Youth Spotlight

I enjoy watching young people grow up and find their path; it’s wonderful seeing all of the good things that they accomplish. I’ve always liked recognizing youth that are trying to make the world a better place by their actions. I realized that in my mission of Creating Responsible Kids on Smartphones, I had created an excellent platform to recognize youth that are out there doing some great things. Check out the articles below to see kids doing some amazing things.

~ Ryan


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A Digital Leader: Giovanna Niccolai

During the 2019-2020 school year, I met high school junior Giovanna Niccolai in a cybersecurity class I was working with. She helped prepare a Youth Project, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of TikTok, for the Shape The Sky website. Giovanna clearly stood out as someone who was interested in Shape The Sky’s mission. During the 2020-2021 school year, she became the first intern for Shape The Sky. Giovanna’s internship project was to develop nine lesson plans for high school aged students related to technology, social media and social-emotional learning. She developed a list of potential topics that were for curriculum development. She shared this list via a survey with high school students, parents of high school students and teachers of high school students. She then took the top nine topics that everyone believed were important and developed social-emotional curriculum lesson plans. Over her internship she attended an in-person training as well as many virtual trainings with Ryan and presented youth views on social media and technology. Giovanna was interviewed in a webinar with Ryan about growing up as a digital youth. This interview can be viewed on the Video Training page of the website. Giovanna also participated in the Big Sisters Club at her high school where she developed a presentation for 7th and 8th grade girls on how to handle social media responsibly. She then presented this to the girls in an assembly. Giovanna has shown a desire to make the digital world a better place for youth. Awesome work Giovaana. ~Ryan

Bio: Giovanna graduated from Montour High School. She was a varsity cheerleader and enjoyed participating in clubs such as Student Council, Future Business Leaders of America, Big Sisters Club Cure Finders and the morning announcement program, The Bus Loop. Giovanna is attending University of Pittsburgh to study Information Science.

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A Youth Leader: Abigail Caputo
I met high school senior Abby Caputo this year through Giovanna Niccolai who was interning with Shape The Sky. Giovanna introduced us and explained that Abby had a project she was interested in doing. We chatted a little and Abby formulated a plan to create a new club at the high school. Read below to learn more about Abby and her Big Sister club she started.  ~Ryan

Montour’s Big Sisters Club Mentors DEW Middle School Students

A new club at the high school is helping middle school girls learn how to become leaders and role models. Abigail Caputo founded the Big Sisters Club at the high school, with the goal of mentoring the 7th and 8th graders around social issues that arise during middle school. She and twelve other high school girls came together and planned four presentations for the middle school students. The goal of the club is to help middle school girls with middle school struggles. Abigail introduced the program to the middle school girls as an opportunity for them to realize that others have had social struggles in middle school and that there are ways to prevent, cope and get help for these issues. 

The Big Sisters Club met, and identified four topics to discuss based upon experiences they had during middle school.  During February, March, and April,  the Big Sisters Club presented to the 7th and 8th grade girls. Abigail oversaw all four groups and helped implement the presentations. 

The first group was composed of Sarah Trosky, Hailey Palas, Olivia Gieske and Olivia Persinger. Their topic was Dealing With Negativity and their focus was to learn that friendships and relationships come and go, the importance of knowing how to defend themselves, and take themselves out of uncomfortable situations. They discussed confiding in adults, standing up to bullies, and walking away from certain situations. Their presentation ended with an interactive Kahoot game that identified bullying myths and other situations that showed the girls that they are not alone.

The second group with Giovanna Niccolai, Abigail Caputo, and Abigail Rose presented on Social Media. In this presentation, they explained the responsible use of social media. Key components were learning how to recognize unsafe and unwise behaviors commonly shared on social media and to connect with an adult if they need help with any situations found on social media. 

Natalie Dixon, Kelsey Molitoris, Marisa Captiline, Abigail Caputo, and Ashley Kocyan led the third presentation, Being a Better Version of Yourself. Their message was that having a positive mindset can help create healthy social situations and promote positive self-esteem.

Finally, Taryn Ferraccio, Isabella Niccolai and Abigail Caputo spoke to the girls about Cyberbullying. They presented on the difference between in-person bullying and cyberbullying, what signs to look for, how to respond and when to ask for help from a trusted adult. 

Middle school counselor Danielle Langdon and Educational Mentor Ryan Klingensmith helped with content messaging, resources and logistics.

Bio: Hi my name is Abby Caputo and I just recently graduated from Montour high school. I was the creator of the Big Sisters club to help younger girls become young women. I also was president of Tri-m Music Honor Society. I was secretary of Student Council along with on executive board of Future Business Leaders of America. These clubs have taught me leadership skills and how to communicate with others in a group and one on one. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity of working with Mr. Klingensmith this year to help me create the Big Sisters club which impacted many middle school girls. I am very excited to continue my journey at University of Dayton this fall to pursue a career in biology.

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The Members of the Big Sisters Club

Kind at Heart: Wesley Westerman
Meet Wesley Westerman, a young man who has made it his mission to help veterans on Thanksgiving. This year he collected 40 turkeys to donate to local veterans around Allegheny County. He plans to continue to collect and donate turkeys every year.  Read the article for more details on his work.  We need more Wesley Westermans in the world!!
Thank you Wesley for all of your hard work and kindness to others!!
~ Ryan
Bio: Hi my name is Wesley Westerman I am in 9th grade at Highlands High School but I do cyber through them. I play hockey for the Vipers 16u team. I love to hunt & ride my dirt bike. ~Wesley

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A Future Writer: Rebecca Havko

If you read any of the blog posts on this website and they are grammatically correct, it’s because Rebecca Havko edited the content. I’ve known Rebecca since she was twelve. As she grew older and her love of English became apparent, it was clear that she would some day be a great writer. I’ve read many of her short stories, and she has an amazing talent for fiction. I also discovered she knows her grammar much better than I ever did. With the blessing of her mother, a teacher, Rebecca consulted with Shape The Sky in the form of making my horrible grammar digestible. If there are errors in this paragraph, it’s because she has not edited it yet. If this blurb is well written, she has. Shape’s mission is to create responsible kids on smartphones. During this mission, if there is any way to onboard youth perspective and talent, I will do so. Rebecca is a great consultant to the Shape The Sky organization and well appreciated. I look forward to following Rebecca’s college journey and her career as a writer beyond college. ~Ryan

Bio: Hi there! My name is Becca Havko, and I’m a freshman at Seton Hill University. I’m studying English on the Creative Writing track with the hopes of becoming an author. I started reading in kindergarten and writing in second grade, and I’ve loved it ever since. My favorite part of writing is playing with words, and for that reason I love jokes. So I’ll leave you with a short little joke. What’s E.T. short for? Because he’s got little legs!


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A Filmmaker: Liv McNeil

I stumbled upon the video Numb posted above. This video amazingly captures how youth may be feeling during this difficult time of forced virtual schooling. Then I learned that Numb was made by a 15 year old kiddo! I wanted to learn more about this film and the inspiration behind it. Watch Numb and then read my interview with the very talented Liv McNeil below. ~Ryan

Q: What inspired you to create Numb?
Liv: It was the last project of the year for my arts course in grade 9, and because it was the end of the year, it was pretty open ended, and my teacher let us have some fun with it. I took that opportunity and decided to make some more quarantine inspired art, specifically how isolation affects mental health, and what kids are going through right now with online school. I have already been making alot of art inspired by quarantine. right now is obviously an awful time, but I can’t do much about it, so might as well take away from this experience and turn it into art.

Q: How do you feel Numb will relate to other kids in the country?
Liv: I think kids everywhere right now can relate to this, no one is REALLY enjoying online school. wherever you are, we are all going through the same thing. I have had a couple kids my age reach out to me and say that they feel the same way and are glad their feelings have been shown so accurately. I am so thankful and happy I have all this support and all these people that relate to me.

Q: Do you feel Numb will help parents relate to how kids are feeling about the current shutdown of the country?
Liv: I think the teachers and parents that have already seen it are feeling a bit guilty… not that they should, I mean we are all feeling quite helpless right now, but they see how their kids are feeling and there’s not that much they can do. I just hope that they can realize what kids are going through right now and go a bit easy on them.

Q: What impact do you hope Numb will have to anyone who watches it?
Liv: It’s really cheesy but I just hope anyone who watches it knows that you are not alone, we are all going through the same thing. this seems like it’s been going on for forever and it will continue for forever but it won’t. This is just a moment in our lives that will pass soon and we will see the light on the other side of the tunnel.

Bio:

My name is Liv McNeil, I’m 15, going into grade 10 at Etobicoke School of the Arts. I major in visual arts, I love art and I’ve been doing it my whole life. I have especially been making lots of art during the quarantine. I also do film outside of school with my brother. We make little music videos and small stories. I have always made art as a way to pass time and express myself (it’s also just fun). I might see something or think of a concept, then I just like to draw it and make art to get my ideas out. Some more things I do include skateboarding, snowboarding, sewing, gardening, listening to music, and biking around my city.


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An Artist: Hannah Duckett

I want to introduce Hannah Duckett. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Hannah over the past three years. She continues to amaze me. I initially learned that she has wonderful skills working with children and a compassion for teaching them life skills. Then I discovered her amazing talents for singing, dance, acting and art. There is nothing she can’t do!! Check out some of her art!!

~Ryan

Bio:

My name is Hannah Duckett, I’m a Junior in high school, and I’m home-schooled. Being home-schooled has allowed me the amazing opportunity of molding my education around what I love most: Art. I believe I’m an artist at heart.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a passion to create, and to share those creations. Whether it is on the stage, through writing, or through my studio art, I always strive to connect with people through what I have made. I believe that art can be used as a beautiful, healing tool, and nothing makes me happier than to know that my creations have helped others. I’ve learned, through my art, that something as simple as drawing a portrait of a loved one who has passed away can have a profound impact on a person, and help them to heal during a grieving process.

Through the theater company Stage Right in Greensburg, I’ve been granted the opportunity to take that mentality to the stage. All artists are story tellers in many different forms, and I am so grateful to be able to reach more people through theater. Art, in all its forms, is a powerful force, and I hope to use those gifts to make the world a more beautiful place.


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An Author: Maddie Kopecki

I discovered Maddie through a 2020 Senior Adoption Facebook page. I was really excited to “adopt” a fellow author. She has a wonderful article on Medium about being in the senior class of 2020. It’s wonderfully written and a must read for every senior and parent of a senior!! She also wrote a book, Nowhereland, which will soon be shipped to my house. I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations to Maddie for her early career as a writer. I’m proud to adopt this kiddo and see where her career in writing takes her!

~Ryan

Bio:

Maddie Kopecki is a California native, avid reader, and a proud Ravenclaw. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found with her nose in a book, jittery from her last cup of coffee. Currently, she’s studying English at the University of San Francisco.


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Raising Awareness: Bekah Gerace

I was recently lucky to attend a talk by Bekah Gerace. She spoke so clearly on a subject that is very important to me. She flawlessly presented (to a room of 500 professionals) about taking care of those struggling with mental health issues with as much importance as we do those struggling with health issues. This kid amazed me at her ability to engage the room and refocus us on the stark differences in school between a student returning from a concussion protocol vs. a student returning from a psychiatric inpatient hospitalization. She has a wonderful message and I hope to continue to work with her and support her mission in raising awareness to this stark difference in schools. Watch her Ted Talk and be amazed!! Thank you Bekah!

~Ryan

Bio:

Bekah Gerace,18, was born and raised in Lancaster County. She recently graduated from Manheim Township High School in 2019 where she participated in cross country and the suicide prevention and awareness club, Aevidum. While at Manheim Township, she participated in the Spanish Immersion program from Kindergarten through eighth grade. Through her high school years, she has faced cancer and many mental health challenges, which have helped shape her into the person she is today. Bekah enjoys writing poetry, photography, listening to music, spending time with her friends, and a number of outdoor activities, such as hiking and canoeing. Bekah will be attending Penn State Berks in the fall to pursue a communication arts and sciences major to begin a career as an author. Through her personal experiences, she is aware of the growing need for not only a change in attitude and perception, but also in the quality of care in the mental health community.


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Fitting In: Emma Kobelenske
Meet Emma Kobelenske, a young lady trying to help other kids feel welcomed. She has set a mission to help kids that feel like they don’t fit in or who have been bullied.

I asked Emma to provide an introduction of herself for the Youth Spotlight.

“My name is Emma. I’m a Senior at Burrell High School, Co-Captain of Burrell Swim Team, love music, painting, drawing and a good comedy.  My passion is my non-profit (Xo,E) helping others know they have a friend in me even if they feel sad at the moment.  No one should feel alone, sad, or bullied.”

Read the article below to learn more about Emma and her mission with Xo,E, her non-profit.

Follow her Facebook page to help spread her mission.
Thank you Emma for all of your hard work and inspiration!!
~ Ryan

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Seeing a Snapchat Red-Flag: Gabe

I’ve been discussing the positives of social media since I started talking in public about youth and technology. Mental health red-flags online are sometimes easier to see than offline. If a young person sees someone struggling through social media or text messages, and they let an adult know, they open a new link to getting help. There are more eyes on the ball, so to speak, around individuals struggling with mental health issues when they post their struggles online. This can lead others to reach out to them just as Gabe Rongier did.

I’ve discussed Gabe’s story at my trainings. In May 2019, after discussing his story at a training, a parent in the audience raised her hand and said, “That’s my son.” We had a very nice conversation afterwards and she was more than happy to have me share Gabe’s story as a role model for doing the right thing. Check out his story below.

Way to go, Gabe!!!

~ Ryan


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Suicide Prevention: Livia

I love seeing youth take on prevention efforts.

Check out Livia Bookwood’s PSA on suicide prevention!!!

~ Ryan


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Honoring Our Veterans: Megan

I saw this in the news and thought it was a wonderful story. Megan McCafferty, took the time to meet with local veterans to hear their stories and honor them through a book she wrote. The book is entitled “Freedom is Not Free, a Compilation of Veterans’ Stories.”  We need more kids like Megan out there.

Awesome work, Megan!!!

~ Ryan


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Arnez Logan

A Sidewalk Hero: Arnez

This is an amazing story of bravery and doing what had to be done. Arnez Logan saved a kindergartner from being hit by a car. He is one of only four students in the country awarded the AAA Safety Patrol Lifesaving Medal for his heroism.

You are a role model to our community, Arnez!!!

~ Ryan


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A True Artist: Aubrey

I saw Aubrey perform at a Winter Guard competition that my daughter was also participating in and was amazed at her vocal talent. She made it to Hollywood on American Idol in 2018 with Lionel Richie calling her “an artist.”   Aubrey recently graduated from high school and is performing at a variety of events listed on her Facebook page. Currently she has four singles released. Go download them, you will not be disappointed. She has an amazing talent.

Follow your dreams Aubrey!

~ Ryan


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