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Jeff Parish Jeff Parish is a high school English teacher and journalist. He has worked for the Greenville Herald-Banner, Dallas Morning News, The Paris News and Galveston County Daily News, among others. For comments, feedback or suggestions, you can email him at jeff@eparistexas.com.

Trail de Paris boasts new yoga park, painted trashcans

YogaPark01Trail de Paris has some new amenities to help improve health and catch the eye while keeping it clean.

“One is a trashcan project, a partnership between the Friends of the Trail and the Paris Junior College art department,” said Earl Erickson, one of the trail’s founders. “The second one is an outdoor yoga park.”

As a means of giving back to the community, the Valley of the Caddo Museum and Cultural Center decided to purchase two park benches for the trail and donate $400 to the North East Texas Trail Coalition for filing for tax exempt status, said Jimmy Don Nicholson, community service coordinator with Lamar County Adult Probation and chairman of the VOC museum. One bench was placed a little west of 12th Street Southeast. The board then decided to improve the land across from the bench.

“At first, we thought we would simply install ornamental plants on the land, thus enhancing the natural environment there,” he said. “Trail users intrigued with the idea of the ornamental garden began to stop and ask what we were doing.”

Those conversations led to stories of how being in nature had helped people with “mind, body, spirit and emotional good health,” he said. Others spoke of how yoga therapy had helped them at work and home. And so the idea of building a yoga park was born.

YogaPark02Nicholson took the ideas and drew up plans for the park. The idea was presented to city officials and brought to life thanks to the efforts of trail users, the city, Keep Paris Beautiful/Make Lamar County Shine, members of the Valley of the Caddo Museum and Lamar County Adult Probation Community Services.

“The park is a gift to the community and is part of the Trail de Paris and is overseen by the trail manager and the city,” Nicholson said. “The VOC Museum is developing a yoga club which will function much like the Star Gazer Club. There are plans in the works for yoga classes to be held at the Yoga Park, but the park is open to the public for use now.”

The idea of painted trashcans came from conversations among Erickson, Paris Junior College art teacher Susan Moore and Friends of the Trail about ways to assist the PJC Art League with its goal to enrich the Paris area with public artworks.

“Each can represents six weeks of planning and execution,” Moore said. “Although paint and supplies were donated by Sherwin Williams, the students often used their own paint, and a whole host of inventive techniques, to bring the project to fruition.”

This semester’s art students comprising the PJC Art League painted the trash cans, including Baron Capers, Chelsea TrashCans02de la Rosa, Stephanie Eller, Riley Hodneg, Anita O’Neal, Alex Ricketts, Montel Thomas, Amanda Lair-Barnett, Jenaveve Lester and Candra Wyatt.

“This was their first big project,” Moore said. “New cans were scheduled to be placed along the Trail, and it seemed a great opportunity to engage the students as well as give them the opportunity to do original paintings that would be available for public viewing.”

This was not Moore’s first art project for the Trail de Paris. Five years ago her drawing students created murals that decorate the underpass where the trail the loop. She also helped create the scaled solar system that had been painted on the track itself with the help of George Leonberger, a retired instructor, and a student, Michael Thacker.

“We plan to re-do the existing murals that have weathered quite a bit over the past five years, and beautify other areas in town as opportunities become available,” Moore said.

PISD weighs ‘phone doctor’ program for employees

PISD_04-14-BudgetParis Independent School District could pay $37,000 for a program that would allow employees to call a hotline and talk to a doctor.

“For those of us who have had to go to a high-deductible plan, this is an affordable alternative,” Business Manager Tish Holleman said. “If you use it appropriately, it can save you money.”

The program, offered through an insurance cooperative PISD belongs to, is called MD Live. Rather than make a trip to a doctor out of network or the emergency room after hours, patients or parents could call in for routine problems such as sinus and ear infections.

“If it’s some oddball thing, they’re going to say, ‘Go to the doctor,’” Holleman said.

The district can purchase it for all employees at $5 per person per month at a cost of $37,440, or make it available to individuals for $10 per month.

Trustee Dr. Bert Strom asked her to find out about the program’s credentials and what pediatricians were on call, as a brochure said they were “local.” There are a lot of “suspect” programs out there, he said.

“This is a very popular venue now for medicine, and you’re going to see more of them,” Strom said. “We want to tell our employees this is a good benefit.”

“As an employee with a high-deductible plan, we are in the eighth month, and I am nowhere near meeting my deductible,” High said.

The discussion came as part of Monday’s budget workshops. The numbers are still in flux as the budget is a work in progress.

“We’re still to the good. I’m going through line by line to see what can be tweaked,” Holleman said. “So far, it’s an estimate.”

PISD should get an estimate of tax values by next month’s board meeting. The certified rolls do not come in until July.

Holleman put in a 25-cent raise for hourly employees, such as maintenance and secretaries, to show the impact to the budget. In prior months, the numbers have only included teachers and aides. Next month could see estimates for a pay scale for administrators.

Superintendent Paul Jones asked to see if the budget could support a new school bus, which PISD has not bought in several years. Holleman said that conversation is still ongoing, so to date she has put in numbers for a “previously loved” school bus.

On revenue, the Medicare estimate is up $25,000 to $225,000 in the working budget. This year, PISD figured it would bring in $200,000 for services charged to Medicare that district staff provide to students, but the revenue has exceeded estimates. The district plans to start filing for reimbursement for indirect services, such as administrative costs, which could total $5,000.

PISD approves alternative high school

PISD_04-14-THSParis independent School District will begin next year with a new, alternative high school program.

“There is a need,” Superintendent Paul Jones said. “Some kids just don’t fit in a traditional high school environment. There may be more than we realize.”

The PISD school board unanimously approved the non-traditional Travis High School at Monday’s regular meeting.

The school will be located in the old Travis campus at 3270 Graham St., which is now home to Paris Alternative School for Success, the disciplinary alternative education program. An old agricultural building behind the main building will be renovated for DAEP with Travis High School taking over the old eighth-grade campus. PASS is moving because they did not want to put the alternative high school there and then have to move it to the main campus as it grew.

“Our goal is to operate with both schools with existing staff,” Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Robert High said. “We’re looking at creative scheduling, and we’re asking staff to get additional certifications.”

Travis High School will use a combination of teacher-taught and computer-based classes. PASS Director Joan Moore said electives are the most likely candidates for computer course. Core classes would be better served with a live teacher, especially when it comes to state testing.

Because the program is designed for students who have jobs, families and other obligations, classes will run 8 a.m. to noon, although students could spend extra time working on classwork or preparing for the STAAR test.

“That is definitely going to be teacher-taught, and we are definitely going to spend a lot of time on it,” Moore said.

When the DAEP program started 20 years ago, each student had a mentor to work with, she said. That is an idea she wants to see resurrected for Travis High School.

“The staff at DAEP is very excited about the possibilities we see,” she said. “With Travis High School, perhaps DAEP will start getting smaller and smaller. That’s our hope.”

They’re ready to go. Staff has begun drawing up plans, talking about renovations and technology needs to make it work.

As long as space is available, Travis High School will be available to students from throughout Lamar County, but classes will not be open to just anyone. Students must fill out a questionnaire and write an essay as part of the application. Moore will interview individual students and their parents, along with a more in-depth questionnaire.

Students will be required to sign a dress code contract and an attendance contract. More than three unexcused absences will end up in truancy court. Discipline problems also won’t be tolerated, Moore said. A student can go from Travis to DAEP once. A second trip would result in expulsion.

A student will not be eligible to go from the disciplinary side to the alternative high school. The student will have to return to his home campus and “prove himself” before applying to Travis.

“It’s for high school, but we don’t want to start with true freshmen,” Moore said. “We’re looking at kids who are more like ‘freshmores,’ but we’re going to start with juniors and seniors.”

Students may even have the option of returning to their home schools for graduation if they get caught up.

The concept has proven successful in other areas, Jones said. Moore and other PISD staff went to visit New Horizons in Greenville recently. Greenville’s program has been in place for eight years and has 120 students. The program in Texarkana ISD has more than 100 students. Board President George Fisher asked what might happen if the numbers at Travis High School ballooned.

“Honestly, Mr. Fisher, we’re going to put it in God’s hands and take it as it comes,” she said.

As THS grows, Moore said the district may need to look at providing day care for students who have children. Greenville’s New Horizons has such a program in place.

Officials looked at a variety of names before settling on THS, many involving the word “options” or “choice” – even Wildcat Academy.

“What it’s going to say is Travis High School, high school of choice,” Jones said. “Everybody is familiar with the Travis campus, the Travis name.”

PISD eyes program that would offer free breakfast, lunch to all students

PISD_Sign2The Paris Independent School District is weighing a federal program that would mean free breakfast and lunch for all students.

“We could say to every kid who comes to PISD, ‘Your meal is free, breakfast and lunch,’” Business Manager Tish Holleman said. “For our kids, that’s huge. We’ve got a lot of students on the bubble.”

In its last session, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring every campus with 80 percent of its students in free and reduced lunch to offer free breakfast to all students. That would apply to Givens, Head Start, Justiss and the alternative school.

“If we can just get them to show up and eat the free food, that’ll be a great way to start the day,” Holleman said.

One problem is that if the district limited it to those four, it could cause confusion for students who transfer between campuses, she said. But it would be very expensive to do that at all campuses.

As an alternative, PISD may want to consider taking advantage of the United States Department of Agriculture community eligibility provision, she said. The program would make breakfast and lunch free for all students.

If a district has 40 percent or more of its population automatically qualifying for free and reduced lunch – such as migrant, homeless or Head Start students – it may qualify for the program. At 60.3 percent, PISD meets that requirement. Because of its numbers, 96.46 percent would be considered free lunches, and only 3.54 percent paid.

Federal funds cannot subsidize the paid lunches. If it does, the district can wind up having to repay some of the money. A la carte purchases from the snack bar can be used to offset that difference, since they are not covered in the program.

Participating in the federal program would eliminate the current application process, which Holleman said is a problem. Many decline to fill it out, or fill it out wrong or turn it in too late.

The program is new to Texas, Superintendent Paul Jones said. The district has until June 30 to decide whether or not it wants to participate. It is a five-year program, but the district could opt out after the first year if it did not work out as hoped.

If PISD stays with its current system, meals could cost 10 cents more next year.

Food is a big part of the federal funds for PISD, including $1.25 million in the national school lunch program, $500,000 for breakfast, $115,000 in USDA donated commodities, $40,000 for the summer feeding program and $24,510 for a fresh fruit and vegetable program at Justiss Elementary School.

PISD_04-14In other business:

  • The board moved next month’s meeting to May 12 at Paris high School.
  • Bob Williams with The Prudential presented seventh grader Sahil Prakash with the Prudential Spirit of Community Service Award for his Project BIKE (Preventing Bike Injuries Keeping Everyone Safe) program, which was an award-winning Future Problem Solvers community service project. Prakash was the youngest entrant. Williams said he has been with the program 10 years, and Prakash was the youngest winner he’d ever seen. Most are 16 or 17 years old.
  • Board members congratulated Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Robert High on his birthday and 50th wedding anniversary. “My wife’s not happy,” High said.

New Hope settling in at new location

NewHopeNewBuilding02

New Hope Center Director Gay Ballew looks over the architectural plans for NHC’s new facility. (eParisExtra photo by Jeff Parish)

New Hope Center of Paris is settling into its new home.

“It was like a dream come true,” Executive Director Gay Ballew said. “When we walked in, we knew there a lot of work ahead of us, but we knew it would be phenomenal.”

The organization moved into its new office at 450 SW 4th St. about three weeks ago. An open house is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 29, including a ribbon cutting and Chamber of Commerce Live @ 5 event.

The former Department of Human Services building sat empty for more than a decade until the Ram Foundation purchased it for New Hope Center about a year ago and started renovations. The building had to be brought up to code, including handicap accessibility, sprinkler system, restrooms and alarms that will also alert the hearing and visually impaired.

“Nobody would realize where we’ve come from unless they’ve seen the old building,” Ballew said, referring to the former shelter at 777 Bonham St. “We actually have air and heat that work.”

NewHopeNewBuilding01

New Hope Center’s new facility is a major improvement over the old one (below), the organization’s director says. (eParisExtra photo by Jeff Parish)

At 35,800 square feet, the space is much larger than the shelter needs, but the plan is to make it a revenue generator by leasing the extra space. Current tenants include the Paris-Lamar County Health Department, East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Flick Computers and a nutrition program through the University of Texas at Tyler.

One of the largest tenants will be the Paris Good Samaritan Clinic. Dr. Bert Strom will be the free clinic’s medical doctor, Ballew said, and the organization is still looking for volunteers. The plan is to be open one evening a week and gradually expand as volunteers and staff allow. Work is still under way in the clinic’s space. Furniture and cubicle dividers remain scattered, and masking tape and scraps of paper identify offices.

“We’ve got a few offices left,” Ballew said. “Maybe five are still available.”

Models 004New Hope’s side includes long-term and emergency shelters. The emergency shelter has room for eight, and offices can be converted if needed. The long-term shelter can hold up to 52 and will be open to families, single parents and individuals, including emancipated 17-year-olds and homeless veterans who are working or in school. As New Hope is a faith-based organization, couples who want to stay need proof of marriage, Ballew said. Clients could stay up to 24 months.

The center has become an internship site for Texas A&M University-Commerce’s social services program, and Ballew hopes to eventually include the counseling department.

The community stepped up to make the transition possible. Bobby Smallwood acted as contractor on the renovations, and Paul Denny did the architectural designs.

The Saint Joseph Foundation gave a grant for medical services. Another grant came from Hope Charitable Foundation. The United Way provided a computer lab and beds. A partnership with Federal Home Loan Bank in Dallas, Liberty National Bank and First Federal Community Bank purchased dining room furniture and appliances for the kitchen and laundry room.

The sheriff’s office and adult probation helped provide manual labor for the move, as did county commissioners Lonnie Layton and Lawrence Malone. Rocking E Storage provided a crew and truck, as well, Ballew said.

At the center, Josh Flick and Wes and Geri Chappell helped with setting up computers, phones and internet service.

Residents also like the new digs, Ballew said.

“Some miss the other place because it seemed like home, but once they adjust to it, they love it,” she said.