Category Archives: Teenagers

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Tackles Stereotypes

For 6 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to consider — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year, the town’s diversity action committee takes a different tack.

The 2020 contest asks teenagers to address a broad — but very important — theme: stereotypes.

TEAM Westport says:

A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a person, frequently based on that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender-identity. Stereotypes are often unconscious and may be introduced and reinforced — intentionally or unwittingly – by many sources, including family, peers, the popular media, curricula, and society at large.

This year’s challenge states: In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.”

“In order to dismantle bias, it’s important to first understand the factors that build bias,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“Stereotyping is a first step toward bias in what historians and sociologists call ‘othering’ — behavior that places the stereotyped group outside the normal considerations of society. History has proven that this can lead to dangerously impactful results.”

The entry deadline is February 28. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, at the discretion of the judges up to 3 cash prizes will be awarded. The first prize is $1,000; second prize is $750; third is $500.

Any student living in Westport — or attending school here — can enter.

The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the event. Winners will be announced at a ceremony there on April 2, 2020.

(For more information, including full contest rules and an application form, click here.)

Westport Y Puts Special Focus On Special Needs

Every day — at all hours — the Westport Weston Family YMCA pulses with activity.

The gym, pool, spin center, yoga and fitness rooms — all are filled with boys and girls, men and women, all active to whatever degree of intensity works for them.

It’s a friendly, vibrant place. Many members come regularly. They greet fellow basketball players, swimmers, runners and Zumbaists with smiles and waves.

Some of the heartiest greetings go to members with special needs. They may be in wheelchairs, or come in groups with aides. They may talk loudly, or not at all. All are welcome at the Y.

Enjoying the gym at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Their swims, workouts, classes and social interactions are among the highlights of their days. The folks who share the pool, fitness center and classrooms are happy to see them too.

The Westport Y offers group membership programs to 5 group homes in Fairfield County. Over 100 clients take advantage of the facility off Wilton Road.

Membership director Brian Marazzi says that STAR has the longest association with the Y: more than a decade. Clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities take part in a wide array of activities. Some arrive independently, to exercise.

STAR clients, outside the Westport Y.

St. Catherine Academy — a Fairfield-based private school — uses the warm pool for recreational swim and aqua-therapy for severely disabled clients. The group then socializes with a large group lunch in the lobby.

St. Catherine’s appreciates the family and dependent care locker room, which includes a private special needs shower and changing room. Staff also store equipment at the Y.

Ability Beyond and Keystone House clients focus on the Wellness Center. Members of Abilis — the newest group home to join the Y — primarily walk on the treadmill, and use the gym.

Some of the more independent clients come on their own. A few have become volunteers themselves, meeting and greeting guests.

But that’s only part of the way the Westport Y serves the special needs population.

Sixty kids and young adults ages 8 to 21 play basketball and floor hockey, swim and do track and field, under the guidance of paid and volunteer coaches. Many are involved in Special Olympics, but that is not a prerequisite for Y participation.

A special needs swimmer, and an equally enthusiastic volunteer.

The Sunday morning swim program is particularly popular. A 1:1 ratio of volunteers — many of them members of the Westport Water Rats team — to athletes ensures education, safety and fun. The special needs swimmers are also called Water Rats, and proudly wear the team’s logowear.

Strong bonds are clear. Over Christmas break, as volunteers returned from college, there were joyful reunions and hugs. Parents of special needs swimmers develop their own community too, as they watch from the deck or gym.

Oliver Clachko has made a special impact. He was last year’s near-unanimous choice as Westport Weston Family Y Volunteer of the Year. He enjoys working with the special needs program so much, he’s recruiting friends and classmates to help too.

This spring, the Y hosts its first-ever special needs swim meet.

The Westport Y Water Rat Special Olympics swim team.

Up in the gym, basketball players hone their skills. They compete too, in a “Hoopla” against other area Ys.

Special Needs Teen Nights are another popular event.

Marazzi says the Y has gotten very positive feedback — from clients, group home workers, parents of special needs youngsters, and other Y members too.

Occasionally, he says, members complain about noise or behavior. Marazzi quickly counters, “We love having them here. We’re very inclusive.”

It’s the Westport Weston Family YMCA, remember.

And don’t forget: There are many ways to define family.

(The Westport Y’s Special Olympics and other special needs programs rely in part on fundraising. Starting on her 10th birthday, Chloe Kiev asked that instead of gifts, friends and family donate to the effort. Click here for more information.) 

Troop 100 Honors 7 New Eagle Scouts

The phrase “Eagle Scout” has come to mean someone exceptional: straight-arrow, self-reliant and true.

But there is a literal definition too. An Eagle Scout is a Boy Scout who has earned 21 merit badges; secured recommendations from teachers, advisors or community leaders; completed a major service project with a charity organization; demonstrated leadership skills — and had all that confirmed by local and national boards.

This Saturday, January 25 (Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 11 a.m.), 7 members of Troop 100 will receive the honor of Eagle Scout.


From left: Jake McGillion-Moore, Matthew Griffin, Dylan Murray, Max Boyle, Daniel Syomichev, Miguel Gura, Whit Lupoli.

Staples High School senior Max Boyle coordinated the collection of tennis gear to benefit underserved youth through Norwalk Grassroots Tennis.

Staples senior Miguel Gura carved and constructed bird silhouettes for the Earthplace preschool.

Staples senior Jake McGillion-Moore refurbished a playground and created a garden for Bridgeport’s Caroline House.

Staples senior Dylan Murray led a trail creation and restoration project at the Lillian Wadworth Arboretum.

Weston High School junior Matthew Griffin cleared and built a wood chip trail connecting Earthplace and the Wadsworth Arboretum.

Staples senior Daniel Syomichev constructed benches and “caterpillar stacker” at the Earthplace playground renovation.

Fairfield Prep senior Whit Lupoli construted a 60-foot walk for Homes with Hope’s Linxweiler House.

Six of those Scouts worked together since they were 6-year-old Cub Scouts. Congratulations to Westport’s newest Eagle Scouts!

Staples Students Plan Afternoon Of Gun Violence Awareness

The Parkland massacre 2 years ago — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Elana Atlas was just a freshman. But she organized a national letter-writing campaign to legislators, and created a website — Action Against Gun Violence — filled with background information on school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

Elana Atlas, at work 2 years ago.

Two years later, the epidemic continues unabated. But — rather than being discouraged, or overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Staples junior — Elana is committed more than ever to doing what she can to making America’s schools and streets safe for everyone.

In the aftermath of Parkland, she joined fellow Stapleites Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren in creating a local high school chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage.

Now, Elana has helped turned it into an official Staples High School club.

She’s sparked a number of intriguing projects. The group is working on an open letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has stalled most gun legislation in that chamber. They’re coordinating with student groups around the country — especially in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky — to get viral social media attention.

Staples’ Students Demand Action and the Westport/Fairfield Moms Demand Action chapter presented a panel on gun violence in schools. Elana was one of the speakers.

Next month, and again in June, the students will commemorate Parkland.

Right now, they’re gearing up for their biggest event yet. On Friday, January 24 (3 p.m., Toquet Hall), Students Demand Action sponsors “An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism.”

Toquet will hum with activities. There will be information about local, state and national legislators’ stands on gun laws; signmaking (with photos, to post on social media); voter registration, and speakers, including lawmakers, studens, and Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, whose parents were killed in 2005 during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store.

The goal, Elana says, is to show that the Westport gun violence movement remains strong — and help people get involved.

In 2018, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. They’re still going strong. (Photo/Ali Feder)

“An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism” is open to all. Elana hopes many high school students will attend, and that parents will bring their children too.

“It will be uplifting — not gory,” she promises.

And very, very important.

(Pre-registration is not mandatory, but it helps for planning numbers. Click here to pre-register.)

Staples Students: “JSA Changed My Life”

Charlie Effman’s first speech at Junior State of America was a nervous, mumbled mess.

Still, the audience applauded loudly.

Participating in JSA has helped Charlie immensely. Now co-president of Staples’ chapter of the national, non-partisan, student-led organization, he has learned about political debate, government, civic engagement, leadership and activism.

Debating ideas, at a JSA meeting.

He’s grown comfortable speaking in public. Last spring, no one told him he had to give an opening statement at the Northeast Electoral Candidate Forum. He nailed it — on the fly.

Vice president Elana Atlas entered high school convinced that everyone was judging her, and her voice was not welcome. Nervous and quiet, she went to her first JSA meeting.

The day before her first overnight convention, she panicked. But she went — and fell in love with it. Debates, speakers, knowledgeable students, fun — it all drew her in.

Convention by convention, Elana progressed from hesitantly asking questions to confidently leading her group.

“It was a place where I found my people,” she now says. “I realized my opinions were valued, and worth sharing.” In fact, she says, JSA has defined her high school life.

Lending support to a JSA friend.

At meetings, members debate everything from whether the US should get involved in military intervention, to whether or not dinosaurs would have been cool pets. They address complex, serious issues without scaring away newcomers.

“Meetings are safe places where students debate, discuss and learn, without being judged,” Charlie notes. “JSA is the perfect haven for young people to form their political understandings and beliefs.”

Convention speakers come from across the country — and along the entire political spectrum. Topics have ranged from free speech on college campuses to immigration. There are also activism workshops on topics like reproductive rights and gun legislation — again, allowing for a wide variety of opinions.

Charlie has written bills for the Winter Congress, clerked in a mock House of Representatives, run for elective office, and served as a mid- and high-ranking bureaucrat on the regional cabinet.

He’s learned to get endorsements, describe his platform, and win over voters. He’s found out how to talk about important issues with people he disagrees with — and how to take action. He’s discovered the highs and lows of politics, while having fun with friends.

Staples’ JSA contingent last year, at the Washington, DC convention.

Elana — now a convention coordinator for JSA’s entire Northeast State — debates “loudly, proudly, and most importantly, respectfully.” She runs meetings where she reaches out to students who remind her of her own freshman self.

“JSA taught me how to speak, and how to listen,” she says. “It taught me about different viewpoints, and allowed me to refine my own. JSA was life-changing.”

Club members attend 3 overnight conventions a year. The next is in February, in Washington, DC. It’s a great opportunity — but not everyone can afford to go.

JSA has set up a GoFundMe page. They’re already halfway there. To help the next generation of concerned citizens, click here.

Unsung Hero #130

Joseph Pontoriero is a Staples High School freshman. Nearly every day, he passes VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 on Riverside Avenue. His grandfather is a Vietnam War veteran who meets friends every Thursday for lunch and camaraderie.

For Veterans Day, Joseph wanted to see the events VFW had scheduled. He was amazed to find the organization had no website.

Many youngsters would say, “too bad.” Joseph said, “I’ll create one!”

Joseph Pontoriero

VFW officials were happy to have him — and his many years of programming experience. Joseph spent hours designing a custom site. Now he spends hours more maintaining it.

“He exceeds our expectations every time,” says Post 399 quartermaster Phil Delgado.

“Joe is not content to use a drag-and-drop template. He’s dedicated and determined. He writes and customizes everything manually, and helps drive visitors to our website.”

The site includes photos; news about coat and blood drives, support of a medical dog project, holiday parties and more; a calendar with upcoming events; the dining room menu; sign-ups for the e-newsletter — even a biography of the post’s namesake, Pvt. Joseph J. Clinton.

Joseph makes time for the VFW alongside many other activities. He’s been a junior board member of Westport Maker Faire (now Maker Faire Connecticut) for 4 years. As a Westport Library MakerSpace volunteer, he’s helped teach people of all ages how to 3D print. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf — and the bagpipes.

Veterans of many conflicts are grateful for Joseph’s service to VFW Post 399. Now the rest of Westport can honor this Unsung Hero too. Just click here — vfw399ct.org — and enjoy!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399, on Riverside Avenue.

“We The People”: Staples’ Constitutional Champs

Congress is bitterly divided. Government norms are under attack. Some Americans wonder whether our Constitution can survive.

If you worry that so much negativity will turn an entire young generation off to politics: Have no fear.

Just talk to Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Government and Politics class.

The 23 students examine questions like: How did the framers create the Constitution? How have our Constitutional values and principles shaped American institutions and practices? What challenges does our democracy face in the 21st century?

The Staples juniors and seniors do more than discuss these issues. They compete against other high schools in a simulated congressional hearing, before a panel of actual judges, college law professors, state senators and attorneys.

The local teenagers do it very, very well. Last weekend, they finished 1st in the statewide “We the People” competition.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

The victory broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place. And it earned Staples a spot in April’s national “We the People” event, in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Westporters have qualified before, as 2nd-place wildcard finishers. This is their first year guaranteed a spot, as state champs.

More than 20 years ago, as a student at Shelton High, Kammerman herself participated in “We the People.” It was so powerful, she helped introduce the course to Staples.

Students spend hours outside of class forming teams, researching questions, developing answers, then arguing them in front of prestigious, difficult judges.

At a time when many Americans throw up their hands about government, it’s good to know that a great group of Westport teenagers embrace it.

(“We the People” winners include Surya Balaji, Taha Banatwala, Lucy Belknap, Brian Campbell, Violet Cooper, Lars Djuve, Michael Farnen, Dylan Goodman, Grace Katz, Kashvi Kumar, Brett Levy, Gary Lu, Natalia Maidique, William Matar, Tadeo Messenger, Neha Navrange, Maximus Pace, Samuel Powell, Claire Redmer, Andrew Spangler, Nicholas Suarez, Rachel Suggs and Samantha Webster.)

The Constitution

Candlelight Concert: The Video

Couldn’t get tickets to this year’s 79th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert? Couldn’t get there, because you live far away?

Couldn’t listen to the WWPT-FM broadcast or livestream? Couldn’t figure out how to access the Soundcloud audio either?

No problem! Jim Honeycutt — longtime Staples media teacher, now retired but still a music department fan and Santa’s-elf-like helper — shot and produced a video of the entire event.

So sit down and relax. Grab a glass or mug of your favorite holiday cheer. Then click below, to enjoy another marvelous performance by our town’s very talented choral, orchestra and band members.

 

A Carol Crawl Through Saugatuck

The Staples Orphenians can’t do pub crawls.

They’re still in high school.

So this Saturday (December 21) they’ll do the next best — no, an even better — thing:

A Caroling Crawl.

From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., some of our town’s finest singers will entertain diners in Saugatuck.

A scene from last year’s Caroling Crawl.

They start at the Boathouse. Then it’s on to Parker Mansion, Kawa Ni, The Whelk, Tutti’s and the Black Duck.

The 6 — Claire Baylis, Brody Braunstein, Maddy Fass, Anna Maria Fernandez, Courtney Hoile and Tomaso Scotti — head next to Tarantino, Harvest, Romanacci Express and Tarry Lodge, before ending at Match Burger Lobster, Rizzuto’s, Viva Zapata and Dunville’s.

The 2nd annual Orphenians event is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. It’s part of their “Eat Local” campaign.

But no matter what you order at any of those 14 restaurants on Saturday, the Orphenians are icing on the cake.

Pics Of The Day #971

Candlelight Concert 2019: Staples High School’s 79th annual gift of the town.

The stage (Photo/Dan Woog)

The “Sing We Noel” processional (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The choir (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

One view of the orchestra … (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

… and another (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The production number (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The “Hallelujah Chorus” (Photo/Dan Woog)