Greenwich Teens to Watch 2023

Every September for more than a decade, Greenwich magazine has had the pleasure of showcasing ten of our town’s most impressive teens. And every September we say the same thing: This year’s crop is extraordinary. Six have graduated from high school and have embarked on their freshman years at some of the country’s top colleges and universities. The rest are poised to graduate within the next two years.

While it’s a given that each teen has a strong academic record, and many are accomplished athletes, this year’s group stands out for another reason: Though their high school careers were greatly impacted by a global pandemic, they used their experiences with limited classroom time, shortened sport seasons and hybrid learning to make a difference in their communities. To highlight just a few: They helped our seniors wade through the complexities of technology, provided free tutoring to school kids who wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise, and gave children a chance to play outdoors and learn a new skill at the same time. Resilient, persistent, wise, funny, smart, ambitious and driven, these kids believe in themselves as agents of change. They are poised to do remarkable things. Once you meet them, we think you’ll see why.

Greenwich Teens to Watch 2023

1. AVA SOLLENNE

Class valedictorian, basketball powerhouse, community volunteer—Ava Sollenne is a force of nature. As captain of the St. Luke’s basketball team, the shooting guard led the Storm to its first NEPSAC Class B Girls Basketball championship in the winter of 2023 and its seventh consecutive Fairchester Athletic Association (FAA) championship, all while juggling a demanding academic course load.

The Quinnipiac University freshman remembers when she first developed her passion for basketball in fourth grade. “I was a super serious gymnast, and then I started playing basketball at the Boys and Girls Club. That was the moment I realized I could keep up with the boys. I gave up gymnastics, and I haven’t looked back.”

Ava played for the varsity team at Greenwich High School before transferring to St. Luke’s her sophomore year. (She transferred with her best friend, Mackenzie Nelson, a 2022 Teen to Watch.) Her time at St. Luke’s got off to a difficult start when the season was cut short by Covid. The next year, the Storm just missed the NEPSAC championship, losing in overtime, “which riled us all up,” Ava recalls. “Senior year we knew it was our turn to win.”

Of all the awards and accolades she earned during her time at St. Luke’s—being named All-FAA first team, All NEPSAC, and NEPSGBCA All Star—one of the most me aningful was the Heart of the Storm award, which she received her sophomore year. “That season we only had seven games, and being a new student and dealing with Covid, it was definitely a challenge. I was proud of myself for being optimistic and giving my best effort in everything I did.”

That applies to her life off the court as well. Besides being named class valedictorian, Ava earned the FAA scholar athlete award—presented to a senior who plays two varsity sports, takes three advanced classes and is in the top 10 percent of her class.

“To be honored for both academics and athletics means a lot to me,” she adds. She also finds time for community service, including volunteering as a religious education teacher’s assistant at Sacred Heart Church in Byram and Building One Community, where she connected with housebound seniors during the Covid lockdown. “From an early age I’ve been super-driven to succeed,” she says. “I have my own priorities—academic, athletics, community service. If I know that something is my priority, I just make it work.”

Photographs – Portrait: Valerie Parker; Basketball: Frozen Moments

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
Losing my grandfather, Pop, in December of 2022. I’ve been close with Pop since I was born, and he was always the person I went to when I needed advice. I’m extremely grateful for the time I shared with him and know that he is in a better place now.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
I would tell her that everything happens for a reason and that there is a purpose behind everything. I would tell her to trust the process and keep working despite adversity.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
Ms. Susan Doran. Although I was only taught by Ms. Doran for one semester during my senior year, in her America in Film class, she taught me so much both in and outside the classroom. Ms. Doran prompted me to open my eyes wider to all the possibilities of literature, and she also showed me that it is acceptable to struggle, and even to fail.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” — Chinese proverb

2. BEN MATHIAS

A gifted athlete and academic, Ben Mathias excels both on the field and off. A highly competitive squash player who is currently ranked twenty-ninth nationally for boys’ U19, Ben says it took him a few years to hit his stride. “I was very emotional when I was younger, which held me back. I trained hard during Covid when there wasn’t much else to do.” His national ranking jumped significantly as a result.

What draws him to the sport? “I like how tactical squash is. It’s like playing chess while sprinting,” he says. As the captain of Rye Country Day’s varsity squash team, Ben led the Wildcats to their best season ever, finishing fourteenth in the country in the Division 1 High School Nationals last year. He was also a starting center back on the varsity soccer team and was elected MVP his senior year.

“As someone dedicated to an individual sport, I have cherished the tight-knit community and strong bonds of playing with the soccer team along with the competition,” he says.

But it is through his community service work that the University of Pennsylvania freshman truly shines. Ben was in ninth grade when he began teaching reading comprehension and writing literacy to elementary school kids in Port Chester. It was a life-changing experience. “I discovered I really enjoyed working with kids,” he recalls. When Covid hit, he directed his energies to CitySquash, a nonprofit organization that provides access to squash instruction and academic support to kids in the Bronx, ages eight to eighteen. Ben divided his time between coaching and tutoring. “I’ve been able to share my passion with bright kids who would otherwise not have access [to these services],” he says. “I enjoy seeing them love the sport and love playing.”

As part of his community service work, Ben led a program called the Netter High School Council, an affiliate of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at UPenn, where he coordinated and taught academic and extracurricular programs at the Don Bosco Community Center.

For Ben, managing all his various commitments was sometimes a balancing act, albeit a fulfilling one. Among the highlights of his time at Rye Country Day was receiving the Don Bosco Youth Service award. “I do the stuff that makes me happy. That motives me,” he says. “And I try to emulate the role models I admire for younger people.”

Photographs: Contributed

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
Going through high school with five different schedules in four years, a combination of remote, hybrid and in-person learning, and a large strain on maintaining social relationships made the pandemic a major obstacle I had to overcome.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
Buy Tesla stock.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
Last year, Mr. Ted Heintz taught me in American Rhetoric and Sports Literature, two semester-long honors English seminar courses, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his impact as a teacher. Mr. Heintz always pushed me to work harder as a student and dig deeper into readings. His Rhetoric class was one of the most practical I’ve ever taken, teaching me many important lessons that have applications in all aspects of my life. Beyond that, he went out of his way to connect with me unlike any other teacher and embraced banter with classmates as an important component of learning, rather than dismissing it.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“Everybody has two lives. The second begins when they realize they only have one.” — Confucius

3. Ellie Burdick

Modest, self-effacing, driven and talented, Ellie Burdick is a born leader for whom sports have been a way of life as far back as she can remember. “I was always running around with kids in my neighborhood and my brothers. As I got older, I turned toward organized sports but I continued to stay active with my neighbors and practiced alongside my brothers in the yard. From there, my love for sports only grew.” She channeled that energy early on into lacrosse. While at Greenwich Academy, the tri-varsity captain (lacrosse, soccer and basketball) earned a letter of commitment to play lacrosse at Dartmouth College, where she is now a freshman. Among the many accolades and awards she earned during her time at GA was being named USA Lacrosse Northeast player of the week for her outstanding efforts in a two-day tournament against two nationally ranked high school teams, in which the unranked Gators prevailed.

“Seeing all our hard work pay off was really special,” the midfielder says. Ellie was also named USA Lacrosse All-American and USA Lacrosse All-Academic and was selected to represent the North team in the New Balance All-America Senior Game, in which the top forty-four high school girls in the nation compete.

In addition to her busy athletic schedule, Ellie carried a demanding academic course load, served as a peer leader and was a representative on the student government’s athletic board for three years. She says the skills she learned playing three varsity sports had a huge influence in all areas of her life. “It’s helped me become a better student and a better friend. You learn a lot about perseverance, accountability and grit, and about working through problems being on a team and playing for something bigger than yourself.”

A High Honor Roll student, with an affinity for STEM, Ellie studied AP Biology and AP Environmental Science her junior year. As a senior, she participated in the Honors Research Seminar, where she explored the role of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But the class that left the biggest impression was an Honors Civil Rights Seminar. “We went down south the spring of our junior year,” she recalls. “We went to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee and learned about the Civil Rights Movement in a hands-on way.” As for how she spends her downtime? “Playing three varsity sports doesn’t leave much room for downtime,” she says. “But we typically have family dinner and watch Jeopardy. Spending time with my family is a great way to release energy and stress.”

Photographs – Portrait: Marilyn Roos; Lacrosse: Greg Horowitz

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
As a student-athlete, my greatest challenge has been perfecting the balance between all the demands. Academics have always been my top priority, yet I still want to pursue my athletic and community interests at the highest possible levels. At such a rigorous school, I found success by leaning on my family and connecting with my teachers as much as possible.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
Put yourself out there and try your hardest in everything that you do. High school is the time to find your passions and to uncover the confidence from within yourself. As you take advantage of the numerous opportunities, always say thank you along the way and help lift up those around you as well.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
I’m extremely fortunate to have had many incredible teachers at GA, and it’s hard to point to just one. However, when I look back on high school, Ms. Connie Blunden will always be one of the first people that comes to mind. As my Honors Civil Rights Seminar teacher, she taught me the importance of being reflective, viewing stories from all angles and confidently expressing my thoughts. She treats all students with genuine kindness and empathy.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“Get busy living or get busy dying.”— Stephen King

4. ANA LÓPEZ DEL PUNTA

Activist. Immigrant. Citizen. Journalist. Sacred Heart graduate Ana López del Punta knows first-hand what it’s like to leave your country behind, move to the U.S. and make a fresh start. “It’s not that we had a bad life in Argentina,” she says about her early years in Buenos Aires. “But my parents wanted us to have more opportunities—to be able to learn in a more meritocratic county. My mom and dad believe that education helps one become a more moral and successful person.”

That’s a belief Ana took to heart. She moved to Greenwich with her family when she was twelve, started at Sacred Heart as a seventh grader, and worked hard to be successful with a new language in a new country. By the time she entered the Upper School, she was being recommended for honors class placements. In 2022, Ana was honored with the Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Antony Award, whose recipients are selected on the basis of their commitment to social issues, leadership and community action, as well as their grades in courses in the humanities and social sciences. Now a freshman at Northeastern University, the seventeen-year-old is looking forward to continuing her work in social justice and community activism.

Ana honed her reporting skills working for the school newspaper, the King Street Chronicle. She was named co-editor-in-chief last year, a role she relished. “I am a little bit shy, and journalism helped me develop my voice, and writing editorials helped me explore social issues about which I am passionate.” She is also co-head of Voices, a multi-lingual publication.

Outside of the classroom, Ana volunteered at the Don Bosco Community Center, helping children from low-income families. During a summer service trip with ARISE Adelante Club her junior year, Ana traveled to the Rio Grande valley, where she spent time working among immigrant children and families living on the border. “I wanted to try to educate myself on how the immigration process works in that area. So many children don’t have parents or they live very difficult lives, and the media portrays border communities in an unfair and negative light; and I wanted to think for myself about this situation.” The experience left a profound impression. “These people face so many obstacles in their daily lives, the conditions in which they live aren’t always fair,” she says. “And yet, they opened their hearts to us, they showed us their families, and that speaks to their character of perseverence and kind-heartedness.”

Photographs: HighPoint Pictures

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
Developing a balance between adapting to American culture while still maintaining Argentine traditions in my daily life. When I first moved to the United States, I erroneously believed that I could only be a part of American society or Argentine society; but, as the years progressed, I learned that I can integrate myself into the place in which I now live without losing my Argentine identity.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
If I had the opportunity to converse with my freshman- year self, I would tell her that, almost five years later, I have still not achieved the perfection —whatever that is—she seeks. I would suggest that, instead, “freshman Ana” works to form a more balanced life—academics, time spent with family, friends and by oneself is what leads to happiness.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
In my time at Sacred Heart, I had the privilege of learning from Ms. Catherine Butler, the Upper School Learning Specialist, for all four years of high school. As an introverted and shy freshman who felt embarrassed because of my difficulty in writing and expressing myself in English, Mrs. Butler patiently sat with me for hours explaining the difference between independent and dependent clauses and how I could expand my vocabulary. Her help, however, extended significantly beyond academic matters. She taught me how to cultivate connection built on empathy and on a moral obligation to assist others.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
Even though I do not consider myself wise enough to conceive a phrase by which people should live, I sometimes find myself reflecting on the concluding sentence of my Common Application essay: “Education, after all, should not be an individualistic endeavor, but a pathway to helping others.”

5. CHAD RUGGIERO

Chad Ruggiero was six when he chipped in twice during a junior club competition at Burning Tree Country Club and realized, ‘Hey, maybe I’m good at this.’ Six years later, he shot under par at the Old Course in St. Andrews, one of the most challenging courses in the world.

“It was a pretty big moment for me,” he says. “I made a long birdie putt on the last hole to get it. That experience helped break the ice in my confidence.”

Now a senior at St. Luke’s School, Chad has qualified for and competed in the U.S. Kids World Championship twice. As a high schooler, he won the MGA New York City championship in 2021. A year later he qualified as an Alternate for the U.S. Amateur at a qualifier in Massachusetts. That was when he shot his lowest tournament round to date (five under for a sixty-seven), but his personal best was last summer when he shot seven under par (sixty-five) at his home course of Burning Tree, tying the course amateur record. “The funny thing is the day before, I missed a cut for a tournament, and the next day I shot my best-ever round. Golf can be like that,” he says philosophically. “Full of ups and downs.” Chad is currently ranked ninth in Connecticut and second statewide for the class of 2024.

In addition to his demanding tournament schedule and his place on the St. Luke’s varsity golf team, Chad excels academically. “Golf is similar to school,” he says. “It requires repetitive practice, discipline and focus to succeed. Both stress the importance of learning from mistakes, which are important for growth.” While he enjoys a range of subjects from history to English to writing and French, STEM is where he shines, particularly science and math. This year he will serve as captain of the Math Team. “I love math because everything is quantifiable and can be applied to real-world situations.”

He still manages to find time to give back. He teaches golf to Greenwich Special Olympics athletes, which has given him “an opportunity to share my skills and help athletes learn to play,” he says. That in turn inspired him to volunteer at Coffee for Good. “I wanted to continue helping those with special needs and I’d never been part of a work environment. It was a lot of fun volunteering to help them and help myself in the process.”

Photographs – Golf: Highpoint Pictures; Portrait: Carolyn Ruggiero

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
The pandemic. Every part of life changed. For example, enjoyable school classes turned into monotonous Zoom sessions, and my spring high school golf team season was canceled. I realized that anything, including one’s day-to-day life, can be impacted by unexpected events; so I made it my priority to trust that normalcy would re-emerge.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
Persevere, no matter the situation. Failure is expected and warranted, and the best thing to do is to learn from it. Putting less effort into work, or even quitting, will simply guarantee more failure. Overall, I would say to embrace bad situations after they happen, because those are the best learning opportunities.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
I believe all of my teachers have had a significant positive impact on me in some form or another. However, I think Mr. Charlie King, my seventh-grade history teacher from my old school, Greens Farms Academy, had the biggest, because he made the learning fun and engaging. For example, I remember the day we learned about WW1. The tables were propped on their side, while we laid on the floor to simulate the cold and terrifying trenches.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“It’s not whether you got knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.” — Vince Lombardi

6. HOLDEN FRASER

Now a freshman at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Holden Fraser was in middle school when his theater teacher encouraged him to try out for the lead in the school’s production of Oliver. He didn’t get the part. “I was terrible, all nervous and shaking, too tall, not blond enough,” he recalls. Instead, he played a street urchin, had “a phenomenal time” and realized he’d found his calling. Since then, the eighteen-year-old has portrayed a range of characters from the writer Anton Chekov to a cocky suitor in Enda Walsh’s Penelope to Davey in Newsies. Despite growing up in a family of actors—his father is Brendan Fraser and his mother is Afton Fraser—Holden said it took a while to fully believe in his talent. “Until about two years ago, I wasn’t sure this was something I was confident in and could realistically pursue,” he says. “It’s been an external validation with huge support from teachers and friends and family, and now I feel it, too.”

During his time at Brunswick, Holden led by example. He was a top student whose coursework senior year included English XII: Theater on Both Sides of the Pond. “Before acting, I wanted to be a writer,” he says. He was the recipient of the Yale Alumni Award, which is presented to a student who exhibits exemplary character and involvement in extracurricular activities. As the co-president of Wickpride, he made it his mission to shine a light on and support the school’s LGBTQ community. “It’s an issue that at Brunswick it doesn’t get as much exposure,” Holden says. Over the past two years, the club has done fundraising for the Trevor project and worked with the board of faculty on ways to make classrooms safer for the LGBTQ community.

“We’ve built up this really great foundation,” he says. “I’m fairly happy where I’ve left it.” He ›also served on the youth board of Abilis, an organization that means a lot to his family. “My older brother was diagnosed with severe autism and Tourette’s, and Abilis has been a great resource for us,” he says. “Any way we can give back to Abilis, we hop on it.”

For Holden, one of the most memorable moments of his high school career was this spring, following the final curtain of Newsies. “It was a really personal moment for that final curtain call. They do a little thank-you, and I was able to give flowers to the director, Mr. Potter, who I’d worked very closely with for the past six years. It was a sad and wonderful goodbye, and it was nice to be able share how much influence he’s had on me with the whole school community.”

Photographs: Courtesy of Brunswick School

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
In the fourth grade I was diagnosed with benign Rolandic epilepsy, which causes seizures going in and out of sleep. It was an immensely stressful and frightening experience at such a young age. While medication got them under control for some period of time, I was worried that the seizures would follow me for the rest of my life. Fortunately, after a clean diagnostic test when I was sixteen, I learned that I had outgrown the epilepsy and have been seizure-free ever since.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
Don’t stress over the small stuff. Early on it was really easy to slip into this sort of fatalistic attitude, where I thought every mistake I made meant I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough. Every misstep felt like a sign to quit. Looking back, I’ve realized that every mistake has been vital in shaping me as a performer and a person.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
Mr. Seth Potter. He has been directing me in Brunswick productions since I was in seventh grade, and his knowledge and encouragement has been invaluable to me. He is an endless wellspring of creativity and passion for theater and makes every person he works with share in that same joy for performance. I simply would not be where I am today without the incredible influence of Mr. Potter, and I cannot thank him enough.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” —Leonard Cohen

7. MURPHY WATNER

If there’s a way to give back to his community, Student Body President Murphy Watner finds it. As one of four service coordinators at the GCDS Centerfor Public Good, he enables students to complete service-based activities—from packing groceries for Neighbor to Neighbor to helping coordinate events with Abilis. In this role, he and GCDS science teacher Austin Lehn, started Operation Snow Shovel in 2021, a not-for-profit program in which GCDS students and faculty travel to the houses and apartments of seniors and help shovel them out—free of charge.

Murphy is also a huge proponent of sustainability—an interest he developed freshman year. “I didn’t believe in climate change when I first arrived at GCDS,” he recalls. “I wanted to take economics, but it wasn’t available; so I had to settle for a class on sustainability.” That experience opened his eyes in a way he couldn’t have imagined. His teacher had pledged to live a carbon-neutral life (no air travel, for instance, washing his hands with coffee beans). “He told me what climate change was and from that day on, I look at everything differently.” Murphy has sworn off plastic water bottles and has devoted his time and energy into getting them off school grounds. “Seeing them is very upsetting,” he adds. “Plastic lasts forever. It rarely ends up in recycling.” He participates in the school’s hydroponic farm, Freight Farm, which has the capacity to produce 1,000 heads of lettuce per week. Most of the lettuce that’s served in the dining halls is grown by the farm. Along with this, Murphy worked remotely with NASA’s citizen science program, where he worked on a project to grow plants under the conditions of the international space stations. A visit last year to the Fairchild Botanical Gardens in Coral Gable reinforced his interest in a career in environmental science. “Learning how to grow things without a ton of land and infrastructure was eye-opening,” he says. “It’s cool to get an idea of how this works. I believe this is the future.”

When he’s not focused on changing the world, Murphy plays varsity football and runs his business, 10dogs DJ, which he launched in September 2021. (The name comes from a chili dog eating contest at Joey B’s in Cos Cob in which Murphy consumed ten dogs in ten minutes.) Murphy and his co-workers have done parties throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties and as far away as the Jersey Shore and the Hamptons. “It’s taught me a lot about being professional,” he says. “I’ve learned about writing proposals, drafting contracts and invoicing. But it’s a lot of fun. The first gig was an engagement party on September 10. We went straight into the deep end after that and now regularly do everything from birthday parties to wedding receptions.”

Photographs – DJ: Venture Photography Greenwich; Portrait: Coffee Pond Photography

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
A big challenge for me is managing time with a lot of responsibilities. I often have to plan events for school around events for 10dogs, while balancing my personal and academic responsibilities.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
Besides some helpful investing advice, I would tell myself to not take everything so seriously and that everyone is just trying to enjoy life. Keep a smile on your face and be kind. Let whatever happens happen.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
There have been many teachers who have had impacts on both my academic and personal lives. I think it would be extremely difficult to choose just one. I have been blessed to have incredible teachers.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
I have two: Your body will do what your mind tells it to do. Your mind will be influenced by your body. These words have helped me shape my days and increase my productivity. I know that if I get up as soon as I hear the alarm, no matter how tired and sore I am, I’m prepared for a great day.

8. OLIVIA ASNES

As a young girl with a learning difference, Olivia Asnes turned a liability into a superpower. She was in second grade when she was diagnosed with dyslexia. “I went to the Windward School, and while there I learned a lot of tools that have helped me to succeed in the classroom.”

Indeed. A rising junior, Olivia has been twice named a King Scholar, was named to the King High Honor Roll, has been a two-time finalist in the STEAM Odyssey of the Mind competition and was named Outstanding Delegate at the Model UN Conference last year at Harvard—her second live conference since joining Model UN as a freshman. “The award is really important, but also the experience of meeting so many different people and working with them to solve a global issue was invaluable,” she says.

Olivia applies that same level of enthusiasm and collaborative spirit in all areas of her life. As president of the Women in Business Club, she researches and presents branding and marketing strategies and recruits guest speakers. As the incoming co-president of the Feminst Club, she will advocate for equal rights for all. As an active participant in the Ambassador Club, she leads tours to prospective students. As a Global Scholar, this past summer Olivia and a friend earned a fellowship to research to what extent and in what ways the global oppression of women is addressed—using examples from an FLDS community in Arizonia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. They will present their work to the school this spring.

Science is another passion. For last year’s Odyssey of the Mind competition, she and her team designed and built a low- impact, motorized, self-driving vehicle that won first place in the state competition. Olivia traveled to Michigan to bring the team’s car to the World Final OM competition. But it’s her work with Stamford’s Project Music that brings the most joy. She tutors underprivileged children with their homework as they wait for their music lessons. “A lot of people don’t have access to better help,” she says. “I’m just there to help with the concepts, and that’s really important.” She recalls an afternoon when she was helping someone with their multiplication tables. “She didn’t know how to use the chart, so I showed her how to read it and understand the pattern. Eventually she caught on and was very excited about it, and that made me really happy.”

Photographs – Contributed; Classroom: Joe Charles

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
In second grade I was diagnosed with dyslexia, a language-based learning difference. It took me years of hard work to learn basic skills and strategies in order to feel confident and become a strong student.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
Let my interests guide me, as once you find something that you enjoy, it will open the doors to things you can’t even imagine.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
My fifth-grade teacher Mr. Robert Sinnott because he was passionate about teaching. He was always energetic and he joked a lot, which made class entertaining. He had an unusual motivational system to push students to work harder as well. Whenever a student performed well in class, he would invite them to pick a bobble head out of his huge collection and place it on their desk for the day. It was rewarding to be recognized in such a fun way, and it was really in his class that I began to enjoy the many successes of hard work.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“Where there’s a will, there is a way.” I have learned that if I really want something, I can put my mind toward it and take steps to achieve my goal.

9. SASHA FORMAN

Author, advocate, actor, entrepreneur—Sasha Forman wore many hats during high school. Although she transferred from Scarsdale High to Greenwich her senior year, Sasha didn’t miss a beat, jumping in with both feet. “It was a really big shift, but I met really nice people right away.”

During the Covid lockdown, Sasha tapped into her entrepreneurial side and launched Hula-Hoop for Hope, offering “hooping” lessons to kids from K through fifth grade. The hourlong sessions met once or twice a week at local parks and outdoor rec areas.

“When school was remote in 2020, I would sit with my mom, who is an elementary school teacher, and watch her Zoom classes. Seeing her first-grade students isolated and cooped up at home made me think back to my childhood filled with so much joy. It inspired me to do something to give them back the magic of childhood.” In the process, the aspiring actor and filmmaker drew on her experience and incorporated important life lessons into each class. “We would talk about what it means to be a citizen,” she says. “What it means to persevere and to keep trying to get better at something.” Part of the proceeds of each class was donated to an organization of the children’s choice. For Sasha the classes were a way to give back to her community and make a difference in the process. “There’s obviously so much going on in this world, and the negativity can feel overwhelming. We need to try our best to be as positive as we can, bring joy to others and be inclusive.” Sasha and her mom collaborated on a book, The Hoop Troop, which was published last year. “The determination of my hoopers, as well as the fun and laughs, inspired me. It’s an early-grade chapter book about two kids learning hooping while learning the importance of believing in themselves.”

A stellar student—she earned excellence awards in Honors Civics, Ethics and Honors Marine Biology—Sasha’s first love is acting. She most recently played Sharpay Evans in the spring production of High School Musical. As a member of the New Kid tour, a musical by Random Farms Kids Theater, importance of connection was reinforced for Sasha. “For me the biggest part was the Q&A after every show. Kids asked questions, and we would hear how the show helped them feel a little less alone.” That started her advocacy journey. While at Scarsdale, she founded SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) for Promise Club. At GHS she continued her advocacy work as a member of the No Place for Hate committee and was selected to lead Names Day, an anti-bullying initiative for the incoming freshman class.

Now a freshman at the University of South Carolina, Sasha plans to study TV and film. “I like shows that make me think,” she says. Tops on her list are The Office and Orphan Black. “I definitely see myself working in the film industry.”

Photographs: Jeffrey Mosier

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
Having to start at a new school my senior year was definitely a challenge. Walking into a huge new building with nearly 3,000 students, all of whom were new to me, was not easy. However, it was also a gift, as I ended up meeting amazing new people, enjoying my classes; and though it wasn’t the senior year I expected, I had a great year.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
You never know what lies ahead, so focus on being present and enjoying where you are in this moment. Stand up for what you believe in and make sure your voice is heard. In the face of adversity or judgment, continue to lead with love, curiosity and kindness.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
My junior year English teacher at Scarsdale High, Mr. Wesley Phillipson. He unlocked something in me that transformed my writing and the way I think about—and engage with—different forms of media.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” —Audrey Hepburn

10. REAGAN SERNICK

An academic standout and a certified EMT, Reagan Sernick has led a life of service since he was four years old. That was when he and his twin sister were invited by a local education group to mentor a child with severe autism. “We would just go play with him. For me, it was a normal day hanging with one of my friends.” Helping people comes naturally to Reagan—he is hardwired that way. “As the oldest of five siblings, helping others is definitely part of my daily life.”

When it comes to teaching, he is a natural as well. “I’ve been in advanced classes since elementary school. My siblings would need help with homework, and seeing them understand it as I’m helping is a really cool thing.” In January 2021, at the height of Covid and hybrid learning, Reagan launched his passion project—Greenwich Free Tutors—as a way to help students having a tough time with online learning. He offered thirty-minute one-on-one sessions to any town student in grades K-8 free of charge. “It helped me understand what I like to do and how I could help others who were struggling.”

Reagan embraces a course- load of AP and Honors classes, with a particular interest in math and science. Most recently he spent a week at West Point for its summer leadership experience, followed by a two-week trip to Hue, Vietnam, as part of the National Leadership Academies FutureDocs Abroad program. While there, he spent time at the country’s biggest university hospital, making patient rounds, observing surgeries, working in their laboratory and attending lectures.

Reagan’s interest in medicine grew out of his experience with Greenwich Emergency Medical Services, where he has been a volunteer since 2022 and most recently was named as a Crew Chief. He is also a member of the high school’s GEMS Explorer Post club and last spring became a Certified EMT. In thinking about the future, Reagan says he hopes to find a way to combine his interests including medicine, teaching and business. “I hope I get into a college that challenges me. I love helping people and problem solving, and that’s what emergency medicine is.”

WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
Getting acclimated to high school. Freshman year was hybrid learning. The workload was lowered. I wasn’t really prepared for the next year. It was a lot different. I didn’t fully understand what high school was like until mid-sophomore year.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF?
I’d say don’t get used to the easy work during freshman year and try hard during sophomore year even if you’re not interested in a class—just do your best in class.

WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
My freshman biology teacher, Ms. Sarah Meyers. I remember being so interested in the class, and she was so excited to teach, and it made me excited to learn. She was one of the teachers who helped me learn and find my love for learning.

WORDS TO LIVE BY?
Do your best, because that’s always what I’ve tried to do. I don’t try to compare myself to anyone else. I wasn’t interested in the highest grade. I wanted to learn and become an EMT.

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