Ten Teens to Watch
Genetic research, managing stock portfolios, saving the environment...plus homework.
An amazing group of teens: (opposite) David Conway, Christiana Whitcomb and Matthew and Joshua Greenberg; (this page, clockwise from top) Khadija Lalani, Katie Maffei, Phillip Coletti, Jake Becker, Paul Vanderslice and Christine Suchy
photographs by william taufic
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Throw Jake Becker off his game? Not likely. He’s fast, tough and can handle a few dozen icy moguls at top speed. He started skiing at two and picked freestyle at twelve. Now sixteen, he competes in Vermont as part of the Stratton Mountain Freestyle Mogul Ski Team. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association ranks him, on the East Coast, ninth in the nineteen-and-under division and last year he won the Eastern Freestyle Rookie of the Year Award. Yet Jake is anything but the boastful skier of Hollywood films. Instead, he’s modest.
In fact, the challenge is getting him to share his accomplishments. When asked if an Olympic medal shines in his future, Jake responds, “Well, this is the road you would go on to be in the Olympics. I mean, I don’t know if I’ll be good enough for that.”
His typical ski run is a thirty-second blitz of knee-jarring mandatory moves that Jake explains like a cookie recipe: “You do ten or fifteen moguls, and then a jump, and thirty-five moguls, and then a jump, and then ten more moguls.” Right, stir and bake.
In the last two years he’s broken his collarbone and a rib. When he practices his jumps into a pool at Lake Placid — theoretically, to take the sting out of learning — Jake says, “It’s a lot less painful than landing on your stomach in snow.” He laughs instead of winces.
To chill out, he plays varsity soccer (he received FAA All-League Honors) and varsity lacrosse at Greens Farms Academy (FAA All-League and All-Division 2 Honors, and MVP); in the summer, he picks up the stick for the Bulldog Elite Lacrosse Club at Yale.
Pondering the difference in his sports, he says, “Skiing is all on you — it’s individual; you don’t have anyone to count on. In lacrosse, you’ve got this whole team.” A plus for lacrosse, he adds, “The bruises heal in a week or two.”
Rigorous athletics doesn’t wear out this junior. He also volunteers with GFA. He helped clean up the grounds at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which serves seriously ill children, and tutors science to students in Bridgeport as part of the Horizons Program.
He earned high honors freshman and sophomore years. “I’m taking an AP [advanced placement] course in history and the rest are honors courses,” he says, apologetically. “I was going to do some more APs, but I’ll have to miss a bunch of days for skiing. I’d like to do AP chemistry, but if I missed all the labs, I’d have trouble.” After all, it’s not like you can pack up labs and head to the mountaintops.
Does this teen rest? “Yeah,” he says, laughing. “I get a pretty good night’s sleep.”
Fairfield Warde student Phillip Coletti is young, energetic, involved and usually making new friends. As if maintaining an outstanding GPA and being cocaptain of the varsity ski team, playing on the varsity soccer team and pole vaulting for the track team didn’t keep him hopping enough, he is also sinking his teeth into a critical issue: the environment. He was influenced by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which scientifically explains the human impact on the global environment. Phillip says, “It brought me to the realization that this is a big deal, and it’s a global deal, it’s not just happening in Fairfield County.” He believes that if we don’t take these issues seriously now, in forty to fifty years, the effects could be devastating.
Phillip is ready to start a discussion on his cause: He wants people to buy fuel-efficient cars with lower emission rates, build houses that utilize the newest advances in solar power and energy efficiency, and practice energy conservation in their everyday lives. While he believes this will at least get people moving in the right direction, he acknowledges that our problems are too big to be solved by just carpooling. He wants a federal mandate that resets the emissions standards across the country and tax incentives for corporations that utilize environmentally friendly standards. “Obama must mandate every single new car on the road must get x amount of mpg. We have to take the choice out of people’s hands.” Not surprisingly, this energetic youth wants action behind the words.
This sounds ambitious for a rising senior, but Phillip has already presented at a Globalization Conference and won first prize. Likewise, he is planning on joining his school’s environmental group that is putting solar panels onto the school. His long-term goal includes environmental engineering. With his love of math, science, and problem solving, he may be the one to create alternative energy resources that not only reduce our out-of-pocket expenses but also our dependence on foreign sources.
If the facts alone don’t get us to change, then Phillip’s persistence will.
Looking for Christiana Whitcomb? Head to the water. Any water: L. I. Sound, the Atlantic, a pool. Most likely, you will find her there: scuba diving, sailing, swimming, studying. Last semester the senior left Greens Farms Academy (located directly across from L. I. Sound) for a semester at the Island School, part of the Cape Eleuthera Institute Aquaculture Team in the Bahamas. She investigated alternative sustainable feed for fish farming.
“You learn how to live sustainably and how to learn from your environment,” she says. “We made 70 percent of our own energy out of solar panels and wind power.” More, the students collected rainwater for all of their freshwater needs. “You live without a lot of extra things.” Call it the real simple life. She took celestial navigation, ecology, literature, and cultural studies, all of which support her ultimate goal. “I’ve always been interested in what it means to live sustainably, and I wanted a chance to experience that on a much more intense level,” she says.
The only follow up to the program is to share her new knowledge. “They refer to us as seeds,” she says. “They send us off to different places in the world to grow this idea in our own communities.” Since her return, she has simplified her life, started a vegetable garden, focused on buying locally, and spent a lot of time talking about the issues with her family (they’re looking into buying a hybrid car and solar panels, and they buy local produce). Also, she is searching for a college that shows a commitment to environmental issues; that’s where she’ll study sustainable development.
Because of all this time on or in the water, she’s an advanced open-water diver, a good sailor and even won a competition for a bathing suit she designed. She never expected to win, but she says sewing is a lasting hobby, provided it’s done her way: “I’ve always been interested in the idea of sustainable clothing. You don’t see a lot of it.” She mentions Alternative Apparel by name.
Christiana says she and her friends discuss eco-living frequently and see the issue moving from trendy to substantial. “There’s so much more awareness; there’s so much more we know now,” she says. “It’s really important to live locally now, and there are a lot of great resources in Fairfield and Westport.”