The USD 457 Board of Education on Monday heard a presentation about how a proposed walking trail at the northern end of the city that will stretch from Third Street to Campus Drive north of Pioneer Road, and run past Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, could benefit students at the school.

Plant Facilities Director John Geist fielded questions from board members, who seemed mostly supportive of the move to give kids more outdoor opportunities, whether it be for the purpose of travel to and from school or outdoor learning exercises.

Board member Jean Clifford commended the project.

“I think it’s really impressive how well the district has been working with other groups: the city, the YMCA for the dome project,” Clifford said. “That kind of a walking trail is going to be great for the kids there… A lot of the activities they’re trying to get them involved with involve exercise, and it’s great for the community to have a pretty, long path.”

Garden City commissioners unanimously approved the $30,000 land acquisition from Stone Family Farms, LLC, in early January, for the walking trail.

In April 2016, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced its selection of the proposed Pioneer Pathway as one of 25 other Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) projects across the state. TAP is a federal program that provides funding for facilities for pedestrians and bicycles, among other things.

The proposed pathway will run parallel to a ditch north of the Stone Addition from Third Street to Campus Drive.

Geist said he was told contract bids would be taken in September, and construction is slated to start sometime in 2019.

Beyond the $30,000 to be sourced form the city’s general fund, the project itself is expected to cost around $308,000. KDOT is set to pay 70 percent at $246,400, while the city will cover 30 percent at $61,600.

In other business, the board took time to recognize Russ Tidwell, who was named National Speech and Debate Association Kansas Educator of the Year. Though Tidwell did not move on to claim the National Speech and Debate Association Educator of the Year award, given to the top speech and debate educator in the country, he said it was an honor to be listed along with 32 other state winners from across the country who exemplified a passion for their field.

To be chosen, Tidwell explained, he had to be nominated by another educator and two other educators had to write letters of recommendation. Though he wasn’t sure at first how he was nominated, a little research “really humbled” him after he discovered the hitherto unknown identities of his supporter, an educator he holds “in incredibly high esteem” from the Topeka area.

“To be included with that group of people, that caliber of educator, and to be just a kid from Guymon (Okla.) who got the opportunity to do what he loved is pretty humbling to me,” Tidwell said. “Theses activities, what’s magic about them is they take all of the other disparate parts of education and they give it a voice. I love watching that happen in kids. I love helping draw that out of them… To see the kids, the lights come on, to see them find their voice and their way to tell their story is the most powerful thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Tidwell’s recognition may have been a contributing factor in the selection of Garden City as host to the state debate tournament next year.

USD 457 Superintendent Steve Karlin said “that kind of thing wouldn’t happen if we weren’t recognized in the state as having an outstanding program and an outstanding leader of that program.”

“That is really I think a testament to the kind of program that he’s created,” Karlin said.

Board members also heard an update on the AVID program’s expansion into Garden City middle schools.

Three AVID site coordinators have been implementing the program at Horace Good and Kenneth Henderson middle schools. With the assistance of a grant, USD 457 has been able to help pay for staff training in middle schools to expand the program, which previously was only active at Garden City High School.

AVID is a program by which educators prepare students for college and careers, especially students typically underrepresented in higher education. The program brings research-based strategies to help educators develop students’ critical thinking, literacy and math skills.

Though the program logistics weren’t quite in place by the time they got started this year — resulting in low enrollment — Renee Scott, assistant superintendent of student services and secondary education, said the site coordinators have been instrumental in testing the program out on the middle school level.

“They have done a really good job, and I have no doubts that they’re going to double their enrollment next year,” Scott said. “I just don’t.”

Clifford also voiced her support of AVID. She said she has personally seen students greatly benefit from the program and accomplish things they might not have otherwise.

“AVID is a wonderful program, and I would really like to see it expanded to as many students as possible because this is one program that is going to combine both the academic skills that they need with the soft skills that employers need, and we don’t explicitly teach that anywhere else in our curriculum from preschool on up,” Clifford said. “But in AVID, they do teach that… These are skills that will really help them as they go forward.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story was unclear in noting that Tidwell won the Speech and Debate Association Educator of the Year award on the state level but not the national level.

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