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2 - September 30, 2011 | Pelham - Windham News Ford’s Driving Skills for Life Team Visits WHS

by Marc Ayotte The student parking lot at Windham High

School just didn’t look the same as classes were about to start last Wednesday morning. Instead of the scores of used imports and other assorted domestic cars that usually park between the designated white lines, there were only three cars on the lot, along with a few more freshly painted white lines and dozens of miniature orange traffic cones. The change in scenery and function of the parking lot was done in an attempt to host an educational program that is funded by the Ford Fund, which is the philanthropic part of Ford Motor Co., headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan. The Ford Driving Skills for Life Team, as they are known, is in its first year of traveling across the country with the specific objective of educating high school students with respect to driving under various conditions and scenarios. According to Ford spokeswoman Vanessa LeBlanc, the visit to Windham High was part of the Driving Skills Team’s New England tour, which featured two stops at Maine schools as well as at Sanborn Regional in New Hampshire. The program was basically separated into three distinct categories or stations. The first station was referred to as ‘Vehicle Handling’ and featured a souped-up white and blue Mustang. The second station was known as the ‘Distraction Course’ while the third phase of the program was called ‘Impaired Driving;’ the latter two sections of the course represented by more conservative Ford vehicles, the Focus and the Fiesta, respectively. During the daylong event, there were a total of 72 WHS students who were involved personally, in all three of the hands-on demonstrations. In order to participate in the educational driving experience, students had to qualify by taking and passing an ‘online academy’ course, provided by the DSL team at “” As an added incentive to get as many students as possible to take the online test, Ford offered a free iPad to one student from those who were not one of the 72 participants. The purpose of the first phase was to teach the students how to handle a vehicle that is spinning or sliding out of control. According to Driving Skills Team member David Bahr, “while spinning out, it’s where you’re looking that’s important.” Bahr, who is also a professional racecar driver, added that we “tend to drive the car where we look instead of looking where you want to go.” He also mentioned that it is a popular, though incorrect tendency, to apply the brakes when you feel like you are losing control of the vehicle. While explaining that brake application during a spinout is the wrong answer, he did mention that not ‘hitting’ the brakes is unfortunately, a counter- intuitive notion. The second station concentrated solely on the dangers of texting while driving. WHS student and participant Tyler Caron acknowledged that texting and driving, though not an intelligent simultaneous endeavor, is prevalent with his generation. Caron also said that although driving the Mustang and spinning out was fun, the last two sections were certainly more informative. Traffic cones were set up in the parking lot and the drivers were first asked to take a couple of laps around the course in a ‘normal/cell phone- free’ approach. Then the students were handed a cell phone and asked to text while driving. The key to the exercise as one of the team members indicated was threefold: to not hit the cones, to drive at a reasonable speed relative to the course configuration and to text with intent, i.e. concentrating on getting that ever important

One of the ‘chosen 72’ students from Windham High School demonstrates driving with fatal vision goggles. Te goggles are designed to simulate what an impaired driver behind the wheel would experience

Te most profound statement of the program was made on the Distraction Course. Te message was simple: ‘Don’t text while driving.’

Te other side of the white sign says “Right Turn Only” - illustrating the difficulty and dangers of not concentrating exclusively on driving when behind the wheel.

Te first group of Windham High School students poses with the Ford Mustang that was used in the Vehicle Handling section of the program

State Trooper Andrew Player conducts a mock field sobriety test. Wearing their fatal vision goggles and trying to pass the test are Kara Yennaco (left) and Emma Boyde

message to your friend with as much effort and commitment as you normally would under ‘every day driving conditions’. Invariably, the majority of students that I witnessed trying to multi-task behind the wheel either concentrated so much on texting that they severely diminished the traffic cone population or if they paid more attention to driving (imagine that) they did not transmit the prescribed text correctly. WHS principal Tom Murphy was very impressed with the overall program and in particular the phase involving texting and driving. Murphy noted that this event allowed students to experience the functions of texting, driving and maintaining speed and did so in a “controlled environment.” He also believed that the Distraction Course was “the most educational piece” of the program. Another student, Christy Thibodeau, agreed that texting definitely takes ones attention off the more important task of driving. She also mentioned that she was impressed with the Ford program, saying “the program teaches lessons not learned in driver’s education (courses).” The third course that was set up was for the Impaired Driving portion of the program. Accompanied by NH State Trooper First Class Andrew Player, sitting right beside them in the passenger seat, students took two laps around yet another specially designed course. The first lap was under normal conditions, however, on

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the second lap, the drivers wore ‘fatal vision goggles’ which are designed to simulate ‘visual impairment.’ The goggles reflected various blood/alcohol levels ranging from .05 to .15 percent. Needless to say, when the students were wearing the goggles, the traffic cones were taking a beating – driving home the message of the dangers of driving while impaired. In addition to the test drives, Trooper Player was

A Windham High student spins out in the 2011 Ford Mustang used in the Vehicle Handling portion of the Driving Skills for Life program held on September 21

there to relate real life experiences to the students, emphasizing the potential perils of driving while impaired. The last stage also included a field sobriety test that the drivers took while wearing the goggles, again trying to simulate ones loss of dexterity, alertness and coherence, if under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Principle Murphy recalled that it was almost a

yearlong scheduling process to get the Ford Team to the Windham School grounds. He commended the School Board by saying they were “enthusiastically supportive” of the event when

it was proposed to them. “I thought it would be a valuable lesson for the kids,” added Murphy. According LeBlanc, other state and community partners such as Windham Police Chief Gerald Lewis and Peter Thomson who is the coordinator of the NH Highway Safety Agency were involved in the student assembly portion of the program. The Driving Skills for Life Team should receive continued recognition for their efforts in reaching out and educating high school aged drivers. And Principle Murphy should be acknowledged for his instrumental role in bringing the program to the students of WHS.

Landscaping and Snow Removal Combined into One Contract

by Barbara O’Brien Anticipating that Windham taxpayers would be able

to save some money on both seasonal landscaping and winter snow removal, school board members agreed to combine the two previously separate services into a single contract for the next three years. Both SAU 28 Business Director, Adam Steel and

Windham School District Facilities Director, Warren Billings, endorsed the single vendor concept. Steel and Billings both said it would be easier to develop a better relationship with one single company and, therefore, obtain better quality services, than to use multiple vendors.

Steel said that requests for proposals were submitted to all area vendors and also published in area newspapers. As a result five proposals were received, with each of the vendors subsequently touring all four school sites and answering questions pertaining to issues involved in groundskeeping year-round. Steel said each company’s equipment list was also checked, as well as a number of references for each firm. “There was a wide variety in quality, respective of the cost,” Steel said. Bids received ranged from a low of $348,886 for a three-year contract to a high of more than a million dollars. After reviewing the information provided by each of the

five vendors, Steel said he was recommending Boyden’s Landscaping of Pelham, despite Boyden’s seemingly

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having the third highest bid. A closer comparison of the five proposals, however, showed Boyden’s actually had the second lowest bid, considering the additional services to be provided, such as the de-thatching of athletic fields, sod repair and the over-seeding of lawns, where required. On a vote of 4 to 0, school board members agreed to sign a three-year contract with Boyden’s Landscaping at a first-year cost of $180,000 and a total three-year expense of $659,475. Voting in favor were Chairman Ed Gallagher and school board members Stephanie Wimmer, Jeff Bostic and Michelle Farrell. Vice-Chairman Bruce Anderson did not attend the September 19 meeting, where the vote was taken. The contract with Boyden’s Landscaping becomes

effective on October 1, 2011 and extends until June 1, 2014. Previously, the Windham School District had been spending an average of $17,000 per month for annual groundskeeping services; an amount which adds up to $204,000 per year. Superintendent Henry LaBranche said that Boyden’s is “a high-level performing contractor” and concurred with the school board’s decision to enter into a multi-year contract. Boyden’s Landscaping has been in business since 1992, serving the communities of Pelham, Windham, Salem, and Hudson. The firm also provides services to the Pelham School District, as well as to the Town of Windham.

Several Grants to Benefit High School

by Barbara O’Brien Windham School Board members are thrilled that community members and other organizations are helping to make the town’s two-year-old high school a stellar institution. During the September 19 school board workshop, Superintendent Dr. Henry LaBranche announced that three grants/donations had been received, all of which will benefit programs at Windham High School. The money received totals more than $9,000. “It’s wonderful that the community is coming forth and making these donations,” school board member Michelle Farrell commented. Chairman Ed Gallagher expressed appreciation on behalf of the entire school board for the generous donations.

Dr. LaBranche noted that the donations must be used for the specific purpose intended and could not be diverted for other uses. Dr. LaBranche also said that there are “more conversations” going forward concerning possible additional donations.

Included among the funds received recently is a $3,000 United Way grant that will benefit the Special Education Services “Reading Plus” program at Windham High School. LaBranche said the grant would allow 10 additional students to participate in the program. “This is added value to the existing program,” he told school board members, explaining that there are currently 20 students participating in “Reading Plus.” Also donated, by a local medical

practice, was $4,348 to purchase an electronic basketball system; one that provides simulated training to students. The system will be available for use by all the school’s basketball teams, Dr. LaBranche assured school board members, including both the girls’ and the boys’ teams. The final donation was for $2,000 in materials from a local resident to construct a “press box” at the high school football field. According to LaBranche, this project is nearly completed. School board members voted 4 to 0 to accept the grant and donations. Voting in favor were Ed Gallagher, Michelle Farrell, Jeff Bostic and Stephanie Wimmer. Vice-Chairman Bruce Anderson did not attend the meeting where the vote was taken.

Staff photos by Marc Ayotte

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