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Topping helps DNMS students spread their wings

Seeing her parents' careers as teachers, Derby North Middle School’s Susan Topping was certain she would not follow that path into the classroom. 

When she entered college, Topping sought to be a lawyer or a broadcast journalist. Eventually, though, she circled back to the educational career path she swore she would avoid. Now, after 31 years in education, Topping is set to enter retirement at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

After shifting her career goals in college, Topping eventually settled on speech pathologist – a pursuit just different enough from the family profession of teaching.

“It gives me the lifestyle of working in education with students and the [school] calendar, but it also isn’t the same,” Topping said of that career choice. “I just couldn’t imagine myself in one classroom all day, every day.”

Starting out with a birth to 5 program in Wellington, Topping eventually joined the Derby school district as a speech/language pathologist at Swaney Elementary in 1997. Derby was a “second home” for Topping, as her mother graduated from DHS and her grandparents lived in Derby. She also student taught in Derby to start her educational career.

Topping transitioned to similar roles at Park Hill Elementary and the former sixth grade center before joining the staff at DNMS. She spent 26 of her 31 years in education with Derby Public Schools, serving in a role she felt was tailored for her.

“I love to talk, I love to read, I love language, I love words, and I really enjoy working with kids,” Topping said, “so it just kind of combined all the things that I loved.”

Now, after adding the title of dyslexia specialist while at DNMS, Topping has also served as a teacher in a special education classroom for the past two years – filling in for a teacher on a temporary leave (who will take back over next school year).

With retirement approaching, Topping saw it as a “different, fun new way to finish out” her career.

Although Topping swore off teaching early on, she said the last two years in the special education classroom have been an “amazing” experience – working hand-in-hand with a team of educators to best serve their kids.

“What we want to do is help our students find out learning is fun,” Topping said. “We take the things that spark their interest and then we teach them how to learn more about it. It’s not just me teaching a core curriculum that you have to learn this today. Because we’re in special education, we can kind of look at what’s the curriculum that our middle schoolers are following that’s designated by the state [and] how can we take it in a way that the kids really love what they’re learning about and really follow their lead.”

Topping’s passion for her students is clear. During a recent interview, students were coming and going in her classroom – with Topping checking in on each while simultaneously answering questions. She was making sure one student had the necessary supplies for her next class (art), while also eagerly hearing a report from another student who hit his weightlifting goals.

Additionally, she said she has been pleased to see some of her SPED students form relationships – and create more positive interactions – through the Falcon Friends program at DNMS.

Entering retirement, Topping looks forward to spending more time doing activities with her husband, but she still plans on helping out students, too – even if indirectly.

Getting her certification as a dyslexia specialist, Topping qualified as an instructor with the Payne Education Center of Oklahoma City and intends to keep helping there and leading trainings at schools in Kansas and Oklahoma. With her daughter, Austen Hilt, working as sub coordinator at DNMS, she expects she’ll be called back in to teach from time to time, too.

Both in the special education classroom and as a speech/language pathologist through the years, Topping has worked with students with all sorts of needs, helping them find ways to communicate. Knowing non-verbal does not equate to lower intelligence, Topping has worked to instill the idea that anything her students dream is possible – something she hopes they will take forward with them.

“They can do anything, and we just help them find their joy and find their love. They feel safe in here; it’s kind of like a family,” Topping said. “I hope that they leave here knowing how much they were cared for as people and how much we believed that they could fly.”

Opportunities abound for DHS students to get work experience

Preparing students to find a career that matches their interest is the focus of the Work-Based Learning curriculum in the Derby school district. 

According to Dr. Holly Putnam-Jackson, assistant superintendent of curriculum, the topic of career matching can begin in elementary school with career awareness events – such as a guest speaker, a field trip to a college or university or to a local business. Older students will experience career exploration where they can job shadow, have mock interviews and receive career mentoring. 

In the spring semester of their junior year, students who are on track to graduate can take part in a paid youth internship. 

This can take shape in many forms including current students in Americorp who tutor students at local elementary schools, summer jobs and internships with the city of Derby’s maintenance department and working in the Citizens Bank branch at Derby High School.

All internships must follow criteria defined by the Kansas Department of Education for the students to receive class credit and typically involve some sort of presentation or report about the internship.

Other students may pursue an entrepreneurship option, such as working in the student-led coffee shop at Derby High School. 

Participation in a work-based learning opportunity is not a guarantee for every junior. Students must apply for the job and go through a job interview after successfully completing classes in the related fields prior to participating.

Often, the internships are in fields that are experiencing labor shortages such as child care, teaching and maintenance.

The Citizens Bank branch at Derby High School is the longest running work-based opportunity for students. It originally began in 2011 as a Verus Bank location. In order to be selected to work in the bank, students must fill out an application, go through a background check and even learn basic banking regulations before they can be hired to work. They must also complete accounting courses before becoming eligible.

The city of Derby has worked with district staff in the curriculum department to create specific job descriptions for the student-filled openings, including street sweeper, grounds maintenance and lab tech aide. Students are paid $12.50/hour and work a few hours during the school day.

To make sure the internship is meeting the requirements of the work-based learning program, an ombudsman is used to introduce the student to the employer and assist the employer in completing an evaluation of the student for class credit.

Wichita State University partners with the district for an articulated teaching pathway program. Students start with teacher observation in the classroom and then a teaching internship where they design an activity for students similar to a practicum. The students get to see their activity implemented and report on its effectiveness.

Putnam-Jackson said the program is willing to work with any interested Derby businesses that want to participate. Sandy Barton, career exploration education leader for the district, is the point of contact for local business interested in the program.

Final modifications recommended for Sky Ridge development

During its May 18 meeting, the Derby Planning Commission reviewed the final plat submitted for Sky Ridge addition – a new mixed-use development to be built southeast of the 55th and Rock Road intersection. 

Per the plat for the 120-acre development, Sky Ridge will include three commercial lots (15 acres), one lot (17 acres) for a 384-unit apartment complex – planned to be built out first – 66 lots for duplexes (28 acres) and 100 lots (58 acres) for single-family residences.

Among a few items flagged by staff with the final plat, the commission also heard from neighboring resident Tim McCarthy during the public forum portion of the meeting. McCarthy raised concerns about the drainage plan associated with the final plat for Sky Ridge.

Specifically, McCarthy was concerned about losing the wanted volume of water to fill a detention pond on his property. The water flow would shift from 91 cubic feet per second for a 100-year rain to 12 cubic feet per second after development with the proposed plan – diverting away from his property. This followed on the heels of his initial concerns over potential washout.

City Planner Scott Knebel noted staff and the applicant are still working to find the right balance.

“This is something that we intend to work with them. The concern of Baughman is being able to do both – being able to provide enough water to fill the drainage pond at the same level without washing out the driveway,” Knebel said.

Knebel, questioned on if there had been a study done on the flow required for conservation (he said there had not), noted that staff, applicants and existing homeowners worked out an agreement in a similar situation with the Foxfire addition.

Similarly, Knebel noted the utility plan will need minor revisions as the city continues to work on a sanitary sewer extension better serving that area.

Other than that, Knebel noted there are some issues to be worked out with street access as the applicant is working with the school district on easements/road right-of-way along the south property line. The development is located just north of Derby North Middle School.

“We have the documents themselves, we’ve reviewed them and we’re good with them,” Knebel said.

However, Knebel noted if the school district votes down the agreement, the plat would have to come back before the commission. To the north, Knebel did note another property owner is attempting to line up Liberty and Amber Ridge to connect to a future development.

The one other major sticking point Knebel pointed out is screening, with vinyl fencing proposed. Current subdivision requirements call for a concrete or masonry wall and/or decorative metal fence.

Seeing the temporary turnarounds and cul-de-sacs addressed on the final plat – something brought up by neighboring residents when the item came before the commission previously –commissioner Jessica Rhein noted she was in agreement with staff comments.

Other commission members agreed, allowing staff to work out any final items brought up with the applicant, and voted 9-0 to approve the final plat for Sky Ridge.

Esports building momentum at Derby High School

Derby esports celebrated the second-ever college signing on May 18. Deven Anderson officially signed his letter of intent to Pratt Community College to join the Beaver esports program. The DHS esports team has gained a lot of traction in its second full year of existence and is starting to establish itself as a team rather than a club.

“The Derby esports team is gaining a lot of momentum,” Anderson said. “The transformation from club to team and getting a designated gaming lab with reliable equipment has helped change the approach of the program.”

Anderson was a key piece of the squad that took first in the Midwest region and seventh in the nation in Apex Legends this last season. Apex Legends is a battle-royale, first-person shooter video game where teams of three-player squads compete to be the last team standing.

Joining the Apex Legends squad as a full-time player was not on Anderson’s mind at the start of the season. The leader of a similar game, Overwatch, stepped up when there was an open chair on the Apex squad. The chemistry between Anderson, Ethan Fritz and Jovany Guzman clicked instantly, and the trio started to develop key roles in the game.

The crew started to develop a strategy for success, and each player grew into distinct roles. The team ran a strategy using various types of smokescreens to disrupt the opponent’s ability to see incoming attacks.

As the most experienced player on the team, Fritz took the lead for the team and tended to be the more aggressive player. Anderson was in the middle helping push attacks, while Guzman played the crucial support, more conservative player role.

Unlike its KSHSAA-sanctioned counterparts, esports practice is a little more individualized, and players can practice at their own pace just by logging hours in the game from home. Due to conflicting schedules, the team rarely has the time to play together as practice. Most of the time, the three would play a warm-up game together on the day of the matches.

“Whenever we couldn’t practice together, we would just play the game at home to get the basic aspects like playing the game for skill,” Anderson said. “It is way better than having to show up in person. Like for band practice, you have to be somewhere at 8 a.m.; instead, I can wake up at 8 a.m. in my pajamas and play video games.”

During the season, the team played nearly every Thursday, but it was a different structure than other esports games. Points were calculated by taking the trio’s best four rounds in a span of two hours. The team played random opponents, and every round was a fresh start to get a higher point total based on team placement and kill totals.

The trio was playing well heading into the postseason and won the Midwest regional, comprised of several schools from various states. The team continued the momentum taking seventh in the nation.

“The fact that they got first in the region in Apex Legends was a big deal,” head coach Caitlin Hendrix said. “When looking at multiple states and the level of talent, it is really neat.”

The entire Derby esports team found success this season, led by the Apex Legends team, with each team making significant improvements at the end of the year. There is some momentum building throughout the team. Hendrix hopes to continue the success of the team and give her players more opportunities to receive scholarships to colleges as the esports community works to make it a sanctioned KSHSAA activity.

“I think it has been really neat to see the mindset of our players change,” Hendrix said. “It was [first] seen as just a club and showing up and playing video games to them [now] realizing it is a sport.. They now see they can get scholarships and go further than just playing video games. It has been cool seeing it morph from a club to a sport. I am excited to offer more opportunities with scholarships from multiple colleges and for it to be started to be considered as a sport.” 

Citywide garage sales bring out a crowd

From kayaks to foosball tables and much more, there were several big ticket items highlighting this year’s Derby Rotary Club citywide garage sales.

Bargain shoppers flocked to the city to find the best deals May 18-20, with even more locations to scout out compared to last year.

Derby Rotary Club Treasurer Eric Gustafson reported there were 137 registered garages sales in 2023, up about 20 from last year. With registration fees, that helped raise more than $1,300 for Derby Public Schools’ community assistance lunch program.

Softball rallies to clinch state berth

Derby dethroned the back-to-back reigning Class 6A state champions Topeka in the regional final to reach the state tournament on May 16. The Panthers rallied from a two-run deficit to win 8-6 behind a crucial four-RBI game by Trinity Kuntz.

Kuntz provided the key two-run double that gave the Panthers the lead in a four-run sixth inning. The senior catcher hit a hard ground ball that rolled into right field.

“I knew that if we got to Trinity, we were going to score some runs,” head coach Christy Weve said. “She had a hot bat, puts the ball in play, and she just hits the ball hard.” 

The Panthers held a 4-2 advantage heading into the fifth inning, but the Trojans took the lead with a four-run inning that was filled with walks. Back-to-back walks to start the fifth inning set the table for Topeka. A double scored one, but the Trojans had three runs come in to score on bases-loaded walks, giving them a 6-4 lead.

Derby struggled to generate momentum in the fifth, but Chloe Enslinger sparked the Panther comeback with a leadoff triple in the sixth. Karlie Demel hit a sacrifice fly to score Enslinger on the next plate appearance. The Panthers loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a single. Addy Canfield drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game before Kuntz’s clutch double.

“When they play together as a team, they are unstoppable, and sometimes they have to just realize that,” Weve said. “In our four-run inning, that is what they did. They played for each other.”

Canfield pitched all seven innings and gave up six runs on five hits with 11 strikeouts and 10 walks. The junior ace bounced back from a rough inning and worked out of leadoff baserunners in the final two innings.

“It was tough just recuperating in the dugout after that [fifth] inning,” Canfield said. “…What is great about this team is that if we have a bad inning, we don’t get down. We are always wanting to get those runs back, which helps us build momentum.” 

The Panthers cruised through the regional semifinal with a 12-2 win over Dodge City. Avery Kelley highlighted the win with an inside-the-park home run in the second inning. Kelley led off the second with a deep fly ball to left field that passed the outfielder, giving her plenty of time to sprint around the bases.

“It felt great, it was my third at-bat of the season, so I just wanted to try my hardest,” Kelley said. “I saw a pitch that was high and inside. I just went with it, made good contact, and ran.”

Kuntz, Madi Grady and Brooke Rice all had two RBI games. The Panthers were selective at the plate, with only one strikeout, and drew five walks. Derby took advantage of five Dodge City errors. 

Ava Boden earned the win in a four-inning outing. Boden gave up one run on four hits with four strikeouts and a walk. Hannah Shinkle pitched the final two innings giving up one run on three hits with three strikeouts and a walk. 

The Panthers took third place at the Class 6A state tournament last season, and the team is motivated to take one step closer to a state title. For the five seniors, it is a fitting end to their Derby careers after losing out on one year of high school ball due to COVID-19. 

“It is always cool to make it to state,” Weve said. “I know how hard these seniors have worked, and like every other senior in the state, their freshmen year didn’t happen. For these girls, it is special, and they deserve it.”  

Regional semifinal vs. Dodge City, May 16

DODGE CITY 0 0 1 0 0 1 X  —  2   7  5

DERBY 4 1 0 2 1 4 X  — 12  8  1

W: Boden (DRBY)

L: Musslin (DC)

2B: Rice (DRBY); Steiner 2 (DC)

3B: Rice, Canfield, Ky. Demel, Grady

HR: Kelley (DRBY)

RBI: Grady 2, Kuntz 2, Rice 2, Kelley, Ky. Demel, Canfield, Jackson (DRBY); Steiner, Bogner (DC) 

Regional championship vs. Topeka, May 16

TOPEKA 1  0  1  0  4  0  0  —  6  5  1

DERBY 2  1  1  0  0  4  X  —  8  9  0  

W: Canfield (DRBY)

L: Benning (TOP)

2B: Kuntz, Canfield, Frager (DRBY); Alvarez, Caryl (TOP)

3B: Enslinger (DRBY)

RBI: Kuntz 4, Canfield, Enslinger, Ka. Demel (DRBY); Benning, Alvarez, Freel, Isaia, Johnston (TOP)