Homeschoolers Learn to Sign

by Karen Plumley


Drew Hutchings, 11, and Ben Haavisto, 12, greet each other using American Sign Language (ASL) at Nesmith Library.

In a conference room on the afternoon of January 5, several young children sat in a circle listening with rapt intent to a tape recording of simple words spoken by an adult male voice.  It was a quiz.  The kids were instructed to write down each word that they heard, or to make their best guesses.  The room was deathly quiet.  The words were spoken one at a time with long pauses in between, and were not within sentences or passages.  Yet these children, with perfect hearing, could not write a single one down on their first attempt.  Why?  Because the words were played at the threshold level experienced by a person with partial deafness.  Turning the volume up did not make the words any clearer.

The sign language pupils, slightly befuddled with what was probably the hardest test they had ever taken, were also affected by the poignancy of the activity.  It was all part of the well-thought-out lesson.  Mary Buckley led the hour-long American Sign Language gathering at Nesmith Library.  Buckley, owner of Signs and Smiles in Londonderry and teacher of deaf students from preschool to high school, is also an accomplished sign language instructor.  She holds certificates in American Sign Language (ASL), Deaf Studies, and ASL/English Interpreting and believes wholeheartedly that children who learn sign language early will boost their English language skills as well.

She didn’t have a lot of time to work with on Monday, but was able to teach her students how to politely greet each other, sign their names, and understand the visual discrimination of sign language.  Buckley explained how altering certain factors of a sign could affect the meaning of the words, similarly to how the lowercase letters “b” and “d” are often confused by toddlers and preschoolers.  Hand shapes, location of the signs, palm orientation, and sign movements are all very important parameters to consider when signing, Buckley said.

The sessions held on Monday were well attended and well received.  Buckley teaches sign language workshops for babies and holds preschool lessons at various locations, including Learn with Me Inc. in Londonderry.  She also brings her talents to local schools.  To contact her or find out more, visit Buckley’s website: www.signsandsmiles.com or call 432-2552.

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Pelham Gets a Flavor of the 40s

submitted by Alex McKinney

On the Monday prior to Christmas vacation, Mrs. Dube’s U.S. History class at Pelham High School was transformed into a classroom that screamed 1940s.  The previous week, her class had been learning about the 1940s and all the events that took place throughout that decade.  Mrs. Dube suggested that her students would get a better flavor of the 40s if a ‘swing dance competition’ were to take place.  This proposal raised conversation and all of her students were filled with excitement.

For the competition to occur, dancers and judges would be needed, and those who chose to be onlookers were assigned to do a report on any topic of their choice from the 40s.  When the day of the competition came about in Room 18, four couples gathered in their extravagant 40s attire and prepared to grandstand the routines that they had spent countless hours rehearsing for a week.

Each and every couple performed with exciting dance moves and great enthusiasm; however, at the end of the performances, judges Darshan Patel, Alyssa Carrick, and Jennifer Foote had to determine the winning couple.  To assist them in their decision, they used the rubric containing the criteria that they had created when assessing the dancers.  After a long and hard deliberation, the couple receiving the first place title was Brittany DiPrizio and Thomas O’Brien, second place went to Nicole Bourqe and Meghan Stephens, third to Emma Notini and Katie Helpin, and Kelly Maglio and Jacqueline Ta received an honorable mention.

“It was a great experience,” exclaimed Judge Alyssa Carrick when asked what she thought of the swing dance competition.  “It really gave me a better understanding of the lifestyle of those who lived during that time.”

After the competition was over, Mrs. Dube’s other students who had put together reports got the opportunity to share what they had researched.  Their topics ranged, ironically, from significant battles favored by her male students to trends and fashions favored by her female students.  Kristina Jarvis, one of the onlookers of the competition who created a poster focusing on fun lingo of the 40s, added, “I learned a lot about the 40s and it was fun seeing the swing dancing!”

Not only were Mrs. Dube’s students satisfied with the outcome of the competition, Mrs. Dube showed some excitement herself when stating, “I was most pleased with the outcome of this lesson.  I would like to cite the dancers for particular praise.  Their choreography of over-the-back flips, spins, hand movements, and make-up and hairstyles completed their dance routine.  The creativity of the judges in both generating a criterion to decide the order of which the couples placed and developing a certificate of award for the contestants was a job well done.  Students who chose not to participate in the dance competition researched events of the 40s in which they had interest.  In all, it was “hands on” history and a “swell” learning experience for all!

By the end of the class, it was more than apparent that all of the students left the room that day with a new outlook on U.S. History.  This goes to show that not all learning has to be done by textbook and that Mrs. Dube did a great job of teaching her students in a new and exciting manner!

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School Budget Proposal Reduced

by Barbara O’Brien

Business Administrator Donna Clairmont, who represents the Windham School District, was instructed to reduce the proposed 2009-2010 school budget by two percent from what was initially proposed to the School Board.  At last month’s meeting, Clairmont suggested cuts which would lower the proposed budget by one-and-a-half percent — a proposal that Board members are allowing to go forward.

Prior to the final meeting of 2008, the proposed school district budget for next year showed a 14 percent increase over the current year’s approved budget.  Board members said that was too high, particularly in light of the present economy.

After being asked to make budget cuts that would reduce the overall increase to no more than 12 percent over the 2008-2009 school year, Clairmont returned to the School Board with a list of suggestions, including cuts at all three existing Windham schools, as well as a few at the new high school scheduled to open this coming August.

Among the cuts recommended by Clairmont were:  $106,199 at Golden Brook Elementary, $3,430 at Center School, and $227,160 at Windham Middle School.  Proposed reductions were also made in the area of Special Education (approximately $20,000 in contracted speech therapy).  Clairmont also said that the food service program in Windham would have to be totally self-supporting, thereby removing it entirely from the proposed budget for next year.

Based on these recommended cuts in the proposed budget, next year’s school district budget would be about 12.5 percent higher than the current year’s, which is still one-half percent too much.  To achieve another one-half percent reduction, Clairmont also suggested the possibility of eliminating one new teaching position at Golden Brook, one new teaching position at Windham Center School, and the elimination of one teaching position (one course) at the new Windham High School.

“The administration has truly worked as a team to achieve the (proposed) two percent in reductions,” Clairmont told School Board members.

Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson said she believes making a full two percent in reductions to the initially proposed budget would really affect students on a daily basis.  Cutting members of the staff at any of these schools would have a negative impact on the student population, she said, particularly in first and second grades.  “We’re not asking for staff that’s not needed,” Wilson said.  If staff size is cut, it would mean larger class sizes, she explained.

School Board member Bruce Anderson said he wishes the administration could find more places to cut, but the school district’s new obligations, such as the high school and the start-up of a kindergarten program, make it difficult to lower the proposed budget further.  The Town of Salem is proposing a budget for next year that includes a 10.1 percent increase, and they’re not even opening a new high school, Anderson said.  “A year from now there won’t be such a jump in services,” Anderson said.  “We need to forecast the tax impact a year or two down the road.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, School Board members voted 4 – 0 to proceed with the proposed budget increase of 12.5 percent above the current year’s approved expenditures.  At this point, the proposed budget for the 2009-2010 school year (not including any special warrant articles) stands at $39,295,058.  Should voters choose not to approve the proposed budget, a default budget of $38,252,553 would be put in place.  This would mean a loss of teachers, as well as making “nickel and dime cuts across the board to the rest of the school budget,” Wilson said.

A public hearing will be held on the proposed 2009-2010 school budget on Tuesday, January 13, at 7 p.m. at the Planning and Development Department adjacent to the old Town Hall on North Lowell Road.

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Warrant Articles to Address School Athletic Facilities

by Barbara O’Brien

Among the warrant articles being proposed this year, there are two that address athletic facilities at the new Windham High School, which is scheduled to open this coming August.

Articles 2 and 3 on the warrant, which voters will cast their ballots this coming March, pertain to a second gymnasium and an artificial turf athletic field with adjacent track.  Both of these were voted down this past year.

These athletic facilities are included in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and would be eligible for 30 percent state building aid if approved by voters.  The combined cost of the second gymnasium and the field and track totals approximately $4 million.  If either or both of these facilities are approved in March, a bond would be issued in that amount.  A 60 percent majority vote would be required to approve the issuance of a bond.

To help offset the cost of the proposed athletic facilities, School Board members are considering using the approximately $1 million in interest that has accrued on the bond that was issued for the construction of the high school.  Business administrator Donna Clairmont said that the accrued interest can be used for any purpose and does not need to be tied to the high school.  Article 4 on this year’s school district warrant will ask voters for permission to use the $1 million in accrued interest.

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Pelham Library Budget Cut Again

by Lynne Ober

The current economic situation is enough to have anyone saying “Bah, Humbug.”  Everyone is looking for ways to make their dollars stretch further.  The Town of Pelham is no exception, but Pelham’s Budget Committee decided that the library should be cut more than town budgets, and this has led to fewer open hours at the library, beginning January, 2009.

As a result of the economic crunch, the Pelham Board of Selectmen requested that all town departments prepare a budget that represents zero percent growth.  Any costs that have increased due to pay raises or rising costs of utilities had to be offset, so there is no overall increase in the budget that goes to the voters.

The Pelham Public Library, though not technically a town department, also complied with this request.  Yet the Budget Committee decided to cut an additional $2,447 from the requested budget, recommending that the staff not receive the full raises that were budgeted by the Library Board of Trustees.

At the same time that the Pelham Budget Committee will not support library staff raises, they have supported double-digit raises for the Finance Director and above-average raises for the Town Administrator.  In addition, both the Finance Director and Town Administrator are again eligible for a bonus.

While Town Administrator Tom Gaydos defended the 13 percent raise the Finance Director received last year, and noted that she was not paid on the same level as her peers, the Budget Committee did not support the same argument about library staff — none of whom would have received a double-digit raise. 

The additional cuts have left Library Trustees shaking their heads and wondering why the Budget Committee does not treat all town employees in the same manner.

The Pelham Library moved to its current location in 2003.  Since then, demand for services has tripled.  Many more people are walking through the doors, attending programs, borrowing materials, or requesting research assistance.  The library houses more than just books; it also offers residents audio-books, DVDs, research materials, access to computers, reference assistance, online databases, search tools, and programs for children and adults.

Despite the increases in demand for services and materials, the staffing has remained at the same level.  The library’s budget request for the 2009 year was $228,756, which is the same operating budget since 2007.  

The proposed budget did include an average of 4 percent raises for the library staff; however, not all staff members would receive the same increase.  None of the raises approached the double-digit raises that the Budget Committee approved last year for the Finance Director.  Nor did it include raises that were the same level as previous raise levels for other non-union town employees.

“We kept our budget at the same level as 2007.  Town departments were asked to keep their budgets at the 2008 level.  The library has been much more conservative than other town departments,” stated Library Trustee Diane Chubb, “and yet we receive many more cuts than other departments.”

The assistant director and adult services librarian would see a larger increase in an effort to bring them to the same level as similar library employees in comparable towns.  The $2,447 cut from the library budget represents a reduction below the 2007 budget.

Trustee Chair Francis Garboski points out, “The library staff has a history of being underpaid.  Last year the trustees looked at other libraries in similar-sized towns and found that not only were our staff being paid much less than them but they were also being paid less than staff at smaller libraries.” 

In fact, the library staff is paid less than comparable Pelham Town employees.  Town employees have enjoyed annual raises of 3-5 percent for the past several years.  In contrast, library staff only received a 1-3 percent increase.  The Finance Director and Town Administrator have enjoyed higher raises than other town employees.  In 2008, the Finance Director received a 13 percent raise.  In 2007, she received more than 6 percent plus a $1,500 bonus.  According to Gaydos, she will be eligible for yet another bonus this year.

To make up for the increase in salaries, the proposed library budget includes a reduction in budget lines for supplies, computer equipment, books, and programs.  The raises were completely contained within the proposed budget that remained at the 2007 level.

“We did what we needed to do in an effort to create a proposed budget that reflected a 0 percent increase,” said Chubb.  “We are able to defer some of our costs until the following year, but eventually the funds will be necessary for equipment and supplies.”

Although it obtains its operating funds from the town, the library is governed by its own elected Board of Trustees, not the Board of Selectmen.  The Trustees work with the Library Director to set the budget and expend the funds accordingly.

With a total appropriation of $228,756, the library budget makes up less than 3 percent of the total town budget for Pelham.  According to the library’s calculations, the value of its services far outweighs the cost.  For each $1 invested into the library, Pelham residents received almost $6 in services.  At $18.39 per capita, each resident’s “Return on Investment” can be realized by borrowing one book, one audio-book, one video/DVD, or by attending a few programs.

The Trustees will have to decide how to handle this situation at their next meeting.  “The money that was cut could be used to purchase books, DVDs, and support programs,” said Chubb.  “We believe the budget should not be cut lower than the 2007 budget.”

Last year the Budget Committee cut over $16,000 from the library budget, suggesting that the library reduce the amount of staff to cover the budget shortfall.  A group of over 75 residents showed up at Deliberative Session to approve the funds being put back into the library budget. 

For more information on the library budget and supporting materials, please see the presentation binder at the main desk at the library and also online on the library website at www.pelhamweb.com/library.

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