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In almost two decades at Marlatt, Becce Davis has served smiles as cafeteria manager

Every school day morning, Becce Davis arrives at Marlatt Elementary before most of the schoolchildren are even up.

At about 6:30 a.m., Davis, the 52-year-old cafeteria manager at the school, goes over the paperwork for the previous day’s breakfasts and lunches, then puts on an apron and hairnet and starts to get ready for the next round of meals.

Each day, Davis and her team are responsible for serving between 270 and 312 lunches a day, in addition to morning breakfasts.

For Davis, who has worked in Marlatt’s cafeteria since 2001, the job hasn’t really been a job.

“I love the kids, and I love my job,” Davis said. “I love coming and seeing the kids. My kids are all grown and out of the house, so it’s nice to come in and see the kids.”

Prior to that, she worked at Manhattan High’s West Campus cafeteria and at the school district’s central kitchen between 1996 and 2000, charged with working on main dishes using a big kettle in the kitchen.

“The kettle broke, and it was too expensive to fix, but it was one of those things that was really cool to see if you ever got the chance,” Davis said. “I would clean it, and I could fit my whole body inside to clean it.”

She left for Colorado for a year, only to find herself missing the Little Apple.

Most of Davis’ work is with pre-prepared food from the district’s central kitchen, and every morning, she receives a delivery of various food items that she then prepares for heating and serving. Davis and her team also put together sack lunches for the kids whenever they go on field trips, like when the kindergartners went to a pumpkin patch last week.

Davis also works as part of the Marlatt’s Green Team, which works on environmentally friendly initiatives at the school.

As part of that team, Davis has helped teach the students through activities like the school’s tower garden, a plastic structure with multiple levels of plants that the students planted. Every week, they tend to the plants and keep a log of the gardening process.

Davis also helped coordinate the school’s fender blender activity, where students, teachers and parents had the chance to blend their own fruit smoothies using a bicycle-powered blender. Even though some of the kids couldn’t quite reach the pedals, they loved the activity and the smoothies, Davis said.

“Nobody could hit the bike’s bell without it putting a smile on their face,” Davis said.

School lunches now incorporate a lot more options in even the two decades she’s worked at the school, Davis said, let alone those from her childhood. She grew up in the school district, but compared to lunches back then, the schools incorporate more variety in food items like plums, black beans and fresh fruit in most meals.

“School lunches have improved tremendously,” Davis said. “We have a lot of parents who come and they’re so impressed with our lunches. We have a much more diverse range of foods like fruits and vegetables on our menus now — things like yucca fries or carrot souffle. They just have to try these foods one time, and the next time there’s no question, because they love it. We get a lot of new products.”

Last week, Davis said she and some of the kids harvested sweet potatoes that they’ll use in future lunches once they cure for a few months. She said she learned a lot about what the students prefer when they made sweet potato lunches last year.

“I go to classes all the time, and we talk about appearance and texture,” Davis continued. “They told me how they liked the sweet potato pie, but it was the texture of it, creamy, that they didn’t like. But they loved the crispy sweet potato fries.”

The job changes a bit every year, but it mostly stays the same, she said. She’s always learning about new food options and food safety procedures, and she and her husband, Joe, (who works in Northview Elementary’s cafeteria) carry some of what they’ve learned into their everyday lives. Davis joked that she writes the dates on every box of takeout she brings home, and she has two thermometers at home to keep track of safe food temperatures.

“They add on new rules and regulations, for safety reasons and this and that, which I appreciate,” Davis said. “You’re constantly learning and keeping up with everything. I’m still making food, but it gets better and better.”

Davis said she’s tried to make an impression on the kids, and she and her team love making lunch fun whenever they can by dressing up for holidays or wearing fun shirts.

When she found out one of the children loved chicken, she sat with them and sang them a variation of “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band.

“I sang, ‘A little bit of chicken fried, root beer on a Friday night,’ and the student got a big grin on his face,” Davis said. “I schooled it up a bit, of course, but now I have that with him. They’re all my kids, and that’s one of the stories that sticks out to me.”

When a sprinkler went off in the cafeteria a few weeks ago because of smoke, the kids were very worried about Davis and her team.

“The kids did what they were supposed to do, and they went out the door and evacuated,” Davis said. “They didn’t know what to expect and they were concerned.

“We handled it and got sack lunches to the classrooms and made sure everything was OK. But a few teachers came up to us and told us a few kids were in tears and just wanted to make sure that we were safe.

“They really care about us,” Davis continued. “They know they can depend on us. If they come late, they know they can come down and we’ll get them a grab and go.”

Now that her kids and grandchildren live all around the country, Davis said she gets a lot of joy from seeing the kids each day.

“I sometimes think about getting a different job, since I’ve been in food service for so long, but the kids keep me coming back. I know I only see the kids for a minute or two a day, but I enjoy the time I spend with them. I enjoy visiting with them and talking with them.”


News
Third time could be the charm for USD 378's $15M bond issue

RILEY — After two failed bond issues in the past decade, the Riley County school board said it’s trying a more communicative approach in educating residents about a 20-year, $15 million bond issue on the November ballot.

The school board hosted a bond education session Monday evening in the Riley County High School cafeteria to show district patrons the driving forces behind the bond issue and give them a chance to ask the board and bond team questions about the proposed projects. About 20 people attended, including the recently retired Jordy Nelson, who graduated from the school in 2003 and went on to K-State and Green Bay Packers football fame.

Under the proposed $15 million bond issue, district officials project an increase between 18 mills and 19 mills in the property tax rate, bringing the rate up from 43.634 mills to between 61.634 and 62.634 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property.

The district projects that the bond issue, if successful, would add $218.50 in annual property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home, $475 for the owner of a $100,000 business, $503.42 for the owner of 160 acres of dry crop land and $88.46 for the owner of 160 acres of grassland.

Using that projection, the owner of a $100,000 single-family home who paid $491.12 in 2019 school property taxes would pay $709.62 in 2020 as a result of the $218.50, or 44.5%, increase associated with a passed bond proposal. That’s without taking into account any changes in home valuations.

Cliff Williams, superintendent, said the bond project would make much needed repairs — like roof replacements and HVAC system updates — and add disability access and secure entrances to both the high school and grade school facilities.

The grade school would see the bulk of the work with $10.6 million in upgrades that would add 18,210 square feet in new kindergarten classrooms and a new gym, as well as an elevator.

With the new classrooms, the district would be able to remove the site’s exterior classrooms, and bathrooms in the new classrooms would also double as storm shelters. The district would build a new pick-up and drop-off lane where the outdoor classrooms currently sit.

Williams said a new grade school gym also would help the district save money, as it currently busses middle school students to the high school four times a week for physical education classes. Middle school students are housed at the grade school.

New coolers and storage space for the cafeteria would also help the district save money by allowing its food service to buy items in bulk.

At the high school, the bond project would focus on maintenance improvements, as well as enhanced security fencing and gates to create a perimeter between the school’s main building and its shop and weights facilities. The district would replace some of the building’s windows with more energy efficient ones.

Williams said the high school project also would add a water tank for a fire suppression system at the building, as the district is in danger of losing insurance coverage on the building because of a lack of available water supply for fighting fires. If voters don’t pass the bond issue, the district will still need to address the fire suppression inadequacy, Williams said.

The bond project also would address asbestos and sinking foundations and walls at both schools.

For this bond proposal, Williams said the school district took a reflective approach in figuring out why a $12.3 million bond issue in 2013 and a $22.5 million bond issue in 2016 both failed. The district hired marketing firm ASA from Topeka to study the past failed bonds. The firm found that there was a lack of unity on the board in previous campaigns on determining what to include in the bond projects.

This time around, though, the school district made sure it listened to what the district’s teachers and patrons prioritized in any potential bond campaign. They identified about $50 million in potential projects, but they evaluated the district’s priorities and came up with the $15 million proposal.

In two separate phone surveys, the firm found that preliminary support for the bond projects is about 61% in the community, with about 15% against and 24% undecided.

Williams said this situation is also different because the district no longer has any debt from the 1999 bond issue, having paid that off last school year.

Joel Garver, chair of a citizen’s committee that has worked with the board to develop the bond issue, said the bond projects are needed to ensure the district’s future success.

“There’s a lot of complexity in all of this, but it all comes down to an investment in the community,” Garver said. “If we want this community to continue to thrive and continue to bring in great teachers, bring in the best students, we have to have facilities to match that. That’s just what it comes down to, and the facilities are not there to match that right now.”

Williams said his and the board’s goal in the education session was to give information to residents so they could make the best decision possible, and he said the district has stepped up its efforts compared to previous bond issues.

“Our main goal has always been to educate the patrons and get the information out,” Williams said. “I think when you look at the data and the 60% in favor, we’ve still been concerned about getting to the undecideds, but I think we’ve done a good job of getting the information out.”

The election is Nov. 5. Tuesday was the last day to register to vote, and advance voting begins Wednesday.


News
Former MHS student receives Nobel Prize in economics

A former Manhattan High School student was part of a team that received the Nobel Prize in economics Monday.

Michael Kremer, who attended Manhattan schools and is now a faculty member at Harvard University, was awarded the prize along with Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They earned the award for their research on alleviating poverty.

Kremer had previously taught at MIT. Duflo is only the second woman to win the prize for economics.

When Kremer was a high school student, he left MHS early to attend Harvard and missed his senior year. He had been in the class of 1982.

Both of his parents taught at K-State. His mother, Sara Lillian Kremer, was a university distinguished professor of English and scholar of Holocaust literature. Before that, she was a teacher at Manhattan High. His father, Eugene Kremer, was head of the KSU architecture department.

Kremer became the founding scientific director of Development Innovation Ventures at the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2010. He received his doctorate in economics from Harvard in 1992.

He was named a MacArthur fellow, better known as the “MacArthur Genius Grant,” in 1997.

The team has been researching poverty for about 20 years.

Some of their most notable work included studying education in developing countries, including Kenya and India. They developed an approach that breaks down the larger issue of poverty into smaller contributing ones.

For trials, they gave items such as free mosquito nets or textbooks to show how those items changed the lives of recipients versus those who didn’t receive those things.

The team has studied how to improve education in Kenya and India and conducted studies on micro financing, price sensitivity to health-care costs and lifting vaccination rates.

“The research conducted by this year’s laureates has considerably improved our ability to fight global poverty,” The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on Monday. “In just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field of research.”


News
US poet laureate Joy Harjo to read, perform at K-State

U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo will read her work this spring at the K-State Alumni Center Ballroom. The event, which will be on March 24 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

 Harjo, 68, will be one of the first sitting U.S. poets laureate to visit the campus. Ted Kooser read at K-State while U.S. poet laureate visited in 2005. Billy Collins, who was the national poet laureate from 2001-03, read at the ballroom in October 2009. T

Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, was appointed this summer and will serve until 2021. She is the first Native American laureate.

“We’re real excited to have her here,” said Lisa Tatonetti, professor of Native American literature at K-State. “It was a group effort, and Linda Duke (Beach Museum director) was key in helping put this together.”

The author of 16 poetry collections and a memoir, “Crazy Brave,” which won an L.A. Times book award, Harjo accentuates her readings with a dramatic voice and plays the saxophone. She’s released five CDs and won a Native American Music Award (Nammy) for her music. She tours with her band, Arrow Dynamics.

Rob Casper, who heads the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, which houses the laureate, praised the “great humanity” of Harjo’s poetry.

“She can have a kind of great sweeping vision and still speak so directly as one human being to another in a way that I can’t help but feel completely moved by and believe in,” he told the New York Times.

In a statement, Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress, said Harjo’s work “powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are.”

On Oct. 6, shortly after her appointment, Harjo appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s “SuperSoul Sunday” for an hourlong discussion of her life and work. It’s streaming on oprah.com.

“We expect a standing-room-only crowd,” said Tatonetti, who added that the ballroom holds about 400 people.

Tatonetti made the announcement at the fall meeting of the Kansas Association of Native American Educators in the Big 12 Room at the Student Union on Monday, which closed out Indigenous Peoples Day 2019 at K-State.

K-State’s English Department, the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance and the Beach Museum are sponsoring the event.

The week before, on March 18, the organizations will hold a public discussion of Harjo’s work at the Manhattan Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Her poetry will be discussed and read along with videos shown of her readings and sax playing.

Previous U.S. poets laureate include William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove.

Poets laureate are appointed by the Librarian of Congress, who consults with the current appointee, former poets laureate and critics in making the pick.

Each poet brings a different emphasis to the position, promoting poetry and literature. They receive a $35,000 salary, a $5,000 travel stipend and keep a suite at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The positions are for one year but are routinely extended to two.