. BMS puts on a 6th grade non-musical.

Both are fully staged, with professionally produced costumes and sets. Both involve scores of students.

Directors Ben Frimmer (CMS) and Karen McCormick (BMS) agreed to keep the schedule the same as in past years. They would share space during rehearsals, but — to provide stage time for actors and the technical staff — Bedford would push its opening back to April.

Bedford Middle School art teacher Lynn Karmen, with one of her set painters. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Musicals require tons of space — for dancers, singers and scene work. Coleytown’s “42nd Street” was especially big. With only 3 weeks for Bedford to install their set, create costumes and the actors to transfer what they’d learned from such a small space to a big stage, the BMS show could not be technically complex.

Normally, Bedford’s non-musical is a version of a classic childen’s book like “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Phantom Tollbooth.” But with such limited room for rehearsals, plus set and costume construction, McCormick and her staff decided on a series of short stories from the 1960s “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon show, called “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

They crafted 15 stories, and added short “fairy tale” commercials.

That provided 70 actors with over 240 roles to share. There are 40 narrators, 15-plus kings, queens, princes and princesses, and dozens of goblins, beasts, chickens, ogres, court jesters and peasants. Each youngster is featured in at least 2 “plays.”

The Do It All Wand cast. (Photo/January Stewart)

They found space in hallways and classrooms. Combined with Coleytown’s set construction crews, tap dancers, costume people, there were some very noisy afternoons.

“The kids didn’t mind,” McCormick says. “They worked very well under the circumstances.”

With just 12 days of unfettered access to the stage, BMS got creative with their set. “Fractured Fairy Tales” uses a new 25-foot floor-to-ceiling movie screen as a backdrop. It features hundreds of colorful images, most from old cartoons. On stage, 20 colorful 18-inch cubes instantly turn into thrones, tables or mountains.

Transferring the off-stage rehearsals onto the large stage has taken some work. But, McCormick says, the actors are working hard on new blocking, and pumped-up motions.

“Fractured Fairy Tales” rehearsals are fun — and energetic. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Costumes were done later than usual too. BMS actors received theirs only a few days ago. Each person has 2 to 4 costume changes — some with only minutes to spare. They’re working on that too.

But this is Bedford Middle School. Like their Coleytown counterparts, the young actors and their tech crew embrace the challenge.

When the curtain rises this Friday, audiences will not even realize what everyone went through to produce “Fractured Fairy Tales.” They’ll smile, laugh and applaud. Just like every other BMS show.

(“Fractured Fairy Tales” performances are this Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 27 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

(NOTE: Coleytown’s show — “42nd Street” — overcame several obstacles too, beyond shared space. Click here for that “06880” story.)

Financial Reality Comes To Staples

A few years ago this month, I got a panicked text from a soccer player I’d coached at Staples High School.

He graduated from college the previous year. Now — less than a year into his first job — he said, “I owe thousands of dollars to the IRS. How come no one ever taught me about taxes at Staples??!!”

Sarah White

The chances I’ll receive a similar text are a lot lower today. Two-thirds of seniors take Personal Finance — a math department elective taught lovingly but toughly by Stacey Delmhorst, Jen Giudice, Lenny Klein and Sarah White.

And a couple of weeks ago, every senior took part in Staples’ first-ever Financial Reality Fair. They gave it high marks.

The event was part of a larger 4-hour “Real World” event. Students learned about substance abuse, sexual assault and reproductive health.

But the money shot involved money.

The idea came from the classes’ regular visits to Financial Reality Fairs at other schools. White and Klein asked each other, Why not do one at Staples?

White took the lead. Principal James D’Amico and the school’s Collaborative Team gave their blessings. But making it a reality took a ton of work.

Connecticut’s Credit Unions were the sponsors. They provided the curriculum, materials and a number of experts.

The Staples PTA provided a $4,000 Wrecker Mini-Grant. They also put out a call for (financially literate) volunteers. The response was tremendous — including members of Westport’s Board of Finance and Education. Students who had previously been to a Financial Reality Fair also volunteered.

Staples parent Margie Adler and senior Vaughan Picirillo-Sealey: volunteers at the Financial Reality Fair.

Students began the day by choosing a career. They could pick anything — business executive, doctor, lawyer, actor, financial analyst, pilot, military member, writer, teacher, whatever.

They were then given the starting salary (in Connecticut) for that job. Each student was also saddled with student loan debt. The amount owed depended on the years of education required for that profession. The longer they were in school, the higher their debt.

They were also assigned — randomly — a credit score.

Tables in the gym were marked with various real-life expenditures: Housing, Transportation, Food, Clothing.

Wait — food costs money?!

Those were mandatory. Others were optional: Nightlife, Fitness & Gym, Hair/Nails/Spa, Cell Phone, Cable/Internet, Pets, Travel.

By themselves, or — if they wished — with a “roommate,” students visited tables. There were many options. How often would they eat out? Did they want basic cable, or the platinum package? What kind of vacations would they take?

Staples seniors Ben Schwartz and Lefty Pendarakis discuss options with Financial Reality Fair volunteers.

They could choose one-off expenses too, like buying an Xbox. If they wanted to buy a car, fine — but they had to take out a credit union loan. (Hey, they were the sponsors!)

There was also a mandatory “wheel” to spin. It saddled them with unexpected costs (lost cell phone, broken leg) or extra funds (overtime pay, birthday gift).

The wheel of fortune. Or misfortune.

Each choice carried consequences. As the students quickly learned, each consequence led to others.

When they were done with their budget, each teenager met with a volunteer financial counselor. They had undergone training, to ask questions like, “Why did you make that decision?”

The final step: meeting with a financial counselor.

It was a very engaging — and educational — day.

The students were surprised at the effect of student debt on their budgets. They were even more amazed at the impact of credit scores.

“I had to pay more than my friend for the same truck!” one boy said, astonished.

Feedback was excellent. The soon-to-go-off-to-college-and-then-become-adults began seeing finances not as something provided by the Bank of Mom and Dad, but as actual living, changing realities.

It was a reality check for some. A wake-up call for others.

And for one — well, who knows?

“I realize I’m not ready for life,” the student said.

But he or she is a lot more ready than that former soccer player who texted me — panic-stricken — after his first encounter with the IRS.