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OUR NEIGHBORS | Retired teacher still educating through tutoring program she began

Sometimes a kid just needs a helping hand to do better in school.

Marianne Cullers started the Hand to Hand program more than 20 years ago to give back and give just a little extra help with tutoring after school. Over the years, she has led a program that gives kids one-on-one attention, which she said benefits them both academically and emotionally.

“What brings kids back is they do better in school, and they eat up that attention from an adult that’s caring,” she said.

Cullers, 81, was a substitute teacher in Wisconsin before moving to Manhattan in 1971 when her husband took a job at K-State. She taught at the junior high and high school levels in USD 383 but left the district in 1995 because of some chronic health problems.

“At first I was overjoyed, but then I became very depressed,” she said about leaving her job.

Around that time, she was asked to tutor at the Douglass Center. That grew into the Hand to Hand program, which she started in early 1996 with the late Don Slater, who became her assistant director.

Cullers started with a notebook and two pencils. Now, an average of 15 students come to each session. The program offers tutoring to kids in at-risk categories, including low-income or single-parent families, minority and immigrant families, and students with learning disabilities. They meet twice a week, when students get one-on-one time with a tutor for homework help and test preparation. Tutors are recruited from retired teachers, K-State students and the Flint Hills Volunteer Center.

Lori Bishop, executive director of the Volunteer Center, said Cullers has logged more than 11,000 hours of volunteer work through the center since 1996. She said Cullers is passionate about helping youth and dedicates a lot of work to setting up Hand to Hand and its volunteers.

“I can’t imagine the number of children she’s helped, and the number of families,” Bishop said.

The program recently won the 2019 With Our Youth Award from the National Retired Teachers Association.

Cullers said she realized at a young age there might be a need for this kind of a resource. Her older brother was struggling in school and started having behavior problems.

“I always felt he was smart enough, but he never had the chance to develop that intelligence,” she said.

When she was in college, a professor asked the class to write a life plan. Cullers wrote that she wanted to have a family, teach and offer tutoring from her home in math, which was her specialty. She got a B on the assignment.

“There are not a lot of grades I remember, but I do remember that one, with the comment ‘Very interesting,’” she said.

During her time as a teacher, she saw the number of students who could benefit from a program like the one she eventually created. She said she would stay after school to be available for those who needed extra instruction, but there were always kids who were not able to come.

“When I was teaching, there were always kids I couldn’t reach,” Cullers said. “I always helped as many as I could after school, but there were always some who couldn’t come after school. I felt like there should be someplace where low-income people could go to get the same help the richer kids could get.”

Cullers said some of the current high school students have been coming to Hand to Hand since they were in third grade. She said it is rewarding to see kids need less help over time. One student used to get frustrated by long division and now will be starting a doctorate after studying chemistry and biochemistry at New York University. Cullers said individual time with a tutor explaining the method behind long division helped get the student past that barrier.

Cullers said her own grandson had been behind in reading and came to the program for the summer. By the time he went back to school, he no longer needed a reading teacher at school.

“It was a matter of finding his weakness and carrying him forward through it,” she said.

She said tutors keep records of what students work on each session to maintain some sort of consistency. Recruiting tutors is one of the biggest challenges, Cullers said, so there is some turnover. They reward kids for work by placing stickers on a sheet, and when they reach certain goals, they can get a prize, like a bag of chips or an eraser.

Cullers said curriculum, the students, families and volunteers have all changed since the program started. She said she thought a lot of changes in curriculum were beneficial for student learning, but that it seems more difficult for people to find the energy to volunteer or even get their children to activities after school.

“The younger retirees are just burned out,” Cullers said. “I don’t think teaching is the only job that’s happening to. It’s harder for parents to get their kids here. They’re exhausted from their own jobs.”

She’s looking to take a step back in the near future. She’d like to get someone, or a few people, in to take a few of the responsibilities off her plate. She’d also like to see more retirees volunteering with the program, because it makes for more consistency among the tutors.

But for now, Cullers is still at the Douglass Center every week, organizing students and tutors to help kids learn.

“You never know what good you’re going to do getting a kid over that little hump,” Cullers said.

Stith to retire from Regional Council

Gary Stith will leave the Flint Hills Regional Council by the end of the year.

Stith said at the Riley County Commission meeting Monday that he will retire later this year after six years with the council. He didn’t give a reason for the retirement during his comments.

“I’ve enjoyed doing it, and I think it’s important work,” Stith said.

Stith said the formation of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Flint Hills Regional Transit Authority were two accomplishments he was glad to have helped with during his tenure.

He said the council’s board was still deciding whether to fill his position or to allocate his responsibilities to others on at least an interim basis. He said the board would decide at its meeting in October.

Stith’s decades in public and private planning included a stint as the city planner in Manhattan from 1976 to 1986.

He oversaw the downtown redevelopment project that led to Manhattan Town Center’s construction, although he left for another job before the mall was completed in 1987.

Stith said he would remain in Manhattan following his retirement.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help support (the regional council) in the future,” he said.

Expert: Fall could be potential cause of injuries in baby

A pediatric expert said Monday he doesn’t think a fall can be ruled out as the cause of the injuries seen on an infant who died in November 2018.

Dr. John Galaznik, a retired pediatric specialist, testified at the Riley County Courthouse during the trial of D’Khari Lyons as the defense began calling its own witnesses.

The Manhattan man is charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a child, and is accused of killing Michael Calvert Jr., his former girlfriend’s infant son, who was left in Lyons’ care for a short period.

Officials ruled that Michael died from blunt force or abusive head trauma.

The defense previously asked Galaznik to review Michael’s medical and autopsy records to see what was or was not consistent with published literature on physical injuries in children.

Galaznik is a former practicing pediatrician who has testified in other cases about physical injuries in children. He said the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Child Abuse and Neglect has recognized that a fall from a short distance can induce death.

Galaznik said blunt force trauma can be caused from a short fall, and research and studies have shown that a two- to four-foot drop on a hard surface is “more than enough” force to cause a skull fracture in a child’s head.

He cited a case where a child had fallen and was examined by doctors. Because the child appeared outwardly healthy, doctors did not perform a CT scan, and the child later died with observed retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematoma, or bleeding between layers surrounding the brain, which compresses brain tissue.

Galaznik said someone can look and behave outwardly “normal” after a head injury, but symptoms can manifest themselves over the course of 24 hours. Symptoms can include headaches, crying, irritability, lethargy, seizures and vomiting.

With bleeding around the brain, which was seen in Michael’s case, Galaznik said someone can experience lucid intervals, or a temporary improvement in a patient’s condition after a traumatic brain injury. He said lucid intervals have been documented in cases of short-distance falls.

Previous witnesses in the trial had said Michael appeared alert and normal in the days before the incident, and some reported fussy behavior.

“Infants can have an intracranial injury and can appear ‘normal’ even to medical personnel,” Galaznik said.

He said it’s possible that although someone may say that a baby is “fully awake” at some point, it doesn’t mean that the baby is injury-free. He said he thinks a baby could appear lucid, awake and even reflexively suck on a bottle, cry or smile while suffering from an injury.

Galaznik also mentioned a 1984 study in which researchers dropped infant cadaver heads to observe skull fractures, and some of the subjects showed multiple impacts of damage, which was also seen on Michael.

The trial was still going on at press time.

K-State to start $6M McCain Auditorium lobby expansion next year

K-State will start a $6 million project in 2020 to expand McCain Auditorium’s lobby, officials announced Monday.

Officials said the project, which is funded through private donations, will provide a space for collaborative arts education and other campus and community engagement activities.

Officials expect to start the project in June next year and finish in February 2021.

Todd Holmberg, executive director of McCain Auditorium, said the lobby will expand to the west, and it will include a two-story atrium.

He said the second floor would have adminstrative offices, a multipurpose room and a catering prep area.

Holmberg said the expanded lobby would have two concession areas, more restrooms and more space for gathering.

When the project is complete, he said the outdoor plaza on the west side could be a place to host free concerts or show movies.

“The expansion and renovation will enable us to better serve students, community members and those participating in our outreach and educational programming,” Holmberg said in a statement.

K-State President Richard Myers thanked donors for their support in a statement.

“The McCain Auditorium expansion project will enable the university to further enhance the cultural learning experience for students and community members by presenting exceptional performing arts programs that connect and engage artists and audiences,” he said.

The project is a part of the KSU Foundation’s $1.4 billion Innovation and Inspiration campaign.