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Students focus on their passions

December 2, 2018

GREENWICH — The students have spoken: They need more teen-friendly spaces in town.

Greenwich High School sophomores reached this conclusion after their small-group local history projects snowballed into an examination of Greenwich Avenue, and finally, into a documentary exploring the programs offered for teenagers, why they are under-communicated and whether they are underused.

“Involvement with Greenwich High School is probably the best thing that these teen spaces can do,” sophomore Delilah Brien said.

The 12 students from GHS who took part in the project screened their film Wednesday night and fielded questions from parents, teachers and community members.

This occurred at the first open house for freshmen and sophomores in the Innovation Lab, an acclaimed program in lower Cantor House that emphasizes interdisciplinary learning through combined class periods and projects.

As the documentary rolled, the audience heard voice-overs of GHS students lamenting the town as “a boring place to live” and “an old-people town” that “isn’t a place for us.” Their ideal space would allow them to work on homework and hang out in a fun, safe and welcoming environment, the same students said.

In response, the Innovation Lab sophomores interviewed students, Bobby Walker Jr. of the Boys & Girls Club, Kyle Silver of the Arch Street Teen Center, and Ed Morrissey of the Greenwich Library.

Each building has its own deficiencies — a combination of space problems and the nature and quantity of programs, the researchers concluded.

Activities at the Boys & Girls Club are too structured, and the building is mostly occupied by younger children, they said. Arch Street hosts numerous parties and dances, but it lacks low-key opportunities to hang out and be creative.

The students found Greenwich Library will be including aspects of their wish-list in its upcoming renovation. But in the meantime, Morrissey — who was in the audience — told them to lean on fellow students to advertise teen-friendly library options on social media.

“That’s the way things spread, by having kids talking to other kids. I think kids are more trustworthy of other kids in a program than adults,” sophomore Martina Phelan said.

Ana DeMakes based her ideas for improvements on how the Darien Library uses its space.

“That’s where I go to more often than Greenwich Library because they have a teen space,” DeMakes said. “It has tables and computers, and a lot of teens go there every day. I’ve made friends there.”

She even had a henna tattoo done there, her father Darrell DeMakes said.

“It’s an appointment-type environment, which I think would work well,” said DeMakes, a member of the Riverside Association who is working on the renovations of the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center.

He advised students to speak up on what they would like to see at the civic center, where the project is in its early stages.

The documentary, which exposed a local issue and presented solutions, incorporates lessons from the Progressive Era — such as how muckraking journalists exposed problems and created change, sophomore Jennie Olmsted said.

“We were our own muckrakers,” Olmsted said.

The parents weren’t sure whether the documentary would mobilize the town, but it showed them that Innovation Lab was the right choice for their children.

“I think this demonstrates that Innovation Lab is working,” mother Anastasia Brien said. “Kids are having the ability to be creative, and collaborate.”

They are learning how to work together and develop new skill sets, mother Allison Parker said.

“It makes the learning more active,” Parker said.

Ninth-graders, the first freshman Innovation Lab class, also had their first open house, where they presented memorial parks representing a period in German history, from the Weimar Republic to present-day.

The research project brought together 21st century as well as traditional modes of research and presentation: artist’s notes explaining the model, a paper, a QR code and an online video journal.

Innovation Lab gives its students the mental freedom to imagine their work for themselves, Andre Ceppi said.

“Innovation Lab is such a great experience,” Ceppi said. “Rather than being given a pen and paper, you go out and explore for yourself.”

Freshmen also displayed their passion projects.

Combining her talent for sewing and her passion for reducing the environmental impact of the clothing industry, Adeline Hawley reclaimed old blazers and ties by reimagining business-casual fashion with a new item of clothing: a hooded suit jacket.

“This project opened my eyes to seeing how fast fashion affects the industry,” she said.

The budding designer began sewing in the fourth grade under the tutelage of a seamstress at Parson’s, and spent the summer at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She sewed the restyled jacket herself at home.

The free-form structure of Innovation Lab allowed her to connect with her interests, Hawley said.

“I’m a visual learner,” she said. “It was helpful for me to work with my hands. It made me really excited about learning.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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