ACE Foundation recognizes high school clubs, academic groups

Trumbull High School students, active in competitive academic groups and civic engagement clubs, were recognized by the Academic Challenge for Excellence (ACE) Foundation on June 2 in the Senior Lounge at the school.

ACE Secretary/Treasurer Dan Neumann welcomed the involved students.
“We are thrilled and humbled that you have taken the time out to spend an hour or two with us tonight,” he said. “We are also thrilled that ACE was able to donate more than $20,000 to more than 40 Trumbull groups this year.”

Seniors Emma Thornton and Mason DeMelo acted as masters of ceremonies for the evening. Emma will attend Northeastern University with a major in environmental science, and Mason plans to study Computer Science and Engineering in the Honors Program at the University of Connecticut. They introduced guest speakers and honorees. They also announced that the video program would be accessible on Frontier television channel 99 and Charter channel 194.

“What signifies great schools and great school systems are the connections to the community,” Principal Marc Guarino said. “Parents and students, you allow us to be successful.”

First Selectman Tim Herbst explained, “ACE offers opportunities for learning that extend beyond classroom walls. Eleven years ago, when Dr. Gary Cialfi was principal of Trumbull High, he was instrumental in starting the ACE Foundation. At that time ACE honored seven teams. Tonight we recognize 21 high school groups, which serve more than 300 students.”

Cialfi, now superintendent of schools, added, “This is a celebration because ACE truly is about the joys of learning. We help teachers in their mission of bringing content areas to life and focusing on universal skills like critical thinking, innovative problem solving and communicating.”

Speaking to the students, Board of Education Chairman Deborah Herbst said, “I cannot underscore enough how proud of you we are for the passion for learning you have in a lot of different areas.”

Also in attendance were Ken and Linda Halaby, recognized by ACE with the Inspiring Excellence Award for 15 years of promoting their ‘Attitude Is Everything’ program to instill kindness, thoughtfulness and courage in overcoming adversity.
The Michael Heeks Memorial Scholarship of $1,000 was presented to two winners. In honor of their deceased son Michael, a 2008 Trumbull High graduate and a 2012 UConn grad, who was involved in competitive academics, Bob and Kathy Heeks presented the monetary awards to Matthew Kapell and Rohit Kandala.

Then, Emma and Mason introduced the civic engagement groups, invited teachers and students to come forward, and asked group members to highlight the accomplishments of 2014-2015.

Kelly Cranston explained that Interact Club had increased membership to more than 50 this year. Students tutored elementary school youngsters in math and reading on Saturdays through the STEPS program. A branch of the Rotary Club, Interact contributed to the Clothesline Project against domestic violence, the spring and fall clean-ups for elderly Trumbull residents, and the carnival at Hillcrest. Their annual can drive supported the Trumbull Food Pantry and a mission in Bridgeport.

Kelly said, “We were really excited to earn an International Presidential Citation as one of only four Rotary Clubs to receive this award.”

Jake Rudolph represented the Red Cross Club. He said, “Our big activity was the Blood Drive. We collected 40 productive units, much more than before, and planning the whole event brought us close as a civic service family.”

Victoria Batchelor highlighted activities of SADD, Students Against Drunk Driving or Students Against Destructive Decisions. “We talk about ways we can promote good influences on students,” she said. To expand their message, SADD members made “Think of Me” bracelets, met regularly with T-PAUD (Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking), and sponsored a BYOB (Bring Your Own Banana) ice cream sundae banana split party after school.

Then 18 academic groups claimed the spotlight. The Debate Team practiced both affirmative and negative sides of issues under the guidance of advisor Hope Spalla. Team President Ben Hazen said, “This was the first time we had ever hosted a competition for the Connecticut Debate Association. That event was highly successful, and we made it to state level competition this year.” Hazen and teammate Michael Kenler won an entire tournament for Trumbull, as well.

Dan Ostrander introduced his teammates in the Yale Physics Olympiad. During a trip to New Haven, the group completed an obstacle course of physics and hands-on engineering competitions. They earned points against 50 other teams from the area.
Ostrander’s coach and advisor Hans Drenkard also represented the Robotics Team. Drenkard explained, “The robot, created by team members, was seeded third in the opening round, took first in the head-to-head challenge and won second overall in the New Jersey Botball competition.”

Winners of the National French Contest included Ginnila Perez, seventh in the state in French V. She said, “Taking the tests challenged me and made me think more about really learning the language.”

Sophomore Isha Dalal, ninth in the state and 13th in the nation in French III, added, “Competing makes me take it to the next level and do more than just get an A in class.”

Junior Michael Kenler spoke about the COLT Poetry Recitation Contest for memorization and expression in world languages. He said, “Twelve students won medals last year. This year we were the highest in the state for participation and medals. We won 20 in total; 12 of them were gold.”

Martina Goda, who had placed first and won gold medals in the competition four times in four years of high school, told the audience, “Trumbull won the most medals, had the most unity and support, and did the most cheering.” Martina’s reason for competing was echoed by all the students on stage. “The poem I memorized had special meaning,” she said. “My family and friends memorized it too, because I said it so many times.”

Business Department Chairman Deb Owen and her Junior Achievement Titan Business Challenge team explained how the fifth annual competition on March 13 asked them to run a manufacturing company online and make virtual business decisions. The team of Ryan Martins, Rory Morrison, Ryan Remeika and Zachary Yellen claimed fifth place in the championship round against 14 area high schools.

Jacob Howes, president of the Future Business Leaders of America, spoke for the FBLA team. “We had guest speakers and field trips monthly,” he said. “Fourteen members competed in States, and nine placed in the top three of their respective competitive event categories to qualify for Nationals in Chicago in June. From categories like Business Math and Personal Finance to Marketing and Economics, we had the most FBLA members eligible for Nationals of any school in Connecticut.”

The DECA Marketing team with more than 60 active members ran the school store on a daily basis, under the guidance of Owen and Kristen O’Connell -Rubin. But more than the immediate application of operating a not-for-profit business in school, Distributive Education Clubs of America students took top awards in national and international competition: 54 competed at the state level, 18 achieved recognition in a specific category, 10 attended the International Career Development Conference in Orlando and six scored in the top 20% in international competition against more than 15,000 others from the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Guam, China and Spain. They were Courtney Arison and Jacob Robbins in Travel and Tourism Team Decision Making; Brittany Kubicko in Retail Merchandising; Vlad Sychou and Stephen D’Amato in Hospitality Services Team Decision Making; and Shravan Wadhwa in Principles of Finance.

Trillium advisor Jordan Miller honored his 57 editors and photographers as they completed distribution of the 54th edition of the yearbook. “It’s an all-in marathon from July through May,” he told the audience. “But we have reached new heights in design.” This year’s book, normal? Never, will be judged for excellence in the months to come, but Trillium maintains the gold standard for writing and photography. A few copies are left as the staff prepares to send the supplement off to press.
Eagle’s Eye newspaper co-editor Alison Kuznitz praised the high quality of five print editions, now also available on-line. “The next issue will be out in September,” she said.

Speaking for the Academic Decathlon team, Captain Caroline Forster said, “Our topic this year was Innovations in Energy. We studied the subject, read books on it, and were tested in ten related areas on a Saturday. It was a powerful bonding experience and interesting to learn so much new information.”

Twice a week for six weeks, Jordan Miller and Ralph DeLuca trained 16 students in crime scene investigation. On May 27 Miller took them to Hartford to compete as five teams in CSI Forensic Science. They secured crime scenes, gathered evidence, interviewed witnesses, dusted and lifted fingerprints, and won first and second place in the competition. “The first-place team tallied a perfect score across all disciplines,” said Miller, “and Suzy Creamcheese was the killer.”

In order to compete, students in Fed Challenge mastered macro economics before the rest of the class. Advisor Gregg Basbagill explained, “Every day with this team was an intellectual stimulus. We traveled to the Federal Reserve in New York City where students shared insight on the economy and prescribed monetary policy to Fed economists.”

Model United Nations held conferences about world policy.

“We won copious awards-honorable mention to best delegates — from every conference we attended,” said Co-president Dan Netting. More than 100 students from 12 schools attended the Trumbull Model Invitational with Trumbull High as host.
“It’s not easy and not cheap to travel places to compete,” said Mock Trial Advisor Eric August, “but ACE has always been there for us the past seven years.” Even though the team lost the state title to Weston this year, the students praised Mock Trial for fostering public speaking skills, helping them to think on their feet and creating a bonding “family” environment.

“For the third time we were invited to compete in the Empire International Championships,” said Vice President Lauren DeNomme. “There, we placed 17th in the entire Mock Trial world.”

Model Congress wrestled with solutions to world issues. “From malaria aid to the Palestinian conflict, we researched and argued world problems,” said Vice President Taylor Berlin, who was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Expanding from eight to 20 members and joining more than 700 other teens at the University of Pennsylvania for four days, the Trumbull Model Congress team garnered five Outstanding Delegate Awards.

Advisor Katie Boland introduced the We the People team as the Northeast Champions. Victoria Carter explained that the 22 students had been split into six units to address issues of constitutional law and government. After winning the state title, they competed in Washington, D.C. in late April, claiming “best in the northeast” after two days of competition. Team member Erin Wingo said, “This impacted our lives. We can argue effectively, work with others and speak fluently under pressure.”

Just as students and parents gathered around the tables for ice cream treats, the fire alarm sounded. With sundaes in hand, everyone headed outside to enjoy the first warm night of spring.