Tag Archives: Teen Awareness Group

Remembering Chris Lemone

Staples High School was rocked today by the death of Chris Lemone. The 49-year-old Bethel resident passed away yesterday, of an apparent heart attack.

As the town’s Human Services Department’s student outreach counselor since 1998, Lemone touched many students. He was a strong, steady presence for those who had personal issues. He was also the guidance force behind the Teen Awareness Group. One of the most visible organizations on campus, TAG is best known for its annual sponsorship of Grim Reaper Day. Coming just before proms and graduation, it’s a crucial reminder of the dangers of drunk driving.

Just last week, TAG led a campaign against texting while driving.

Chris Lemone

Chris Lemone

Between his work with individual students and his tireless efforts with TAG, he saved countless lives. The exact number can never be known — but Lemone’s impact on Staples is clear and strong.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said Lemone “will be sorely missed by his co-workers, high school parents and, most importantly, the many students at Staples High School for whom he was an outstanding source of comfort and guidance.”

Human Services director Barbara Butler added:

TAG has become a part of the fabric of the Staples High School community, and Chris was justifiably proud of the TAG students and what they accomplished year after year. His thoughtful guidance was a key element in the group’s success. Chris was a wonderful man, teacher, counselor, mentor, and friend.

On behalf of the Town of Westport, his fellow employees, and the numerous young people who Chris worked with and inspired, we mourn with Chris’ wife, children and family.  As a community, we will work together to give them our support during this difficult time in the same way that Chris supported the children and families of Westport throughout his career.

Details on services are incomplete.

DARE To Talk About Pressures

The story of persistent bullying against a Westport middle school student — and the YouTube video she posted about it — made national headlines last month.

The school district has policies and procedures, describing education efforts and responses to reports of bullying by teachers, administrators and staff members.  But some of the most effective work may be done by students themselves.

Zoe Cohen and Kate O'Brien.

Earlier this year Staples sophomores Zoe Cohen and Kate O’Brien — members of the school’s Teen Awareness Group — had an idea.  They were already making presentations to freshmen, on topics like friendships, substance use — and bullying.

The impact of hearing teenagers — from Westport — talk about those issues was far greater than listening to adults.

So, the girls wondered:  Why not do it for younger kids?

TAG advisor Chris Lemone and DARE officer Ned Batlin thought it was a great idea.

TAG members — including Zoe and Kate — have already presented to Long Lots and Green’s Farms 5th graders.

“We talk about how good friends don’t put peer pressure on someone,” Kate says.

“A lot of the questions the kids asked were about fights with friends,” Zoe adds.  “Some of them are worried about middle school.  We were definitely honest, and said middle school can be tough because everyone is trying to fit in.  We tried to reassure them.”

Zoe adds, “I had DARE when I was at Long Lots, and I got a lot out of it.  But we never heard older kids talk.”

Many TAG members have spoken with 5th graders through DARE.  They’ve had great experiences, and have enjoyed watching the youngsters move from hesitancy to exploding with questions and comments.  “Even the boys take part!” Kate says.

“People think of TAG as only being about drinking and driving at Staples,” Zoe says.  “We want to do more in the community, and DARE is a start.”

The 5th graders are not the only ones who get something out of the discussions.  The TAG students do too.

“I really feel like I’ve accomplished something when they share their stories and worries with us,” Zoe says.

“They really trust us about things like bullying,” Kate adds.  “They believe what we say.”

Searching For Drunk Drivers

For nearly a decade, Staples’ Teen Awareness Group (TAG) has worked hard and creatively to make friends and classmates aware of the horrors of drunk driving.

TAG works tirelessly to stop drunk driving.

Each May — right before proms and graduation — powerful presentations drive home the message:  PLEASE don’t drink and drive.  Alcohol kills.

Sometimes, speakers tell wrenchingly personal tales.  In 2003, a woman described the death of her only daughter in a drunk-driving accident.

Sometimes, the medium is film.  In 2006 TAG produced a documentary in which Staples students, teachers and Westport community members shared stories of how their lives have been impacted by driving and drinking.

TAG is gearing up for another video.  They’re inviting anyone in town who has been affected by drunk driving — in any way — to join them in their crusade to make a difference.

If you want to share your story, contact TAG’s adult advisors:  Chris Lemone, 203-341-1285, mrcounselorguy@yahoo.com or Elaine Daignault, 203-341-1165, elained@westportgov.org.

TAG:  You’re it.

“Race To Nowhere” Heads Here

Audiences in Chappaqua, Bethesda, Winnetka — high-achieving, high-pressure Westport-type towns across the country — have flocked to “Race to Nowhere.”

The film — fueled largely by word of mouth (internet-style) — has drawn so many SRO crowds at schools, churches and town hall auditoriums around the country, it’s already the 20th most successful documentary ever.

Parents, educators, clergy, physicians — and teenagers — are drawn by the theme:  that years spent building resumes, being tutored and seeking perfection may not produce perfect, healthy, high-achieving kids.  The result, rather, could be “unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared and stressed-out youth.”

After screenings, audiences stay for facilitated discussions.  Recently, in New Canaan, a few high-achieving fathers took issue with the film’s premise that intense pressure is bad.

That’s the way the world works, they said.

Two Staples students disagreed.  They’d gone with Chris Lemone — the outreach worker who runs the school’s Teen Awareness Group — and stuck around to talk.  (Most of the New Canaan kids left — maybe too much homework?)

The Stapleites refuted the dads — strongly and eloquently.  Their words made a tremendous impact on the adult audience.

Now, “Race to Nowhere” is coming to Westport.

The PTA Council is sponsoring a Feb. 15 viewing at Bedford Middle School.  In 2 days — and with virtually no publicity — 600 free tickets sold out.  It happened so quickly, the Staples student and parent communities had not even received details.

The screening cost has already put the PTA Council over their measly budget of $1000.  They hope to recoup some of the money from audience donations that night.

A scene from "Race to Nowhere." A typical Westport scene too?

The Council plans a 2nd screening in March.  They need someone to fund the  $2500.  In a high-achieving community like this, someone should write a check today.

In the meantime, Westporters can click here to find details on other local screenings — including January 28 at Town Hall. Tickets to that show cost $10 each; it’s sponsored by the Learning Community Day School.

Are Westport students engaged in a “race to nowhere” — or do we avoid many of the traps that snare youngsters in similar communities?

Those questions — and others like them — will be explored here this winter.  Whatever the answers, it’s clear — by the race for tickets — that “Race to Nowhere” is important to run.

They’ll Drink To That

It’s no secret:  Westporters like to drink.

We boozed it up during Prohibition, when speakeasies flourished all around town.  (One of the most popular, in Saugatuck, was run by a blind man.)

We drank — heavily — in New Haven Railroad bar cars, coming home from Mad Men jobs in the 1950s and ’60s.

We drink today — in restaurants, on the beach, at our well-stocked basement bars — and so do our kids.

Staples yearbooks as far back as the 1940s feature drinking references.  In 1975 — when the legal age was 18 — there’s a photo of 7 guys in sports jerseys hoisting steins, surrounded by beer cans.

Teen drinking in Westport is no longer in the shadows.

So there was no lack of alcohol-related opinions Tuesday night, when the Westport Library sponsored a “Community Conversation on Underage Drinking.”

After brief remarks from Staples principal John Dodig — whose mantra has long been that the schools alone can’t deter teen drinking; the issue demands a town-wide response — that community work began.

The 100-plus participants came up with 12 topics.  Next, they formed small discussion groups — ranging in size from 3 to 20 — based on the subject that most interested them. 

At the end of the session, each group presented its most important points to everyone.  Here are the groups, and their main ideas:

Understanding the motives behind teen drinking

  • Teens drink because of peer pressure, “normality,” relaxation, stress relief, self-medication, Facebook, games, and thrills
  • High school students feel the need to drink because it offers an emotional connection, an unwritten rite of passage, and provides “liquid courage”
  • Solutions include stricter consequences, and open parent-child relationships

Parental enabling; choosing to be the parent and not a “friend”; parental involvement; parents who condone drinking and its implications

Ultimately, parents’ responsibility is to keep their kids safe.  They can do that by enforcing consequences (and “checking in” with teenagers when they get home); making expectations clear, and forming strong, early trust between parents and children.

External pressure/influence (media, peers, etc.)

  • Peer pressure is overrated
  • Parental influence can be positive or negative
  • There are mixed messages and hypocrisy, including adults not enforcing their own rules

The importance of a strong relationship between parents and kids

  • Building trust with parents is crucial
  • Dinners together — any time together, in fact — is also very important

Code of silence

There is a code of silence between parents, to “save their relationships with their kids.”  But parent-to-parent communication should include parents asking other parents if they allow drinking.

There is also a code of silence that comes from coaches, who ingrain a “we are family” dynamic beginning in elementary school.  Coaches also need to be part of a conversation, not only regarding loyalty but also moral behavior.

Strengthening teens’ self-esteem so they can say “no”

The top 3 ways:  parents provide healthy role models; parents show positive, trusting belief in their teenagers; parents support teenagers’ expecations and goals, rather than imposing their own.

Other ways:  giving a reason beyond just “no”; open communication; being able to call parents at any time; relaxed and trusting parents lead to better and healthier decisions by kids; physical affection, calmness and praise from parents; unconditional acceptance of teenagers; lack of comparison of one kid to another

Alternatives to drinking-based activities

  • Parks & Rec-sponsored day trips (skiing, concerts, Lake Compounce, hiking/rafting)
  • Explore why Newtown and Greenwich teen centers are reputed to work

Where are kids getting alcohol; methods of making it more difficult for teenagers to drink

Kids get alcohol in Bridgeport and Norwalk, with and without fake IDs.  They also get it from homes and parents (though “kids are drinking such large amounts of alcohol that it’s unlikely they are getting it all from parents”).

Making it more difficult to obtain would include having more immediate consequences, and more parental communication both with teenagers and other parents.

Education on drinking-related accidents beyond driving

Topics could include damage to reputation, and consequences due to intoxication; also consistent reinforcement of repercussions (“even with varsity athletes!”).

To what degree is the code of conduct for teams enforced?

  • Administration, faculty and coaches must be held responsible for enforcing the contract players and parents sign
  • Coach and parent denial implies tacit approval
  • Players have a general consensus that there will be no enforcement
  • Who will report the behavior?
  • What’s the point of a code of conduct if it’s not enforced?  And does this provide a “false sense of security”?

Preparing kids for life beyond high school

  • Teenagers need help developing a mature perspective before leaving high school
  • Parents need guidance for the transition too
  • There is a need to distinguish between “use” and “abuse”

That’s a ton of stuff to digest.  And it came from a relatively small group — parents who (it was noted) may be part of the “choir” to which the night was preaching; members of Staples’ Teen Awareness Group; a smattering of others. 

But — if this is to be a true “community conversation” — then more voices must join in. 

Click the “Comments” link — and please be respectful.

The Grim Reaper Cometh

Prom and party season is here.  And an energetic group of Staples students wants to make sure that’s not a recipe for tragedy.

The Teen Awareness Group presented its annual Grim Reaper Day today.  It’s a powerful, thought-provoking — and yes, sobering — sight.  The impact is magnified because the message is sent by teenagers, to friends and classmates.

A demolished car stood outside the school.  The flag stood at half mast.  Three MADD representatives told their harrowing tales.

To vividly portray the daily US toll of 48 drunk-driving fatalities, a police officer and EMS responder walked into 1 classroom every 30 minutes.  They told those students about a classmate’s “death” — using a real drunk-driving story.

But perhaps the most important activity was a documentary.  It depicted the drinking behavior of Staples students — based on their own reports, in voluntary polls taken throughout the year.

The poll — also shown on blood-red posters plastered around school — found:

  • 60 percent of seniors polled have driven drunk
  • 50 percent of all students polled have been in a car with a drunk driver (including parents)
  • 81 percent of all students polled drink alcohol
  • 65 percent of all students polled are concerned about a friend’s drinking

“In the past, the message on Grim Reaper Day has been ‘look at what drunk driving can do in general,” said Nick Cion, a junior and TAG officer.

“This was a risk,” TAG member Jackie Dimitrief added.  “But based on what we’re hearing, it worked.”

“We didn’t want people to just sit back and listen,” Nick emphasized.  “We wanted this to be about how we can prevent ourselves from being statistics.”

Nick Cion, Harry Rappaport, Jackie Dimitrief and Jacob Levi. Their TAG shirts say "Don't become another statistic."

Nick Cion, Harry Rappaport, Jackie Dimitrief and Jacob Levi. Their TAG shirts say "Don't become another statistic."

Driving Teens Crazy

Don’t drive while texting.  Don’t drive while shuffling your iPod.  Don’t drive while eating dinner.


That don’t-kill-yourself-or-others advice is plastered throughout Staples  this month, on eye-catching posters created by the school’s energetic and effective Teen Awareness Group.

Raising awareness of good driving habits is great — who could be against it?  But TAG is missing another important audience:  their parents.

Chatting on cell phones; putting on makeup; roaring through already-red lights; weaving in and out of traffic; cutting off drivers entering your lane — teenagers don’t invent these things.

They’ve got to be carefully taught.

And as much as we like to preach good driving habits, it’s our practices that youngsters follow.

Kids learn how to drive long before they’re 16.  They learn when they’re 12, 10, even 5.  They learn from the passenger seat, the back seat — even the booster seat.

Thanks, TAG, for all you do to keep young drivers safe.  If you’ve got time, start working on us old folks.

Teen Awareness group poster - Staples HS