Friday, May 27, 2022

McAfee’s positive leadership a significant legacy lost for Windham

Former Windham High School Principal and
community champion Deb McAfee passed
away from cancer on May 18. She will be
remembered as a tireless advocate for
students and a reliable volunteer for
charitable causes in Windham.
By Ed Pierce and Andrew Wing

Former Windham High School Principal Deb McAfee would often tell students that “The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind” and that quote seems to best sum up her life and 38-year career as an educator before she passed away from cancer on May 18.

Devoted to her community and always encouraging the best from her students, McAfee leaves behind a legacy of service and leadership that will not be forgotten by those who knew her and generations to come.

She grew up in Portland and earned degrees from the University of Maine Farmington and the University of Southern Maine. Her first teaching job was at the Maine Youth Center, now called the Long Creek Youth Development Center. She later taught at Mahoney Middle School and became an assistant principal at Mountain Valley, Medomak Valley and Waterville High School.

In 1990, McAfee was named as the principal at Medomak Valley High and joined Windham High School as principal for the 1996-1997 school year. She served as Windham principal for 14 years, stepping down in 2010 to undergo treatment for cancer before returning in the fall of 2011 as the school’s assistant principal and held that position for seven years before retiring in 2018.

RSU 14 Superintendent Chris Howell said McAfee played a significant role in the development and construction of Windham High as principal.

“Completing a renovation/addition of a school while it is in session is a very difficult task to complete. In addition to the organizational skills that are required to keep classes going during construction, there is also a need to coordinate the safety needs of a school in the middle of a construction site,” he said. “I doubt that the public is aware of the number of hours that it took for Deb to coordinate all of the moving pieces during the construction of Windham High School.”

Of all the things Howell says he learned from McAfee, showing up and being present for student activities and games means the most to him.

“Deb was always in attendance at Windham High School games and activities. She loved bragging about the achievements of her students, and you could frequently find the latest Portland Press Herald, or The Windham Eagle article taped to her door. Beyond students, Deb had a love for taking care of the individuals that she worked with. Her appreciation might appear as a small gift in your mailbox or a kind email or note. Deb will ultimately be remembered for her generosity of time and resources to the people that she worked with and the students that she served.”

Windham High Assistant Principal Phil Rossetti remains in awe of McAfee’s ability to connect with everyone.

“Deb was present for everything, and she knew every student, parent, community member. She knew that our school was the center of the community and she wanted it to serve that purpose,” he said. When the school went through renovations, she made the auditorium a major focus of the project.”

According to Rossetti, McAfee pushed her colleagues at WHS to all be the best persons and educators possible.

“I personally learned the value of community in the work we do. Education takes a community partnership which was evidenced in Deb’s work,” he said. “I hope that we can all take a minute and reflect on how we can give back to our community in honor of Deb.”

Marge Govoni, who served with McAfee on Windham’s Human Services Advisory Committee, said Deb’s drive to help others was enormous.

“She cared for and about everyone, no matter the age, or gender,” Govoni said. “She wanted to help everyone, and she was the kindest individual I ever met. If you needed anyone to step up to help, Deb was your person. There is no one story that speaks to her commitment when she decided to help, whether it was her continued support to her students and there were many, all the work she did with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, her guidance and commitment to the Human Services Advisory Committee and lastly her work with the Age Friendly endeavor that she was helping to lead until now. I don’t think she ever had an unkind word about anyone, and our community has lost a champion that you felt proud to call your friend and she will be missed by many.”

Through the years she worked closely with hundreds of teachers, but she had history with one teacher that dates back almost 30 years. Patricia Soucy, a Spanish teacher at Windham for the past 25 years, first taught at Medomak Valley High where Deb was principal. But when McAfee got the job in Windham, she needed a Spanish teacher and offered it to Soucy.

“She was such a powerful mentor to me,” said Soucy. “Deb’s support and encouragement for the 28 years she has been my friend, boss and mentor have made me the teacher I am today.”

Kim Dubay, the current WHS Administrative Assistant to the Director of Student Services, says she’s grateful for all McAfee taught her during their many years working together.

“Deb was loyal, kind, supportive, generous and humble,” said Dubay. “She was always quick to acknowledge that every employee of Windham High School had an important role to play in order for the school to run successfully.”

WHS Social Studies teacher Susan Hapenney said McAfee was exactly what the school needed, and she made it her goal to bring the town together and build a new and improved school.

“It’s due to her tireless work that we have the beautiful building and grounds that we have today,” said Hapenney. “We will all miss her constant presence and her infectious laugh.”

Kelly Dubay, a WHS 2009 graduate, said her mother had worked with McAfee and got to know her before she attended high school.

“I feel privileged to have known her for so long, and with me growing up in the sports world, I remember she attended every sporting event that she was able to throughout the years to support all of her students,” said Dubay. “She constantly had a smile on her face, and it truly made such an impact on me to walk by her in the halls and see her smiling, no matter how my day was going.”

2017 WHS graduate Ally Stephen said her best memory of McAfee took place at a school pep rally. McAfee was going through chemotherapy at the time and then-principal Howell asked students to give her a round of applause.

"I remember seeing her so happy in that moment,” said Stephen. “She was a genuine light in that school, always greeting everyone with a smile no matter what she was going through, and she will be incredibly missed.” <

Governor promotes childcare expansion during visit to Windham

Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks with Tabitha
Cummings, the director/owner of the
Creative Exploration Child Development
Center during a visit to the facility in
Windham on May 18. Mills toured the
center and spoke with staff and parents 
about the effort to expand quality, 
affordable childcare for Maine children
and their parents.
By Collette Hayes

Maine Gov. Janet Mills is making historic investments in accessible childcare in Maine, including the first-ever Child Care Plan for Maine developed by the Office of Child and Family Services that invests about $120 million in American Rescue Plan funds to help Maine’s childcare system recover and to improve childcare quality, accessibility and affordability over the long term.

Mills visited the Creative Explorations Child Development Center in Windham on May 18 in Windham to promote the importance of expanding childcare in Maine. Whether because of affordability, accessibility or offering a quality early childhood educational program, childcare challenges are driving parents out of the workforce at an alarming rate. In 2021, 700,000 parents were out of the workforce due to the challenges of finding childcare. In addition to that unsettling statistic, in the last year there has been a notable 144 percent increase in the number of parents who have missed work to care for children.

The Maine Department of Labor has identified the lack of affordable childcare as a barrier that prevents parents from entering and staying in the workforce. To tackle the problem, Mills said she’s investing $25 million through her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, approved by the Maine Legislature, to help renovate, expand or build new childcare facilities and expand early childhood education programs.

Last month the Governor also signed into law a supplemental budget that will deliver $200 monthly stipends to more than 7,000 childcare workers across Maine, continuing stipends that her administration began providing last year as part of a larger effort to attract and retain people to work in this valuable profession.

“Maine’s current and future workforce depends on accessible, affordable childcare. Not only do working parents need a safe place to send their kids during the day, but research shows that successful early care and education programs can boost academic outcomes and even high school graduation rates,” Mills said. “With our new budget and my Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, we are expanding access to childcare and giving working families what they need to provide healthy, safe care for their kids that allows them to go to work, bring home a paycheck and strengthen our economy.”

Creative Explorations Child Development Center received more than $23,000 in economic recovery grants from the Mills Administration to help it sustain operations during the pandemic, and now its 19 staff are receiving $200 monthly stipends. During her visit, Mills met with the staff and children at the facility and discussed her administration’s efforts to expand quality, affordable childcare for Maine children and their parents.

“Being a grandmother of five children, preschool through kindergarten, I know how difficult it is for parents to find quality affordable childcare,” said Mills.

“Childcare has three challenges, physical space, number of teachers and training, she said. “The two-year stipends that we are providing for tuition to the community colleges for early childhood specialists and childcare workers is helping to meet these challenges. Also, some federal funding we receive will go toward the expansion of childcare facilities.”

Leading a guided tour for the governor, Tabitha Cummings, the owner and director of Creative Exploration’s Child Development Center, consistently pointed out how Creative Explorations offers a unique approach to early childhood education by fostering and developing curiosity and creativity in a child’s early years of development as well as providing a safe and happy learning environment. 

“We started Creative Explorations 12 years ago with a very small preschool. The preschool was originally intended for 13 children and 2 teachers, but as we established a community our families grew in need of toddler care and infant care, so we started expanding,” said Cummings. “We moved to our Windham location and started in just half of the building and then began to expand from there. We are now serving 85 children from infant to toddler, preschool, and school age children.  It is important to provide quality, safe childcare for all of these children. With some of the funds we received, we installed outdoor sinks so the children can wash their hands before and after they eat. Also, we bought indoor/outdoor mats for the children allowing the children to nap inside as well as outside in the fresh air during the warmer weather.”

Mills said there will be other state funding available when the American Rescue Funds run out.

“The bipartisan budget just passed unanimously in the provisions committee, unanimously in the Senate and nearly unanimously in the House of Representatives,” said Mills. “It includes general funds monies to continue those stipends. It’s not all federal funds. Federal funds are useful particularly for one-time expenditures to build, for instance, a physical plant not necessarily for ongoing expenses, but we’re doing both.” <

Friday, May 20, 2022

American Legion announces Windham Memorial Day celebration plans

More than 950 flags will be placed on the graves of Windham's
fallen veterans as part of the American Legion Post 148's 
celebration of Memorial Day this year. Other activities
include a parade, a gathering and observance at Windham 
High School, and a picnic at the Windham Veterans Center on
Memorial Day, May 30. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
By Ed Pierce

American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 invites the community to join its local veterans as they observe Windham’s Memorial Day celebration.  

Legion members say they missed seeing the public turn out on Memorial Day the last two years. The pandemic put a halt to the celebration in May 2020 and a torrential rain washed out last year’s event.

For more than 30 years, the Field-Allen Post has been planning the town’s Memorial Day events.

This year the Legion will be conducting its traditional events with a few new twists. They are asking the community to increase their involvement with floats or decorated vehicles to replace some of the more traditional entries that may not be available.

At one time in the past the Memorial Day parade was the largest parade in town with no competition from Summerfest and was extremely well attended. Over the past few years, it has become a shadow of its former self, said Post 148 Adjutant David Tanguay. 

“The good news is that the Windham High School Marching Band is back this year along with the Windham Primary School chorus,” he said.  

The Legion’s preparation for the Memorial Day events starts in January each year with notifications, requests and planning of the respective events. In early May the flags that are to be hung on the utility poles around town are assembled and made ready.

New flags are ordered as needed, as well as ordering some 950-plus flags to be placed on the graves of our fallen veterans. Since 2005, the Legion has placed the 100 flags around town in preparation for the summer and Memorial Day.

Tanguay said that this year the flags will go up on the weekend of May 21. The program is a collaboration between the Town and the Legion. Windham purchases the flags on a triennial cycle and the post provides the hardware and manpower to place the flags. 

The flags fly until Labor Day, Tanguay said.

During the week before May 21, teams of veterans will fan out over the 22 smaller cemeteries in Windham for the veterans buried there, to replace/place the flags on their grave sites.

“On May 21, weather permitting, teams of veterans and community members will meet at 9 a.m. at Arlington Cemetery in North Windham adjacent to the fire station to place the final 350-plus flags on the veteran’s graves. 

Tanguay asked that if any families or groups are interested in helping, a great opportunity exists for the community to have a teaching moment and share in the flag program.  

“At Smith Cemetery, the town is fortunate to have a group of our young cadets from the Windham High School who will place over 200 flags at the cemeteries at the rotary,” he said.

Memorial Day on Monday May 30 will be the Legion’s busiest day with multiple events and several opportunities for the community to get involved.

Windham’s Memorial Day Parade begins at 9 a.m. from the Town Hall on School Road and proceeds onto Route 202 in the direction of Windham High School. 

The best vantage point for viewing the parade is from the area around the intersection of Windham Center Road and Route 202.  

“This year the Legion is asking for business and community support to make the parade truly memorable,” Tanguay said. “There is also a need for open vehicles, convertibles preferred, to provide rides for some of our less ambulatory, senior veterans. We will be using the Korean War-era M-37 Truck for our veterans as well and ask that if any vet would like to join us in the parade, please give me a call. We will find room for you.”

He said that the parade is not limited to a specific war era, any veteran who would like to march with the Legion or VFW component is welcome. All groups or individuals desiring to join the parade should meet and check in by 8:45 a.m. in front of the Windham Town Hall on School Road.

According to Tanguay, advanced registration would be helpful. When you arrive, you will receive a location in the parade. If you march, please do not throw items that may draw young individuals into the line of march or traffic.  

The parade is a short jaunt from School Road to the Windham High School lower parking area and terminates at the town’s Veterans Memorial Flagpole in front of Windham High School.

“At 10 a.m. the Memorial Day Ceremony commences,” Tanguay said. “Our guest speaker this year is U.S. Army Lt. Col. Wally Clark.”

The Master of Ceremonies for the event will be Post 148 Commander Tom Theriault. Ceremonial events include: WHS band performances, a wreath laying, a bell tolling for our lost Windham veterans this year and ceremonial burning of flags removed from veterans’ graves, followed by the traditional rifle salute and the playing of Taps.

Those events will be followed with an open house at noon at the Windham Veterans Center with a picnic style luncheon open to the public hosted by the Field-Allen Post.  There will be a brief wreath ceremony prior to the picnic in the Windham Veterans Center Memorial Garden. Following the ceremony, a picnic luncheon will be provided.

All the events are free and open to the public. Please note that some COVID-19 protocols may still be in place for these events based on guidelines for the end of May.

“The post sincerely hopes that you can find the time to join us for one or more of these events over the Memorial Day period and help us celebrate the 104th years of service by the Legion to veterans and the community,” Tanguay said.

To volunteer support or register an entry in the parade please contact Tanguay at 207-892-1306. <

Summer Concert Series at Dundee Park returns in July

Portland-based band Time Pilots will perform during the 
Summer Concert Series at Dundee Park on July 6 hosted
by the Windham Parks and Recreation Department.
By Collette Hayes

Sounds of Bluegrass, Classic Rock, Dance Party and R&B music will float on the warm, summer night air with the return of the Wednesday evening Summer Concert Series at Dundee Park in Windham.

This year marks the 6th Annual Summer Concert Series at Dundee Park. The event was initiated in 2016 by the Windham Parks and Recreation Department in an attempt to provide free events that would bring the community closer together.

Beginning July 6, concerts will be held every Wednesday evening through the month of July and will feature popular Maine artists performing a variety of music worth listening to.

According to Linda Brooks, Director of the Windham Department of Parks and Recreation, each week the concerts will be hosted by different local community organizations including the Lions Club, American Legion and Boy Scout Troop 805. Host organizations will be highlighting their community involvement activities as well as selling prepackaged concession items at the Snack Shack located in the park.

“We will be giving different community organizations a chance to showcase what they do by having them host the concerts,” said Brooks. “The Department of Parks and Recreation will provide concession stand items and the host organizations will benefit from the sales they receive. Once again, this year, due to the ongoing challenges of Covid, the Department will be providing prepackaged food items such as popcorn and ice cream.
Set among a beautiful landscape of sandy beach and towering pines, all performances will be held at the Beach Pavilion. There are picnic tables throughout the park for seating, but concert attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs for enjoying the concert on the beach with the band.

Paddling a canoe or kayak over to the beach from the boat launch above the park and enjoying the concert from a seat on the pond is an option as well.

Brooks said that the Summer Concert Series at Dundee Park is definitely a family friendly event that shouldn’t be missed. Barbeque grills and picnic tables can be found throughout the park to enjoy a leisurely family cookout during the concert. Basketball, volleyball and a playground are all readily available entertainment for kids during the concert. July temperatures can be sizzling hot so pack the kids’ swimsuits and take advantage of a dip in the pond while listening to the talented performers.

Time Pilots will kick off the Concert Series the evening of July 6. Time Pilots is a Portland-based band that performs everything from Frank Sinatra to Justin Timberlake. On July 13, Stolen Mojo takes the stage playing ultimate dance and party hits from the last five decades. 

Breakin’ Strings brings some of the finest musical talent in Maine to the stage with a hard-driving bluegrass sound that will bring people to their feet on July 20.

Featuring lead vocalist and guitarist Rob Babson and Darren Whitney on tenor and alto saxophone, The Delta Knights, Maine’s Rockin’ Blues Band, will conclude the Concert Series on July 27 by performing some of the finest R&B and Classic Rock.

For seniors in need of transportation to the event, the Windham Department of Parks and Recreation will be offering transportation by bus. The Dundee Park staff will be available as patrons enter the park and will help to facilitate vehicle parking.

Dundee Park is located on Presumpscot Road which is just off the River Road in Windham. After 5 p.m. admission to the park will be free and bands will perform from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Rain dates for any missed concerts will be Aug. 3 or Aug. 10.

For further questions about the event contact the Windham Parks and Recreation Department or visit the Windham Parks and Recreation Department Facebook page <

Friday, May 13, 2022

Raymond coaching legend Jim Beers retires after nearly 30 years on the sidelines

Raymond coaching legend Jim Beers is retiring at the end
of the school year after a career of nearly 30 years of 
working with young people and leading them from the
By Matt Pascarella

The Raymond community and Jordan-Small Middle School have been lucky to have Coach Jim Beers teaching their children the fundamentals of athletics in a variety of sports.

For nine years, Beers has coached soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball both at JSMS and outside of it. This spring season will be his final season on the field, as he has coached for close to 30 years.

Beers originally began coaching youth baseball in New Hampshire around 1995. His boss’s son played Little League and suggested Beers help out at practice. He umpired a few games that quickly morphed into full-fledged coaching.

Beers began coaching in Maine when his son began playing in 2004 in Raymond’s K-2 program, then coach-pitch, recreational soccer and beyond. Since that time Beers has coached over 70 teams.

“My goals were to give them every bit of experience I had gone through as an athlete. I wanted them to have pride, to put forth effort every time we practiced or played. It takes zero skill to give maximum effort, and that trait is inside every girl and boy,” said Beers.

After a few years of coaching in the Raymond Recreational Department, Beers was soon running the department. Beers had help from Christina and Chris Whitney. Beers wants to thank Dave McGowan and Kevin MacDonald for allowing him to get his feet wet and take over for them, which laid the groundwork for Raymond sports.

Beers found his way to JSMS through Raymond Recreational sports. He coached soccer, basketball and baseball, allowing him to see athletes year-round. As the athletes grew, Beers went with them.

Beers’ baseball coach Jack Scott gave him the confidence to believe in himself.

Beers wants to be able to do for his athletes what his coaches did for him. It’s important for him to give his athletes the confidence to tackle things that may not be easy to achieve.

“Nowadays, self-confidence is at an all-time low,” he said. “To see an athlete throw themselves to something they were either once terrified of, or convinced it wasn't for them – and succeed, is exactly why I coach. If I can inject passion for what they are doing into them, that's all I care about.”

Over his 20-plus years of coaching, what stands out are the players. Beers is 100 percent invested in the progression of an athlete.

Some of his proudest moments as a coach are seeing players do things for the first time. To see a player’s face after their first hit, first goal or first basket is amazing.

“He’s really into helping you learn,” said JSMS eighth-grader Audrey Getchell. “He has a positive attitude if you make a mistake. He taught me to brush it off; you learn from your mistakes.”

JSMS eighth-grader Sarah Penna said Beers teaches good sportsmanship. Penna said she hasn’t necessarily learned that from other coaches.

Both players know they can talk to Beers if they get overwhelmed. They both feel lucky to have him as a coach during his final season.

"His love of the game is so infectious,” said former JSMS athlete Andrew Wing. “He brought an incredible level of enthusiasm to everything, and it certainly rubbed off on all of his players. Most importantly, he always believed in me and that gave me the utmost confidence.”

Tammy Louko, a parent of a former player said Beer’s dedication is what stands out. Even when the players aren’t “his” players, Beers is still invested in their progress and attends their games. He’s willing to assist any player who asks for advice and is very well respected.

A few moments that stick out for Beers are when his soccer team won 36 games straight over three seasons. In an undefeated baseball season, Jake Conley pitched a perfect game.

“Andrew Wing will always be a legendary name in all three sports at JSMS,” said Beers.

Some players he will never forget for numerous reasons are: Amanda Foss, Carlee Desrosiers, Sarah Penna, Audrey Getchell, Elle Thacker, Vania Murch, Mackenzie Harris, Corey Brackett, Al Potter, Reese Merritt, Ivan Kaffel, Jamie Louko, The Brooks' Brothers, Raymond and Owen Dulac, Boden Sabasteanski, Stearns Wallingford, Jake Richardson, Nate and Sammy Plummer, Chase Wescott, Noah and AJ Mains, Niall Gushee, Connor Pittman, Ben MacDonald, Jack Gresh, the Dionne Boys, the Pongratz Boys, Olivia Hamilton, Austin McGowan, Derek Foss, Derrick Richards, Robbie Soucy, Jayson Plummer, Trenton Atherton, Cooper Elwell, Logan Timmons, Hunter Simpson, Ethan Fletcher, Jakob Emery, Corey Whitney, Baxter Engelman, Caleb Crockett, Aiden Swett, Avery Lind, Noah Estey, Colby Mizner, Cooper Gaudet, Johnny Lawlor, Caden Theriault, the one and only Jack Bisson, Ben Childs, Zach Petcher, James Mannette, Shane Donnelly, Blake Colby, The Conley Boys, David and Deven Young, Tommy Dupont, Stella Feenstra, Lucas Oldershaw, The Goslant Boys, Carly Steele, Braeden Bisson, Noah Worthing, Stratty Demakis, Eli Rogers, The Gurney Boys, Cam Wescott, Bob Wing, Zach Skillings, Ezra Boynton, Oliver Backman, Louden Greene and Mark Gedicks.

Through his years of being a coach, Beers has learned to have more patience. He said that you have to evolve with the times and every athlete is different; they need just as much one-on-one attention as they do in a group.

Athletics is always changing too, but as long as they still keep score, the approach should be the same. It should mean something to represent your town, school and parents.

Beers said holding people accountable is uncomfortable. It’s worse to have people fail because you won’t coach, confront or correct them. Accountability is something you do for someone, not to someone.

“He gives 100 percent to the kids and the kids really enjoy him,” said JSMS athletic director Jack Fitch. “I couldn’t find a better coach; if I need something he’s always there to help out. He bends over backwards to help the kids of Raymond. I can always depend on him; he’s a good friend.”

Beers said the list of people to thank could go on for days:

First, his dad, who put the ball in his hands and showed him the game; his brother, who gave him his competitive fire he is known for; his first coach Peter Walgreen; Little League coach Warren Cunningham; middle school baseball coach John MacDonald; high school coaches Jack Scott, Brian Higgins and Mike Merritt; Beers’ summer baseball coaches Dennis Damon and Danny Kane and former University of Maine baseball coach, the late John Winkin.

He would also like to thank his wife, Miozoty, for putting up with all this over the years (she's always his No. 1 assistant coach); Beers’ children, Orion and Briella; and to every player who's ever had him as their coach.

Beers would also like to thank Brad Hamilton, Don Foss, Brian Crockett, Susan Brackett, Eric Colby, Jeremy Wilson, Tony Hovey, Sandy Winde, Dan Bisson, John Powers, Adina Baseler, Rob Wing, Daryl Gurney, Mark Conley, Ricky Skillings, Bob The Screen Printer, John Dionne and Joe Troiano who all played roles in helping him.

He also mentioned Jack Fitch, Randy Crockett, Rich Drummond, Tom Gumble, John Keller, Joni Merrill, Kerry Glew and Lynne Estey who have all been instrumental in letting him be him and to all the parent photographers and The Windham Eagle’s Matt Pascarella, who helped capture all the special moments over the years.

To all the parents, Beers said Thank You.

“My heart is for my players, former and current, but it's also time for new blood to step in. Nine years at JSMS, three sports a year, is 27 seasons. I have memories to fill two lifetimes,” Beers said.

He added winning isn’t everything but wanting to is. <

Mock crime tests intuitive skills of WHS students

During the 'mock crime' exercise at Windham High School
a student 'evidence technician' collects a sample from the
suspect, played by 2021 WHS graduate Griffin Wirtz.
By Lorraine Glowczak

There was plenty of mayhem in the early morning hours on Thursday, May 5, on “Moose Falls High School” campus – or rather – the Windham High School (WHS) campus. “Moose Falls” was the feigned title given to WHS as part of a mock crime scene curriculum study for about 100 students in the English, journalism, math and science classes.

Working alongside the Windham Police Department (WPD), who were instrumental in helping to create an authenticated “crime”, students from math and science worked as “evidence technicians” that collected and analyzed data. They collaborated with the English “detectives” who interviewed the witnesses and suspect (he pleaded the fifth) to develop a theory of the crime. The “journalists” were on hand to write press releases and articles to “inform the public.”  

The “crime” involved a car accident that included a fake passenger who “perished” and a driver, the suspect named “Jerry,” played by 2021 WHS graduate, Griffin Wirtz. The vehicle used during the mock crime scene scenario, was part of an actual accident and was towed to WHS campus by SOS Towing of Windham and placed on the campus behind the football field.

“The purpose [of the Mock Crime Scene] is to have the students learn about forensic investigation and give them a real-life application for the skills that they’re learning in school,” math teacher John Ziegler said in a previous interview. “Here, we’re giving them a great example of when they’re going to have to use math in real life...with a real career-based application to it.”

Science teacher Dan Wirtz explained that the evidence technicians studied ABO blood typing and did lab work identifying different blood types. The students also discussed what constitutes "evidence" and how it is handled from crime scene to trial and even after the trial. 

“We talked about the different illegal drugs that could be found at a crime scene and detected in a human,” Wirtz said. “We also brainstormed what other evidence may show up at a crime scene and how a real event differs from what is seen on TV/movies.”

Wirtz further explained that the expectations were to understand how the different pieces of evidence come together to show what happened, which tests are wholly reliable, and which ones have a high possibility of error.

“We also discussed the rights of anyone who is accused of a crime and what they must do/say, and what their constitutional rights protect them from incriminating themselves,” he said.

English and journalism teacher Chelsea Scott prepared her students for the event by teaching them the essential details and information required when writing about a crime scene.

“Leading up to and including last week, ‘the journalists’ learned the nuances of writing about crime, including what information they should ethically include in a news article and the impact that including certain information may have on an investigation,” Scott said. “Students delved into unbiased writing that empowers the public by sharing useful, impactful information.”

On the day of the event, a former broadcast journalist at News Center Maine, Shannon Moss, who is currently the Public Information Officer for Maine Department of Public Safety spoke to Scott’s journalism students.

“Shannon Moss reminded students that empathy for the interview subjects is more important than being the first to release a story. She brought passion and energy to the discussion of the myriad professionals who work together to both solve crimes and broadcast the news. Moss generously shared tips for building positive relationships with detectives, which connected well with discussions that we have had as a class with guest speakers Bruce Robert Coffin and Detective Sergeant Jason Andrews.”

Other English class “detectives”, taught by Adrianne Shetenhelm and Nicole Densmore practiced their observation and notetaking skills.

“The students are writing an official police report as one of their final projects to improve their informative explanatory writing,” Shetenhelm said. “They also practiced their speaking and listening skills by interviewing witnesses and collaborating with peers on their theory of the crime. Some detective groups will prepare a presentation for a fictional district attorney. Toward the end of their unit, the students will present their theory of the crime and prove that the evidence they found proves the suspect's guilt.”

WHS Junior and English “detective,” Victoria Lin said she learned many things due to this hands-on and experiential learning that included communication between big groups of people, relying on the information from other student detectives through meetings and an organized digital log.

“We worked in small groups and discussed our information and theories,” Lin said. “When we made a conclusion based upon evidence, we would then report our findings to a webmaster who would enter it in our [digital log]. We had to work together to figure out what information was missing, what information was relevant, and what kinds of questions needed to be asked.”

Lake Peterson, a WHS Junior and an English “detective” said he enjoyed this educational unit because he is a curious person by nature. This event was like putting a puzzle together.

“I enjoy solving the how, what, when, where and why,” Peterson said. “We weren’t told anything about the crime scene, so we had to interview the witnesses and process all the information given to us the day of the event.”

Both Lin and Peterson agree that the mock crime scene curriculum was a fun way to learn by working outside of the classroom and with friends.

“A Mock Crime Scene has so many important things to offer students,” Lin said. “It gives insight into different aspects of CSI, experience with communication between large groups of diverse people, complex problem-solving in real-time, and a direct way to apply what we learned in classrooms.”

This project-based curriculum began in 2017 and has expanded into an inclusive community event that now includes members of the community. This year, those who agreed to play the roles as witnesses included Rev. Tim Higgins of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Raymond resident and active community member Tom Ewing and former WHS graduate Rosie Haibon.

“I'm just so encouraged that an idea that began with two teachers from math and English who were thinking about how we could create an authentic learning experience for our students has turned into a large school-wide community-building opportunity for English, math, science, and journalism students who are working alongside the local police department including our School Resource Officer, Seth Fournier,” Shetenhelm said. “Students who have only seen the police during difficult or traumatic events are working shoulder to shoulder with these authority figures.”

WHS Assistant Principal Vanessa Michaud said she is proud of the dedicated staff who has worked diligently on this project-based learning experience throughout the school year, noting their collaboration with the WPD.

“This collaboration provides students with the opportunity to develop teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills and real-world applications to the content skills they are learning in their courses,” Michaud said. “I am so proud of the hard work and dedication our staff put into making this experience possible for our students. It is truly a great thing to see our students building relationships with each other, our staff, and our community partners.”

Over the next few weeks some detectives will be pulling together a presentation for the District Attorney with their theory of the crime.

“Hopefully, their work is detailed enough that the DA will accept the charges and charge the suspect,” Scott said.

Fournier and the WPD wish to give special thanks to SOS Towing of Windham, who offered their service free of charge. <

Friday, May 6, 2022

Fate intervenes in kidney donation for best friends in Windham

Windham Walmart employees Jean Bennett, left,
and Michelle Davis await a flight at the Portland
Jetport on Monday. Davis, who is Bennett's
best friend, received a donated kidney from
Bennett during transplant surgery in 
Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday.
By Ed Pierce

It’s often the moment of decision in which our fates are determined and for two Windham Walmart employees, being placed together in the same department six years ago may have saved the life of one of them.

Jean Bennett, a team leader at Walmart, first struck up a friendship instantly with Michelle Davis when they were both assigned to work together at the Windham store in 2016. They became best friends and Bennett, a divorced mother of two, anguished as Davis, a married mother of four children, experienced kidney failure and then was told she needed a kidney transplant to survive.

“Michelle’s been suffering from kidney disease for the past four and a half years,” Bennett said. “It was really hard to watch my best friend go through that and suffer so much.”

The process of waiting for a kidney donation hasn’t been easy for Davis and her family.

“It’s been emotionally and financially draining and very difficult not knowing if I would find a match or not,” Davis said. “But then a miracle happened.”

And that miracle came from a very unexpected and fateful source.

Last year Bennett herself got tested and as unbelievable as it sounds, turned out to be a potential match for Davis. Bennett then underwent immune system testing and blood work last October and that was followed up by a battery of intense and rigorous kidney donation testing in February of this year. 

The Mayo Clinic reports that currently there are about 90,000 Americans in kidney failure on the waiting list for a possible match for a donor kidney and the average length of time that a recipient may spend on the waiting list is about three to five years. Many would-be kidney recipients die before ever finding a match nationally, making this particular donation even more improbable.

Eventually, Bennett’s donation to Davis was approved and both friends flew to Florida on Monday for the kidney transplant surgery, which was performed Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

“She’s my best friend and she truly helped me through a tough time a few years ago,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t just sit by and let her die, I knew I needed to step up and do something. I told her I would do anything for my best friend and if I can prolong your life, I’m willing to do it.”

Davis said that she’s grateful for meeting someone as wonderful as Bennett.

“I think it was a higher power that put us together working in the same department at Walmart,” Davis said. “I believe in fate and there’s a reason we met. Having her to do this for me is a godsend.”

During the complicated four-hour surgical operation, Bennett’s left kidney was removed and then transplanted into Davis, who was in surgery for about seven hours.

Bennett says that her teen daughters are highly supportive of her donating her kidney to Davis and proud of what she’s done.

“They understand, and they get it,” she said. “I’ll be in Florida for around 10 days and then I get to come home. I’ve been told not to do any heavy lifting for around six to eight weeks. But I should be back to full speed about mid-July.”

Doctors say that during the coming months Bennett’s remaining kidney will enlarge, doing the work of two healthy kidneys.

Davis was accompanied to Florida by her daughter, Samantha, who will stay with her during her recovery period which is estimated to be between four to eight weeks in Jacksonville. She will no longer require dialysis and should resume a normal life because of the transplant.

Both Bennett and Davis say they have been transformed by this entire experience.

“We got pushed together at work and found we had a lot in common,” Davis said. “Now we will have even more in common.”

Bennett said she would encourage everyone to become organ donors and through everything related to the donation and transplant, she’s discovered something new about herself.

“I am a much stronger person than I thought I was,” Bennett said. “Because of this I am committed to becoming an organ donor. I never expected to save anyone’s life, but it’s certainly changed mine for the better.” <

Student’s Capstone Project focuses on self-sufficiency that benefits others

Windham High School senior Dillon Foley
who has Emery Derifuss Limb-Girdle
Type-4 muscular dystrophy, demonstrates
his mechanical hand-controlled prototype
for those who drive vehicles with disabilities
at WHS' Capstone Project Fair on April 27.
By Lorraine Glowczak

A mechanical hand-controlled prototype for those who drive vehicles with disabilities is considered an impressive feat for almost anyone, but even more so for a high school senior who designs a model for his Capstone Project. As a result, students and staff at Windham High School were impressed with senior Dillon Foley’s hand-controlled model at the WHS’ Capstone Fair held last Thursday morning in the school gymnasium.

Briefly, Capstone Projects are self-directed assignments that “caps” a student’s academic and intellectual experiences, usually during their final year of high school and/or college. The Capstone Project is designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems and develop everyday life skills that one will use as an adult. This includes connecting their projects to community issues or challenges by serving a specific need through volunteerism or providing a service.

“This project is important to me because I have a form of muscular dystrophy, and if there was an affordable form of hand controls readily available, I wouldn't have to constantly worry if it's going to be safe for me to drive,” Foley said. “My goal is to make the hand controls extremely affordable and to donate this invention so others like me can drive safely too.”

Foley was diagnosed with Emery Dreifuss, Limb-Girdle Type-4 muscular dystrophy (MD) when he was in the seventh grade at the age of 14, although he began noticing changes in his body after playing sports when he was in the sixth grade. He states that MD affects his muscles in various ways and with different levels of severity.

“Each day is different. I could either just have a limp and walk funny, have a hard time with stairs, have bad balance, struggle with getting up and down, or my legs just may not work at all.”

Foley explained that the leading cause of his flare-ups is from sitting too long. As a result, it concerns him when he travels for long periods of time.

“I am constantly worrying about how my legs will be and if they will get bad enough while I'm driving, causing it to be unsafe,” he said. “If I travel to visit family who live a couple of hours away, the whole time I'm worried about my legs. Then once I get to my destination, I continue to worry because I don’t know if my legs will get worse before I have to drive home and then be stuck wherever I am. If hand controls were affordable and readily available, I would be free of all this worrying.”

These concerns motivated Foley to solve a personal challenge by choosing a hand-controlled prototype as his Capstone Project. As soon as his proposal was approved this past fall, Foley quickly began his research.

“I watched a couple of videos of existing mechanical hand controls on YouTube, and that helped me develop a basic design,” he said. “After I came up with my basic design, I started taking measurements of my truck and making more in-depth blueprints.”

Foley said that he is very grateful to the organization, MobilityWorks located in Gray, for their help and guidance when he met specific challenges with his design.

Although his prototype is still in the early design phases that continuously require changes and improvements, he will not stop until he finds success. Foley plans to continue production on this prototype while attending the University of Maine - Orono this fall as he works toward his degree in mechanical engineering.

“I plan on bringing this design with me to college, and after four years, I hope the knowledge and experience I gain there will help me build something a little more complicated,” he said. “For my senior year of college, I have to do a capstone project, and I plan on creating another form of hand control that can be used in manuals, whether it be a vehicle or a tractor. I plan on creating an electronic shifting mechanism with a paddle switch to shift like in sports cars - it will be the same basic model that I have now – only improved.”

Foley hopes to patent his design to protect the product he has created, but his desire for a patent has even greater meaning.

“My end goal is to be able to donate the hand controls I create to the Veteran Association (VA), AgrAbility (USDA-funded program that assists and supports farmers and ranchers with disabilities), and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).”

As with all students and their Capstone Projects, Foley has learned more than he anticipated due to his experience and research.

“Since doing this project, I have learned of many different forms of adaptive technology and how different types focus on different effects of disabilities,” he said. “Learning this has helped me adapt my plan for the hand controls in certain ways to try and fit everyone's needs. I hope to provide self-sufficiency to those who have disabilities so they can drive themselves and not have to rely on others to help them constantly.” <