Category Archives: Teenagers

Middle School Actors Get Star Treatment

Coleytown Middle School students have lost their auditorium. But Coleytown Company — the school’s drama troupe — has not lost a step. In true theatrical fashion, the show must go on.

This spring’s production is “42nd Street.” Guest stars include Amiee Turner (who was in the original show) and Megan Osterhaus (who played Mary Poppins opposite Gavin Lee’s Bert on Broadway).

Coleytown Company director Ben Frimmer — who saw Lee in “Mary Poppins,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Grinch” — realized he’d be a great guest artist, to work with his middle school actors.

Osterhaus made the connection. Yesterday, the magic happened.

And — because the two middle schools are now one — Frimmer invited the Bedford acting troupe too. Over 140 students from both schools had a blast.

Gavin Lee talked about his craft …

Many students seemed familiar with “Mary Poppins.” But they were gaga over the SpongeBob credit.

Lee passed out lyrics to that show’s opening song, and described the back story of the musical. Then he taught the words — and the intention behind them — to the song “Bikini Bottom Day.”

After the kids belted them out, Lee taught the choreography. Students spilled off the stage, onto the extension built for “42nd Street,” and into the aisles.

They took turns dancing and singing. They cheered each other on. They loved it.

… and then worked closely with the Coleytown and Bedford Middle School youngsters.

Lee then discussed characters. Volunteers read a few scenes with the actor.

Next, he asked a group of “42nd Street” tappers to show him the opening number. He gave important feedback on performance and precision. They all listened intently.

The workshop ended with a Q-and-A. It might still be going, if Frimmer had not finally called a halt.

The young Coleytown and Bedford actors enjoyed the fun, educational afternoon.

They also enjoyed being one group. Two is indeed “company.”

Teachers Whip Up A Tasty Day

For years, the Westport Farmers’ Market and Staples High School’s culinary arts program have teamed up to bring great food to folks in need.

Once a month, students shop for provisions at the market. Then they prepare and serve a delicious, nutritious meal at the Gillespie Center.

Yesterday, many more people got in the act.

As part of Westport’s Professional Development Day, culinary students and staff helped interested teachers — from throughout the district — shop for ingredients, then create and serve a meal too.

The initiative was led by Staples’ 3 culinary instructors: Cecily Gans (owner of The Main Course Catering, and a member of the Farmers’ Market Board); Alison Milwe-Grace (owner of AMG Catering and Events), and Laura Wendt.

Staples’ 3 culinary instructors (from left): Laura Wendt, Alison Milwe-Grace, Cecily Gans.

The goal was to give educators in the district “an overview of the culinary program’s relationship with the community, the Farmers’ Market, the farmers who provide the raw product for meals the students create, and the challenges those students face as they put meals together,” Milwe-Grace says.

Gans adds, “Building relationships around local food, and connecting farmers to the recipients of the food they grow, catch or raise is fundamental to the Farmers’ Market mission.” The Professional Development Day event strengthened other relationships too: those between students and teachers.

The Farmers’ Market and culinary instructors are dedicated to helping students “grow” — as cooks and people.

Yesterday, those students turned the tables on some of our town’s top teachers.

Westport teachers cook for the community.

Since Parkland

Yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the Marjory Douglas Stoneman massacre. Across the country, we remembered the 17 students and staff members murdered in their Florida high school.

Survivors — and countless others with no connection to the school — believed that finally, something would change. At rallies, online and in legislatures, calls for new gun regulations grew stronger.

Yet in the year that followed, 1,200 children and teenagers have been killed.

Far fewer people know their names, or where they lived, than know the Parkland students. Their stories have never been told.

Until now.

Since Parkland” is a powerful media project. With the help of the Miami Herald, McClatchy publishing company and The Trace — an independent, non-profit news organization — 200 journalists set out to profile all 1,200 people 18 and under killed by guns. Since Parkland.

The Since Parkland home page.

Sophie Driscoll is a proud participant in this important effort.

Like many Staples High students, she’s busy. She’s an editor-in-chief of Inklings, the school’s award-winning newspaper. She’s president of the Young Democrats.

But she made time for “Since Parkland.” And she helped make it a stunning piece of journalism.

A year ago, Sophie published a story in Ms. Magazine. It started as a piece about Reshaping Reality — the Staples club that helps middle schoolers and their parents deal with body image, eating disorders and social pressures. But it soon became much more.

Sophie’s piece highlighted teenage feminists who started clubs at their high schools. She interviewed students in all over the US. It was “interesting and exciting,” she says. She worked with an actual editor, Katina Paron.

Sophie Driscoll

Last summer, Sophie joined 83 other rising seniors for a 5-week journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While she was there, Katina called. She was looking for students with “good research skills,” for a project she described only vaguely.

In early August, Sophie and dozens of others participated in a video conference. They learned a bit more about “Since Parkland.”

Sophie was assigned 6 stories. There was Nicholas Glasco, 18 of Stone Mountain Georgia, shot accidentally by a friend a month before his high school graduation.

Christopher Jake Stone, 17, was one of 10 killed and 13 injured at Santa Fe (Texas) High School, 3 months after Parkland. He was trying to block the door to his classroom to prevent the gunman’s entry.

Tahji McGill, 17, was shot outside an Illinois club.

Chavelle Tramon Thompson, 17, was murdered while walking with friends to a store in Union City, Georgia.

In Virginia, a 2-year-old died when his 4-year-old brother accidentally shot him in the head. The very same day — also in Virginia — another 2-year-old was killed. He shot himself with a handgun he’d found.

The story that resonated the most with Sophie was Xantavian Pierce’s. She wrote:

The Brunswick High School athlete played basketball and football. The numbers on his jerseys were 15 and 28, respectively. Throughout his athletic career, the 17-year-old worked to make his mother proud. She said he succeeded.

“He was amazing,” his mother said. “He was wonderful. He was a loving, God-fearing child. He  was just a wonderful person. He was my heartbeat.”

Xantavian “Tae” Pierce was helping someone move when a gun went off inside a box he was carrying, accidentally shooting him in the stomach at the Eagles Pointe Apartments in Brunswick, Georgia, on March 25, 2018.

“He was a straight arrow, close with his family,” Sophie says. “He was just like someone I’d know at Staples.”

Xantavian Pierce

The process was wrenching. Sophie tracked down news reports, and scrutinized Facebook pages. She read what family members, friends and teachers said.

“They seem like such vibrant, alive, regular kids,” she notes.

Each profile is 3 paragraphs long. The first 2 give life to each young person. The 3rd describes his or her death.

That was hard. “I had to take a step back, and write as if he was alive,” Sophie says. But they were not.

The research itself was arduous. Sophie was stunned to discover there is no national database to track gun deaths. State records might list a date — but no name. Sometimes, there was not even a local news report.

It was a truly collaborative process. The 200 young writers — from across the nation — used the Slack app and Zoom video conferencing to work together. They helped find information, and supported each other through tough times.

Still, they did not realize the scope of the project — or how it would appear online — until nearly the end.

And “the end” was, literally, 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13. Just as they had every day — Since Parkland — young people were killed that night.

The project drew immediate attention. The New York Times highlighted it. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy — a staunch gun regulation advocate — tweeted about it.

Sophie — who hopes to pursue journalism in college, and beyond — notes, “this was journalism, not activism.” But — like all good journalism — she hopes it will force people to think about an issue in deep, different ways.

Her goal — and that of every student journalist — was to humanize all 1,200 young people lost to gun violence Since Parkland.

“The statistics are staggering,” Sophie says. “But each statistic is a human being.

“These kids are not statistics. They’re athletes, artists. A lot were college bound. It’s so hard to think about the people they were, and could have become.”

It is hard. But — thanks to Sophie Driscoll, and scores of other determined high school students across America — right now we are doing just that.

(Click here for the 6 stories written by Sophie Driscoll. Click here for the “Since Parkland” home page.)

The Sun Comes Out On “Annie” Actors

Since opening night in 1931, Broadway actors have starred on the Westport Country Playhouse stage. Their talent (and famous names) have contributed to the magic of the long-running theater.

The current production is no exception. Many members of the large cast of “Annie” boast Broadway credits. (Sunny — who played Sandy in the 2012 production — revives her canine career here too.)

Joining them are 45 young members of Broadway Method Academy. For them, “Annie” is the latest — or in some cases, first– production that they hope leads them to their own Broadway shows.

Among that group: Westporters Brenna Connolly and Jackie Peterson.

Jackie Peterson and Brenna Connolly in “Annie.”

BMA offers training in acting, singing and dancing. Its Fairfield facility — including a 130-seat black box theater — is designed to feel like a New York boutique studio.

BMA serves as the resident conservatory of the Playhouse. Brenna (a freshman at Staples High School) and Bedford Middle School 8th grader Jackie are excited to be on the storied stage.

They’ve learned a lot about professional theater. Rehearsals began last month. During tech week, they were at the theater from 4:30 to 10 p.m. every day.

But the cast and crew have been welcoming. Brenna and Jackie are all in.

“Annie” is a great opportunity for friends and family members to see them perform. It’s a popular show, in a historic theater.

And it’s only an hour from what may be the Broadway Method Academy actors’ ultimate destination: Broadway.

(“Annie” is performed this weekend and next, at 1:30 and 7 p.m. Click here for exact performances and tickets.) 

Staples Offers New Pathways To Success

Every educator knows there are many pathways to students’ success.

At Staples High School, that now includes Pathways Academy.

Opened this fall, it’s a “school within a school.” Pathways provides alternative educational opportunities for students experiencing academic, behavioral and/or life challenges in the traditional school setting.

That’s the long description.

Here’s the short one: For some students, Pathways is a life-saver.

They may have school anxiety or avoidance issues. Perhaps they made mistakes, and fell behind in credits for graduation. Regular classrooms and standard schedules didn’t work for them.

Pathways — created by a team of Staples administrators, counselors, social workers and others — occupies a suite of rooms near the cafeteria.

Warm and welcoming, with a lounge area, computer room and small instructional spaces, it’s where students and 4 teachers spend every morning, from 7:30 to 10:45.

Freed from traditional bells — with more flexibility to move from idea to idea, and room to room — Ann Neary (English), Daniel Heaphey (social studies), Tony Coccoli (science) and Anthony Forgette (math) — work together in a warm, welcoming setting.

Each day begins with a community meeting. On Wednesdays, school outreach counselor Ed Milton offers insights. Every Friday, there’s college and career counseling.

Academic expectations are the same as for traditional core classes. The differences include individualized instruction, peer coaching, experiential learning and interdisciplinary projects.

When the Pathways day ends, students head to electives, world language and phys. ed. classes, community service, work study or internships.

At first, students were referred to Pathways by teachers and administrators. Eight began in September. Now — thanks to word of mouth — that number has doubled, to 16.

The application process includes written answers to questions like “What is your biggest challenge in the traditional  high school setting?”, “Describe a situation that did not go well for you (interaction with a teacher, administrator, friend, etc.). Thinking back, how would you have handled it differently?” and “”Describe something you did, made or completed in school that made you proud.”

Acceptance is not automatic. Each student must embrace the idea of the Pathways community.

The main classroom at Pathways. Other rooms — and the lounge — branch off from here.

Pathways is overseen by Meghan Ward. The assistant principal had experience in other schools with alternative education. “‘Other’ is okay,” she says, echoing the academy’s mission. “Students learn the same things, even if the setting or delivery looks different.”

Ward calls the Pathways teachers “incredible. They work really hard — and that’s only half of their course load. They also teach other classes. It’s really a challenge.”

In just half a year, Pathways has already made its mark. Students with attendance issues are coming to school — “and smiling,” Ward notes. Those who previously felt disconnected from Staples now have a “home base.”

There are tangible results too. The other day, Neary’s students completed a play-writing project. They read their works in the Black Box Theater, for members of Westport Senior Center’s writing class.

It was a huge success. The audience loved hearing the powerful, honest voices of teenagers. They provided great feedback — and plenty of support.

Just as Pathways does every day, in its own way: a school within a school.

Staples Squashes Foes; Wins US Title

Squash is Staples High’s newest interscholastic sport.

It’s also the school’s newest national champion.

The Wreckers — seeded #2 — beat three teams this weekend, to capture the Division 8 HEAD US High School Team Squash Championship. The event drew 207 boys and girls teams from around the nation to Connecticut. There were 8 boys divisions, in what US Squash calls the biggest event in the country.

The Westporters defeated Calvert Hall 6-1 and St. Joseph’s 7-0 to reach the finals, at Trinity College in Hartford. The championship match against Loyola was tight — but the blue-and-whites prevailed, 4-3.

During the winter season, Staples competes in the Fairwest league — the largest public school league in the US. The Wreckers qualified for nationals by going unbeaten in the league’s Division II. They defeated New Canaan, Briarcliff, Greenwich, Fairfield, Bronxville and Darien.

Staples’ home court is Intensity in Norwalk. The coaches are Eddie O’Rourke and Zac Alexander.

The future looks bright. All 7 players on the national championship squad return next year. Congratulations to juniors Tyler Edwards (captain) and Spencer Carey, sophomores Quinn McMahon and Patrick Looby, and freshmen Isaac Bunan, Eli Shorrock and Devon Saunders.

Happy 218th Birthday, Horace Staples!

Horace Staples was born on January 31, 1801.

More than 80 years later — by then the wealthiest man in Westport — he founded a high school. He had grown tired of watching pupils go off to Bridgeport or Norwalk for their educations. Staples’ High School — that was the correct punctuation — opened in 1884. The first class (consisting of just 6 girls) graduated 2 years later.

For as long as Horace Staples was alive, the quickly growing high school celebrated every January 31 as Founder’s Day. He joined in the festivities, and viewed with pride his students’ presentations and orations.

Horace Staples

A typical ceremony began with an opening hymn, scriptures, a prayer and the 112nd Psalm. There was a reading on “A Liberal Education”; a piano solo and song; a debate on the topic “Resolved: that civilized nations are justified in seizing and occupying lands inhabited by savages”; a declamation on Paul Revere’s Ride; addresses thanking Horace Staples; his response; another hymn, and final remarks.

Horace Staples attended many Founder’s Days. He died on March 6, 1897 — age 96. He had outlived all his wives and children, and was both the best-known and oldest citizen in town.

Founders Day foundered after his death. But 3 years ago, Rho Kappa — the Staples High School (current punctuation) honor society — resurrected the celebration.

There are exhibits of life in the 1880s. The library hosts a speaker.

And every year, Horace Staples — or a reasonable facsimile thereof — roams the halls, popping into classrooms to talk about “his” school, and its 135-year history.

Here are some photos of today’s Founder’s Day. If Horace bears a close resemblance to the world’s leading expert on Westport’s crown jewel — the guy who a decade ago wrote a 377-page book called Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education (and today runs a blog called “o688o”) — well, that’s just one more memorable moment in the long, illustrious history that all began with Horace Staples’ birth, 218 years ago today.

Before the opening bell, Horace Staples visited with social studies teachers. Here he chats about his high school with Drew Coyne.

Among the classes Horace Staples visited was Current Issues: American Media and Politics. It’s a new addition to the curriculum. If it was taught when Staples’ High School opened, pupils would have discussed the administration of President Chester Alan Arthur.

Horace visited himself in the library.

Horace Staples also spent time hanging with students in the cafeteria. He reminded them that until 1923, everyone had to bring their own lunch to school. And — with the temperature in single digits — he noted that for many years, all students had to walk to school. Some came from as far as Wilton.

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Targets Micro-Aggressions

You might not see it in Westport. But the US is fast moving toward becoming a “minority majority” nation. The Census Bureau says that Americans identifying as “white” only will be in the minority by 2042. Since 2014, most students in this country are part of the formerly minority “of color.”

Meanwhile, the number of racial, religious, ethnic and gender identity bias incidents is increasing.

That’s the background for this year’s TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest. The town’s diversity committee — in conjunction with the Westport Library — asks students to explore the concept of micro-aggressions towards marginalized groups.

This prompt says:

As defined by Derald Wing Sue,micro-aggressions are “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults — whether intentional or unintentional — that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their membership in marginalized groups.” 

 For example, an African American is told, “When I look at you, I don’t see color.” An Asian-American — born and raised in this country – is told, “You speak very good English.” A person of color accepted at an Ivy League school is told, “You must be grateful for affirmative action.” 

In 1000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or receiving micro-aggressions focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and describe the likely impact that such statements have upon the recipients. Consider steps that you believe organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to greatly reduce or eliminate such behavior. In particular, what can students do to address incidents of micro-aggressions when they occur — whether as initiator, recipient or witness?

The contest is open to students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High or another school in Westport, or reside in Westport and attend school elsewhere.

 

Applications and more information about the contest are available here. Essays are due February 28. Winners will be announced at the Saugatuck Church on April 3. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, and the discretion of the judges, up to 3 prizes will be awarded: $1,000 (first place), $750 (second) and $500 (third).

Individuals or organizations who would like to help sponsor the contest can contribute via the website, or by emailing info@teamwestport.org.

VanGo Paints A Pretty Transportation Picture

Once upon a time, parents (aka “mothers”) hauled their kids all across town, to all their different activities, all the time.

Then came Uber. It’s a great, easy-to-use driving service. The downside is: You’re never really sure who is driving your kids.

Enter VanGo.

The app is — well, an uber-Uber. Aimed specifically at the pre-teen and teenage market, it addresses the sketchy-driver question head-on.

Drivers are nannies, teachers, babysitters — and especially mothers. In fact, 85% of all drivers are moms.

Each is carefully vetted. They must have at least 3 years of childcare experience. They’re fingerprinted, and their driving records checked. They must supply references. Their vehicles are inspected too.

VanGo is the brainchild of Marta Jamrozik. (The app’s great name was her husband’s idea.)

Marta Jamrozik

Marta lives in Norwalk; her parents are Westporters. A former management consultant with a Fortune 500 company and a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree, she’s intimately familiar with the pressures of suburban parenting — including how to get your kid from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F, then home for dinner.

While dads do their share of driving, Marta knows the burden falls disproportionately on women. By easing it for them — and hiring so many women as drivers — she calls VanGo “a feminist company.”

Since the June launch, the app has been downloaded over 1,000 times. Many of those users are Westporters.

“There are so many working parents” here, Marta notes. They use VanGo not just to manage their schedules — to stay later at work, for example — but to manage their personal lives too. A parent who is not chauffeuring can squeeze in a yoga or fitness workout, she notes.

VanGo is not just an after school service, Marta says. Parents also use it during those stressful mornings, when driving a child to school may clash with an early train or meeting.

A VanGo screenshot.

More features: Parents can schedule “recurring rides” (say, ballet every Wednesday from 4 to 5 p.m.) with ease. They can book in advance. And they can track each ride from start to finish, via GPS.

Feedback has been strong. A single mother of a pre-teen son was frustrated with Uber. “They often get our address wrong, do not wait, and are really not geared toward younger riders,” she says.

VanGo’s drivers wait. Her son often has the same drivers. And when she speaks with them, “they’re parents themselves — so they get it.”

It is a little more expensive than Uber. But, this mother says, “the peace of mind is worth it to me.”

Slide over, Uber. There’s a new driver in town.

Students Build On Women’s March; Local Event Set For Saturday

Last weekend, the 3rd annual Women’s March drew millions of Americans (of both genders) to over 100 other cities. Attendees protested against President Trump’s policies, and advocated for the rights of women, immigrants and marginalized groups.

But not everyone in Westport could get to Washington, New York or Hartford.

So an afternoon of activism is planned for this Saturday (January 26, 12 noon to 2 p.m.) at Toquet Hall.

And it’s being organized by a pair of Staples High School juniors.

Kaela Dockray and Audrey Bernstein were 2 of the driving forces behind last year’s gun violence protest at Staples, following the Parkland shooting.

Last year, (from left) Parkland survivors Sarah Chadwick and Delaney Tarr, and actress Rowan Blanchard, joined Staples High School students Kaela Dockray and Audrey Bernstein in New York. The hashtag was the motto of International Women’s Day, emphasizing the power of women and the importance of them taking charge.

Now, their goal is to keep the Westport community engaged and passionate.

The teenagers came up with the idea after hearing about a number of students who wanted to attend the Women’s March, but could not get there. A local event, the girls realized, could keep students involved and civically engaged.

Speakers include senior Lydia Donovan, who interned for Will Haskell during his state senatorial campaign. There’s an open mic too, along with singers and a voter registration booth.

It’s youth centered — but the entire town is invited.