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Band protest - Laconia HS music head asks board to reverse decision to have programs as after-school classes


LACONIA — The band played on when the School Board met Tuesday as Debbi Gibson, head of the Music Department and Curriculum Coordinator of Fine Arts, accompanied by students and parents, challenged the board's decisions to remove band from the school day and the elementary and high schools as well as to reduce the high school chorus from a year-long program to a semester.

Gibson, whose 27-year tenure with the district is drawing to a close, presented the board with a 12-page critique of its recommendations together with alternative proposals for the music program, which she stressed could be adopted without any additional costs.

Holding back tears, Gibson read from her presentation, stressing the adverse effects of offering band after the school day. She noted that when it was removed from the schedule in the elementary schools at the request of the principals, attendance dwindled by 85 percent. Band lessons, she said, have been shown to enhance reading and mathematical skills as well as improve student behavior. Removing the band program from the school day in the elementary schools, Gibson warned, would adversely affect the music programs in the middle and high schools.

Likewise, Gibson said that moving band to an after-school program at the high school would jeopardize or eliminate marching band shows, drum lines for parades, pit orchestras for dramatic performances, and pep band for basketball games. Members of the band, she feared, would be unable to participate in clubs and have limited opportunities to seek help from teachers after school. Finally, Gibson said, members of the band would no longer be engaged with the rest of the student body when the school day ends, but instead would be segregated from the others.

"Band is not the problem with scheduling at our high school," Gibson told the board, "our schedule is the problem. It is time that we look into the real problem," she continued, "our schedule as it stands now."

Trimming the high school choral program to one semester, Gibson said, will deprive students of opportunities to advance to higher levels of performance and receive the additional instruction to prepare them for the Lakes Region Music Festival and All-State auditions and festivals. Nor will students have opportunities to perform for civic organizations and at civic ceremonies like Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

Gibson said she has offered her suggestions to the elementary and high school as well met with interim School Superintendent Phil McCormack and urged the board to reconsider its recommendation in light of her proposed alternatives.

Josh Chandler, a sophomore, read an eloquent statement echoing the misgivings expressed by Gibson. Then his father, Howard Chandler, called the decisions "a rush to judgment" by which the board chose to "solve the problem quickly rather than solve it well" while his mother, Carrie, said "Private school has never crossed my mind until now."

Ryan D'Arezzo, another sophomore, described the band as "a family," adding that the friendships among its members were especially important to him after losing his father. Music, he said, is a significant part of education and he intends to go to college to become a music teacher.

"Let us show you what we can do," student Mariah told the board, reminding the members of an upcoming concert. "And don't wear socks with sandals, 'cause your socks will be blown away!"

Teen arrested after strapping knife to arm


NEW HAMPTON — A teenager who was living in his car tried to attack three people Tuesday afternoon who live at his former home by affixing a 12-inch blade to his arm.

Police affidavits said William Clement, 19, whose last known address was 12 Pine Meadow Road, also tried to light a fire in the garage, which contained boxes of ammunition and the explosive tannerite.

Clement faces four counts of felony-level criminal threatening and four counts of criminal-level reckless conduct.

According to affidavits, Clement apparently cut himself, and when officers arrived at the home he had gone to the public safety building to seek medical attention. The New Hampton officer called Bristol Police to assist at the home and left to find Clement at the safety building off Route 104. None of the intended victims were injured.

The officer intercepted Clement as he was leaving the safety complex and said Clement tried to drive around him. Using his patrol car to block the exit, police said Clement refused to get out of his car twice before he exited, his arms coated with blood. He said he just wanted police to let him go.

Affidavits said Clement kept asking New Hampton Police to shoot him and told them he was wearing extra layers of clothes so a Taser wouldn't work on him. After Clement was taken into custody, he began banging his head against the hard plastic seat back in the cruiser. Police took him to Lakes Region General Hospital where he was given a psychiatric examination and immediately released.

When police were securing his car, they found a three-bladed folding knife as well as large fixed-blade knife and a small fixed-blade knife in plain sight. Police also noticed a grinder typically associated with marijuana use and then sealed the car after having it towed to the police station to await a search warrant.

In court Wednesday, Clement banged his head twice against the back wall of the room of the jail where he was being video arraigned while the judge read the complaints against him. He stopped on his own.

Sgt. Prosecutor Monica Cunningham told the court that police were familiar with Clement and had responded to a suicide call at his former residence in December. She also noted that he was zapped by a Taser while trying to jump over a bridge rail in Bristol recently and in April, the Newfound Regional School District obtained an order banning him from its property. She said Clement is known to either possess or have access to guns.

Public Defender Steve Mirkin said he couldn't really make a case for personal recognizance bail but did ask Presiding Judge Jim Carroll to allow for a corporate surety component.

Carroll order him held on $20,000 cash-only bail but said that if he could get a bed in the state Psychiatric Unit he could be released on personal recognizance bail until such time as he is returned to jail. He ordered that his transport be completed by a law enforcement official.

Yesterday afternoon, Cunningham said the New Hampton Police are working with the Belknap County attorney's office regarding the explosives found in Clement's former home and that additional charges could be forthcoming.

Robots charm pupils

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Fifth-grade students at Woodland Heights Elementary School learn about the "980," an autonomous robot which Jake Drouin of iRobot brought to the school on Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily



LACONIA — Jacob Drouin, an alumnus of Woodland Heights School, returned yesterday to introduce pupils to the mysteries of robots and the value of a STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education.
Drouin, who went on the graduate from Gilford High School and Plymouth State University, works in the marketing arm of iRobot Corporation, a firm founded by three graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that has designed and built generations of robots for military, police, medical and household uses.
"It's my day off," Drouin told the fifth-grade pupils, noting that iRobot is committed to nurturing future generations of innovators and expects its employees to take five days each year to promote STEM education by explaining the rudiments of robotics and demonstrating the performance of robots.
The pupils, when asked many build with Lego, virtually all raised their hands.
"The guys that started the company all began making things with Lego and Erector sets," Drouin told them.
Then with a short video, he showed different types of robots, autonomous and controlled, strutting their stuff. One, resembling a mule, clambered up and steep hill while another with four legs kept its feet on glare ice while a man repeatedly tried to knock it down.
The highlight of the presentation was the performance of four robots. As the pupils ranged themselves in large circle, Drouin brought out the Braava jet, a small robot that scrubs kitchen and bathroom floors. Set on a trapezoidal table, it began by orienting itself, tracking the edges of the table, then set to scrubbing. Next Drouin tossed a First Look into the circle. Running on treads and fitted with flippers, it righted itself with a maneuver a turtle would envy, and prowled around the circle. Equipped with four cameras, the remotely controlled First Look is bred for entering dangerous places, like a building on fire, and transmitting images of what it finds to emergency responders. Last came the Looj, an elongated robot with a spinning brush on its nose, used for cleaning gutters.
As the robots roamed around the circle the children, somewhat apprehensive at first, responded with curious enthusiasm. Given an opportunity to control the Look First, several cast it as a marauding predator seeking collisions with the other robots. Several boys asked Drouin to stage a fight and he obliged accelerating the First Look, which sent the Looj tumbling.
For the fifth-graders, the robots were more toys than tools. But, some among them may one day design, build or operate robots of their own and they will remember the day when their teachers glimpsed the future in the maneuvers of what they will consider antiques.

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Jake Drouin Manager of Global and Creative Production at IRobot brings out the “First Look” robot for 3rd and 5th graders at Woodland Heights Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Kindergarten students at Woodland Heights Elementary School learn about the “Looj” and the “First Look” robots from Jake Drouin with iRobot on Wednesday afternoon.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)