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Trumbull High School students, active in competitive academic groups and civic engagement clubs, were recognized by the Academic Challenge for Excellence (ACE) Foundation on Thursday, June 9, in the Commons at THS. Piano melodies like “Lullaby” by Billy Joel and “Redford” by Sufjar Stevens filled the air when senior Michael Lepore fingered the keyboard as guests arrived. Lepore, accompanist for the THS Choir for four years, will attend Hofstra University in the fall to study music.

ACE Secretary/Treasurer Dan Neumann, who co-founded the academic and civic engagement booster organization, welcomed the more than 350 students, parents, advisors and guests. “We are really thrilled to see such a wonderful turnout,” he said. “This is sort of another milestone for the ACE Foundation. Tonight we are in the Commons because we have outgrown the Senior Lounge.”

Twelve years ago when ACE was founded, the organization supported seven teams at THS; today ACE recognizes and supports 33 groups at the elementary and middle schools, about 330 students, and 24 more groups at the high school, more than 360 students. Many of the teenagers and advisors at THS expressed their appreciation for the ACE support in volunteer time and monetary funding.

High school Principal Marc Guarino thanked parents for coming out to support the activities, thanked staff for their dedication, and thanked Trumbull School Superintendent Gary Cialfi for co-founding ACE in 2004.

He said, “Tonight we recognize the hundreds of students who reach out to extend what we do in the classroom.”

Seniors Alyssa Bruenig and Ian Maloney acted as masters of ceremonies for the evening. Bruenig, named Trumbull High’s female athlete of the year, will attend St. Michael’s College in Vermont on a basketball scholarship, and Maloney, the president of the National Honor Society, plans to study criminal justice and national security studies at the University of New Haven. They introduced guest speakers and honorees. They also announced that the video program would be accessible on Frontier Vision channel 99 and Charter channel 194.

Superintendent Cialfi added, “The mission of ACE truly is about the joys of learning. We provide opportunities to explore passions, expand content knowledge and skills of the classroom, and give relevancy to learning by strengthening communication skills and critical thinking ability.” Then he thanked the club advisers and academic coaches and the ACE Board of Directors: Laura Alford, Cory DeWeese, Kate Hampford Donahue, Marcy Koury, Neumann, Tony Pijar, Tom Tesoro and Steve Wright.

Board of Education Chairman Loretta Chory congratulated the teams on their successes and accomplishments.

Thank you for funding  

Neumann thanked First Selectman Tim Herbst for the First Selectman’s Golf Tournament and the PTSA organizations that provide funds to support ACE. He also thanked the many parent donors, some with company matching grants, and the private benefactors.

“Last year ACE gave hours of time and more than $20,000 to 40 Trumbull competitive academic groups and civic service clubs who requested assistance,” he said.

The Michael Heeks Memorial Scholarship of $1,000 each was presented to two winners. In honor of their deceased son Michael, a 2008 THS graduate and a 2012 UConn grad, who was involved in competitive academics, Bob and Kathy Heeks presented the monetary awards. Symmetry Partners, the investment advisory firm in Glastonbury where Michael worked, and Michael’s parents established the scholarship in his honor and asked the ACE Foundation to partner in its administration. This year’s recipients were Michael Kenler and Bhavya Bhushan. Kenler will attend Tufts University in the fall, and Bhushan begins her freshman year at Cornell.

Then, Bruenig and Maloney introduced the civic engagement groups, invited teachers and students to come forward, and asked group members to highlight the accomplishments of 2015-2016.

Blanket Brigade founder Regina Misercola explained how the eight club members knitted squares and sewed them together to make blankets for hospitals.

Several students represented the Cultural Diversity Club to promote awareness and respect for diversity.

A branch of Rotary International, the Interact Club contributed to the Clothesline Project against domestic violence and the spring and fall clean-ups for elderly Trumbull residents.  

“We were really excited to earn an International Presidential Citation as one of only a few Rotary Clubs to receive this award,” said club representative Kiki Yalamanchili.

Need for blood

Will O’Brien spoke for the Red Cross Club. “We ran the blood drive at THS. It was the most successful one ever,” he said. Students collected more than 42 pints of blood.

SADD President Victoria Batchelor and Lydia Krahn highlighted the activities of their student group against drunk driving and destructive decisions.

“We were involved in the Mock Car Crash to discourage drinking and driving and the Sticker Shock project to put stickers about underage drinking on cases and bottles in the liquor store,” they reported. The club, which tripled in size this year, met regularly with T-PAUD (Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking) and has Instagram and Twitter pages that encourage students to make good choices.

Beating the cross-town rival

Then the 19 academic groups claimed the spotlight.

Benjamin Hazen, president of the Debate Team for three years, explained that under the guidance of advisor Hope Spalla the team had increased from 10 members to 50.

He said, “Debate challenges members to speak spontaneously and be receptive to both sides of an issue.”

Personally, Hazen was most proud of the win against St. Joseph High School in the One Book/One Town debate and of the two state tournaments that were sponsored by the THS group.

Robotics and foreign languages

Advisor Hans Drenkard introduced the members of the Yale Physics Olympiad. In October the four students had traveled to New Haven and measured, estimated, calculated and created in hands-on physics and engineering competitions against 50 other teams.

As advisor to the Robotics Team, Drenkard explained that the members had nine weeks to build robots based on common packages of materials.

“We teamed up with another group, and when the May tournament was complete, we had won the Alliance First Place Award,” he said.

Administered by the American Association of Teachers of French, the National French Contest tested listening, reading and grammar.

THS French teacher Laura Santelli said, “85,000 students took the exam; 50 from THS. Of those, we had 30 medal winners.”

Senior Astonique Robinson, who won gold in Spanish 5 recitation of Pablo Neruda’s poetry, explained the purpose of the COLT Poetry Recitation Contest for memorization and expression in world languages.

“I had to practice cadence, hand movements and Spanish pronunciation, as well as memorize the poems,” she said. “It allowed me to feel emotions in Spanish.”

Faculty organizer Maria Manso-Garcia added, “We had 23 medal winners in the contest, Trumbull High’s most ever. We rock!”

Trumbull students who took the National Latin Exam were among the top performers in the country. Victoria Estacio thanked ACE for the monetary support to take the exam.

“We don’t use Latin every day,” she said, “but it’s really not dead.”

Titans of business

Shravan Wadhwa represented the JA Titan Business Challenge. He said, “We competed at Sacred Heart University about the variables that factory owners have to deal with every day.” The sixth annual competition asked them to run a manufacturing company online and make virtual business decisions.

Twenty-four students on the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Business Challenge team competed at the state conference; nine of them earned invitations to compete at the National Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this summer. Senior Aravind Sureshbabu said, “Competition included everything from business math to marketing and economics and from resume writing to how to dress for success.”

Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) Marketing Team mastered skills for the professional world. They ran the school store on a daily basis. Championing retiring Department Chairman Debra Owen, DECA team members Diana Horan, Imani Bell and Shravan Wadhwa described the challenges of competing at Nationals in Nashville against 18,000 other students.

Adviser Jordan Miller and assistant adviser Lisa Acerbo introduced the yearbook team of more than 60 editors, photographers and staff who produced the 55th edition of Trillium, Better for It. “It’s an all-in marathon from July through May,” Miller told the audience. “In this publication, students learn to do it all. Common Core, eat your heart out! If you want amateurs, you can go to the rest of Connecticut’s yearbooks.” A few copies are left as the staff sends the supplement off to press.

Print ain’t dead

Eagle’s Eye newspaper editor-in-chief Rachel Tropp and co-managing editor Kristi Bui praised the high quality of the four print editions, now also available on-line. Under the watchful eye of adviser Dean Pelligra, they are passing the paper on to 12 editors for next year.

Speaking for the Academic Decathlon team, Daejah Woolery and Alexandra Dima explained how they studied the subject of India, read books and were tested in ten related competitions with half-hour tests of 50 questions.

”We work as a team,” said Woolery about the competitions.

“And each team member’s correct answers add to the points,” said Dima.

After placing first in the state with more than 32,000 points, seven of the Trumbull team’s nine students traveled to Alaska for national competition against more than 40 teams from the U.S., as well as groups from many other countries. They placed 13th in their division at Nationals in Anchorage.

Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind boasts ten Trumbull teams from grades two through high school. Cristina Catana and Alexia Asgari, together since sixth grade, represented the THS competitors, who included Julia Louw, Lauren Louw and Laura Rosales.

They worked on the long term Odyssey project for five months and then faced the spontaneous challenge during state competition. Catana and Asgari explained that second place in the state tournament qualified them for World Finals at Iowa State University.

Forensics and macro economics

Twice a week for six weeks, Jordan Miller, Ralph DeLuca and Jamie Curley trained 24 students in crime scene investigation. In mid-May they traveled to Hartford to participate in the CSI Forensic Science competition.

Divided into small teams, they secured crime scenes, gathered evidence, interviewed witnesses, dusted and lifted fingerprints, and won second and third place.

In order to compete, students in Fed Challenge mastered AP macro economics.

Nick Marchenko said, “From December through March we studied every aspect of the economy.”

“And every day with this team was an intellectual stimulus,” added Advisor Gregg Basbagill.

Connor Bailo explained, “We traveled to the Federal Reserve in New York City where we competed against teams in our bracket with ten-minute presentations and follow-up grilling to share insight on the economy and prescribe monetary policy to Fed economists."

‘Flawless team’

Model United Nations held weekly meetings and attended conferences about world policy.

“We debated issues that the actual United Nations debates, like poverty and malaria treatment,” said Vice President Victoria Estacio.

President Briana Costantini told about Model UN conferences at UConn and Boston College that students attended with Advisor Jack LaBarca.

“This was a flawless team,” said Mock Trial Advisor Eric August. “When I started eight years ago there were 12 or 13 kids. Now we have more than 50 who comprise five teams.”

Competing in Atlanta in the fall, they finished fifth in international competition.

Student lawyer Astonique Robinson won the outstanding attorney award at Empire International Championships competition. The team made it to state finals the fourth time in a row in the spring. Even though the team lost the state title, the students praised Mock Trial for fostering public speaking skills, helping them to think on their feet and creating a bonding “family” environment.

Lauren DeNomme said, “Mock Trial defined my high school experience. It was that significant.”

Model Congress wrestled with solutions to national issues, according to Advisor Katie Boland. President Taylor Berlin said, “This year we went to two conferences with financial help from ACE. They were at Yale and UPenn. I was even elected President of the United States at the UPenn conference.”

Lawyers of tomorrow

Speaking for the We the People team, Senior Matthew Buckwald said, “I’m planning to follow a pre-law track at Tulane, and it’s 100% because of We the People.”

Advisor Katie Boland explained that the 24 students had been split into six units to address issues of constitutional law and government.

After sweeping the state title for the twenty-first time in the past 29 years, they competed in Washington, D.C. for three days in late April, placing eighth in the nation against teams from every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Buckwald added, “Senator Chris Murphy even offered internships to all 24 of us on the team!” Buckwald thanked ACE for making the experience possible and added, “Especially ACE liaison Kate Donahue. We couldn’t have done it without her support.”

After thank yous and smiles and congratulations all around, the evening ended with ice cream sundaes for everyone. Deanna Chuka won the two Mets tickets and a parking pass in the raffle drawing, and Migdalia Kollar hit the homerun when Neumann drew her number for the two New York Yankee tickets.

But Trumbull students won the most as ACE once again contributed more than $20,000 to their educational experiences.