Big Bend Conservancy
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Web Posted: 04/21/2007 01:45 AM CDTJohn MacCormackExpress-News STUDY BUTTE — It was just over a decade ago that long-suffering high school students here gave up the unenviable distinction of enduring the longest school bus ride in America. The opening of a high school just west of Big Bend National Park in 1997 ended the harsh choice facing many local teens: Drop out or commute the 160 miles roundtrip daily to Alpine. "Many of them had to get up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus and some didn't get home until after six at night. Probably two-thirds quit after the eighth-grade," recalled Tom Williams, a long-time school board member. Since the long commute ended, graduation rates have soared. After the new high school, a new library was erected, leaving an open space between the two buildings for the district's final project. All that is missing is a large gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium complex — but that is stalled for lack of money. And until it is built, students eat outside and play interscholastic basketball games on a concrete court. "We started out with the longest ride, and this is our last mile," said school superintendent Kathy Killingsworth, who has spent two decades building a modern school district in one of the remotest corners of Texas. The district draws students from Terlingua, Study Butte, Lajitas, and the nearby national park. Until the border closure six years ago, it also served some students crossing over from Mexico. Killingsworth said the district is still $1.1 million short on the final $2.4 million project, "so we need some kind of hook to get it done." These days, the Big Bend School District's 168 students eat bag lunches at metal picnic tables under canopies. The only amenities are a couple of microwaves rolled out to warm meals. "We joke all the time about them being our mobile cafeteria," Killingsworth said. The school offers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students who don't bring a lunch. But without a kitchen or cafeteria, it cannot offer free or reduced-price meals to the 80 percent of its students who qualify for those state and federal programs. Last year, the non-compliance with the mandatory breakfast program drew a scolding letter from a Texas Department of Agriculture official. In her reply, Killingsworth wrote, "The district is aware of the need to provide meals for our students. The problem is that we do not have a facility." "Is there any way the Texas Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Department of Agriculture could help with a portion of funding for the cafeteria? There should be funds for bricks and mortar," she wrote. But, said Killingsworth, she did not get an answer. Now, she said, the district hopes to raise the money it needs from private foundations. During a reporter's visit last week, senior Rachel Davila, 17, took time away from a pre-calculus test to explain the problems posed by the absence of a multi-purpose facility. Davila, who recently appeared in the UIL one-act play "Hopes, Words and Ordinary Things," said lack of an auditorium stage meant rehearsals were held in hallways or off-campus. "We never even performed for the school," she said. And, she said, open air dining can sometimes lose its charm when it gets windy or cold, or swarms of bees appear. "We talk all the time about how it would be nice to have a place for indoor basketball and a cafeteria, just so we can have a place to do all these things," she said. Not surprisingly, some students were not crazy about eating in a modern lunchroom. "I've been in cafeterias. They stink. They're loud," said Ayla Smith, a freshman, wedged between her friends on a picnic table bench. "I like eating out here, although an auditorium and gym would be nice," she conceded. Another student, Kiko Morloch, a sophomore, said he feared having a cafeteria would end the option of leaving campus. "It's nice to go out and get lunch. It's just the freedom to leave school. If you have parental permission and a ride, you can go to just about any restaurant," he said. Killingsworth, for her part, said she looks forward to the day when outside lunch joins the memory of the 80-mile bus ride to Alpine. "We've already spent a lot of money on the project. We have the site work done, and all the utilities in. The pad is ready to go, " she said. firstname.lastname@example.org
In today's San Antonio Express-News:ThanksQuoteKillingsworth said the district is still $1.1 million short on the final $2.4 million project, "so we need some kind of hook to get it done." I wonder if Steve Smith of Lajitias is caught up on his taxes? There was an article a while back saying that he was deliquent in paying his taxes...
Killingsworth said the district is still $1.1 million short on the final $2.4 million project, "so we need some kind of hook to get it done."
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