20 Westchester Teens to Watch
These local students are making medical breakthroughs, embarking on globe-trotting humanitarian trips, and breaking athletic records—all before they get their high-school diplomas.
(page 2 of 2)
The Train Aficionado
Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, Hartsdale
Aaron Grand has always been fascinated by trains. But who knew his fascination would lead to countless awards in rocketry design, engineering, and aeronautics—all before the ninth grade?
Grand’s interest in trains has been apparent since nursery school, when, instead of drawing rainbows and flowers, he drew the New Jersey Transit system. It moved on to making model trains from there, and, eventually, he needed his own “train room.” That led to his passion for building and designing rockets and remote control devices. “In Discover Camp, I’ve taken classes that are specifically dedicated to engineering,” he says.
Additionally, Grand is extremely passionate about theater. He has played Rooster in Annie and Hines in The Pajama Game at Solomon Schecter and Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the Play Group Theatre. (He’s also been a cellist for the past five years.) “Trains, history, and math are things that I can only enjoy by myself,” he says. “Theater, however, gives me the opportunity to accomplish something as part of a group. I have to learn how to work with others.”
Grade 12, Pleasantville High School
You may have seen Kathryn Faughnan in one of her three films—The Forgotten, The Great New Wonderful, and Coach—on an episode of Law & Order, or in her role as Jane Banks in the original cast of Mary Poppins on Broadway. She even won the Metropolitan High School Theater Awards’ Oustanding Actress in a Leading Role trophy for her performance as Princess Winnifred in Pleasantville High School’s Once Upon a Mattress in 2010, when she was a sophomore.
She’s been the high school lead three years in a row, an unprecedented feat. This year, she is playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Pleasantville, a production with about 80 cast members, plus another 80-student or so crew. “I get to wear this great dress with a big skirt—that’s probably what I’m most excited about,” she says.
“She has instinctive ability,” says Kathleen Donovan-Warren, Pleasantville’s theater and choral director. “She knows how to move on stage and has a lot of personal presence. But she’s also a wonderful kid who takes direction.”
Faughnan has loved participating in her high school productions. “I’m able to work with other kids my age,” she says. Faughnan relishes the opportunity to perform for her community. “Last year, I was especially grateful because we incorporated children from the elementary and middle school in our town into our production of The Wizard of Oz,” she says. “It was great to be able to get the younger community involved with the arts.”
As for the future: “I’m always going to incorporate acting in my life—I’ve been doing it since I was five—but I don’t know whether I’ll be doing it as a profession or on the side.”
Benjamin Van Doren
Grade 12, White Plains High School
Twelfth grader Benjamin Van Doren is a dedicated birdwatcher who not only watches birds, but spots new species.
As secretary of the New York State Young Birders Club—he is a founding member and a former president—Van Doren has written for a number of publications, including North American Birds, the American Birding Association’s quarterly journal, the bi-monthly journal Bird Observer, and Birding magazine. He’s spent weeks at a time birdwatching in Arizona, where he recorded the first-ever sighting of a brown-backed solitaire in the United States. “Finding a bird so rare—it wasn’t on the official species list for this country—is a big deal in the birding community; it doesn’t happen very often,” he says. “Over the next couple weeks, hundreds of birders traveled to see the solitaire.” He spent the summer on a small island off the coast of Maine helping research at-risk nesting seabirds, including Atlantic puffins.
Van Doren was recently named an Intel Science Talent Search national finalist—one of only 40 in the country—for his research on “morning flight,” a certain migratory phenomenon in birds. “His accomplishments in organizing, coordinating, collecting, compiling, analyzing, and interpreting his data for his Intel submission would be highly regarded if accomplished by a talented undergraduate or graduate student,” says mentor Andrew Farnsworth of the Conservation Science Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “To see this level of excellence from a high school student is, frankly, amazing.”
You can read about Van Doren’s adventures on his birding blog, warblings.wordpress.com.
The Scholar & Athlete
Archbishop Stepinac High School, White Plains
There’s no denying that football is a rough and exhausting game. But balancing the challenging sport with an equally challenging academic schedule is something Caleb Gilligan-Evans has mastered.
His PSAT scores qualified for National Merit recognition, but that’s only one of his many accomplishments. “He has won so many awards: National Honor Society, Golden Dozen, All-State, All-County,” says Coach Mike O’Donnell, Stepinac’s athletic director, who reports that Gilligan-Evans was awarded the Catholic High School Football League’s highest honor, the Monsignor Peter’s Award, “which is given to the league’s best scholar-athlete football player.”
“Since Caleb has been a varsity starter,” O’Donnell says, “Stepinac has won thirty-four games in four years. We have been to three championship games, and won a championship in 2010 in an undefeated season. Caleb is the leading career rusher and scoring leader in school history.”
Since age five, Gilligan-Evans knew he loved football. To play the game today, he does all his schoolwork as soon as it is assigned. “Then I can focus on football until my next assignment,” he says.
Any wonder colleges are courting him? Bryant Univeristy and other colleges have offered him scholarships as early as last spring. (He is, however, going to Yale, the only school to which he applied.)
The Shoe Collector
Grade 12, Rye Neck High School, Mamaroneck
Leaving the house with shoes on is something we probably all take for granted. Not so for the poor in Liberia—something that Amanda Hurlbut is out to change.
“I’m in the Independent Learner Program at my school, which has given me the opportunity to explore global issues like human aid efforts,” she says. “A Youth Action International leader visited us at school, and I started contacting NGOs about how that works around the time of Haiti.”
Though the Kids with Sole organization, which helps collect shoes for Liberia’s poor, originally was formed by an older student at her school, Hurlbut took it over. To date, Kids with Sole has collected 2,000 pairs of sneakers. The organization has also participated in charity events, including a walk and fundraiser it hosted with the Boy Scouts of America.
“Most people have an old pair of sneakers hiding in the back of their closet that can be donated,” she says. “Giving a gently worn pair of sneakers is something that anyone can participate in.”
Grade 11, Rye Neck High School, Mamaroneck
The next Scorsese may be right here in Mamaroneck. Remy Litvin has been volunteering at LMC-TV for several years, where he directs, edits, and co-produces Rye Neck Students: Above and Beyond, a monthly TV series that highlights the contributions and achievements of his classmates at Rye Neck. “It’s much easier in today’s society to focus on a bad story than focus on a good one,” he says. “Having a show that puts out positive stories about high school kids made me proud, as cheesy as it sounds.” The show was nominated for an LMC-TV Best New Series Award.
Documentaries like The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Man on Wire inspired Litvin to make his own documentary last year about the 1960s. “So many people were really generous to share their stories and memories with me—it was hard to edit it down to just a half-hour piece.” The final product was nominated for the Best Single Program Award at LMC-TV.
“He’s not afraid to try and learn, and he’s not afraid to accept advice,” says Dena Schumacher, the studio production manager at LMC-TV. “He’s still developing and he’s growing. A lot of kids who do well can let it go to their heads, but he’s not one of those. He knows he’s doing well, yet he’s very grounded.”
Litvin’s aspirations include direction, not just in television, but also in film. “When I watch a movie that I really enjoy, the first thing that passes through my mind is, ‘I hope they have a lot of cool, behind-the-scenes footage.’”
Grade 10, Bronxville High School
Mary Cain can run—fast. Lately, she’s been breaking records regularly. Last April, she received the national No. 1 ranking in the 800 meter, and her sprint-relay team is nationally ranked at No. 2. Cain is being called one of the greatest running prodigies in the U.S., but she admits running isn’t always easy. “Nerves sometimes still get the best of me,” she says.
She began running at the start of seventh grade but didn’t realize until she was at the nationals in North Carolina the magnitude of what she’d accomplished in just one year. At the nationals, they didn’t really have a category to place her in, because seventh graders don’t usually make it that far. After such a successful first year, she became a three-season runner. “I’m on varsity, but I’m kind of on the boys team now,” she says. “After cross-country this year, I started training with the boys.”
“She is the fastest middle-distance runner to have ever come through Westchester,” says Cain’s coach Ed Stickles. “She’s two-tenths of a second away from qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials. She’s very humble and internally motivated, both athletically and academically.”
As for the future, Cain says, “I really don’t know where I’ll be, but I love running. No matter what, you’ll see me out on the track.”
The Triple Threat
Grade 12, Harrison High School
Jacob Seidman excels in three very different fields: music, science, and athletics. His musical talents are undeniable, having won him the Maestro Award for Best Jazz Soloist at the Heritage Music Festival in Atlanta. Additionally, he was accepted into the prestigious Rockefeller University Science Research Program and holds the Harrison High School indoor record for pole vaulting. Talk about a unique triple threat.
“It might seem that jazz and scientific research are complete opposites, but after spending the past summer doing research at The Rockefeller University, I realized that I’m partially drawn to research for the same reason that I am to jazz,” he says. “In both cases, you’re moving forward into some unknown that you haven’t experienced before.”
Yet setting the indoor record for pole vaulting last winter was, he says, his greatest accomplishment—until he broke it again this past January. “As much as I love pole vaulting, it isn’t something that comes naturally to me.” Last winter, his record-breaking vault came in at 11’ 6”. This year, he beat that by nine whole inches, for a vault of 12’ 3”. Perhaps his luck will continue in college: Seidman was accepted to Harvard under early-action.
Grade 12, White Plains High School
As a gifted musician, Travis Petre can pick up a beat or rhythm anywhere. That’s why, as a senior, he’s already arranged his own musical score and conducted his very own high-school band.
“I guess you could call me a reed guy,” says Petre, who not only plays the bassoon but the clarinet and oboe as well. And though confident in his abilities, his unique arrangement of the Nintendo Medley was a challenge. Using score-writing software, he began creating a piece based on Nintendo themes his freshman year that he hoped his band director would let him play one day. He got his wish. “My director had me conduct most of the rehearsals and eventually conduct the full piece in concert,” he says. Petre maintains he couldn’t have done it without his supportive band, who, he claims, clapped louder than the entire audience.