Friday, April 9, 2021

Racial tolerance, acceptance objectives of Windham Middle School's Civil Rights Team

Dyan Pallozzi, an eighth-grader at Windham Middle School, 
helps install a 'Welcome' banner in the school's main hallway
while participating in a WMS Civil Rights Team activity.
By Ed Pierce

Windham Middle School Civil Rights Team students may be young, but it hasn’t stopped them from being engaged in the social justice movement and working to make their school and their community a more accepting and safer place for everyone.

The Civil Rights Team at WMS can trace its roots back to at least the early 2000s, under faculty advisors Bill Wescott and Eliza Adams and continues today under the guidance of JMG Specialist Fernando Hinojoso. More than 30 students participate in WMS Civil Rights Team activities, both in-person and remotely.


Team meetings are 30 minutes long and on Fridays via Zoom. They also meet Monday and Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays and Thursday mornings in-person at the school.

Hinojoso said he believes that the Civil Rights Team is an essential activity at WMS for a number of reasons, including civic duty and workforce readiness.


“CRT students understand that the ongoing injustices in our country demand a civic duty from us: we must respond, however we can, to support those in our world who are victims of injustice by initiating conversations about the underlying issues perpetuating these inequalities,” Hinojoso said. “Employers are looking for applicants who are able to communicate effectively with diverse populations. We are failing our students by not providing opportunities to develop fluency with the various identities with whom the world will expect them to work with.”


The WMS Civil Rights Team engages in various activities focused on outreach, such as the creation of a 16-foot “Welcome” banner at thew school and installing a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mural with a quote to adorn the school’s main hallway.


“We are also in the process of finalizing various projects, including our school-wide observance of National Day of Silence on April 12 and April 13, a student-led protest for raising awareness about the bullying, harassment and erasure of LGBTQ youth in schools,” Hinojoso said.

WMS Principal Drew Patin said that CRT participants are making great strides in creating an atmosphere of acceptance and opening a dialogue about important issues facing students in 2021. 

“For me, it is all about ‘all are welcome here.’ All students should feel as though they belong to the school community and should never feel any differently than that based on our differences,” Patin said. “The Civil Rights Team works to fulfill this goal and promise through awareness, action, and support.”

Sixth-grader Ashlynn Cuthbert said that she wanted to be a part of the Civil Rights Team because she wanted to make a difference in the world that she thought was unfair.

“I want the Civil Rights Team to help students of all ages to acknowledge the problems that still exist today and help to prevent those problems from hurting them or others,” Cuthbert said. “Students are better equipped to make a difference by participating in the Civil Rights Team because the CRT provides resources that students might not find on their own, and it gives a community that can help you to find new and better ways to change the world. It gives students the chance to meet people that believe in the same things that you believe in, and those people can help you and give you even more strength than if you were doing it alone.”

Cuthbert says social justice should be on the minds of students at WMS because they are the next generation, and if we change doesn’t happen now, the years and years of tradition and unequal social justice will continue.

Maddy Beckwith, an eighth-grader, said that WMS students who join the Civil Rights Team get a better glance of the issues happening in school.

“I think social justice issues should be on the mind of students at WMS because if students aren't aware of them, then for example they could accidentally make a racist comment that affects one of their fellow classmates,” she said.

Seventh-graders Eva Schroeder and Cynthia Flaherty say they joined the Civil Rights Team to support equality for everyone.

Schroeder said she wants to stand up for people that can't do so for themselves.

“I think it's stupid to judge people based on the color of their skin. I think people are just looking for drama or someone to make fun of sometimes, and it's not right,” she said.

Flaherty said she’s optimistic the WMS Civil Rights Team can open some eyes and change minds.

“I would like to see them change the minds of the people that believe others are lower than them, and because I believe that everyone should be in a safe place that they know they won’t get bullied for,” she said. ”If things are still flawed now, then they will become worse over time; so if they fix it now it could better things.”

Sixth-graders Preston Smith and Ali Albair say they have each encountered racism in the community and that they hope groups such as the Civil Rights Team can educate everyone about the harm that racist acts and slurs cause to others.

“I joined to help every kid be proud of who they are,” Smith said. “My dad and I have both experienced racism first-hand and it’s really sad and mean and also enraging.”

Albair said that he wanted to participate in CRT activities to make people of different skin colors, gender preferences, gender identity, body size, disability and religion feel comfortable at Windham Middle School.

“As for social justice, everyone should have the same privileges, not based on their race, their gender preferences, or anything in between. If one person has the right do to something like take a train or go shopping other people should too,” Albair said. “I think that people should never use slurs, especially if its offending to people.” 

Hunter Gibson, an eighth-grader, said he has wanted to be a part of the Civil Right Team for as long as he can remember.

“I see them expanding greatly and then getting everyone to see each other as equals,” Gibson said. “It's a shame we are going in the right direction but not fast enough.”

Sixth-grader Moriah Layton said she joined the Civil Rights Team to help ensure that everyone feels safe in school.

“Kids can make a difference in the world,” she said. “They know what’s going on and can come up with ways to fix it.”

Hinojoso said he believes that the greatest obstacle facing America right now in the area of race and social justice is language.

“The American people do not have a shared narrative about our past and present, not to mention the language with which to discuss it,” he said. “When we lack the words in common with which to have the conversations we utterly need to have, we inevitably see division in our communities.”

He said he’s spoken to many who believe that racism ended with Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights marches, or others who dismiss the harassment of LGBTQ students in schools and that is why student groups such as the WMS Civil Rights Team are vital to the community.

“We believe that we can create a significant impact by simply educating our community about these issues and reinforcing the fact that they exist,” Hinojoso said. <

RSU 14 explores adding in-person instruction days for students

RSU 14 students, teachers, and staff will find out this week
if students in the district will return to in-person instruction
four or five days per week. Under the current hybrid plan, 
they are only attending in-person two days a week because
of the pandemic. The RSU 14 Board of Directors is expected
to make an announcement about it this week.
By Ed Pierce

Students in RSU 14 could soon be back in the classroom two or three additional days a week if school administrators and school board members approve a plan to return in-person instruction four days a week.

Last August, RSU 14 Schools Superintendent Christopher Howell recommended that the school district adopt a hybrid model for the start of the school year for students in Windham and Raymond. Since last September, RSU 14 students have been grouped alphabetically with last names from A to K having in-person classes in school on Mondays and Wednesdays and those with last names from L to Z attending in-person classes in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On days when students are not in school, they have been expected to be following up online with their teachers to the best extent possible.

He said that the foundation of the hybrid proposal was to ensure the safety, equity and accessibility for all Windham and Raymond students.

Along with students, the pandemic has been hard on families, teachers, school staff members and school custodians, who have been putting in long hours because of the associated additional cleaning requirements for schools as a result of COVID-19. School cafeteria workers have also been challenged to provide different scenarios for student lunches, ranging from eating in the classroom to finding larger spaces in the schools for lunchrooms to accommodate social distancing mandates.

Using the hybrid schools plan, Howell said many CDC social distancing mandates were met by reducing the number of students in RSU 14 schools daily.

If the district increases in-person instructional days, Howell said that RSU 14 also is planning to continue to offer students a remote-only learning option if families do not feel comfortable with the proposed in-person plan for the remainder of the school year.

Information posted on the RSU 14 website earlier this week said that parents would need to have children attend school following whatever schedule model is directed by the board.


The information says remote options are possible, however, it is important to understand that any additional remote requests will be set up with online software and not added to the current remote teams. Students currently using remote learning are free to return to classroom instruction, but do not have to make the transition if their families wish to keep using the remote option through the end of the school year.  


“We will work to ensure that all students’ needs are met,” the info reads. “The district will provide transportation for families who are unable to transport.”

A survey was sent out to all students, families, and staff on April 1 to gather information to help the RSU 14 board reach a consensus about how to proceed.


The website information also details that if additional in-person instructional days are approved for RSU 14 schools, building administrators will work with staff to ensure appropriate social distancing guidelines are met and that spaces are conducive to engaged learning. And it further explains that building administrators will work to ensure adequate staff coverage for all classrooms. 


Whether the proposal adopted by the board is for four days of in-person instruction or for five days, the web statement says teachers would have their duty-free lunch and prep time in any of the proposed options.


“We understand that this has been an extraordinarily challenging year for all: staff, students, administrators, and community members. These are difficult decisions. It is important that we maintain a focus on student needs and then respond to challenges that staff are facing as we collaboratively problem solve the myriad of issues that this year has presented,” the statement reads. “Building administrators will work with teachers on a plan to support the transition. Any hourly staff who are asked to work additional hours will be compensated accordingly.”  


It says that the proposed increase to in-person instruction at this time is in response to expressed community needs for children to return to schools for as much in-person instruction as possible while maintaining adherence to social distancing and health/safety guidelines, as well as academic, social, and emotional needs of students.


“As more educators are vaccinated, school districts are examining possible schedule shifts to meet the needs of students and the community,” the web statement reads. “The RSU 14 Board of Directors has been kept abreast of building-level needs and challenges in response to COVID social distancing guidelines throughout the 2020-2021 school year. The RSU 14 Administrative Team would provide necessary updates to the full Board of Directors in response to any of the proposed options. Classroom spacing, furniture needs, social distancing protocols, instructional shifts, social emotional and academic planning, etc. are all being carefully examined and would be presented to the board for their input and consideration, as well. Every decision made by the RSU 14 Board of Directors is made following a thorough review of multiple perspectives. The board appreciates the feedback they’ve received regarding the proposed options to increasing in-person instruction and is reviewing survey data, emails, and other communication/feedback very carefully in order to make a decision.”


The RSU 14 Board of Directors was scheduled to make a final determination about additional in-person instruction days during a meeting on Wednesday evening. 

This article will be updated when information becomes available. < 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Volunteers work to save bird refuge

Seymour's Bird Refuge in Cumberland has struggled
to make ends meet during the pandemic, but recently
has been energized by a GoFundMe initiative created
by a refuge volunteer. The effort has raised money to
help care for and re-home exotic birds through the fall.

By Elizabeth Richards

For more than 20 years, Seymour’s Bird Refuge in Cumberland has both cared for and re-homed birds, but in 2020, the pandemic almost forced the refuge to shut down. 

When the pandemic hit, the on-site bird supplies store that supports the refuge had to shift to curbside service only from March 2020 to July 2020.  Customers began ordering supplies online, diminishing the primary income stream for the refuge, said owner Andrea Tims.

Once they were able to reopen, she said, people were slow to return to the store.

Donna Gerardo, a longtime volunteer for the refuge, was compelled to do something to help.  She organized a GoFundMe page for the rescue, with an initial goal of raising $8000, which would have supported the refuge through the end of March.   

The $8,000 goal was what Tims told Gerardo she needed to pay taxes, order supplies for the store, and other basics just to keep the doors open, Gerardo said.

“I really thought that was pushing it,” she said. But when the fundraising page went live, “money started rolling in,” she said. “We got excited when we met our goal, then we doubled our goal. I want to make it to $20,000 now.”

By March 30, the page had raised $19,400.

“The more donations we receive, the longer the sanctuary can remain open,” Gerardo said.

With the extra funds, Gerardo said, Tims can plan ahead and take care of projects that have been let go, such as a new walkway for wheelchair access.

Tims’ mother started Seymour’s Bird Refuge in 2000.  When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Tims stepped up to both care for her mother and care for the birds.

When her mother passed away in 2011, she took over the rescue “because we had so many, and where do you take them with this many birds?” she said.

Seymour’s is a true labor of love.

“I can’t afford to draw a paycheck and be able to feed the birds,” Tims said.  “Pretty much anything the store does goes right back into the shelter.”

Currently, Tims said, there are about 60 birds in the rescue facility, and she has 10 birds in her home as well.

Seymour’s is the only licensed bird rescue in Maine that adopts birds out. They were the only licensed facility in the state until Siesta Sanctuary in Harmony opened, but Siesta is a retirement home for parrots and does not re-home birds.

There are strict adoption guidelines, Gerardo said, to be sure that those adopting can take care of the bird they request.

Tims said often people come in looking for a parakeet or cockatiel but get distracted by the Macaws they see in the back.

“Tunnel vision sets in, but they don’t have the experience to handle a bird with 500 pounds of bite pressure on its beak,” she said. 

Birds are more difficult than cats or dogs to re-home, she said. 

“They want to be part of the flock, so if you’re on the phone they’re screaming louder. They’re just trying to join the conversation,” she said. “That’s what they would do in nature.”

The rescue is not set up as a non-profit, and Tims prefers not to do fundraising.

“We designed this business to be self-sustaining, so we didn’t have to put our hand out every time you turn around,” she said.

That’s why the impact of the pandemic was so difficult.

 “We are gaining a little bit of ground since the GoFundMe, but we’re not where we were,” Tims said. “The GoFundMe has definitely opened some eyes.”

A story that ran on News Center Maine has also brought some regulars back in, she said.

Tims said that with the current donations, she can keep Seymour’s open into the fall. 

“Once winter hits again and we’re buying fuel oil again, things are going to start really getting tight if we can’t get the foot traffic back where it was,” she said. 

Anyone wishing to help can search the GoFundMe site for Seymour’s Bird Refuge. Bird owners can help by visiting the store and purchasing supplies.  Tims also offers limited short-term boarding for birds when space allows.

For more information on Seymour’s Bird Refuge, visit <


Town of Raymond's budget process in full swing

Proposal aims to keep taxes low, essential services intact

Members of Raymond's Budget-Finance Committee will meet
with members of the Raymond Board of Selectmen and the
town manager during a meeting to review and examine the
town's preliminary budget proposal on April 6. Raymond Town 
Manager Don Willard has submitted an initial budget of 
$17,299,207 for 2021-2022. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
By Ed Pierce

As the Town of Raymond’s budgetary process for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 continues to unfold, the focus remains squarely on holding spending in check while maintaining essential services for town residents.

Starting in March, the Raymond Board of Selectmen began preliminary discussions regarding the budget and will meet again with the Town Manager, Town Finance Director and members of the Raymond Budget-Finance Committee on April 6 to continue to come up with a proposal to offer to voters during the annual town meeting in June. Because of the pandemic, it is uncertain if voters will gather for the town meeting, but if not, like in 2020, voters could be asked to approve the budget by referendum.          

According to Raymond Town Manager Don Willard, certain goals and priorities guided town staff in formulating a budget proposal for the coming year.

“We want to maintain or lower the tax rate and continue the commitment to improve and maintain town roads,” Willard said. “We are aware that the town’s undesignated fund balance can be used within existing policy to keep taxes low and that all budget areas are on the table for discussion and review. Lastly, we are aiming for a core-service driven budget.”

Willard said Raymond’s municipal budgets have remained flat for the past few years and he expects that to be the case once more when a final proposal is agreed upon by the Raymond Select Board.

In a letter in February to the Raymond Board of Selectmen and the Raymond Budget-Finance Committee, Willard said a working draft shows only a 2.46 budget increase for 2021-2022 and that figure did not include contributions from the undesignated surplus fund balance.

“New property valuation growth continues to be strong,” Willard wrote in the letter. “The budget does factor an estimated $7.5 million increase in new taxable property valuation that will reduce the impact of any increased spending.”

Willard said several other factors that are beyond the control of the town when formulating the new town budget are the Cumberland County’s budget and the school’s budget. RSU 14 is expected to submit its 2021-2022 budget proposal later this spring. 

In opening the 2021-2022 budget discussion, the Raymond Board of Selectmen and Town Budget-Finance Committee are reviewing Willard’s initial proposal of $17,299,207.  Last year’s budget for Raymond was $18,148,036.

No major equipment purchases such as fire trucks are planned by the town in the coming year, Willard said.

The initial budget proposal under study includes $76,393 for Tassel Top Park, up from $50,195 from last year. Revenues for Tassel Top Park actually rose by 26 percent in the past year and some of the requested increase in funding could be used to hire a split position with the town’s public works department for a parks maintenance foreman.

The new budget proposal also includes additional funding for town election workers as the minimum wage rises; $3,500 to repair broken and leaning old headstones in the Raymond Village Cemetery, and $3,000 requested by the town clerk’s office to conserve and de-acidify some of the oldest town records written on parchment paper more than 250 years ago.

Selectmen and Budget-Finance Committee members could approve a budget proposal to continue to invest in fiber networking infrastructure to eliminate monthly costs of ISP connections for the Town of Raymond’s network and $7,500 to manage town videography services.

The Raymond Public Works Department is requesting $2,000 for road striping service and $50,000 for road paving while Raymond Fire-Rescue is requesting funding for a staffing study to help resolve manpower issues and attract new qualified firefighters and EMTs to the town.

The proposed budget also includes a contribution for the Lakes Region Explorer public transportation system and funding for regional animal control services along with Casco and Naples.

Town debt service from existing municipal bonds under the initial proposed budget remains unchanged from the 2020-2021 budget at $317,800. <