Birthday Ride a Dream Come True

by Lynne Ober

Jack sits in the fire truck before his ride home.

Perhaps one of the nicest things about living and working in small town New Hampshire is the ability to interact with the community in ways that are not possible in a big city.  Just ask Jack Krzeminski about his thrilling ride in a fire truck.

It began as a fundraiser for St. Patrick Church.  One of the raffle items was a ride in a fire truck.  Kevin Krzeminski, Jack’s father, was determined to out bid the other bidders for this prize and he did.  “We made a nice contribution to the church,” grinned Kevin.

Kevin and Sue Krzeminski, Jack’s parents then asked Chief Walker if the ride could be after school started in January because Jack would turn nine on January 12. 

“Chief Walker suggested that we do it on his birthday,” said Sue.  “He was so surprised.  All I told him was that he was getting something special for his birthday.  He didn’t know it was a ride in a fire truck.”

Walker noted that this was a wonderful way for the fire department to be able to support the community.  “We have insurance that covers people who ride in our fire trucks and this was a good event for the community.  St. Pat’s was able to raise some needed funds and a young man got a ride home.”

When it was time for Jack to learn what awaited him, his parents, Fire Chief Walker, Lieutenant Ray Cashman, and Firefighters Rich Hanegan and Gregg Atwood awaited him.  Walker told the parents that he had arrived in his car and in case there was a call for the fire truck, that the truck would stop at a safe place and transfer Jack into Walker’s car before the truck answered the call.

Jack, his classmates, teacher, Assistant Principal Kathleen Sullivan and Principal Alicia La France all came outside.  “Whooo. 

I get to ride in the truck?”  Jack’s face beamed with excitement.

After posing for photos, Cashman showed him the equipment in the front of the truck and positioned him in the passenger seat.  Then while the door to the fire truck was still open, everyone serenaded Jack with “Happy Birthday.”

Jack was buckled in; the door closed.  As Cashman started up the truck, Jack got to sound the horn and siren.

It was a birthday wish come true.

Fire Chief Mike Walker, Firefighter Gregg Atwood, Jack Krzeminski, third grade, Firefighter Rich Hanegan and Lieutenant Ray Cashman.

Pelham Elementary Holds School Geography Bee

by Lynne Ober

Mrs. Amy Velez and Principal Alicia La France with the three winners of the geography bee.

Admit it.  Do you really know the name of largest country in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which also has the greatest number of different ethnic groups?  How about a second question.  Do you know the name of the Asian capital city that was the site of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games?  Stumped?  Okay, let’s try an easy one.  Christopher Columbus was born in Genova.  What country was the country of his birth?  If you answered, Russia, Seoul and Italy then you are on par with the winners of the fifth grade geography bee, but if you missed those “easy” geographical questions, you need to study some more.

Every year, National Geographic [who else would you expect?] sponsors a geography bee and thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society.  The contest is designed to encourage teachers to include geography in their classrooms, spark student interest in the subject, and increase public awareness about geography.

Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging test of geographic knowledge.  It begins with registration for the bee and then every class begins to prepare.

At Pelham Elementary School the month of December is used for in class activities.  Fifth grade students participated at the classroom level of the bee.  They had to take written tests as well as answer oral questions in order to compete at the school wide level.  One winner from each fifth grade class was chosen to participate in the school level geography bee. 

The school bee participants were Mahmoud Bagegni, Anthony Branco, Michael Coupal, Austin Croatti, Dylan Faust, Tom Gleason, and Jesse Hayes.

On, Wednesday, January 4, Pelham Elementary School held its annual National Geographic Geography Bee.  The seven students were asked various oral and written questions about United States and world geography during preliminary and championship rounds. 

Competition was fierce, but fun agreed the participants.  “I thought it was cool,” said Anthony Branco.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Jesse Hayes.

Coming in first place was Austin Croatti, second place Anthony Branco, and third place Jesse Hayes. 

Austin Croatti, the winner of the school bee will now take a qualifying written test to participate at the state level of the National Geographic Bee on March 31. 

“We were very proud of all of the students who participated,” said Principal Alicia LaFrance.  “All three students did an amazing job answering some very difficult questions.  Their teachers at PES are very proud of them all.  Our finalist, Austin is a well traveled young man who has obviously paid a lot of attention to geography during his travels.  We wish him luck with the next steps in the bee.”

“The questions were not easy and these students showed that they knew a lot,” added Enrichment Teacher Mrs. Amy Velez.  “I think that many adults could not have answered as well as our students.”

The top 100 scoring New Hampshire students on the test will participate in the state bee.  The winner of the national bee will receive a $25,000 college scholarship.  The National Geographic Bee will take place in Washington, D. C. on May 23 and will be moderated by “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebeck.

The National Geographic Bee is officially organized by the National Geographic Society, one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations.  National Geographic has funded more than 8,000 scientific research projects and supports an education program combating geographic illiteracy.

Comcast Representative Talks About Performance

by Barbara Jester

Approximately two months after Comcast began providing service in Windham, members of the Cable Board met with a representative of the cable company to discuss transition issues.

It didn’t take long during the Thursday, January 11 meeting for complaints to be aired.  “Nothing went well,” Margaret Case, chairman of the cable board said.  “You wouldn’t believe how many phone calls we’ve received.”  Case said the biggest problem for residents appeared to be how long it took for problems to be resolved by Comcast.

Comcast was represented by Brian Christiansen, manager of government and community relations.  Christiansen, who serves Central New Hampshire and is based in Concord, said part of his job is to negotiate franchises between communities and Comcast.  He has worked for the company for the past three years.

Christiansen said he “apologizes for all inconveniences” suffered by Comcast customers in Windham.  “What happened here is not the norm,” he said.  “If it was, we couldn’t stay in business.”

“We aren’t trying to keep it a secret,” Christiansen said.  “We know full well that the transition didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped.”  Christiansen said Comcast has a good track record overall.  “We are a good company,” he said.

Comcast bought Windham’s former cable service supplier, Adelphia, through bankruptcy proceedings about 2 1/2 years ago, Christiansen said.

The actual customer transition from Adelphia to Comcast occurred in early November of 2006.  Depending on the requests of individual customers, Comcast provides cable, telephone and/or internet services.  Only the cable (video) services, however, are covered through the negotiated franchise technical support portion of the contract between Comcast and customers.

Windham had to agree to the transfer from Adelphia to Comcast; a process which was completed following public hearings on the issue.  Adelphia had been Windham’s cable service provider since 1999.

Although only one Windham resident attended the meeting, she was very clear in expressing dissatisfaction with Comcast.  Diane Shikrallah, president of American Coastal Insurance Agency, with offices located in Bedford and Windham, said her attempts to communicate with Comcast service representatives were “frustrating beyond belief.” 

Shikrallah said her problems ran the gamut from cable, to internet to phone service being negatively affected when Comcast transitioned from Adelphia.  She said the various problems she encountered affected her service for about 30 days.  Despite days of repeated phone calls to Comcast, Shikrallah said there was no resolution of the problems.  “I was put on hold for an hour at a time before I got through to a representative,” she said.  “I finally contacted the home office in Pennsylvania and still no solution.”  She said technicians from Comcast came out to her house on a couple of occasions and were unable to solve the issues.  “Comcast doesn’t care that my phone is out,” she said.  “But when your phone goes down and you lose the internet, you’re cut off from the world.”

According to Shikrallah, the “nightmare” wasn’t resolved until she finally called Cable Board Chairman Margaret Case.  “Margaret had a technician here very quickly,” Shikrallah said.  “He was able to diagnose the problem in about 10 minutes and fixed it quickly.”  According to Shikrallah the problem was with the wiring and several connections which were not secure.  She said the technician who fixed the problems does work for Comcast.

Christiansen sympathized with Shikrallah’s situation, adding that numerous other complaints had also been received from Windham customers.  “I do think we’ve stabilized now, though,” he said.  “I know we’re not the cheapest company in town, but I think we deliver a good value for the money.  The only thing we have is our reputation,” Christiansen said.

According to Christiansen, the closest call center to Windham is in Manchester.  “We have a thousand people sitting there waiting to help customers,” he said.  The facility runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, divided into three shifts.  “We strive to be a local company,” he said.  Shikrallah said some of her calls for assistance were answered by a representative someplace in Texas.

Both Case and Shikrallah expressed concerns about the cost of services through Comcast.  “As soon as you make a change, you’re not grandfathered under Adelphia, anymore,” Shikrallah said.  “If you change your plan, the cost is going to go up,” Case said.

Case said some customers of Comcast have been calling her and complaining that they receive less cable stations, yet are paying more money than they were previously.  She said she believes that Windham residents should have been offered special package deals similar to those offered to new customers elsewhere.  “It would have been a nice public relations idea” Case told Christiansen.

         Christiansen explained that Comcast is getting ready to launch some new on-demand services next month, including Comcast Digital Voice (CDV), a voice over internet protocol (VOIP), comparable to Vonage’s internet phone service.  Several members of the cable board cautioned against depending on internet voice services, saying they’re not yet as reliable as traditional telephone service.

As for the need to renew the franchise with Comcast, Christiansen said that is due to be negotiated with Windham by August of 2008.  Those negotiations should begin no later than August of 2007, he recommended.

         “We need to take into consideration the future needs of the community” when negotiating the new agreement, Christiansen said.  “The franchise should be tailored to the Town of Windham.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Christiansen complimented cable board members on their dedication to providing excellent service to residents.  “Most towns don’t have this level of involvement,” he said.

Anyone who needs customer assistance can reach a representative by calling 1-800-COMCAST, Christiansen said.

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