Tag Archives: Inklings

Distance Learning: A Staples Student’s Perspective

Molly Gold is a Staples High junior, and creative director of Inklings, the school newspaper.

Her insightful piece on her experience since mid-March with “distance learning” caught our eye. She wrote:

Balancing SAT preparation, beginning the college process, rigorous coursework, extracurriculars, sports and the already insurmountable pressure that students face all add up to create the monster that is junior year.

This year, however, our knight in shining armor wasn’t the arrival of summer, but rather the implementation of distance learning. In what seems like the blink of an eye AP tests have been reduced, college tours have gone virtual, SATs have been pushed back and for many, our extracurriculars are no longer available, lessening our load.

Most students at Staples are used to feeling high amounts of pressure to excel in all aspects of their education. In my experience, this pressure has almost exclusively stemmed from myself and my classmates, rather than my parents and teachers.

Molly Gold

Now that my education has become completely independent from my peers, I have felt more relief than I would have ever anticipated. I no longer sit in class writing a timed essay, while simultaneously glancing over to see if my paper’s length is similar to that of the student sitting next to me. I no longer rush through math tests, worried that I’m turning it in too early or too late.

I no longer feel the need to hold myself to anyone else’s standards aside from my own. Without the added pressure that so many of us have come to accept as just a part of our education, I have found myself much more eager to complete assignments with the purpose of learning, rather than getting a good grade.

Additionally, with virtual tours and postponed standardized tests, our dive into the college process just became much more manageable. Although the virtual tours are often difficult to truly gauge a school’s environment and facilities, we now have the unique opportunity to visit virtually any school in the country without leaving our couches.

This has been a game changer for me. I have been able to visit a wide range of schools within minutes of each other, which would not have been possible through traditional tours. Because there’s nothing to lose from clicking through a website, I have been more open to looking into schools that I originally thought weren’t right for me. This has caused me to be able to enter my college application process with a much more open mind than I otherwise would have had.

Not Molly Gold, fortunately.

Additionally, without the daunting presence of an impending SAT or ACT, I feel less pressure to cram in preparation for the test. Not only do I have more time to prepare, but with a shortened school day, I am able to balance studying with schoolwork much more easily.

As many schools go temporarily test-optional for the class of 2021, the additional pressure to obtain top scores is no longer relevant.

While all of these things have significantly made junior year easier, they don’t compare to one thing: sleep. Between sports, extracurriculars, homework and getting up at the crack of dawn to secure a spot at Wakeman (that last one might just be me), so many students have become accustomed to running on less than 5 hours of sleep.

Now that our learning has been placed on our time, we are able to enjoy all of the sleep that we need. While we still sometimes have to get up for an 8:30 Google Hangout, there’s nothing stopping us from resuming our sleep after class.

While the flexibility in our education has given many of us bizarre sleep schedules, I can’t remember a time where I have been able to consistently get the right amount of sleep. Now when we’re staying up late, it’s usually for Zoom calls with friends or Netflix binges, not last-minute essays or cramming for a test.

While I miss my friends, activities and routines, there truly is nothing like waking up at 11 on a Monday to start your classwork while eating breakfast in your pajamas.

(Click here for the May issue of Inklings.)

50 Years Ago, Staples’ Computer Made A Memorable Match

In the 1960s, Staples High School was in the forefront of social change.

Students could take “Experimental English.” On an open campus, they came and went as they pleased. Bands like the Doors, Cream and Yardbirds played in the auditorium.

Staples was also one of the first schools anywhere to hold a “Computer Dance.” After teenagers answered 50 questions, an “electronic computer” matched them with their “perfect” partners.

Staples may also be the first place where a “Computer Dance” actually led to a marriage.

This weekend, Collin and Sherida Stewart enjoyed their 50th high school reunion. In June, they celebrated their 46th anniversary.

None of it would have been possible without that new-fangled computer.

And the desperate financial straits of the Staples Student Organization.

The “Computer Dance” was page 1 news in the Staples High School newspaper “Inklings.” Student government president Paul Gambaccini is shown supposedly filling out the match questionnaire.

Back in the spring of 1966, the student government needed money. SSO card sales were low; gate receipts from football and basketball games were “bitterly disappointing,” said the school paper Inklings.

What better fundraiser  than a “computer dance”?

Students replied to questions about their own looks, intelligence, activities, cars, favorite school subjects, TV-watching habits, movies, and time spent on the phone. Then they answered the same questions about their ideal match.

Part of “ideal partner” questionnaire. Even though a computer did the matching, students answered the questions by hand.

Sherida Bowlin was a relative newcomer to Westport. She entered Long Lots Junior High School in 9th grade, when her dad’s employer transferred him from Kansas to New York.

Collin Stewart was even newer to town. Amoco moved his father from Houston to New York in the winter of 1966 — the middle of 11th grade.

In fact, he was not yet at Staples when he filled out the computer questionnaire. His dad — already here — heard about the dance from a new acquaintance at the United Methodist Church.

Realizing it was a great way for his son to meet people, he called Collin. Together on a long-distance call, they filled out the questionnaire.

The 2 juniors did not know each other. But they were matched together at the dance — despite a computer glitch that rendered the boy’s name as “Stewart Collin.”

Collin Stewart and Sherida Bowlin at the junior prom.

They shared “maybe 1 or 2 dances,” Sherida recalls. Neither remembers if there was a live band, or records.

Their friendship grew quickly — though more at their shared Methodist Church than Staples.

Their 1st real date was the junior prom.

Soon they were going steady. They continued all through the next year. By senior prom, they were a well-established couple.

Within days after graduation however, both families moved. Sherida’s went to the West Coast; Collin’s to London.

But they’d figured out a way to stay together. Collin was going to the Colorado School of Mines. His father and uncle both graduated from there — and he wanted to major in geological engineering.

Sherida headed to the University of Colorado — just 20 miles away.

In June 1971 they got married in Lebo, Kansas — her grandparents’ hometown.

Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, on their wedding day.

Collin’s job as a mining engineer took them all over the West. They lived in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada. They love the outdoor lifestyle.

They’re now in Farmington, New Mexico, in the heart of the gorgeous Four Corners. They have 2 sons, and 3 grandchildren.

“We remain each other’s best friends,” Sherida says.

Collin earned a master’s degree before their kids were born. After he retired, he went back to Colorado School of Mines for a Ph.D. As of last December, he is Dr. Stewart.

Sherida taught 1st and 3rd grades, then preschool working with special needs children. Now she’s turned to inspirational romance writing. She’s won a few contests. (With her 50-year relationship, she knows a bit about romance.)

Sherida and Collin Stewart, in a recent selfie.

Collin came back to Westport just once, a couple of years after graduating. Until this weekend, Sherida had never been back.

Both looked forward to returning here. After all, had it not been for that “electronic computer,” the previous half-century of their lives might have turned out very, very differently.

Take that, Tinder!

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

M.E. Fulco: With Inklings, Future Of Journalism Is Bright

Megyn Kelly has been all over the news this year.

But the other day, the Fox News journalist/Donald Trump foil shared center stage with Mary Elizabeth Fulco.

Kelly was keynote speaker at the Waldorf Astoria, where the Deadline Club — the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists — held its annual awards ceremony. Among the honorees — and a featured speaker — was Fulco.

The journalism teacher/Inklings newspaper adviser — and first-ever honoree from Connecticut — wowed the crowd.

She began by describing teaching high school journalism in 2 words: “It’s hard.”

But her joy in working with “the most curious, intelligent and diligent” students was palpable.

Mary Elizabeth Fulco, with her award.

Mary Elizabeth Fulco, with her award.

She used their own words. Journalism, her editors say, teaches “confidence and independence in a world awash in insecurity and dependence. It allows us to contribute to our community in a meaningful way, and amplifies our voices in our school and nation.”

Fulco noted that Inklings‘ December issue included a front-page story on sexual consent. Though superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon fielded complaints, he “protected the story, and our paper,” Fulco said.

As a result of the piece, school librarians organized a panel on the subject. Colleagues told Fulco they’d thought about consent in a new way. And a student whose sister was sexually assaulted thanked her and the staff for printing it.


Calling Inklings a paper with “real stories and real truths,” Fulco thanked Landon and Staples administrators for their unwavering support. “This is a genuine newspaper,” she said. “Not high school propaganda.”

The honoree closed by praising her students as “talented, passionate, driven, inquisitive, honorable and accomplished.” Thanks to them, she said, “the future of journalism looks very bright.”

To read Inklings online, click here. To hear Fulco’s full speech, click below:

Staples Principal, Between 2 Plants

In 2014 President Obama showed his social media chops, sitting down for a “Between Two Ferns” interview with Zach Galifianakis.

The other day, presumptive Staples High School principal James D’Amico took a star turn on “Between Two Plants” with Jimmy Ray Stagg.

The Staples senior — and Inklings staff member — scored the 1st online meeting with the man who takes over the school July 1.

Interviewer and interviewee each got a few good lines. It may not get 14 million views like the Obama video — but it’s a good introduction to the popular, young new leader nonetheless.

Staples Mourns Cody Thomas

The Staples High School community reacted with shock and grief to the death of Cody Thomas. The popular English teacher died yesterday in Fairfield. He was 27.

Thomas had a strong connection with students of all abilities. He was also admired by the staff of Inklings, the school newspaper he served as co-adviser.

Cody Thomas

Cody Thomas

Thomas — a graduate of New York University’s Arthur Carter Institute of Journalism — wrote for the Stamford Advocate before becoming a teacher. He was also an editor at a rock journal, and played in local bands.

Social media was filled with praise, from current and former students. A Staples grad wrote:

— Thank you for helping a self-conscious anxiety-ridden nerd come out of his shell.
— Thank you for introducing me to Faulkner and Joyce and DFW, while still assuring me there’s just as much intellectual thought in an episode of Futurama.
— Thank you for calling The Black Keys “angsty white girl music.”
— Thank you for always asking if I was alright junior year, when days could be especially depressive and lonely.
— Thank you for coming to my first show. Middle section. 4th row. Your girlfriend seemed nice.
— Thank you for encouraging and proofreading my writing, even when it wasn’t for your class.
— Thank you for defending my writing, even when it clashed with others.
— Thank you for inspiring more students in your few years at Staples than many teachers would be lucky to recall in decades worth of teaching.
— Thank you for accepting my advice that you are not a “porkpie-hat guy.”
— Thank you for always encouraging me to do better, that, like everyone else, there was potential in me.
— Thank you for inspiring me to pursue writing professionally.
— Thank you for being more than a teacher, but a true friend.
— Thank you for coming to lunch with me that day in November. It meant the world, and it was good to know you still wore the same goddamn tennis shoes.
— Thank you for accepting our birthday card, I’m sorry most of the people who signed were 1) made-up, or 2) C-list celebrities.
— Thank you for that hug the last day of classes senior year. I heard your voice crack and a small sniffle as you said, “Good luck man.” After two years with you, I knew I would never need it.

Mr. Thomas. Cody. I love you. And there’s no way I will ever forget you. Rest in peace, you magnificent, magnificent dork.

Facing Down The Communist Menace

More than 6 decades ago, the McCarthy witch hunt — highlighted in the current film “Trumbo” — affected all Americans. Area residents like Fred Hellerman — who sang with Pete Seeger in the Weavers — saw their careers torpedoed, in a frightening, country-wide rush to judgment.

TrumboIt took the courage of men like Kirk Douglas and Howard Fast — both with Westport and Weston connections — to break the blacklist. Douglas surreptitiously hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to adapt Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” a major step toward helping restore many writers’ good names.

A couple of years before McCarthy, Westport faced its own charges of communism. But officials here reacted in a very different way.

According to Westporter-Herald newspaper accounts unearthed by alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor, in early April 1947 Fred Hollister wrote a long story in Inklings, the Staples High School newspaper. It described a new organization: American Youth for Democracy.

David Hollister, as a 1947 Staples High School senior: class vice president, Yale applicant, alleged communist.

David Hollister, as a 1947 Staples High School senior: class vice president, Yale applicant, alleged communist.

Hollister — a senior — was awaiting word on admission to Yale. He was vice president of his class, editor of the new literary magazine Soundings, and a member of the Norwalk chapter of AYD. That group — an “interracial teen-age club” — offered “a program for economic security and opportunity, education, housing, health, farm youth, recreation, juvenile delinquency, veterans, civil liberties, and peace,” the Westporter-Herald reported.

The AYD wanted to build “more and more inter-racial clubs in our country, clubs where young Negro and white people, by working, playing and fighting for the same things together, learn through actual experience that there are no ‘superior’ and no ‘inferior’ races.”

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called it “part of the Communist party.”

A front-page story in the local paper said that “school officials, P-T.A. officers, School Study Council members and parents of high school students are all considering ways and means to check the infiltration of what the U.S. Chamber ofo Commerce has called subversive ideas fostered by the AYD.”

A poster of the "radical" American Youth for Democracy.

A poster of the “radical” American Youth for Democracy.

Superintendent of Schools Gerhardt Rast conducted an investigation into the “publication of the AYD propoganda.” He “emphatically” cleared Inklings’ faculty advisor, social studies teacher Eli Berton, of “any blame.” Rast said that Berton had no idea what the AYD was. However, the superintendent said that he would ask the Board of Education to take action to “prevent its growth in the school.”

“The article’s listing of the organization’s aims could be that of any liberal organization, except for an emphasis on federal aid for various projects,” the Westporter-Herald noted.

An editorial took a patronizing tone. High school is a time “when youngsters look up on the world and worry about its imperfections. They are dissatisfied with the picture of war, famine, hatred and intolerance. Naturally they dream of making the world over, fashioning it to be without sin or greed.”

That’s not the way the world works, the paper continued. But perhaps Hollister should be thanked, because by “its careless publicity (the AYD) has ruined its chances for successful proselytizing in the high school  here.”

The editorial concluded: “Fellow traveler, whither now?”

Eli Berton was a long-time, and very well-respected, Staples High School social studies teacher.

Eli Berton was a long-time, and very well-respected, Staples High School social studies teacher.

In the days that followed, the American Legion asked the Board of Ed to place more importance on the teaching of American history in Westport schools.

The board discussed the matter, but refused to remove either Hollister or Berton from Inklings. 

The superintendent took a similar stand. In fact, he said, “We do teach the Bill of Rights to our students….How can we reconcile action denying David Hollister the right to publish any further articles with what they students know about Article I?…I don’t believe such action would be wise or consistent.”

And so the communist menace in Westport was dealt with: intelligently, graciously, and with no inflammatory rhetoric.

Westport Students: BYOD

New York City is finally ending its long ban on cellphones in schools.

At Brien McMahon High School, a student said recently, anyone who brings a laptop to class is considered weird.

Westport, meanwhile, plows ahead with its “Bring Your Own Device” initiative. Beginning next year, students will be required to provide their own technology during the school day.

Technology 1 - NBC News

Students use their own devices — which tie in to classroom technology like Smart Boards. (Photo/NBC News)

According to Inklings, the Staples newspaper — accessible online, of course — the Board of Education heard a BYOD progress report last month.

A PowerPoint presentation (natch) noted that this month, parents will be advised of specifications for “devices that may be purchased.” The months ahead brings parent information sessions, student input and “boot camps” for students and teachers.

Inklings reported that the Westport School District will provide “refurbished devices” for elementary and middle schoolers who are financially unable to purchase their own; Staples students will get new Chromebooks. Funding comes from a $30,000 line item for new technology purchases this year.

Electronic devices don't necessarily lead to isolation. In fact, they can increase collaboration.

Electronic devices don’t necessarily lead to isolation. In fact, they can increase collaboration. (Photo/HerffJones)

According to Inklings, townwide director of technology Natalie Carrignan said that 60% of students already bring their own devices to school.

At Staples, that percentage seems low. Laptops, tablets and cellphones are everywhere. They’re used constantly — often for schoolwork, occasionally not.

Each month, it seems, fewer and fewer students sit at the desktop computers that fill the library and learning centers. And the laptops that teachers can sign out for class use are often slow, unreliable and out of date.

Sure, Staples students use laptops to play games or watch videos. But even in the cafeteria, the amount of schoolwork that gets done is compelling.

Sure, Staples students use laptops to play games or watch videos. But even in the cafeteria, the amount of schoolwork that gets done is compelling. (Photo/www.District196.org)

If you think there should still be a debate about using technological devices in school, you might have argued a century ago that cars may not be the best replacement for horses.

Westport students live their lives online. So do most teachers.

Our school district’s job is to prepare young people for life through the end of this century. Administrators and the Board of Ed are figuring out how to harness technology, to best serve education in the sciences, humanities and arts. They recognize reality in many forms (including financial).

But if you’d like to offer your own insights, click “Comments.” On whatever electronic device you’re using right now.

A Sobering Story

With the holiday season near — hark! the herald angels are singing already! — it is time to turn our attention to mistletoe. Menorahs. And men and women who drive drunk.

A recent story in Inklings — the Staples High School newspaper — is worth noting.

The paper often covers important topics, like teen drinking. But — as editor-in-chief Katie Cion points out — nearly every Staples student today knows the perils of drinking and driving. Years of health education — and work by organizations like Safe Rides and the Teen Awareness Group — have hammered home the dangers of combining the two.

Adults — well, not so much.

“Personally, I have never stopped a teenage drunk driver,” a Westport police officer told Cion. “It is much more common for the operator to be an adult.”

drunk driving

Cion’s story opens with a student describing a trip home from a family wedding.

Her father had had too much to drink. Her mother offered to drive, after “only” a couple of glasses of Champagne.

“The car was swerving, and we were going way too fast,” the student recalls. “She was straddling the line in the middle of two lanes. It really freaked me out because I didn’t know what to say because she’s my mom, but I was terrified the entire time.”

Both Safe Rides member Will Haskell — a Staples senior — and adult director Julie Mombello say that students can be smarter, and less embarrassed, than their parents about admitting they are too drunk to drive.

So, as we get set for a few weeks of spirited joy and parties and peace-wishing, let’s give each other, and all Westporters — especially our impressionable kids — one special gift.

The gift of not killing each other on the road.


One More Source For Sandy News

As Hurricane Sandy bears down, Ned Hardy — an editor with Inklings, the Staples newspaper — sent this email to “06880”:

We have no school, and we’ll probably have no power soon, but InklingsNews.com is constantly updating with photos and stories.

We’re also tweeting @InklingsNews and generally working to keep the town informed. We’ve posted some awesome photo albums of Compo Beach, Main Street tonight, and other really interesting storm preparation shots.

We’ll also be posting articles tomorrow from a mobile app, so even with no power, Inklings will be there.

Click here for Inklings.com.

A photo of an already flooded house, from InklingsNews.com

Marcus Russi: Renaissance Triathlete

Marcus Russi thrives on triathlons.  The Staples High School junior is a national-level athlete in his age group for the 750-meter (approximately 1/2 mile) swim, 20K (12 1/2 miles) bike ride, and 5K (3 mile) run.

I get tired just writing that.

To train for those distances — and for events like the short-course world championship in New Zealand next year, which Marcus has qualified for — his summer regimen included swimming at 5 a.m., strength training at 10 a.m., then a long run or bike ride.

Of course, now that school’s in session he can “only” swim — still at 5 a.m. — and train with the cross country team in the afternoon.

After all, there’s classwork to consider.  Marcus’s courseload includes AP Chemistry, AP Calculus BC, AP Language and Composition, German Honors, Physics Honors and Middle Eastern Studies.

Plus the Authentic Science Research Topic, a 3-year program in which students develop their own projects and find mentors to overseethem.  He’s working on the mathematical modeling of drug transfer phenomenon.

Marcus is starting to look at colleges — Dartmouth and Stanford — are high on his list.  He hopes to major in computer science.

I could mention that Marcus also plays classical piano for an hour a day (and enters competitions).  And that he manages the website for Inklings, the Staples newspaper.  But just thinking about all that activity exhausts me.

Marcus Russi is all business in the bicycle portion of a triathlon.

Marcus’ 1st triathlon came at age 10:  the Westport Y’s Strong Kids event.  He didn’t train for it, but he was hooked.

A hip problem when he was 12 to 14 prevented Marcus from running.  Instead he swam — with the Y Water Rats and Staples — and last fall resumed triathlon competition.  He entered the Kiwanis event at Compo, and another in Fairfield.  He finished 1st in his age group at both.

Last winter he joined Vortex Racing, a New England-based junior development team.  In the spring he ran track for Staples.

This past summer he competed in his 1st major event — in Seattle — and then the Junior Elite National Championship in San Diego.  “It was incredible to see so many huge names,” Marcus says.

He wasn’t too shabby himself.  He placed 35th overall — in the top half — and had the 11th fastest bike time.

Two weeks later he was in Burlington, Vermont for the Sprint National Championship, with 300 triathletes.  There, Marcus qualified for the world event in Auckland.

Success in triathlons demands “commitment and focus,” Marcus says.

Marcus Russi stands tall at the finish.

“It’s hard to do quality training in all 3 sports — but you have to.  You can’t say, ‘I swam this morning, so this afternoon I’ll ride an easy 10 miles.’  You have to develop it all.  Sometimes you feel horrible.  You just have to push through it.”

Though he swims and runs with others, he usually bikes alone.  Once a week he rides with a cycling club out of Bethel.

A good triathlete must be “light and aerobically fit,” Marcus notes.  “You can’t have too much muscle.”

Marcus is 5-11 1/2.  He weighs 140.  You do the math.

Despite the demands — perhaps because of them — Marcus loves triathlons.

In addition, he says, “you go to a lot of cool places.  You meet amazing people.  Everyone is into being fit as a whole — not just in one sport.”

And, of course, “you get lots of free stuff!”

At Staples, Marcus downplays his accomplishments.  “I don’t want people to think of me in only one way,” he says.  Most teachers have no idea he’s a triathlete — or a piano player, website manager and everything else.

It’s not easy keeping so many balls in the air.  Marcus’ iCalendar is crucial.  “I plot everything out each day,” he says.

On weekends, Marcus says, “I try to relax as much as possible.”

Though I am pretty certain his definition of relaxation is not the same as yours or mine.