Tag Archives: Audrey Bernstein

AJ Konstanty Keys Staples Awards List

“06880” has never covered Staples High School’s annual awards ceremony before. I’ve figured: The folks who care, go. The others don’t.

But there was no live ceremony this year — one more casualty of COVID, along with internships, prom and graduation. So it’s time to give the honorees of the Class of 2020 their due.

AJ Konstanty

AJ Konstanty won the Staples Key — the school’s highest award. recognizing superior academic achievement, loyalty to Staples and contributions to the Staples community. Candidates are chosen by the faculty; seniors select the winner.

AJ — a multi-sport athlete, singer, and fundraising chair of Best Buddies — enriched the school in many ways. As a sophomore he met a student from Ghana, who arrived in the middle of the school year from another country, and struggled with multiple disabilities. They forged a friendship that went beyond the school day.

AJ is described as “a happy, kind, personable (and) modern Renaissance man. He can do it all, and make it seem effortless.”

Audrey Bernstein

Two years ago, Staples Key finalist Audrey Bernstein was shaken by the Parkland shootings. Inspired after meeting survivors, she helped organize Staples’ student walkout.

She co-founded Students Stand Up (an anti-gun violence group), and was the Westport lead for Students Demand Action.

Besides her activism, she served as co-editor of the school newspaper Inklings.

Natasha Johnson

As a sophomore, Staples Key finalist Natasha Johnson created a club to promote greater diversity in books offered as part of the English curriculum.

Then — realizing they could do even more — Natasha and her club changed the charter, to create a safe space for anyone interested in diversity to discuss, learn and teach.

She also mentors a group of middle school girls from Bridgeport.

The James Bacharach Service to Community Award — for leadership and service to Westport — went to Kayla Dockray.

The Young American Award, presented to a senior who demonstrates academic excellence, love of country and strong leadership qualities, went to Colin Corneck. He leaves soon for the US Naval Academy.

The Peter Weisman Memorial Awards, for hard work and academic achievement, was presented to Michael Guanalouisa.

The Fairfield County Community Foundation awarded 3 scholarships. The Excellence in Scholarship Award went to Max Pace, “a self-starter with an incredibly ambitious nature and creative mind.”

The Charles A. Dana Cultural Scholarship Award was given to Victoria Caiati, described as “naturally creative and talented,” with a passion for fashion design.

The Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation Scholarship went to Katherine Meszaros, who demonstrated a “positive attitude, tenacity, diligence and a strong work ethic.”

Guiding Principles Awards go to students who enrich and bring joy to classrooms, demonstrating the key ideals of the district. The 2 senior recipients were Kalina Kinyon and Bennet Staffa.

Principal’s Awards are presented to seniors who have demonstrated a superior ability to act as responsible members of the Staples community. This year they went to Tamikah Boyer, Cordelia Chen, Michael Farnen, Kathryn Enquist, Annamaria Fernandez, Grace Kennedy, Maximus Pace, Benjamin Schussheim, Jake Thaw and Caroline Vandis.

Congratulations to all awardees. Now go out and change the world!

To see all the senior awards — for academic and other achievements — click here. Principal Stafford Thomas does the honors.

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.

Accidental Activists Forge Powerful Paths

Audrey Bernstein was never an activist. Quiet, smart and hard-working, the Staples High School sophomore dedicated herself to the school paper Inklings (she’s the features editor) and the tennis team.

Classmate and friend Kaela Dockray — like Audrey, a native Westporter — was similar. She’s Inklings’ sports editor, and plays field hockey.

Then came Parkland.

The school massacre in Florida affected Audrey deeply. She had a hard time going to school.

Her US History Honors teacher, Cathy Schager, told her, “If you feel anxious about something, advocate for it.”

When Staples suffered its own near-tragedy — a student was overheard making threats, and had an assault rifle at home — Audrey was rocked again.

“I realized then I had to do something,” she recalls. “And I had to do it now.”

The Parkland shooting did not hit Kaela as hard. But the Staples incident made her realize that the potential for tragedy was real.

As she thought about how the Florida students reacted, she realized she needed to do something too.

A few days later, Audrey and Kaela heard that Delaney Tarr and Sarah Chadwick — 2 Parkland survivors — would be speaking at an International Women’s Day event in New York.

On the spur of the moment, they headed to the city.

“We figured there would be thousands of people,” Kaela says. “There were like 40.”

Delaney and Sarah told their stories. They urged young people to join the gun reform conversation.

Kaela and Audrey were captivated. They wanted to speak personally with the Parkland girls, but journalists swarmed them first.

After 30 minutes of waiting the Westporters gave up, and left.

But — in what Audrey calls “fate” — Sarah and Delaney soon walked right past them.

“We both started crying,” Kaela says. “We idolized them.”

The Staples students told their Parkland counterparts how much their stories meant. Audrey said, “You’re the main reason I get up and go to school.”

To their surprise, Audrey and Kaela found that Sarah and Delaney were just “normal teenagers.” The Floridians asked to take the Westporters’ picture for their own Instagrams — and then followed them on social media.

“They told us that we’re the future leaders,” Kaela says.  “They kept saying that they’re proud of us.”

From left: Parkland survivors Sarah Chadwick and Delaney Tarr, with actress and activist Rowan Blanchard, join Staples High School sophomores Kaela Dockray and Audrey Bernstein in New York. The hashtag was the motto of the International Women’s Day event, emphasizing the power of women and the necessity for them to take charge.

So when plans were announced for a Staples walkout on March 14 — as part of a national movement in response to gun violence — she and Audrey knew they had to take part.

And they would not just help organize the event. They’d speak. Publicly.

“I have stage fright,” Audrey admits. “I’ve never done anything like this. But I was motivated by their pride in us. I had to get over my fear, and use my voice.”

“I don’t speak in class,” Kaela adds. “And now I was going to speak in front of 1,000 people?”

Both did — with passion and poise.

Their speech emphasized that young people have the most crucial voice in the school/gun debate. The reason: It affects them the most.

They also noted the importance of giving voice to beliefs — no matter how hard it might be.

A portion of the large crowd in the Staples High School fieldhouse. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo, courtesy of Inklings)

Feedback was fast, and positive. “Random people stopped me in the hall, and thanked me,” Kaela says.

“I can’t believe you did that!” friends and family told Audrey.

Shaking her head in wonder, she says, “I don’t know how I did that myself!”

The girls are not stopping there. This Saturday they head to Washington, DC to join the “March For Our Lives” rally.

And they’ve started an Instagram page, focusing on advocacy. You can follow Audrey and Kaela there: @StudentsStaySafe.

You can also follow them as they continue down the new and exciting path they’ve discovered: political activists.

Westport and America: The future is not in good hands.

It’s in great hands.