‘Modified and Totally Not Normal’ Barlow Palooza

Joel Barlow High School faculty invited the Easton and Redding communities to the school campus for Palooza, a celebration of learning, each May for more than a decade. There was food, music, entertainment and a large student art show, including art from the lower level Easton and Redding schools.

Guests could try their hand at the pottery wheel, try silkscreening, learn metalsmithing, see award-winning science projects, and watch senior Passages presentations.

The popular tradition carried on until May 2020, when the Covid pandemic brought it to a grinding halt, along with most activities of daily living. After a turbulent year of distance and hybrid learning, and eventually, in-person instruction, the celebration made a comeback in 2021, but it was not the Palooza of the past.

“It has been a weird year, it has been a challenging year,” said Tim Huminski, English teacher and Passages adviser. “But despite all of the adverse variables, our students finally had an opportunity to passionately present their learning and their experiences, their challenges and their tribulations.”

Instead of inviting the whole community, Barlow officials limited guests to family, faculty and community members who are part of the Community Asset Network (CAN).

“Although the 2021 Palooza was distinctly different than years’ past, it was good to know that the seniors who presented their Passages projects would meaningfully benefit from the presence, feedback, and listening ears of the audience,” Huminski said.

For some presenters, the pandemic-related circumstances made it easier for them to richly involve themselves in their inquiries; for some presenters, the pandemic-related circumstances forced them to entirely reconsider their projects and their process, according to Huminski. 

“Either way, I am happy to say: we made it through the semester, and it is my hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the unique experiences and journeys of our Passages students,” he said.  

CAN members listened to the presentations and provided feedback to the students. Passages presenters and projects are as follows:

  • Alexandra Popescu: Interior Design Study
  • Eleanor Stenzel: Art & Social Media Advertising
  • Timothy Malvaso: Martial Arts & Learning the Bo
  • Bryce Williston: Baseball Bats & How they Work
  • Santiago Calderon: Authoring Magical Realism
  • Jason Brannan: Dragon Myths and Creation
  • Cooper Navin: Composing a Film Score
  • Ethan Horbury: Recording an Album
  • Joe Baillie: Student Teaching in History
  • Walter Madison: Video Game Design
  • Katherine Rook: Fingerboard Pressing & Marketing
  • Ryan Thomas: Aquatic Business Ventures
  • Ellie Chan: Foraging, Survival, & a Children’s Book
  • Rene Itah: Translating Malagasy Literature
  • McKenna Kaye: The Senior Show Revival
  • Chloe Hemenway: Student Teaching in Biology

“For them, it is the authenticity and challenge of the experience—to stand up in a room, to present themselves in a professional manner, to think on their toes and articulate their thoughts—that will provide a meaningful conclusion to their time in the class,” Huminski said.

Audience Offers Feedback

Huminski thanked the Community Asset Network members for taking time out of their busy schedules and personal lives to join the celebration.  “Happy Modified and Totally-Not-Normally-How-It-Is Barlow Paloozaing!” he said.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in Palooza this year,” Major General Michael Fenzel, U.S. Army, said. “The students’ ingenuity and creativity were truly inspiring!”  

Alexandre Daciu Pardo, lead software engineer, said it was the first time he has attended an event like this since moving to the United States. “From my experience, detailed projects such as these are usually prepared at the college level,” he said. “I was impressed by all the passion, research, and in-depth analysis the students put into each of their chosen projects.”

Ben Oksman is new to Redding, having recently moved from New York City, and his children are still in elementary school. He is chief technology officer  at FinTron, a fintech startup based in Westport with a “goal of making personal finance understandable through our all-in-one investing and education app.”

“I attended for multiple reasons, but also was interested in learning what the high school students would be presenting,” Oksman said. “I imagined it would be good, but I didn’t expect the evening to be as profoudly inspiring and enlightening as it was. I definitely want to participate in more events to empower aspiring scholars and to support the Community Assets Network in the future.” 

Wilder Rumpf, founder and CEO of FinTron, said, “As a graduate of Sacred Heart University and an entrepreneur who learned through struggle and the hard-knocks of life, I was glad to attend such a fun event and act as an example to the students presenting, that if they stick with it, they too can be successful in achieving their goals — no matter how outlandish and far fetched they may seem. I was blown away by the effort the students put into each project and look forward to attending again next year!”

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