Thursday, September 26, 2002

Cape’s enrollment going up despite prediction

Published in the Current

When they started planning for an expansion and renovation to the high school, Cape Elizabeth school officials wanted to know what school enrollments would look like 10 years out.

In October 2000, South Portland-based Planning Decisions issued a draft report to the schools indicating that the district’s student body would decline slightly overall from 2001 to 2011. That decline is not happening yet, according to school enrollment numbers. Instead, student numbers are climbing slightly, to a point where, two years from the date the study was conducted, there are 64 more students than predicted.

Rebecca Wandell, a project analyst at Planning Decisions, said the study was based on historical trends in Cape Elizabeth and did not take into account variations in those trends, or new construction beyond previous annual averages.

The study included two sets of estimates, one called “best fit,” which was based solely on historical data, and one set called “high,” assuming 30 new single family homes would be built each year, and that those new homes would result in 12 new students each year.

The “best fit” model projected that there would be 1,734 students in the school system in 2001-2002, dropping to 1,717 students for 2002-2003. The “high” model predicted 1,757 in 2001-2002 and 1,752 in 2002-2003. Both indicated slowly declining school populations through 2010-2011.

The actual data shows there were 1,759 students in 2001-2002, rising to 1,781 this school year, 64 students more than the “best fit” projected and 29 more than the “high” model.

“We are either at the high end in most cases, or in some cases exceeding the high end” of the projections, said Superintendent Tom Forcella.

That difference has meant there is no reliable enrollment model for school officials to use when planning new facilities and deciding how much room to set aside for uses as wide-ranging as cafeteria tables and parking, much less classroom space.

The projected downward trend in student numbers has not begun and is not even on the horizon yet, Forcella said. The best he can do is use the “high” model numbers and make guesses beyond that.

He is not sure why the differences have occurred, but has a theory. It has long been the case in Cape that some students will attend private all-day kindergartens rather than the half-day kindergarten offered by the schools.

The estimates have projected that those students will enroll in the town’s first grade. Forcella said this is not necessarily happening.

Instead, some of the private kindergartens have added first-grade classes. Parents choose to keep their kids in the private school for a year, before enrolling them in the town schools as they enter second grade.

The estimates do not take that delayed enrollment into account.

Forcella said it has happened in the past couple of years, resulting in a larger-than-expected second grade class.

Actual enrollment numbers depart from the projections from elementary through middle school, though they get closer together in high school.

“We don’t really know why,” Forcella said.

Wandell has some ideas. She admits Forcella could be right. She also said some of the study’s assumptions could be wrong: More new homes might have been built than were included in the model, and more children might be in each home than the model assumed.

In 2001, there were 34 new single family homes built, followed by 31 new homes so far in 2002, more homes than the model assumed.

As for children in the home, the birth rate is stable in Cape, Wandell said, though it was slightly higher in 2001, with 82 babies born to parents in the town. She said that would tend to indicate more families are moving in.

But she defended the accuracy of the survey, which differs from the actual numbers by less than 3 percent in most of the figures. “Statistically, we’re not off by a significant amount,” Wandell said.

She admitted that looking at the numbers from a standpoint of statistical validity is different from trying to use the numbers to predict class size and make projections for numbers of classrooms and teachers in the future.

Going forward, she said, the schools could update the study or begin to build their own estimates by surveying buyers of homes in town about the number of children they have and their ages.

Middle school students learn about life in the outdoors

Published in the Current

The outdoor education theme running through the four Cape Elizabeth Middle School grades will begin this week with the eighth graders’ participation in the statewide Coastal Cleanup.

The students will work in several areas around town, including Alewife, Boathouse, Broad, Johnson, Maiden, Peabbles, Pond and Staples coves, and Cliff House Beach.

“What we try to do in the eighth grade is give something back to the community,” said eighth grade teacher team leader, Mary Murphy.

The students also work with people of all ages around town, raking leaves from the lawns of senior citizens in a program organized by the police department, and doing trail maintenance and construction for the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, under the supervision of high school seniors.

In each activity, students learn about the natural environment and about aspects of the community they might not otherwise experience.

The final year builds on lessons learned during the previous three years at the middle school.

The program starts in fifth grade, where it is closely tied to the science curriculum. Teachers focus on “getting kids outside the classroom,” said fifth grade team leader, Cheryl Higgins.

Students take three field trips, including one to Kettle Cove in the fall to look at tidal pools and marine life. That excursion is scheduled for the end of September or the beginning of October, depending on weather.

In the spring, fifth-graders head to Fort Williams with their compasses to take on a 10-station orienteering course, using map and compass skills learned in the classroom. And in late spring, they head off to Two Lights to look at flora and fauna and do plant identification in the field.

Students also learn to work together, facing challenges and assignments in small groups. That leads to the sixth-grade experience, which was the original element in the program.

For 13 or 14 years, sixth-graders have gone to Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset for an outdoor living program, in which they learn camping skills and are responsible for pitching their own tents, cooking, chopping wood and cleaning.

Students learn to work together and form new relationships with classmates. They are assigned to groups of 10 or 12, and are separated from groups of friends. This allows them to learn and grow outside of their typical social groups, said team leader, Gary Record.

Chewonki’s lessons include group and individual challenges.

The trip isn’t until May, but sessions each Friday in sixth grade classrooms present group activities similar to Chewonki’s, to get students ready.

Last year’s class was so large it was split into two groups to attend on two different weeks. This year’s class is “almost as large,” Record said, but will go all at once.

Seventh-graders will head to Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, to attend the Leadership Development Institute, a week-long program in which students work closely with members of their advisory groups.

They learn decision-making, relationship skills and self-confidence in challenge-by-choice activities such as ropes courses. There is also time for self-examination and solo reflection during the five-day program, said seventh grade team leader, Matt Whaley.

“It’s a great place,” Whaley said.

This year, students will go to Kieve from Oct. 7 to 11 rather than the end of November, when previous classes have attended. A cancellation from another school allowed Cape to change to that week, which is expected to be warmer and more comfortable for outdoor activities.

In seventh grade, as in all the grades, teachers revisit lessons learned in previous experiences and earlier in the school year. When they go to Kieve, Chewonki, or even just to Fort Williams, “we try to bring it back afterwards,” Whaley said.

Cape considers extending kindergarten day

Published in the Current

Surprising even themselves, several parents were persuaded to look more closely at extending the kindergarten class day during a Cape Elizabeth School Board workshop Tuesday. But several board members were concerned about how to quantify the value of such a change, to be able to justify the added expense.

“We’ve been discussing this issue for five years,” said School Board Chairman Marie Prager.

This latest discussion came as the school building committee looked for advice from the public on the size of a proposed addition to Pond Cove School.

A two-story addition, estimated to cost $2.5 million, could house all-day or extended-day kindergarten classes in the future. At a reduced cost, around $1.7 million, a one-story addition would provide space only for a relocation of the current kindergarten space from its home at the high school, freeing up room there to increase teaching space.

Prager made clear that the board was not trying to decide on the specifics of a longer kindergarten day, or whether it would be implemented at all.

Rather, she said, it was about whether it was a good idea to keep the option available, or to rule it out.

The meeting began with an hour of background information, primarily in support of a longer kindergarten day, from School Board members, Superintendent Tom Forcella, and kindergarten and first-grade teachers.

Prior board research, including reference to studies of the impact of longer kindergarten days, indicated that “the value of the program was worthy of consideration,” according to Elaine Moloney, a board member and chair of the most recent committee to study the issue. “The problem was the space,” Moloney said.

There was no room in Cape Elizabeth’s schools for the additional kindergarten classrooms that would be required to serve the same number of students for longer hours.

Information from other school districts, presented by Forcella and several teachers, indicated that there were academic and social benefits to a longer kindergarten day.

Teachers also cited the advantage of additional time for socialization and less pressure on students and teachers to cover large amounts of material in what is now a two-and-a-half-hour session each day.

The evidence and depth of research impressed parents.

One mother told the board she had come into the meeting opposed to the idea of anything other than half-day kindergarten. “I totally changed my mind,” she said.

Other parents said they remained worried about students’ ability to handle a full-day kindergarten, but were interested in making the kindergarten day longer than it is now.

Debbie Cushing, a parent of middle school students, said she felt building the additional space was a good idea, and the incremental expense was “a small cost to pay for a huge range of options.” Even if all-day kindergarten never came to pass in Cape, she said, “that space will be used for something.”

Suzanne Martin-Pillsbury, a parent of young children, said she feels the present kindergarten experience was good, but rushed. She said it would be smart to have “space enough to have options.”

Another mother, who was a teacher in South Portland when they started all-day kindergarten, said she is unsure about the program.

“Your child’s gone quicker that way,” she said. But she said it would be “shortsighted” not to build space for expansion.

Another mother said readiness for all-day school at age 5 depends on the family and the child, but it could be a good option. She suggested all-day class be an option for parents to choose. She worried, though, that parents who did not choose a longer school day for their kindergarteners would be concerned about the student “getting behind” classmates in learning and social progress.

Nancy Jordan, mother of a current kindergarten student and two younger children, said she knows there is a lot of material packed into the short kindergarten day, but proposed another way to ease pressure on teachers and students. “What about lightening up the curriculum?” she asked.

Pond Cove School Principal To m Eismeier responded, saying he and the kindergarten teachers talk frequently about “reasonable goals” for kindergarten classroom education.

Board members were in favor of building the expanded space, but several – Susan Steinman, George Entwistle and Kevin Sweeney – were concerned about justifying the expense of a longer kindergarten day to a money conscious Town Council and voting public.

Steinman wanted additional data on how students who had attended an all-day kindergarten would fare, and whether that experience would reduce behavior problems or other social problems in the primary grades.

“If there’s an expense, there needs to be demonstrated gains,” Entwistle said.

Sweeney said he was “unconvinced” of the value of an all-day kindergarten, but supported building space that allowed room to grow, whether in the form of more kindergarten or other educational areas.

After the meeting, Lisa Silverman-Gent, a Cape parent, said she was relieved to learn that the board was not making a decision on the form of a longer-day kindergarten, but was instead just deciding on building space to have options.

The next step will be a formal recommendation from the School Board to its building committee Oct. 8, allowing the building committee to proceed on schedule, Prager said. The next School Board workshop will be Oct. 22, at 7 p.m., in the high school library, for a discussion of high school and middle school programming issues.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Bobcats and bears, oh my

Published in the Current

A bear was spotted on Ash Swamp Road in Scarborough last week and a bobcat is apparently prowling around Cape.

In the wee hours of the morning of Sept. 11, a sharp-eyed Ash Swamp Road resident spotted the bear. She had noticed that something had been taking food from her backyard bird feeders.

The resident told Animal Control Officer Chris Creps that an animal had been raiding the feeders for about two weeks before she caught a glimpse of it in a motion-detector spotlight in the middle of the night. The bear wandered back into the woods after the light came on, Creps said.

He said bears in the northern area of town are not common, but “it’s not unusual,” he said. There were some sightings last year and possibly one earlier this year, he said.

The bear is not the only large animal in the area. A bobcat has been sighted in several areas around Cape Elizabeth.

Animal Control Officer Bob Leeman thinks there is only one animal, a large male that he has seen behind the town transfer station where Leeman buries dead animals found in town, including road-kill deer.

One small deer Leeman buried recently was dug up and dragged off into the woods and “completely consumed,” he said. The bobcat has stuck mainly to wooded areas, but has made an appearance behind at least one residence, that of Police Dispatcher Greg Tinsman.

Tinsman said he has recently built a path into the woods behind his home, and one day saw the bobcat standing on the new path, apparently seeing where it went. It went on its way after a short time, but was a surprise for him.

Bobcats, like bears, should not be approached or harassed. Instead, they should be left alone to leave when they decide to.

Getting rid of old computers gets easier

Published in the Current

Until recently, there was no way for businesses and schools in Southern Maine to get rid of old computers. A new program through Ruth’s Reusable Resources in Scarborough is solving that problem. For a fee, Ruth’s will store old computers and arrange for their proper disposal after the end of their useful lives.

Gary Lanoie, technology coordinator for Cape Elizabeth schools, said he has been storing old computers in closets for years. Computers that are beyond repair or are so old as to no longer be useful in classrooms now occupy “one big storage closet per school,” Lanoie said.

Because of heavy metals used in computer parts, they are considered hazardous materials and cannot be thrown out with regular garbage.

“We can’t just be throwing this stuff in landfills,” Lanoie said. With the new program through Ruth’s though, “we are starting to get rid of them.”

Ruth’s is a non-profit clearinghouse known for giving donated items, which can be used in the classroom, to area schools. School districts pay a fee to belong, and, in return, their staff can visit and pick up items they need, ranging from three-hole binders to reams of paper.

In a role reversal, of sorts, now schools and businesses can pay Ruth’s to get rid of what they don’t want, recycling the oldest computers in an environmentally safe way.

A recycling company in the Midwest will pick up large loads of computers, but won’t pick up anything less than an 18-wheeler full of old equipment. That is a lot for a business or school district to generate alone.

Becoming the middleman
Ruth’s has stepped in to play the role of consolidator. Project coordinator Chris Slader, an alternative learning teacher for primary grades in Westbrook, volunteers his time to handle computer donations.

Slader will accept working computers with processor speeds faster than 200 megahertz at no charge, as they can still be useful to schools.

Central Maine Power has donated a number of 400 megahertz machines that could last four or five years in a school. Those are available at no charge to employees of school districts that are members of Ruth’s network.

“It works out better for us,” said CMP community relations specialist John Carroll. Previously, the company donated computers on an individual basis to various non-profits.

That was labor-intensive, Carroll said, and didn’t always result in the agencies getting the best computers for their purposes.

The arrangement with Ruth’s, Carroll said, is more efficient and assures CMP that its computers are being used until the end of their usable lives.

Old computers, though, cost money on their way out the door. Ruth’s charges $15 for a monitor, $3 for a central processing unit (including the hard drive and CD drive), $7 for a printer and $2 for a keyboard or mouse. The money pays for the fees for the recycling company to pick up the equipment, as well as the rental of a storage trailer outside the Ruth’s space at the Bessey School. There is also a small surcharge Ruth’s uses to pay for disposal of old computers that Ruth’s already has on hand and needs to get rid of, Slader said.

When computers come in, Slader sorts them and puts the old ones in the trailer. In his spare time, he will stack them on shipping pallets and wrap them with clear plastic film.

When the trailer is full, he will call to have it taken away.

They are taken to a furnace, he said, where the parts are melted down and reused. Slader said the equipment is not incinerated but is recycled.

Clearing the decks
There are other ways to get rid of computers, but none of them are as certain to be environmentally sound.

Capt. Mark Unruh of the Salvation Army in Portland said he receives donations of computers regularly. Working ones are sold in the organization’s stores for $25 to $50. When he gets a large number of non-working computers, Unruh puts them in a large box and sells the whole box for about $25 in the store on Warren Avenue in Portland.

That way, he said, he gets rid of the old computers as well as the newer ones. He said he has no way of knowing what happens to the computers after they leave his store.

Scarborough’s technology coordinator, Stephen Tewhey, said the district gives many of its oldest computers to non-profits and day care centers in town. They have also used state programs and private recyclers to handle defunct computers.

Tewhey said the town’s yard sale last year was a good way to get rid of equipment the schools did not need any more. He expects to use the program at Ruth’s as well.

In Cape, the money spent so far on recycling some equipment came out of other budget savings, Lanoie said. But he expects to ask for recycling money in the next budget cycle.

“It’s probably going to be a standard budget item,” Lanoie said.

He said laptops issued to students through the state’s laptop initiative belong to the state. If they break or need to be disposed of, he would send them to the state or to Apple, meaning the town would not have to pay to dispose of those machines.

Slader said the recycling program may expand to individuals in the near future. Businesses should call Ruth’s at 883-8407 to make an appointment to drop off old computers.