10 Teens to Watch
Photographs by William Taufic
1. Zachary Bayer
Hamden Hall Country Day School
Despite a devastating growth-plate injury in his arm that kept him sidelined for seven months, nationally ranked tennis player Zachary Bayer set his sights on regaining his No. 1 position on the varsity tennis team at Hamden Hall Country Day School in 2011.
He became his school’s MVP after fighting through five grueling matches to win his school’s division at the 2011 NEPSAC Championships for the first time in the school’s history.
A Westporter, Zachary makes an hour-and-a-half commute to school every day. That’s nothing for this academic all-star who has traveled solo all over the country to compete in tennis matches since he was seven.
When he’s not out on the courts, Zachary and his bearded collie, Kai, make the rounds at a nursing home where his aunt once resided. Though she has since passed, Zach plans to continue by training Kai for certification as a therapy dog.
Zachary is also an investor. He wakes up at 7 a.m. every day. “I eat a big breakfast and follow the stock market; I read the New York Times business and sports sections,” he says. He’s also in The Investment Club and has followed certain stocks since the third grade, when he “did a PowerPoint presentation on Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.”
2. Taylor McNair
Staples High School
When he’s not out kicking around a soccer ball and winning championships with the Beachside Soccer Team, Taylor McNair’s focus is the environment and sustainability. He credits Staples High School AP Environmental Studies Teacher Mike Aitkenhead with inspiring him to “do something to make the world a better place.”
He was particularly motivated by a speech Aitkenhead delivered to departing students. “He asked us to simply consider that we are at an unprecedented time in history in which the world is changing for the worse. He reminded us that we are the most privileged, affluent and, thus, the most well-educated and capable people in the world. He explained that we all have a responsibility. … He ended by challenging us to do something, to be different, take chances, start a change, and let others follow.”
With three brothers, his home life is rarely boring; but for tranquility he heads to Wakeman Town Farm. He says, “There’s something both natural and fulfilling about growing your own food. I think people would have a newfound appreciation for both history and food growers everywhere if they grew their own food.”
The National Honor Society student who delivered the townwide Veteran’s Day address in 2012 now attends Emory University.
3. Paige Wallace
Wilton High School
Paige Wallace is the quintessential high school go-getter who participates on the debate team, the National Honor Society and student government.
As a junior, this aspiring educator was chosen to represent Wilton High School on the State Board of Education Advisory Council.
As a senior, Paige wants to meet Governor Malloy and ask him tough questions about education. Because the achievement gaps between high- and low-income students in Connecticut are among the largest in the nation, Paige supports education reform. She acknowledges that many firmly believe in a traditional view of teacher pay. “It will be a long, gradual process to change these views, so if I were to meet the Governor, I’d ask how he plans to go about this,” she says. “I would also like to ask if he feels that tenure laws, in addition to teacher salaries, should be reformed to reflect teacher efficacy rather than length of service, and if so, how.”
Paige says she loves the enthusiasm of students, especially those in elementary school. “If you can gain their interest and trust, kids will throw themselves into projects,” she says, adding that our education system “presents an interesting challenge to policy makers and teachers alike to determine new ways to ensure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, receive a high-quality education.”
Right now, she’s translating several hundred lines of Caesar in preparation for the AP Latin exam next spring.
4. Connie Zhou
Staples High School
Though she’s headed for the hallowed halls of Harvard in September, Staples Grad Connie Zhou is quick to point out her faults. She quips, “I’m really clumsy! I’m the top drink-spiller in my family, and I’ve stubbed my toe on so many staircases I can’t even begin to try to count them all. The best is when I go into a store and all the sales associates are really nice and friendly to me until I knock over all of their handbags. Then they’re not so nice anymore.”
Connie, a gifted visual artist and award-winning pianist with a killer résumé, is as humble as she is high achieving. She’d rather discuss her quirks than her accomplishments, but that didn’t stop this dynamo with an excellent GPA and a string of awards—including the Brandeis University Book Award, the Oberlin College Book Award and the Staples Chemistry Award—from cheering when she was accepted into her top-choice school. She recalls, “My mom and sister came running over, and we all hugged for a really long time. I called my dad at work right away and then contacted my friends. We had a small celebration at dinner and, ironically, part of my celebration for getting into Harvard was not doing any homework that night.”
As the Junior State of America Chapter President and Convention Coordinator charged with organizing major conventions in Washington, DC, Boston and Connecticut, ditching homework is not Connie’s typical MO.
5. Martha Whamond
King Low Heywood Thomas
An aspiring doctor, Martha Whamond of Westport is a King Scholar, the highest academic ranking at King Low Heywood Thomas in Stamford, as well as a recent inductee into the school’s Cum Laude Society.
Now a senior, Martha participates in the Science Department’s Research and Development Course, which is made up of only three students chosen to do upper-level independent research.
Martha is setting her sights on the premed program at Washington University in St. Louis. Her dream job is to be a pediatric cardio surgeon. “As oddly specific as that sounds,” she notes, “I find the heart to be the most fascinating organ in the body. It’s so crucial yet so many things can go wrong with it. Medically, my passion lies in cardiology. However, I love working with kids. They just want to feel better, live a normal life, and be kids. Children are fighters. So, my dream job would be a combination of the two: pediatrics and cardiology.”
In her “free” time, Martha volunteers as an EMT and is also working on a research project with Dr. Nero, a cardiologist in Stamford, called Hands for Life. The goal is to teach the average person hands-only CPR and what to do in an emergency situation when someone collapses. Martha explains, “We are trying to give people the background and confidence they need to help save a life in an emergency situation.”
6. Sophia Tepler
Greens Farms Academy
While most other eighth graders were relaxing on spring break, Sophia Tepler, a Greens Farms Academy student from Westport, traveled with her father to South Africa at the invitation of a prominent AIDS researcher. The two-week trip in March 2010 provided Sophia a rare, inside view of the health problems and poverty in the country, and the opportunity to work with those who are trying to reduce the burden of AIDS in South Africa.
Sophia was based at the Edendale Hospital, the largest government treatment site in South Africa. Ninety percent of patients at Edendale have TB and AIDS, and only about forty percent will survive their hospitalization.
During the visit, Sophie spent most of her time with an organization called Africaid WhizzKids United. She explains, “It uses soccer as a metaphor to teach life skills and health lessons relevant to AIDS prevention. Soccer is the sport in South Africa. In soccer, just like in life, you need to pick the right teammates, attack the ball (set goals); find your position (self-awareness and self-esteem); control the game (control sexual behavior); protect yourself (avoid dangerous situations and learn about HIV and AIDS prevention); and have the motivation to carry it out (career and life planning). All these are important to win in soccer but also to succeed in life.”
Upon her return, she donated used soccer equipment and computers from the school to Whizzkids and organized, with the head of school of GFA, a two-week learning and service school trip to South Africa, hosted by WhizzKids.
7. Conor Eckert
Greens Farms Academy
As a freshman at Greens Farms Academy interested in global issues, Conor Eckert decided that he wanted to spend a semester in another country. He says, “Through exposure to new cultures, you begin to understand the perspective of others. Likewise, they begin to understand you.”
Conor spent the first semester of his sophomore year at a K-12 boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India. “I played in the student soccer league, cooked dinner in dorms with friends and laughed as David (another American) and I tried to teach American football to over twenty guys who had never played before,” he says. “The monsoon season was especially difficult. To get to class, I wore a waterproof poncho and flip-flops, and jeans rolled up to my knees.”
“My roommate who grew up in Mumbai is planning on visiting me next winter. We even have plans to work together on the GFA global thesis project senior year.”
Last spring, Conor traveled with classmates to Nicaragua to help finish the building of high school classrooms with B3, Builders Beyond Borders, a Westport-based nonprofit that helps impoverished communities in South America.
This past February Conor attended the NAIMUN (North American Invitational Model United Nations, at Georgetown University) as a member of the GFA Model United Nations Club. His group worked on strategies to prevent and react to cyberterrorism.
8. Kyle Dedrick
Wilton High School
Wilton’s Kyle Dedrick has been a competitive soccer player for years, and currently plays for Wilton High School and Beachside Soccer Club, which recently won the Connecticut State Championships and placed second in the USYS National League. He also gets his kicks out on the field with TOPSoccer, a community-based soccer program for athletes with disabilities.
A top student-athlete, Kyle has won numerous awards for academics, leadership, and sports. He was inspired to start TOPSoccer with his brother Sean at Wilton High because he wanted to give special-needs kids the opportunity to play too.
He explains, “I had just become a member of a TOP Inclusion Models club at my high school [which helps kids who have fallen out of the mainstream], and I have a friend with autism who inspired me to give kids like him the chance to play soccer. When I see twenty-five players and forty buddies [high school helpers] on the TOPSoccer field surrounded by all their parents, I think we’ve really done something great here.”
Kyle, a junior, recalls one player who was transformed from a timid boy who didn’t want to get out of the car to an enthusiastic player who now runs from the car to his buddy. Kyle says, “Seeing TOPSoccer players high-fiving their buddies in the school hallways shows me just how much of an impact this program has had.”
9. Stephanie Klein
Staples High School
Stephanie “Stevie” Klein says there was never a dull moment as editor-in-chief of Inklings, Staples’ student paper. At the University of Pennsylvania, she plans to continue pursuing her passion for journalism, politics, law and, in her ideal world, one day host her own talk show.
She says, “I am so lucky to attend Staples because the freedom our paper has been given by our amazing principal has allowed us to bring to light so many important issues, and I know many surrounding schools are not given that opportunity.”
Stevie relished covering controversial topics in the editorials, like whether or not boys should get the HPV shot, and making editorial decisions with her co-chief. “It was interesting weighing both sides of some of the ethical decisions and coming up with what we thought was best.”
Stevie also worked as co-president of the Teen Awareness Group. The organization is best known for Grim Reaper Day, an event that hosts emotional speakers who recount horrific incidents to underscore the dangers and effects of drinking and driving. “We also pull people out of class, paint their faces as if they are dead, and tell the class they are in the story of how they died. These students can’t talk for the rest of the day, and it shows what it would be like if a classmate or friend were to suddenly be killed in a drinking and driving accident,” she explains.
Stevie won the senior superlative for ‘most talkative’ and jokes, “I honestly can’t be quiet for more than a few minutes at a time.”
10. Brian Lamy
Weston High School
Weston High Principal Lisa Wolak can’t say enough about Brian Lamy, whom she credits with “bringing back a sense of spirit and community to the school.”
Senior class copresident and “the voice of Weston High,” Brian’s upbeat morning loudspeaker greetings brought school spirit alive. He also galvanized excitement for a variety of programs, including a senior citizen–student dance and a trip to Nicaragua with Builders Beyond Borders. His art is displayed at the Fairfield Arts Council and his videos promote causes that are dear to him. He was an event cochair of Relay for Life of Weston/Westport 2012, which raised more than $135,000 for the American Cancer Society. And with his church youth group, he took part in Midnight Run, in which teens go into NYC and deliver food and clothes to the homeless.
Brian struggles with OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome and ADHD. He explains, “I cannot type a single sentence without backspacing half of the words,” he says. “I want to inspire those who are in the dark, think they are different, or those who think that they cannot live their dream because of a physical or mental disorder or event in life.”
Inspired by Steve Jobs, Brian aspires to become creative director of Apple. That is, after he graduates from Savannah College of Art and Design, where he is a freshman.