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.”
On a day that has traditionally been dedicated to honoring Christopher Columbus, several indigenous speakers told a crowd of K-State community members that Native American peoples must focus on asserting their sovereignty and status as people, not only politically but culturally.
K-State hosted its annual Indigenous Peoples Day Monday morning in the K-State Student Union ballroom. Throughout the day, several speakers spoke about the importance of reclaiming the day to honor the first people to live on the American continents. The day also acknowledges the violence and genocide those people underwent as a result of European colonization.
LaVerne Bitsie-Baldwin, director of the College of Engineering’s multicultural program and a member of the Navajo nation, said the event, sponsored by several K-State departments, was intended to bring indigenous issues to light on campuses. She said land-grant universities, like K-State, are built on originally indigenous lands.
“Our mission is to create decolonized spaces in the university and increase presence of indigenous faculty and student at K-State,” Bitsie-Baldwin said.
Over 30 indigenous nations from across the region were represented at the event. Alex Redcorn, an assistant professor of educational leadership and member of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, said that traditionally, sovereignty has been discussed as a political term, but looking forward, he said the conversation must revolve around asserting sovereignty in other ways.
“Sovereignty is not just contestation, but looking to the future of native people,” Redcorn said. He said K-State prides itself on being the nation’s first land-grant university, but in reflecting on that legacy, the university community must stop to remember where that land game from. Both Kansas and K-State were founded around the same time that his ancestors were removed from their lands.
“It’s uncomfortable, but it’s about bringing a perspective to light for people who didn’t know it,” Redcorn said.
By promoting and advocating for Native American culture, Redcorn said he can deepen others’ thinking of who indigenous people are.
Sarah Deer, a University of Kansas professor and member of the Muscogee Nation, spoke on how sexual violence historically has been used as a weapon against Native Americans.
She said 84% of Native American women report that they have been the vicitms of violence at some point, which is higher than other ethnic groups.
Susan Faircloth, a professor at Colorado State University and a member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina, said most people think of Native American reeducation efforts as a thing of the past, but the treatment of Native American education has continued to perpetuate a stripping of their indigenous identity.
However, she said indigenous people should also be proud of how they’ve preserved their culture despite efforts to eliminate it.
Redcorn said the intersection of Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day can be controversial because it challenges people’s idea of the status quo, especially when Columbus has been revered for decades at many institutions and by way of the national holiday.
In any case, he said events like Monday’s serve to bring Native American issues like sovereignty to a broader light.
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.”
Constant communication and collaboration among several local, area and state agencies were essential in keeping the community prepared during flooding threats this year, local officials said Monday.
Riley County employees gathered at the Kansas Farm Bureau on Columbus Day for countywide training. Department representatives started a portion of the morning by detailing how several departments prepared for potential widescale flooding from releases from Tuttle Creek Lake. Training subjects such as harassment and working in a multigenerational workforce was to take place in the afternoon.
In March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a 2019 Spring Flood Outlook that called for major flooding throughout the Midwest, which also affected Riley County and surrounding areas along the Kansas River Basin reservoirs and tributaries.
In late May, the lake peaked at 1,135.84 feet, just inches from the top of the dam’s emergency spillway gates. If the lake threatened to spill over the gates, dam officials would have considered opening the gates to preserve the dam’s structural integrity. The resulting water would have caused significant flooding in neighborhoods just downstream of the dam, like it did in 1993, the only time the Corps has ever opened the dam’s emergency spillway gates and the only time the lake level has been higher.
The lake level did not quite reach that point, and after considering the impact downstream, the regional Army Corps of Engineers office allowed local lake officials to increase Tuttle Creek Lake’s outflows to a record 30,000 cubic feet of water per second from its stilling basin. Those waters did cause some flooding along the Big Blue and Kansas rivers downstream from the lake, but the damage never crept to residential areas. High outflows continued through July.
Emergency Management Director Pat Collins said multijurisdictional communication, planning and coordination were helpful in understanding what stakeholders needed during that time.
“I think the big one was being able to communicate not only among ourselves but with the public, and getting the information they needed in a timely manner,” Collins said.
Officials created the Manhattan Flood Updates pages on Facebook and Twitter in a concentrated effort to give real time updates on lake levels, warnings, rumor control, impacted areas and more. At its peak, 23 public information officers from different entities were involved in the effort.
As the water level steadily rose, local and area officials met weekly when the level reached 1,116 feet and then daily when it reached 1,128 feet. Officials also established a base, its Emergency Operations Center, at the Riley County Police Department before moving to the Manhattan Fire Department headquarters when they outgrew the space.
Collins said during this time everyone worked together to keep the community safe.