Pelham Elementary Celebrates Its Young Authors

by Karen Plumley

Second grade student Emily Williams reads her story entitled The Silly Dog Party.

Pelham Elementary Reading Specialist Michelle Viger and second grade teacher Mrs. Bourque hosted an inspiring ‘Author’s Tea’ in the Media Center on Monday, May 11, highlighting the tremendous efforts of the members of the first annual Young Authors’ Club.  There were 32 young authors, from first through fifth grade.

During the two-hour reading, the children had the opportunity to present stories to a sizable audience that they personally authored and illustrated.  Each book was sewn together by Viger and hard bound with the help of the authors’ parents.

The talents and passion of each and every student was apparent as they bravely stepped forward, one at a time, and read their stories.  Inside, the books were arranged professionally with a title page, dedication, and an “about the author” section at the very end of the story.  The last few pages were reserved for signatures and comments from friends and members of the audience.

“This project illustrated the writing process from beginning to end, and the students worked very hard.  They all did such a wonderful job,” Viger described proudly.

The stories were varied and fun to listen to.  Some children chose to write about a sibling, pet, or family vacation, while others let their imaginations run wild.  Bourque said that the children were asked to write about something familiar to them or something that they loved.  Fifth grader Glen Leuteritz had the audience in stitches when his McDonald-loving alien robots received their “astronomical” food bill, while a tear was shed for fourth grade student Sawnaz Shaidani as she presented her story I Love My Brother Shawyoun, describing the heartbreak she anticipates when he leaves for college in the fall.

Perhaps the bravest and most awe-inspiring authors were the first grade students who were able to write creative and poignant stories complete with beautiful pictures, and present them confidently to an intimidating room full of adults and older children.

The idea for this project came to Viger in 1981 after she stumbled upon a hardcover book that her son, current Pelham Selectman Doug Viger, created during third grade.  The memories that the book evoked for her inspired Viger to incorporate this writing project yearly into her second and third grade classrooms.  This year will be the first year that the project has been offered to the entire school and across every grade.

Fourth grader Sawnaz Shaidani evokes emotion from the audience as she presents I Love My Brother Shawyoun.

Offering each other moral support, siblings Ben Plumley, 7, and Aislinn, 9, sat side-by-side and presented their books at the Authors’ Tea.  Although both stories couldn’t be more different, the source of inspiration was the same – their pet cat, Dozer.

Return Trip to Sister City in Russia

by Barbara O’Brien

John Breda visits with a group of Russian teenagers during the recent spring break.

Windham resident and former School Board Chairman Barbara Coish is becoming what’s referred to as “a frequent flyer” when it comes to her journeys back and forth across the ocean to visit her hometown’s official “sister city” – Suzdal, Russia.  Suzdal, a small city, similar in size to Windham, is located about 120 miles northwest of Moscow.

Barbara’s most recent trip was in late April for a 10-day sojourn.  Also making the flight once again was Windham resident and Pinkerton Academy chemistry teacher John Breda.  Barbara is the chairman of Windham’s Sister City Committee and John is the vice chairman.  Barbara has made the excursion to Suzdal on 21 occasions, while John has traveled the miles back and forth on nine trips.  On this most recent trip, John was given the opportunity to teach English to students in grades 2 through 11.  There is no grade 12 in Russia.  The students go from grade 11 directly to the university.

As for the main topics of conversation engaged in by Suzdal residents these days, Barbara said there are three “hot topics,” including the worldwide financial crisis, President Barack Obama, and the swine flu virus circulating the globe.

The Suzdal teens who came to Windham in November of 2007 are anxious “for the American kids (with whom they stayed in Windham) to visit over there.”  Barbara said that it would be very safe for American children to visit Suzdal and stay with the families she has met during her trips.  The young people who visited the United States a year and a half ago also asked about the progress of the new Windham High School.  “It would be great if they can come back and spend some time here at the new high school,” Barbara said.  “It’s going to be an amazing place.”

While in Suzdal, Barbara also once again met with a local quilting group and donated multi-colored fabric to be used in their projects.  She also returned home with numerous hand-quilted potholders, each of which she gave to a town or school official.  Also during their visit, Barbara and John met with the local fire chief, who said he hopes to visit the United States and Windham sometime next fall.

The villagers are “waiting breathlessly for Dave Sullivan to visit them,” said Barbara.  Sullivan is Windham’s Town Administrator and has expressed interest in visiting Suzdal at some future time.

A $500 donation from the Town of Windham was once again made to the local orphanage in Suzdal, a facility which Barbara said has made great strides in recent years.

Barbara plans to make another trip to Suzdal before year’s end and invites other residents to join her in the experience.

On their latest trip to Suzdal, Russia, Barbara Coish and John Breda visited a quilting guild and donated yards of multi-colored fabric to the quilters.

School Board Discusses Default Budget

by Barbara O’Brien

When Windham voters decided to defeat the proposed 2009-2010 school district budget this past March, it resulted in financial ramifications that school board members and administrators must reconcile.

During the school board’s Tuesday, May 5 meeting, Business Administrator Donna Clairmont opened the default budget discussion with the question “What does it mean?”  As the result of the proposed budget not passing, the school district will have to deal with a default budget that is $656,422 less than the original proposal.

Prior to the March school district meeting, voters had been told that a default budget would mean the elimination of four grade-level teachers (one first grade, two second grade, one fifth grade), two special education teachers, and the kindergarten bus, as well as level funding for supplies, software, and equipment, and no salary increase for non-bargaining employees and administrative staff.

After the actual defeat of the proposed budget, school administrators met twice to craft the actual default budget.  On May 5, they presented the proposal to school board members.

“The goal is not to have a negative impact on programs or students,” Clairmont said.

The new proposal is based on known students in the regular program, along with those on Individual Education Plans (IEP), as well as those who have already registered for the new public kindergarten program.  Originally, school administrators expected more than 200 kindergarteners to register for the new program to be held at Golden Brook Elementary School.  Currently, however, there are only 167 students enrolled in the new kindergarten program, numbers which translate into six morning classes and four afternoon sessions, each with 15 to 16 students.  Clairmont was asked how firm the numbers are for kindergarten.  “I feel pretty confident,” she said, adding that there is a little bit of leeway so that additional children could be added to kindergarten classes if necessary.  A kindergarten class can have up to 20 students, per state law, Clairmont explained.

Under the revised default budget, administrators are eliminating two kindergarten teachers to save $247,738 in salaries and benefits and two kindergarten aides for a savings of $35,628.  One teacher’s position is also being eliminated at Windham Center School.  This is not considered an ideal situation, but administrators feel it is necessary in the current economy.  The loss of the one teacher will result in an enrollment of 25 to 27 students per class at Center School.  Two special education positions are being eliminated from the school district operating budget, but are being picked up by money received through the federal economic stimulus package, which includes a two-year grant.  One English teacher position is being eliminated from the new Windham High School, as well as a half-time World Language position.  This is not a program cut, according to Clairmont, but based on the number of students who signed up for certain courses.

The designated kindergarten bus is being eliminated from the budget.  Following a survey which was conducted, it was determined that the kindergarten students who need transportation (one way) can be accommodated by the existing school buses used by the district.  The survey indicated that approximately one-third of kindergarten parents expect this service to be available for transporting their children either to or from the school.  By eliminating the kindergarten bus, approximately $50,000 is being saved.

Further savings were accomplished by reducing the pay for non-bargaining school district employees from the original 2.75 percent increase down to 2.5 percent.

Also, according to Clairmont, school administrators have “generously offered to forego salary increases” for the 2009-2010 school year, which begins on July 1.

Clairmont said administrators decided not to recommend cutting supplies and equipment due to an increased enrollment for the upcoming school year.

Following a discussion of the proposed cuts to the 2009-2010 school district budget, school board members voted unanimously (5 to 0) to approve the recommendations made by Clairmont.  “It’s our best game plan at this point,” Clairmont said.

Coca-Cola Wants Exclusive Rights in Windham Schools

by Barbara O’Brien

The Coca-Cola Bottling Company is hoping to get an exclusive contract to supply beverages throughout the Windham School District.  During the school board meeting on Tuesday, May 5, two representatives from the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Manchester presented a brief synopsis of the company’s proposal.

School Board Vice Chairman Mike Hatem was instrumental in contacting Coca-Cola and asking the company to develop a proposal for Windham.  The proposed deal is that, in exchange for a minimum six-year contract, Coca-Cola will provide scoreboards for the baseball and softball fields at the new Windham High School as well as one for the new gymnasium at the high school, for a total value of $12,000.  If the school district is willing to extend the proposed contract for a total of eight years, Coca-Cola would also supply a multi-purpose scoreboard for the high school’s football/soccer field.  The multi-purpose scoreboard is worth approximately $14,000, according to the representatives of Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola also provides an annual scholarship fund to participating schools.  The amount of the scholarship is based on the volume of cases purchased by each particular school.

According to one of the Coca-Cola representatives, the company follows the American Beverage Association’s health guidelines as to what should be served in schools as far as nutritional issues are concerned.  Based on these guidelines, only regular and flavored water would be made available at the elementary school level, while water, energy drinks, and a variety of juices would be for sale at the higher levels.  The largest selection would be available at Windham High School.

There are two options proposed in the agreement.  One option would be self-filling the vending machines, in which case someone from each school would be responsible for the task.  The other option is full-service, in which an employee of Coca-Cola refills the vending machines in the entire school district, as needed.  If the school district goes with self-filling the vending machines, the school would keep all profits from the beverages sold.  Under the full-service agreement, the school district would keep 20 percent of the profits.  All vending machines are loaned to the school district free of charge.  Beverages would also be sold in the cafeteria line during lunch periods.

When asked if the school district would have the right to determine which Coca-Cola produced beverages would be offered for sale in the cafeteria and in the vending machines, the representatives said that would depend on the company’s need to meet a volume quota.  Also according to the representatives, there are very few schools in this region that don’t have a contract with Coca-Cola.

School board members have taken the proposed contract with Coca-Cola under advisement.  The proposal will also be reviewed by Windham High School Athletic Director Bill Raycraft.

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