Cooking, Calder and other creations

Middle school students hone their skills in teacher-crafted courses

The second session of Summer Connection for middle and high school students is underway at Parcells Middle School. Some students sharpened their math and language arts skills, while others took advantage of the opportunity to tap into their inner chef with Italian cooking, create Andrew Calder-inspired sculptures, learn about financial literacy or leadership, study natural disasters, fine-tune their instrumental prowess, or create a short film in digital filmmaking class.

A taste of Italy

In Italian cooking with Senora Giovanna Cappi and Jordan Phillips, students learned how to make pizza margherita, focaccia, Trofie al pesto and, for dessert, Girelle alla Nutella and salame di cioccolato.

Cappi, who teaches Italian at Grosse Pointe South High School, developed the curriculum for the cooking class.

“I thought it was a great idea to have hands-on activities in the summer after the COVID year,” she said. “I have previously taught Italian cooking. I had Italian Club (at South) and we always cooked and it was always a plus. Kids enjoy it very much. I like to do recipes that are easy for them and I introduce them to food that is healthy and delicious but simple.”

It was also an opportunity for her to work with middle school students.

“They are so enthusiastic. I think food is one of the things that connects everybody,” she said.

The Italian native — Cappi was born in Lake Como in northern Italy — says that Italian cuisine is very different in Italy than how it has been modified in the United States.

“Pizza is different,” she said. “In the sauce is just plain tomato. We don’t put in garlic or onion powder or cook it. It’s simply tomatoes. The result is very different.”

A film of their own

Michael Trudel, who is teaching the digital filmmaking course this session, also brings his own experiences to the students as a former writer, producer and director at Fox Sports Detroit. During the first day of class on Tuesday, students formulated their ideas. Shooting took place on Wednesday and editing on Thursday. The students work in teams but will have the opportunity to create their own movies.

Kaden Conner, who is going into eighth grade at Parcells Middle School in the fall, said she has previous experience making videos of her cousin and sister. She particularly enjoys putting voiceover and editing cartoons “to make them more funny.”

Henry White, who is going into sixth grade at Pierce Middle School, likes drawing and animation and took classes last year at the College of Creative Studies.

Ciara Pongratz, an upcoming seventh grader at Brownell Middle School, makes movie trailers with her sister.

Trudel said he was enjoying instructing the class.

“It’s a good group and I’m excited to be a part of it,” he said.

Shaking things up

During the school year, Courtney Hughes teaches art and math at Parcells. She saw Summer Connection as an opportunity to do something different. For example, last session she taught Italian cooking. This session she is teaching about natural disasters and Alexander Calder sculptures.

In the first day of the Calder course, students learned about the painter and sculptor, primarily known for his mobiles. The second day they created paper mobiles and the third day they made wire sculptures. Next week the students will draw, paint and create wire mobiles they can bring home.

Hughes signed up to teach the natural disasters class because she has long had an interest in the climate and how the world works. At the same time, she is learning along with her students.

For example, on day one they learned about earthquakes and how they form. Throughout the week, Hughes checks and reports back to the students on earthquakes taking place in the world that day.

To finish out the week, they made earthquake-resistant sculptures out of popsicle sticks and masking tape, then tested their resilience by shaking them inside a cardboard box lined with bottle caps, with a flat piece of cardboard serving as the earth’s crust.

Next week they will learn about tornadoes and volcanoes and create their own with the help of plastic bottles and a few chemicals and other materials.

“I’m taking it day by day because I’ve never taught anything like this before, but I’m here to have fun with the kids and that’s what we’re doing,” Hughes said.

Summer Connection is made possible by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

The gift of time: South grad takes a gap year

Nicola Troschinetz made a difficult decision last spring at the end of her senior year: to take a gap year rather than go directly to college.

“I had auditioned for a bunch of musical theater programs my senior year and I didn’t get in anywhere I really wanted to go,” she said.

This, combined with the pandemic, prompted her to spend a year honing her skills and preparing new audition materials, with the end goal of increasing her chances of acceptance into one of her dream schools.

“I felt like I really hadn’t given it my best shot,” Troschinetz said. “I hadn’t been able to put my best foot forward. I felt like having learned so much having gone through the whole process, I would have a better result.”

The decision paid off, and this fall the Grosse Pointe South graduate will attend the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater and Dance’s musical theater program — a highly selective program in which approximately 25 students are admitted each year to receive specialized training.

Troschinetz says giving herself the extra year to reach her goals “was definitely one of the smartest decisions I’ve made.”

However, it wouldn’t have occurred to her if her father hadn’t suggested it. Hearing from him it was “OK to take a year off if you’re going to be happier ultimately and benefit in the long run” made all the difference.

“It was hard to me because I didn’t know anyone else initially who was making this decision,” she said. “It wasn’t a common thing, at least in my circle of people or people I knew in my school, that people did. It was kind of scary in the sense I was doing it alone and a lot of my friends were going to school. Would I still see them and would I be able to relate to them?”

Troschinetz spent the year working on a new audition package with a new voice teacher, who is also an acting coach. She also took dance classes and worked at the Loft in the Village to save money.

Not being in school full time afforded her time to research schools, write applications and prepare for auditions — a daunting task for musical theater programs requiring applicants to be a “triple threat” in singing, acting and dance.

While dance has long been her specialty, Troschinetz looks forward to growing in the other areas as well. This opportunity is one of the strengths of Michigan’s program, in her view.

“I’m really excited to develop the other areas because while I want to continue to grow as a dancer, I’ve had so much experience in dance, it’s really exciting to me to begin to explore my singing and acting specifically,” she said. “I’m really excited to make that transition into doing more of that type of work and especially with such great peers and faculty.”

Troschinetz said she already has met many of her fellow students over Zoom.

“Everyone comes from such different backgrounds with different experiences,” she noted. “I think it will be so cool to meet people with the same passions as I have who will push me to grow and also broaden my perspective.”

She encourages this year’s seniors to consider a gap year if the experience might increase their opportunities.

“Trying to apply to college while going through senior year of high school is so crazy,” she said. “I would tell someone not to beat themselves up too much and if they want another shot at getting into college or they don’t know what they want to do and want to figure it out, don’t hesitate. Take a year off. There’s no rush.

“Even if it’s not what you see your friends doing, if you feel like it’s going to benefit you or help you grow, it’s a really smart decision,” she added. “It definitely was a really good decision for me.”

Graduate spotlight: Zach Farrell

The University of Michigan has long been Zach Farrell’s dream school. His parents are alumni and over the years the family enjoyed many trips to Ann Arbor for football games, the art fair, eating at favorite restaurants or just walking around campus.

“I grew up in a very Michigan household,” the Grosse Pointe South graduate said.

For this reason, the campus is familiar and “feels like home,” he added. “I like the feeling of being away but being so close to home. I can come home for the weekend and see my family. On top of that, it’s such an incredible school. I think we take for granted that we live so close to the number one public school in the country.”

Zach plans to major in biochemistry and apply to a five-year biomedical engineering program at the end of his freshman year.

Born in North Carolina, Zach’s family moved to Grosse Pointe when he was young, settling first in Grosse Pointe Farms and later moving to the City of Grosse Pointe. Zach attended Kerby Elementary and Brownell Middle schools.

While at Grosse Pointe South, he got involved in as many activities as he could to meet people and make new friends. He ran track and field and cross country all four years, leading the cross country team as captain his senior year; served as supervising editor-at-large on the Tower his senior year and photo editor the year before; and participated in a number of clubs, including SEEDS — Student Empowerment: Education for a Diverse Society — Save the Lakes, Link Crew, and Science Olympiad, on which he served as the recruitment captain and social media director.

While Zach appreciates all his teachers, a few stand out. This includes James Adams, his biology teacher freshman year and instructor for the iCreate program his senior year, and Shelly Rothenbuhler, his AP biology teacher and Science Olympiad adviser. He credits both for sparking his interest in biology.

Zach also gives a shoutout to Katie Parent, his English teacher his freshman year and AP Psychology teacher his senior year.

“Mrs. Parent probably improved my writing more than any other English teacher I had at South,” he said. “My senior year she helped me with all my applications. She went to Michigan so she was the biggest help with that and I’m really grateful for that.

“Pretty much every teacher I had impacted me for the better,” he added. “I would say South has some of the best teachers — if not the best teachers — in Michigan. Every one of my teachers has been incredible and I can’t thank them enough for all their hard work, especially this past year when they had a lot of pressure on them.”

In reflecting back on his high school experience, Zach’s advice to incoming seniors is to “make the most out of the time you have left. People aren’t lying when they say it goes by really, really fast. You should try to enjoy all the festivities they have in place for you — homecoming and senior prom and all of that.”

While the beginning of senior year can be stressful, “Once you get through that, it eases up and you should try to take time throughout the year to reflect on all you’ve done at South and just be proud of yourself and all the work you’ve put in up till this point.”

Before heading to Ann Arbor in September, Zach is working at Neff Park as head lifeguard and swim instructor for the youngest swimmers, ages 2 through 6.

Working with young children is a new experience for him.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s the best thing ever.”

All-American honors

North’s Gianni Carlino, on left on center podium, and Grosse Pointe South’s Logan Hepner, right, were named All-American by the National Intercollegiate Swim Coaches Association. Courtesy photos

Congratulations to Grosse Pointe South’s boys’ swimming and diving team for achieving All-American status in the 200-medley relay and 200-freestyle relay. The 200-medley relay team was made up of Keiran Rahmaan, Jackson Jogan, Andrew VandePutte and Tucker Briggs and the 200-freestyle relay was made up of Keiran Rahmaan, Andrew VandePutte, Ryan English and Tucker Briggs.

In individual recognitions, Grosse Pointe South sophomore Logan Hepner was selected as an All-American for 1-meter diving and Grosse Pointe North’s Gianni Carlino earned All-American status in the 500-meter freestyle.

To be recognized as All-American by the National Intercollegiate Swim Coaches Association, swimmers and relay teams must rank in the top 100 in the nation.

In addition, South’s boys’ team finished second in the nation in the NISCA dual meet competition and the girls’ team finished third.

The NISCA accepted virtual entries from the dual meet season to rank and recognize the top dual meet teams.

School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email