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Manners and More: Local Students Learn Real World Skills
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A group of local students recently took a break from esoteric calculus and SAT prep to learn some more practical real world skills.
The Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar program decided to do something a little different for its yearly feedback session, during which they find out what their senior students like and dislike about the program for the sake of future improvements. Responding to a complaint that has been common from students over the years that they did not learn enough about handling certain social situations, Mary Gavin and Kristie Roohan organized an “etiquette dinner” that would help their students learn to be more comfortable in such situations, in addition to giving them an opportunity to give their feedback on the program.
Held at Sperry’s Restaurant in downtown Saratoga Springs, part of the goal of the dinner was to teach the students about restaurant etiquette, including using menus, how to order, which utensils to use, among a variety of other things. Beyond all of that, the broader goal of the night was help the students learn to feel comfortable in social situations that might take place in environments similar to Sperry’s, whether they be meetings, interviews, parties, or any other similar sort of occasion.
“It was so much better than we could’ve expected,” Mary Gavin said of the dinner. “They loved it.”
Students were encouraged to ask any questions they had about anything during the night, and they asked plenty, as many of them had never had experience with restaurants like Sperry’s before. According to Gavin, questions ranged from wanting to know about certain menu items that they had never heard of, to asking if it was okay to ask to take their leftovers home. To their credit, Gavin said that the wait staff at Sperry’s were courteous and grateful throughout the night, helping students with anything and everything they needed or wanted to know about.
The dinner also gave the program organizers their annual opportunity to solicit feedback about the program from the outgoing senior students. According to Gavin, students expressed their satisfaction with the program as a whole, in particular with the mentors that they have been working with, while also expressing dissatisfaction with their mentors’ tendency to be gone certain days on official business, leaving them without guidance. Gavin said that they will be taking that latter criticism into account moving forward.
Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar is a ten-year-old not-for-profit program that works with “financially-disadvantaged” students in the Saratoga Springs school system by assigning them mentors who help them to finish high school and prepare for college. Many of the students in the program end up being the first in their families to enter college, according to Gavin.
Ultimately, Gavin said that one thing stood out to her the most as a sign that the night had been a success.
“I think the highlight was we didn’t see a single cell phone the entire night,” Gavin said.
What do you think of SSAS's etiquette dinner idea? Should more school program's teach practical social skills? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
All photos in this story are by PhotoAndGraphic.com.
Saratoga YMCA Gymnasts Soar on Home Turf
WILTON – The Saratoga Regional YMCA’s “Springettes” jumped, spun, and balanced their way past the competition at a recent home meet, landing several first place wins over the visiting teams.
The competition was held in the Wilton Branch’s gymnastics center from March 18-19, and saw the Saratoga Regional YMCA’s competitive girls gymnastics team – or, the Springettes – face off against both the Glens Falls and Oneonta YMCA gymnastics teams. Gymnasts age 6-17 competed in four events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. Overall, 116 young athletes competed at the event, ranging from levels 2-9, according to gymnastics director Kim Hewitt.
“The Saratoga Y did very well,” Hewitt said. “We had 13 athletes come in first place in the all-around competitions in their levels and age divisions. We also had 46 1st place medals on individual events during the meet. We have really been consistently improving throughout the year.”
According to Hewitt, a number of Springettes gave standout performances at the event. The two level 9 competitors, Sophie Hrebenach and Marissa Verro, competing in their last home meet before graduation, both put in strong work. Hrebenach placed 2nd all-around for level 9, and placed 1st on the vault with a well-executed Tsukahara flip. She also placed 2nd in floor exercise with 9.425 points, a season high for her. Verro, meanwhile, placed 3rd overall for level 9, and was 2nd on the vault with two front-front vaults. This was all the more impressive for Verro because, as Hewitt noted, the front-front vault was a new maneuver for her.
Beyond Hrebenach and Verro, a handful of other Springettes placed first at different levels and in different events. These individuals are as follows: Abby Moller, level 8, all ages; Jordan Toma, level 7, ages 16 and up; Kaitlyn Kidder, level 7, ages 14-15; Alina Williams, level 6, masters division; Brynne Wright, level 6, ages 13-15; Morgan Thompson, level 5, ages 12 and up; Leah Torres, level 5, ages 9-11; Lauren Closson, level 4, ages 12 and up; Erika Sudigala, level 4, age 11; Erin Ward, level 3, age 11; Addison Furze, level 2, age 9A; Lola Ferrillo, level 2, age 8; and, Amelia McBain, level 2, ages 11 and up.
From here, the Springettes will be focused on the upcoming championship meets, beginning with the League Championships in Watertown, which will take place from April 1-2. Following that, there will also be the State YMCA Gymnastics Championships at SUNY Oneonta and the Regional YMCA Championships in Redfield, ME. The team also has 19 girls attending the National Championships in Savannah, GA, which will run from June 29-July 2.
Parents Push Back
SARATOGA SPRINGS – After discovering what they saw as a questionably one-sided graphic in their childrens’ schoolwork, a local group of conservative-minded women decided to take action, and soon found themselves in the national spotlight on the popular morning news and talk program, “Fox & Friends.”
“Saratoga Conservative Chicks” is a Facebook group that launched early on March 22, but prior to that, its members had been chatting daily through social media and sharing information since early last year.
“The group has grown exponentially in the past 6 months,” said Amy, a member of the group who wished to be referred to only by her first name for the sake of her family. “We chat daily through social media, etc., and last week a concerned parent brought to our attention the assignment by a classroom teacher at Saratoga High School.”
The graphic in question was from a power-point discussion in a 10th grade class at Saratoga Springs High School on the topic of the rise of fascism during World War II. Within the power-point, cartoons depicting President Donald Trump with facial hair similar to Adolf Hitler, as well as comparing the President’s appearance to Benito Mussolini, were used to link the topic of the lesson with current events. Once the concerned parent showed them the cartoons, the group mutually agreed that the content was “one sided and inappropriate.”
“The particular power point in question here was about WWII,” said another group member who wished to remain unnamed for the sake of her children. “Trump was not president then and has no relevancy to that war. I would be equally upset finding a cartoon like that of Obama, or Bush, or Clinton inserted into this lesson in this manner. It is clearly biased, clearly pushing an agenda. The power point and the fascism debate handout support the lack of balance in this lesson. That is what is at the crux of this group and how we formed.”
At an earlier point, the graphic and its accompanying lesson were available online through the teacher’s website, for the sake of student reference. However, as of March 22, the site has been closed-off from public viewing.
Following this, a member of the group got in touch with conservative columnist and commentator Todd Starnes with the information. Starnes, a frequent “Fox & Friends” contributor, conducted his own research on the issue for a column on his website. According to Amy, Starnes’s involvement with is what led to their group’s spot on “Fox & Friends,” as the interview process “escalated quickly” after he began looking into the issue. Starnes also states in his column that the lesson became blocked once he started asking questions about it.
“We are very proud of the two women who represented us on Fox News,” Amy said. “They did a great job in a short amount of time.”
As of 11 a.m. the day after their interview, their segment had received 144,000 views on the “Fox & Friends” Facebook page.
Amy said that the group’s hope moving forward is to encourage members of the local community to join them in debate and discussion of these issues.
“Especially young girls,” Amy said.
In an official statement, the Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD) said that after an investigation into the lesson, they found that it did not violates the district’s rules about keeping classroom activities non-partisan, as the images were used to visually display the idea of potential media bias. Further, the school found that the lesson was used to teach students to debate and research fascism on their own terms.
“We continue to reinforce the District’s policy which states that employees will in no way impair the non-partisan position of the schools,” said Michael Piccirillo, superintendent of schools for SSCSD.
Do you have any feelings on this issue? Let us know in the comments section below.
Building a Better Robot: Local Schools Excel at Regional Competition
SARATOGA COUNTY – Two local robotics teams stole the show at a recent regional competition, paving the way for their trips to the national level in April.
Robotics club teams from the Ballston Spa and Schuylerville school districts competed at the NY Tech Valley FIRST Robotics competition, a regional division of the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international youth event designed to give student practical engineering experience. Each school put in strong work at the competition, which ran from March 16-18 at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with Ballston Spa receiving the prestigious Chairman’s Award, and Schuylerville finishing in second place and putting up the highest score of the weekend during the quarterfinals, 450 points. Both teams will be competing at the national championships in St. Louis, MO, which will run from April 26-29.
At the regional competition, teams were challenged to design and build robots that could receive and place gears, fire wiffle balls, and climb five feet. Each challenge would net the teams a certain amount of points, and it was up to the teams which actions they designed their machines to specialize in. Ballston Spa chose to design a robot that could do all three actions, with club advisor and coach Darrel Ackroyd being particularly proud of the machines ability to place gears by itself.
“We can receive gears from the human player station and place the gear on the peg via an active placement of the gear,” Ackroyd said. “Most teams have a passive gear system where the pilot has to pull the gear out of the robot.”
Schuylerville, on the other hands, chose to focus on gear-placing and climbing, as they determined that shooting wiffle balls would be too difficult to design for, and would not yield as many point as the other challenges.
Every team competing in the FIRST Robotics competition was informed of the challenges they would face in January, and then had six weeks to design and build the robot they would take to the competition. After that, their machine had to be submitted, or “bagged and tagged,” so that they could not utilize it again before the competition weekend. Both teams, however, built practice robots at the same time as their competition robots, so that they could continue practicing after the six week time limit.
“Our robot performed incredibly and we won quarterfinals,” Ackroyd said about his team’s performance. “We came up short in semi finals, but our alliance with Cambridge and Troy was a great one to be apart of in eliminations.”
“I couldn’t have ask for anymore,” said Mark Belden, advisor and coach for the Schuylerville team. “We’re not a big team, but we went right out there. Our team, our mentors, our alliance partners… it went as well as I could’ve expected.”
This will be Ballston Spa’s third time competing at the national level, and their second time in a row, having made it to the finals at RIT last year. This will also be Schuylerville’s second year in a row competing at nationals. Neither team has won at that level, but they are hopeful heading into the event.
“We are making changes to our climber and gear mechanism for our competition this weekend at Rockland County,” Ackroyd said. “I feel with these changes we should be a top-performing robot at the competition”
“We’re feeling really good,” Belden said. “Some other teams we competed against have already gotten in touch with us with suggestions.”
Schuylerville is currently raising money to help fund their trip to St. Louis. Belden estimates that it will cost around $20,000 to transport the team. They will be hosting a spaghetti dinner and raffle to help raise funds on March 31 in the elementary school cafeteria, from 5-8 p.m. Donations can also be made directly at www.gofundme.com/schuylerville-robotics-team-4508.
Saratoga Boys Lacrosse Commences Spring Training
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The weather may continue to disagree, but spring is in the air. On March 6, practice for the varsity and JV boys lacrosse teams’ spring season commenced at the Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury, with the girls’ team following suit on March 13. Check back next week for our full preview story of the upcoming boys lacrosse season. For more information on practices and game times, go to www.saratogaschools.org/athletics.
Chess Championship Comes to Saratoga Springs
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The New York State Scholastic Chess Championship celebrated its major half-century anniversary in Saratoga Springs this past weekend. The 50th annual youth chess tournament ran from March 11-12, and took place across both the Saratoga City Center and the Saratoga Hilton hotel. Drawing players from across the state and country, from grades K-12, the total number of children at the tournament was around 1200, making it the largest ever chess tournament held in upstate New York recognized by the United States Chess Federation.
Saratoga Girl Scouts Hold Local Jamboree
SARATOGA COUNTY – The Girl Scouts of the Saratoga-Schuylerville Service Unit came together this past weekend for a day of fun and learning at the annual Jamboree. Taking place at Geyser Road Elementary School on March 12, the event is held every year to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the first Girl Scouts troop by Juliette Gordon Lowe in Savannah, GA. The theme of this year’s Saratoga Jamboree was “Countries from Around the World,” tasking each troop with picking a country and learning about its culture. The troops then set up tables at the Jamboree with informational displays and activities related to their countries.
According to Jamboree organizer Whitney Jobmann, the event is also an opportunity for scouts, young and old, to come together and have fun. The Girl Scouts has six different levels, broken down by grade: Daisy (K-1), Brownie (2-3), Junior (4-5), Cadette (6-8), Senior (9-10) and Ambassador (11-12). Jobmann said that 225 girls from 26 different local troops attended the Jamboree this past week.
“In addition to the Girl Scouts,” Jobmann said. “Are… the troop leaders and adult members of the troop [who] do a great job of supporting and encouraging the girls.”
Blue Streak Breaks National Record
SARATOGA SPRINGS – There is no rest for the dominant track and field stars of Saratoga Springs High School.
Just one week after blowing away competition at the NYSPHSAA 2017 Indoor Track & Field Championships in Staten Island, sophomore Kelsey Chmiel and senior Nick Cavotta took another trip down to New York City to compete in the 2017 New Balance Nationals Indoor (NBNI). The event, a premier national-level event for high school track and field athletes, was held in the Armory Track & Field Center and ran from March 10-12.
Competing this time in the 2-mile, Chmiel put in another stellar performance, despite taking part in a more endurance-testing event. Finishing in third place behind Brie Oakley of Aurora, CO, and Jessica Lawson of Elmira, NY, her time was 10 minutes and 12.94 seconds, narrowly but definitively besting the national record for sophomore girls in the 2-mile event, as well as the state record. Previously, the national record was held by Hannah De Balsi of Westport, CT, with a time of 10 minutes and 12.95 seconds, giving Chmiel the edge by 0.01 seconds. This marks back-to-back broken records for Chmiel, who set the national sophomore record in the girls 3,000 meter event at the state championships the previous weekend.
“The state level is usually pretty competitive,” Chmiel said. “But nationals has some really competitive and fast people in it.”
Characteristically modest about her performances, Chmiel said that she was pleased at the gradual improvement she had made over the course of the indoor season. Coach Linda Kranick, always more keen to tout the runner’s achievements, led the rest of the girls track and field team in a round of applause for Chmiel’s record-breaking run right before her first practice back on Monday afternoon.
“I like the longer distances, so the 3K is usually my focus,” Chmiel said about what she will focusing on going forward into the outdoor season.
Cavotta once again competed in the long jump event that has been his signature in the past few weeks. Coming in 14th place out of 33 finalists, Cavotta’s farthest jump measured 21 feet 11.5 inches, lower than the 23-foot jump that helped him claim his first ever state title and break his school’s long jump record. While admitting that Cavotta might have made the top 8 if he had given his best jump, coach Chris Conley remains nonetheless impressed with the progress he has made during his high school career.
“Halfway through his sophomore year, he came out for outdoor track day,” Conley said. “And in the last couple seasons, he’s really started to put a lot of technical stuff together. He’s come a good amount of ways in a short amount of time.”
For now, Cavotta is resting up for a week before moving into the outdoor track season, as Conley traditionally likes to do for his athletes between seasons. Moving forward, Cavotta will focus on competing in a few different events, including 200 and 400 meters, in addition to the long jump, as he begins to be recruited by more and more universities.
Galway Teachers See the Stars on Recent SOFIA Flight
GALWAY – Two local teachers got the opportunity of a lifetime this past weekend when they took to the sky and gazed at the stars on NASA’s airborne observatory, SOFIA.
Galway Central School District first grade teacher Edie Frisbie and Earth science teacher Paul Levin flew with NASA research scientists onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s only flying observatory, on March 4. They made two trips on SOFIA, taking of from one the craft’s two home bases in Palmdale, CA.
For Frisbie and Levin, it was an occasion long in the making. The two educators were given the opportunity though the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program, a program put together by the SETI Institute, a non-profit organization committed to public outreach and scientific education, in conjunction with NASA. Frisbie and Levin first submitted their proposal for why they should to fly on SOFIA all the way back in December 2014, and were finally chosen to fly a year ago in March 2016.
“It was one of the best trips I have ever taken,” Levin said. “There were so many different things we saw and experience. We got to meet the scientist who discovered the black hole, sat through NASA preflight briefings… Everyone on the plane had a great backstory and they were all willing to share with us.”
“It was the single most amazing experience of my entire life,” Frisbie said.
Part the educators’ involvement with the program was focused was performing community outreach to share information about astronomy and SOFIA, both with their students and with the public. Before their flights this weekend, Frisbie and Levin gave presentation to both of their classes, as well as at an event for the Capital Region Master Teaching Program. They are currently planning to give further presentations about infrared astronomy and other topics to the Eastern Section of the Science Teacher Association of New York State, at the Museum of Science and Innovation in Schenectady, and in their classrooms.
During Frisbie and Levin’s flights, the researchers onboard were using SOFIA’s telescope to investigate a number of things. Chiefly, mission of each flight was to observe star formations, in hopes of discovering why some galaxies are capable of creating naround 200 new stars in a year, while other galaxies like the Milky Way only produce about 10. Beyond that, they also observed supermassive black holes, one of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto, and M51, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy.
Almost as striking as the images they were seeing to Frisbie and Levin was the passion of all the scientists involved. According to the two educators, all onboard had PhD’s, and were experts in the very specific things they were there to do, and their passion for what they were doing was clear.
“Without one of them,” Frisbie said. “The flight wouldn’t be possible.”
“From the pilot, to the safety engineers to the scientist,” Levin said. “Everyone was excited to be there and you could tell that they were having fun with what they were doing.”
SOFIA itself is a modified 747 aircraft, with the rear door cut out and replaced with an infrared telescope. Inside the craft, images viewed by the telescope are transmitted to a screen for the researchers onboard to observe. While Frisbie and Levin’s flights maxed out at 43,000 feet up, SOFIA is capable of going as high 45,000, the standard maximum height for a 747. The telescope that SOFIA is equipped with is appropriately state-of-the-art, as it is equipped the Far Infrared Field-Imaging Line Spectrometer, or FIFI-LS. Frisbie said that SOFIA’s is currently the only operational FIFI-LS in the entire world.
According to Frisbie, SOFIA, as a flying observatory, has many advantages over traditional sorts of observatories. Unlike ground-based locations, its view is not blocked by clouds or weather since it flies so high in the air. Additionally, unlike satellite-based observatories, which require costly and time-consuming space flights to update with new technology, SOFIA can be updated quickly and efficiently while on the ground.
Frisbie’s hope for their involvement with this program going forward is that it makes learning about space more concrete for their students, and inspires them to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.
“If someone from around here can do that,” Frisbie said. “You can do anything.”
Saratoga YMCA Preps Youth Summer Basketball League
SARATOGA SPRINGS – As the Saratoga YMCA’s Regional Basketball League winds down to the final game of the season this weekend, the organization and its basketball league assistant Mike Laudicina are already at work on something new to follow it.
Starting this summer, the Saratoga YMCA will be offering its first ever summer youth basketball league program. The program will begin on June 22 with a clinic, running from 6-9 p.m., and featuring locally renowned basketball coaches Fred Shear and Matt Usher. The league itself will begin on June 29 and run for the rest of the summer, ending on August 31. The program is open to kids from grade 5-8, and registration will begin May 22.
According to Laudicina, this new program was created due to popular demand from parents.
“I’ve been doing [youth basketball] for 25 years, I started in 1992,” Laudicina said. “And I’ve always had parents say to me, ‘We wish there was something in the summer.’”
Laudicina said that these parents were eager to have YMCA summer youth league as an alternative to the Amateur Athletics Union, which they found to be too costly and which would often leave their children on the bench most of the time. The new summer league will be open to both boys and girls, and to young athletes of all skill levels. The league is designed to be instructional, with an hour of practice each week on Wednesdays, followed a game on Thursdays.
In contrast to the standard youth basketball league, which held its final game on Thursday, the youth league will skew younger, being open to kids in grades 5-8. The standard youth league is made up of two divisions, the junior division for grades 6-8, and the senior league for grades 9-12. The reason for this difference, Laudicina said, was again in response to parental demand, as there was more desire for a summer program from the parents of kids going into those grades.
Being a program that runs in the summer, this new league will be drawing kids from other leagues, both YMCA and others, that will not be running during the season. According to Laudicina, they are expecting to bring in players from the Saratoga Springs City Recreation Department’s basketball league, among others.
“Nobody really does something like this,” Laudicina said. “This is something brand new. I don’t know any other Y’s that do it.”
As an instructional program, Laudicina and the rest of the Saratoga YMCA is hoping that the summer will not just teach kids the fundamentals of basketball, sportsmanship, and teamwork, but also the Y’s core values: caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. There is also the hope that some of the players who participate this summer will move over to playing in the standard youth league when it starts up again in the fall.
“It’s like a feeder program,” Laudicina said. “Because a lot of the kids in the junior division will be moving up to the senior division soon. So, getting more young people into the league will help feed it and keep it going.”