History In the Making

September 5, 2019

Written by Elizabeth Hole

On location at The Little Red Schoolhouse—a New Canaan landmark restored as a museum by the New Canaan Historical Society—this year’s list of local scholars were juxtaposed against this old-world backdrop. The school opened in 1868 and was the last operating one-room schoolhouse in Connecticut when it closed in 1957. These savvy teens marveled at educational artifacts, a few lamented about today’s technology, wistful for the face-to-face communication of previous generations. These modern scientists, athletes, actors, musicians and future leaders are passionate about what they do and deserving of their designation as “Teens to Watch.”

MIA SPARKS

Darien High School, Class of 2020
Why I love the piano…
I’ve been playing piano since I was 5. I love to sit down and play whatever I feel like that day—from pop songs to classical. Music has always been a part of my life.
Accomplishment I’m proud of…
My Skyliners team competed in the World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships last year in Croatia, and we won a world silver medal. It was the first time the U.S. medaled in that discipline at that level.
Right now I’m listening to…
Classic rock. I like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana. My dad grew up listening to that music so he’ll sometimes suggest a band or song.
Learning the Japanese language to me is…
Important for me to keep my heritage. Going to Japanese school every Saturday immerses me in that world and keeps up my speaking and writing skills. If I didn’t speak Japanese, I couldn’t communicate with my grandparents in Tokyo.
If I had more time…
I would hang out with my friends more.
I give back with…
Kids Helping Kids, I provide inner city children with skating opportunities. We help get their skates on, skate with them and, hopefully, inspire them. I’ve been doing this for over five years. Every year, I look forward to spreading the love and enjoyment of figure skating. I love seeing how much these kids improve in just one day. It’s inspiring to see children, who were initially reluctant to let go of the wall, pushing themselves and skating on their own by the end of the session. I also volunteer at the Atria senior center in Darien, where I perform on the piano once a month. I enjoy being able to express my love for music, while also helping out in my community.
My role models are…
My parents. They both have characteristics and traits I aspire to have. There are so many, but I think that communicating, being on top of things and staying organized are all important life skills to have.
My biggest challenge so far has been…
When I leave for international skating competitions, it’s a challenge to miss a week’s worth of lectures. It was especially hard during my junior year with AP courses. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been as prepared as I am now. I’ve found the best way to go about things and have learned from my experiences.
My parents help guide me…
My mom definitely found the right balance of being involved in my sports and skating, but also letting me decide what I wanted to do. After I chose skating she pushed me to get better and that definitely helped me.

MARINA STEFANONI

Darien High School
Will graduate early in 2020
My goal right now is…
Combining junior and senior year to graduate a year early and play squash in college. After college I want to play professional squash.
What is your current world ranking for squash?
My current Professional World Ranking, is 72. My highest world ranking has been 69.
I just finished the…
World Junior Squash Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There’s an individual and team event. This is the biggest tournament you can win as a junior. My little sister came, because she made the team too. We had a few days to sightsee.
Kids build grit and resilience by
Having them do competitions, whether it’s kindergarten basketball or any sport. Since I’m an athlete, I have a bias toward sports, but I think they’re a good way to build character.
Interesting fact…
I’m a citizen of Guatemala. My mom was born and grew up there, so I’m a dualcitizen.
I multitask by…
Doing one thing at a time, but I organize and plan ahead what I’m going to do—whether that’s an English essay, homework or class. I fit things in whenever I have free time and try not to procrastinate too much. If it happens, I stay up late. There’s always plenty of time in the night.
I give back by…
Playing exhibition matches and helping fundraise for organizations like City Squash, Street Squash and Squash Haven make me feel like I am giving back to the sport I love by helping others participate when they otherwise might not. Also, these organizations provide valuable educational support and guidance to inner city kids from the Bronx, Harlem and New Haven to help them achieve academic success. The fundraising I did with NY Squash was for programming that benefited women in squash in the New York area.
Tell us about Squash Forward…
It was an initiative to promote the sport prior to the decision for inclusion in the Olympics, which it unfortunately was not. Nonetheless, by reaching out to younger players all over the world and sharing some of my experiences, I feel as though I have served as a role model and mentor.
My generation is different because…
We are focused more on being your own individual and breaking norms. Also, we question authority, which isn’t always a good thing, but people do and it’s a way to grow. The older generation would often follow rules and do what they’re told. I think a combination of both generations would be optimal.

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