Sunday, March 22, 2015

Local high school artists recognized at Portland Museum of Art for Youth Art Month - By Michelle Libby

Holden Willard, a sophomore at Windham High School from Raymond, had a piece of his art work from a drawing 1 class selected to be displayed at the Portland Museum of Art for the 21st Annual Youth Art Month.
“The project was based on a unit where the students were studying perspective. Holden was chosen based on his skill and understanding of the subject matter and his creative talents as an artist,” said Willard’s art teacher Kim Chasse. His art work is titled “Apocalyptic Sunrise.” (It’s hanging in the PMA Lobby near the elevators.)

Approximately 100 pieces of art work in grades kindergarten to 12th from all over Maine were submitted for nomination. 
The exhibition, sponsored by the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA) in partnership with the Portland Museum of Art, provides a forum for acknowledging the imagination, innovation, and creative skills that a visual arts experience can nurture. Youth Art Month, observed annually in March, emphasizes the value of art education for all youth and encourages support for quality school art programs, according to a press release from the museum. Not limited to students in southern Maine, last year’s exhibition represented 119 students from 11 counties in Maine.

Abigail Connor, a junior at Windham High School, was also selected for the program. She is enrolled in Advanced Studio Art with teacher Jeff Bell.

Abigail's artwork is part of a series of drawings that represent a collaboration with a friend who writes the stories that inspire her characters. Her drawings are digitally rendered using a drawing tablet connected to her laptop. Bell said that he “recognized the skillful and fluid quality of Abigail's drawings and feels that she brings these characters to life with sensitivity and great expression.”
“This drawing is a portrayal of a young student standing before her teacher, a forbidding authority figure who hands her a book and demands that she ‘Learn’,” said Bell. This fall, Abigail will be enrolling in Advanced Placement Studio Art where she will continue to build her already impressive portfolio of work, he added.

Windham Public Library tea celebrates 10 years - By Michelle Libby

For 10 years, librarians Barbara Keef and Laurel Parker have been hosting Tea for You @ Your Library at the Windham Public Library. They have held 80 teas, had 2,236 plus people sign the guest book and have served more than 4,500 cups of tea. With a different theme every tea, the patrons who stopped by and the guests who came to socialize, enjoyed the tea and snacks provided by the librarians. 
On Tuesday, the library once again pulled out the china tea cups for a gathering. However at this tea, the library and all of the guests, from town councilors to the new fire chief, attended to celebrate 10 years of community teas at the library. Keef and Parker were honored with Mad Hatter headbands and plants.
The Friends of the Windham Library provided money for cut up fruit and cakes to be dipped under a chocolate fountain. This was an especially big hit with the teens just getting out of school. The friends also provided the other snacks and paper goods.
“We’ve had so many bars and cookies (over the years), including Laurel’s huge layer cake,” said Keef.  
Ceil Clark from Cumberland, raised her children in Windham and lived here for 37 years. “I’ve been to all of them,” she said, taking a sip of her tea. Others had never been to the tea and decided to check it out Tuesday. The afternoon knitting group procured a table off to one side of the room to knit while snacking and drinking tea, hoping for more interest in their library group.
A slide show played throughout the tea, showing pictures of many of the events over the years. “If we did not have this tea we would not have the pictures of the people who have passed away,” said Parker. There were pictures of children having tea with older community members, talking about whatever the theme of the tea happened to be.
“We are building community with the tea,” said Parker. All ages come to the tea and find people they haven’t seen for years.
There is a list of all the teas, notable people who attended and what was served. On average the teas draw about 40 participants, but according to Parker, who remembers a tea where no one showed up and all of the staff at the strawberry shortcake and fresh whipped cream, there are “always new people coming.”
New themes are always up for discussion as is who will make which homemade snack to share. From King Cakes for Mardi Gras and election day cakes for voting days, the library goes all out.
The tea gatherings also were the reason for the new chairs and the round tables that were added to the meeting room, Parker said. “People didn’t like the long tables,” she said. The money for the tables and chairs came from an endowment that was left to the library from Fran and Paul Vogel. Parker called their daughter to tell her what the library decided to do with the money and she couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the money, Parker said.
As the teas progressed, more and more tea cups were donated. Now the eclectic collection gives everyone the choice of shape, pattern and style. One cup became known as “May Lunt’s cup” because she had to have the same cup every tea. When she no longer could come to the tea, Keef and Parker gave the cup to her to have at home.
As Parker surveyed the gathering on Tuesday, she smiled. “This has fulfilled our purpose.”
The teas take place every six weeks. The next Tea for You @ Your Library is on April 28th.

The tea also presented the perfect venue to unveil the new 3M Cloud Library for Windham Public Library card holders. Library director Jen Alvino said that the library is advancing technologically and since the introduction of the Minerva interlibrary loan system, this was a good next step. 

There will now be a 3M Discovery terminal upstairs at the library to be used to select books for a mobile device that uses apps, like iPads, Kindle Fires and Nooks. Readers were encouraged to download the 3M Cloud Library app from an Android or iTunes app store to use the service. If using the terminal, just scan a library card and the book will show up on the app for that user. Right now there are about 250 titles that can be taken out for two weeks each. 

“It’s new and exciting,” said Alvino to the crowd that has gathered. The library will also be getting Nook lowlight devices for patrons to check out for use at home. There are only three other libraries in Maine with this 3M service, Camden, Scarborough and Mt. Blue. 

When Alvino started the library she described it as “walking into a library and having nothing on the shelf.”
The library is looking for businesses to sponsor shelves in the virtual library. 

“This is why you’re the best librarian in the state,” said library volunteer and friend of the library Sherry Andre, who stood at the terminal with Alvino. 

The new system is up and running now.  

A legacy of education and "improving your position" - By Michelle Libby

Six months after the death of Stuart “Toby” Pennels his family is keeping his memory alive with The Toby Pennels Memorial Scholarship to be given in his memory for the first time at Windham High School. 

Toby graduated from WHS in 1977 and his children, Taylor, Jordan and Shawn, graduated from there in 2005, 2008 and 2010 respectively. Toby also served for 12 years on the school board.

“We had a good experience, and Toby was a big part of it,” said his wife Brenda Pennels. “When I think of all the things that would be important to Toby, a scholarship is right at the top. He always wanted to help kids with education,” Brenda said.

“Toby was a soldier, who had only recently retired as a US Army Colonel following a 30-year career that included three tours of duty in the Middle East. During his years of service Toby adopted the mantra “improve your position” a phrase which refers to improving your fighting position/foxhole in a combat situation, but in many respects became his defining philosophy in life,” according to Brenda. 

The scholarship will be given to a student who can best give specifics on their efforts to “improve their position.” It was not only a military term for Toby. It was a philosophy that his whole family lives by.
The scholarship is open to anyone seeking a two or four year education including trade school. 

“I have grown to appreciate this community more and the friends – Toby’s friends have become my friends,” Brenda said. 

Fundraisers have been held to raise money for the scholarship, which Brenda has pledged to fully fund for six years. To date the scholarship is at $13,000, from donations as small as $25 to $1,000 or larger. Donation information is available on the scholarship website. 

For more, visit The application and essay are due by May 8, 2015. The awards ceremony will be at WHS on June 4.

Monday, March 16, 2015

RSU14 enriches the lives of its special education students by taking them downhill - By Michelle Libby

Last Monday was one of the best days of the season at Shawnee Peak. For 11 students in the Adaptive Ski Program sponsored by Shawnee Peak, this was the last day of their 7-week program and they were all headed to Rabbit Run. This was the first slope they had tried that had a chair lift.  
“Anne Blake is the RSU 14 physical therapist who makes this great program happen—of course along with the RSU 14 Special Education Teachers and Educational Technicians,” said Phil Potenziano, director for student services at RSU14.

The program got new life in the RSU four years ago when physical therapist Blake agreed to take the program over. Students at Windham Middle School, Jordan-Small Middle School and Windham High School who are involved in the Life skills and in the Autism programs hit the slopes on Mondays for two and a half hours. 

The program is paid for by the special education department at RSU14. “It’s really inexpensive for what they get,” said Blake. For the 7-weeks, including volunteers and rentals, a lift ticket and use of the lodge, the cost is $50 per student. 

 “It’s not just about the skiing. It’s about ethics, behavior and posture. They put on the equipment and it’s a multi-faceted life skill,” said Blake. “We’re doing more than going down the mountain.”  

“You get addicted to [the program],” said volunteer Maureen McDevitt. She and her skier Annie sang songs all the way up the chair lift. McDevitt started volunteering after volunteer Beverly Bears told her that she had an opportunity for her. Bears volunteers four times a week and has a full-time job. McDevitt never looked back.

 “It gets these kids out in the fresh air. It’s physical activity and socialization. Doctors have said a lot of these kids have improved balance greatly since starting this program,” said co-director Charles Scribner. “Before kids like this were institutionalized and never had the opportunity.” The other director, who was also supervising, is Ross Graham. 

For the most part, the program is one-to-one with one adult volunteer or education technician. Shawnee Peak provides seven or eight volunteers, depending on the day. The students use adaptive ski equipment with tethers, cords and metal links tying the skis together and helmets.   

The students all started on the magic carpet slope that uses a conveyer belt to move the skiers to the top of a small hill.

The goals of the program are to be independent, have fun and stay safe,” said Scribner. 

“The non-skiers are invaluable,” Blake said of the two staff members who attended the program to help the skiers on and off the chairlift as well as assist with equipment issues. 

Al Curns is retired, has been a skier for 65 years and he spends five days a week at the mountain volunteering his time. “It’s nice if you can get the same kids. Every kid is different. We strive for the best they can be,” Curns said. 

“I liked fun and being outside, and a day off from school,” said Ben Silva, 13, from Windham Middle School. 

Shawnee Peak’s Adaptive Ski Program sees 16 different groups Monday through Friday, with three groups each day. The non-profit sees 100 skiers from elementary school to adults who take advantage of the program. Ten to 13 volunteers supplement the school departments that can’t find enough adults to ski with the students. 

Although no one used one from RSU14, the program also has a bi-ski for wheelchair bound skiers in addition to the other adaptive equipment. 

Ginger Whiteside, 14, from Windham High School said her favorite part was “taking the boots off at the end of the day,” but then stood in front of the group and said, “This year I had so much fun. Last year I was scared.” 

Volunteer Glenn Yale joined the program two years ago. Some of the skiers are apprehensive, but we tell them “I won’t let you get hurt. It’s about building up trust,” he said. “I’m thankful for the program.” 

“At first it was pretty scary, but then it turned out to be okay,” said Cameron Malone, 13, from Windham Middle School, who said his favorite part of skiing was the chair lift. 

Not all of the students stayed on the Rabbit Run, choosing to head to the top of the mountain to show off their skills. 

Fifteen-year-old Lucas Maloney-Spiller from Windham High School had a fun ski day. “We went all the way to the top. We had the best time. We laughed. I hit jumps,” he said. He has been involved in the program for two or three years and said that he gets better every year. The best part of skiing for him, “Going all the way to the top to see the mountains and the view.” 

The program at Shawnee Peak is 25 years old, said Scribner. “Most of these kids look forward to coming,” he added. Some students continue to ski after the program is over. “I’m sorry that most won’t have an opportunity to do it on their own.”

The program has one large fundraiser each year, The Moose Pond Half Marathon and 5K. The proceeds go to scholarships and awards. This year at the program pizza party, the students received a T-shirt that matched the theme of the season “Pushing the Limit”. The shirts said, “I pushed the limits – Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program 2015.” 

“We measure the progress with smiles here,” Curns said. 

The next adventure for these students is getting ready for the Special Olympics swim meet April 3 and then the Special Olympics track meet at Bonny Eagle on May 1. This year they will also attend the state meet at Orono from June 5 to 7.