It’s important to not become fatigued about opportunity gaps

By Hermann Pereira

Everyone is feeling the fatigue of all that we have been through this past year. In our fatigue, it is easy to overlook things, but I want to bring something to our attention as a community that is important for us not to get fatigued about. 

Every student graduating from high school deserves an opportunity to move on to their post-secondary plans of choice. In our community we have great higher education choices and growing industries that our students should have access to, but the data says otherwise. 

I would like to bring your attention to just the enrollment data, which shows the rate at which high school students enroll in higher education. The numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center are staggering. It compares the data from the class of 2019 and the class of 2020, remember the class of 2020 is the one that graduated in the midst of the pandemic. 

Overall enrollment in higher education High Poverty Schools Low Poverty Schools
Class of 2019-1.5%-1.6%-1.4%
Class of 2020-6.8%-11.4% -2.9%

In Greater Waco, we have six larger school districts which total 35,000+ students. Three of the six districts are in that higher poverty range, and they have more than 20,000 students. This growing gap in higher education enrollment is a major opportunity gap, and it is only getting bigger. 

There are existing efforts that are looking to address this growing opportunity gap. I want to highlight two upcoming existing efforts:

  • The McLennan County College Access Network is hosting a Drive Thru Event 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 24. The event will be for all high school seniors and their parents to get help with financial aid, college admissions, and enrollment. The event will be held at Communities in Schools, 1001 Washington Ave.. 
  • Prosper Waco and Waco Foundation will begin a comprehensive study on the college and career continuum in McLennan County. We hope to capture who is providing what services to which students and to what affect in our county. At the conclusion of the study we will share results openly with the community. 

Prosper Waco is committed to ensuring all students in McLennan County have equitable access to college and career resources. If you have any questions or want to discuss education in our community please reach out to me at

Hermann Pereira is chief program officer of Prosper Waco.

Celebrate Community College Month with MCC

By Madison Schick 

The value of a college degree or workforce certificate has become nearly indisputable; its critical function within the national and local economy is further secured by the role of college degrees in society. 

College degrees enable graduates to achieve a status that may allude others, and this points to an innate worth in higher education. McLennan Community College recognizes Community College Month and its goals throughout the month of April to advocate and support community colleges and their current and prospective students nationwide. MCC invites all to join in the celebration of equitable education in Waco. 

In 2016 nearly one-third of community college attendees were first-generation college students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The American Association of Community Colleges reports for the same year, “two out of every three students at community colleges work[ed] while enrolled, with 20.6% of mostly full-time students working full-time jobs.”  

In addition to demographic diversity, community colleges serve various populations of students, each with differing goals. MCC serves well over 1,000 high school students each year through Dual Credit courses – permitting students to receive college credit while keeping their academic and career goals forefront. Half of McLennan County high school valedictorians and salutatorians in 2020 graduated with an associate’s degree from MCC. 

A recent Inside Higher Ed article examined results from a survey produced by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Over half of people earning bachelor’s degrees between 2008 and 2017 were previously enrolled at a community college, and one-quarter had received an associate’s degree prior to their bachelor’s degree. 

Community colleges will continue to differ from four-year schools, partly due to the goals of the students they serve. Community colleges surpass the ability of four-year schools in supplying the local and national workforce with well-educated, certified, and trained workers. They do this in a shorter time frame while accommodating students’ availability for attending classes. 

Community colleges use their multipurpose role within the economy, society, and higher education to meet the needs of students with diverse goals and backgrounds. 

“You can go anywhere from here,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “If you want to eventually graduate from Baylor, Texas Tech, Tarleton, Texas A&M, or anywhere, start here. If you want to be a health professional, first responder, or professional in any other field, start here.” 

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community
College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

Mayborn Museum recognized for Virtual Field Trip program, Mayborn Connect

By Rebecca Tucker Nall

Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex received a gold TAMMIE award Friday, April 16, at the Texas Association of Museums’ Annual Virtual Conference. The award is for Mayborn’s new school outreach program, Mayborn Connect.

Alan Small

“TAMMIE” is an acronym for Texas Association of Museums Media Innovation & Excellence. The award showcases museums that are doing innovative things with media and technology. Winning projects are chosen by a jury of media and technology experts in the museum field. Each category is eligible for either gold, silver, bronze, or honorable mention depending on the number of entries in each category.

“Congratulations to the Mayborn on raising the bar of digital media standards for the rest of the TAM community,” said Alex Freeman, TAM executive director. We want to see how your museums are incorporating technology into exhibits and programs; how you are using technology to reach virtual audiences outside of the traditional museum space; and how you are using social media to engage with audiences in innovative ways.”

Mayborn Connect was developed in spring 2020 as a way to continue to reach schools and school-aged children during a time when most off-site informal education opportunities were limited by the pandemic. This virtual program delivers specialized labs filled with real specimens, artifacts, and real-world connections in both science and cultural history that help kids to explore and understand their environment. 

As of April 2021, almost 200 Mayborn Connect programs have reached more than 5,000 students from 26 school districts. Programs have reached schools as distant as New Jersey and as close as Waco ISD through a partnership with the Junior League of Waco aimed at providing a Mayborn Connect program to every preK class in the district. 

The award was accepted on the Museum’s behalf by Alan Small, STEM education coordinator. Small spearheaded development of the 12 programs offered within Mayborn Connect with support from other museum educators and graduate students from the Department of Museum Studies at Baylor University. 

“I’m so thankful to work with the team that brought the Mayborn Connect program to life in a time of crisis,” Small said. “When school buses parked and the Mayborn doors closed due to the pandemic, it created a chance to rethink how the Mayborn meets needs within the community. Over the last year, the Mayborn Connect team has honed the skills needed to safely deliver our collection out the front door, in living rooms, across school districts, and even across the country. This program would not have been possible without the entire museum staff working together to see it to fruition.”

About Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex

The Mayborn Museum Complex celebrates the natural science and cultural history of Central Texas. This 143,000-square-foot building on the Baylor University campus sparkles with numerous vibrant exhibits and compelling hands-on activities for the whole family to enjoy over and over again. For more information, contact the Mayborn Museum at (254) 710-1110 or visit

Rebecca Tucker Nall is assistant director of exhibits, communication, and visitor services for Mayborn Museum Complex, Baylor University.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

Much to Celebrate: MCC & its University Center reflect on possibilities for students 20 years after start

By Madison Schick

What happens when homespun aspirations become well-earned, successful realities for Central Texas community members? The result is largely simple with impactful consequences — sustainable, higher-paying employment, heightened self-esteem, and a general upsurge in prosperity for all presented the opportunity of higher education. 

McLennan Community College has been partnering with other universities for the benefit of students for 20 years.

At McLennan Community College; the University Center; and partner institutions Texas Tech University, TTU Health Sciences Center, Tarleton State University, Midwestern State University, and the University of Texas Medical Branch are celebrating 20 years of affordable and accessible undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in addition to the tangible markers of university education provided to the citizens and students of Waco. 

The University Center at McLennan Community College released an online brochure to commemorate the significant 20-year celebration, with the front cover tagline, “Celebrating 20 years of affordable bachelor’s and graduate degree options in Waco.” Two decades of University Center operations encompass numerous historical events, the celebration of hundreds of graduates, thousands of instruction hours, and exactly 20 years to learn from, grow with, and welcome established Texas universities and equally exceptional programs of study to MCC’s campus. 

Perhaps the word options rings the loudest to the aspiring people of Central Texas. To have options means to have the opportunity to choose. The University Center, MCC, and its partner institutions are committed to providing affordable education and bringing the opportunity of choice to those who once doubted they had any. The schools are also thankful for those who chose the University Center as a step towards their future. 

As higher education proves to be essential to today’s economy and workforce, affordability claims strewn across billboards and magazines have allowed marketers and audiences to lose sight of the subjectivity of affordability. What constitutes affordable education parallels families, children, and individuals of Texas in the same pursuit of opportunity that range from varying degrees of financial need. 

MCC and its university partners function to provide multiple opportunities for scholarships, financial aid, and tuition assistance to students in addition to the chance for caregivers, working parents, hopeful high school seniors, and those dreaming of a second chance for a better future to start anew in the city that’s called home. 

Although not the first of its kind, MCC and the University Center operate systemically. Students first enroll in basic, or prerequisite, courses at MCC with the intent to transfer these courses into a bachelor’s degree plan with a UC partner. Upon transferring, the student will be considered a student of their selected institution. Students may begin attending a UC partner institution earlier than expected, as they may begin earning college credit through MCC while participating in dual credit courses. 

While registered at MCC, students are invited to apply for hundreds of scholarships through the MCC Foundation during an application period that spans October to mid-January. The Highlander Restart program offers tuition-forgiveness to qualifying MCC students in an effort to ease the worry of indebtedness and fear of enrollment. 

Once students are eligible for transfer, Texas Tech University’s Red Raider Guarantee monetarily covers tuition and mandatory fees for those students who qualify. In recent news, Tarleton State University officially announced its Transfer Guaranteed Award Program (T-GAP) that provides renewable scholarships between $500 and $2,000 to transfer students of Distinguished College Partners. 

When homespun aspirations become well-earned, successful realities, many doors open. Events set into motion, printed diplomas, the relief of hard work well done, and the choice of education make up the first door for thousands of Texans. MCC and UC will continue to empower individuals with and through options – the option to fulfil their goals, to set an example, and to be proud of themselves through affordable education and a quality, merited degree. 

For more information about how to become a student of the University Center, please visit To explore other transfer opportunities, check out to view transfer and advising guides. 

Madison Schick is a social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing. Her other interests include connecting with old friends, trying new restaurants, and spoiling her two rescue cats, Remus and Chewy, with lots of love and treats.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

SummerFest, April 10, to highlight opportunities for students

By Hermann Pereira

In this pandemic and most recently the snow-apocalypse of 2021 we have felt more disconnected. This has truly affected our youth, who are accustomed to being in school face to face everyday along with having the ability to participate in other extracurricular activities. Time away from school is having academic and social emotional impact on youth of all ages. 

The good news is we are getting back to normal as the vaccine has come into the picture and people are feeling more safe. I would like to share an event that is coming up that will give students an opportunity to feel connected. 

Two of our working groups (School Focused Wrap Around Services Working Group and the Informal Learning Working Group) have come together to plan what will be a way for all students to have access and feel connected to summer activities. 

Student Success SummerFest will be 9 a.m.-1 p.m. April 10 and will be in partnership with the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. There will be vendors from all over the community that offer summer activities for youth. Families will be invited to visit with the different vendors and will have an opportunity to sign up on site for camps. 

Working groups are a vehicle for community members to come together to collaborate in order to serve a larger purpose. Our working groups are focused on overall student success. They consist of the Early Childhood Committee, Informal Learning Working Group, Mentor Waco Coalition, School Focused Wrap Around Services Working Group, Education, Workforce and Talent Alliance, and the McLennan County College Access Network. 

All of our working groups are open to anyone in the community interested in working hard for all students in our area. Please email me at, and I can connect you to one of these groups. We hope to talk to you soon. 

Hermann Pereira is chief program officer with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

Baylor’s Lakia Scott working to improve urban literacy

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Lauren Combs 

Lakia Scott, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction with Baylor University’s School of Education, pursues research alongside teaching undergraduate and graduate students. She decided to dedicate her research to improve urban literacy. 

Lakia Scott

“My research for the last three years has been on the Freedom Schools program,” Scott said, “and that is a summer literacy initiative that is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund that helps to lessen summer reading loss.” 

Scott said students who don’t have access to resources like summer enrichment programs or tutoring opportunities typically fall six to nine months behind before returning to school in the fall. 

“They’re actually returning to school as if they are in the mid-year of their previous academic school year,” Scott said. The program she created and continues in partnership with the CDF model seeks to “reduce that learning loss, that summer reading gap, so that students can go back to school in a better frame of mind academically.” 

Scott said the Freedom Schools program uses culturally relevant texts at all levels that are developmentally appropriate to increase students’ exposure to reading. The students have three different opportunities to engage with texts throughout the day. 

“They’ve become more fluent readers. They also build comprehension skills because they’re reading things they really, really care about, and that makes all the difference,” Scott said. “Whereas a sixth grader may come to me on a fluent reading level of fourth grade or right under fifth grade, they may leave Freedom Schools in a 30-day time span over the course of two months at a seventh grade level.” 

Scott said the students who participate in this program are also positively impacted because they are appreciative of reading, academically motivated, and likely to become leaders in their classrooms and communities. 

“I know reading is only one of those core subjects taught,” Scott said, “but reading is seen in every other subject. And so if we don’t equip our students with those foundational literacy skills, it has long-term impacts.”

Waco ISD has a reading proficiency of 30%, which means 30% of the students in the district are reading at or above grade level. “My goal, if I were able to cast this larger vision for the City of Waco, would be to see that reading percentage increase exponentially to the 90 percentage range,” Scott said. 

Scott said the community has already been doing a lot to help achieve this goal, but she would like to continue to see community members making their presence known in the schools with opportunities like mentoring programs. She also encourages sororities, fraternities and other service-based organizations to continue being advocates in school settings. However, Scott also said there are other, less direct way to increase the literacy levels. 

“Something that I think is really overlooked is attending school board meetings. The presence of community members at school board meetings is powerful because so much happens there— the ways budgets are allocated, the ways resources are allocated— all of those things are talked about and discussed and voted upon at the school board level,” Scott said. 

Scott even encouraged community members to run for school board positions and community leadership opportunities. 

“If we are really serious about making change in ways that are going to positively affect the students that are in the community,” Scott said, “we need to be more vocal about it.”

Lauren Combs is a Baylor University sophomore from Virginia majoring in journalism who hopes to pursue magazine writing or public relations for nonprofits or ministries.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

College Access Network urges students to finish strong & reach postsecondary goals

By Hermann Pereira

I grew up around sports and have always revered the role of the coach. The coach sets the tone and is always focused on making sure their players are prepared to begin well and to finish strong. 

Coaching concept. Chart with keywords and icons

In local education, we have a group that functions as community coaches — McLennan County College Access Network, which is a network of professionals who work in the K-12 and higher education space. They meet monthly to discuss how they can support students and families as they look to make college and career access more equitable across our county. 

Members of this network serve as coaches of our McLennan County students and are urging students to finish strong and reach their postsecondary goals. I have complete faith in our community coaches in this space, but I want to encourage you to become an honorary assistant coach along with us. A couple of key conversations that you could help with are:

— Have active dialogue with any high school student about their future. Share with them how you got into your career and what lessons you have learned.

— Remind students to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

— Share with students the higher education opportunities that exist in McLennan County. Between Baylor University, McLennan Community College, and Texas State Technical College students can find just about any degree they are interested in. 

— Encourage students to meet with their high school counselors. Counselors play a pivotal part in this process and just about all of them are available by phone, email, Zoom, or in person. 

I hope you will step up and become an assistant coach with us because community-wide issues require community-wide involvement. If you have any questions or would like to hear additional ways to get involved please reach out to me at

Hermann Pereira is Prosper Waco’s senior content specialist for education.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

Stewart brings leadership & compassion to his ‘home community’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Kristin Hookassian

Local heroes make efforts to ensure their communities are not only taken care of but embraced. They make changes in their community and create relationships with the people in them. 

James Stewart, Jr.

James Stewart, Jr., is a local hero in Waco and Waco ISD.  He is principal of Waco High School. After graduating from Waco High School in 1997, he attended Southwest Texas State University to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration in management and finance while playing football. 

He then earned his master’s degree in education administration at Tarleton State University. 

Stewart began his educational career in his hometown of Waco. He took a leadership role as the athletic campus coordinator at Lake Air Middle School in 2002. He then began his work at Waco High School to coach football and track while teaching computer and business classes for six years. He worked as an assistant principal at Waco High 2014-2018 and as principal at Carver Middle School in 2019. 

Born and raised in Waco, Stewart said he knew he wanted to work in his hometown after working his first job.

“My first job out of college was working with Wells Fargo for about two years. I like the small-town feel; there’s not too much of a small-town feel anymore. I got involved with coaching and teaching because of 9/11 and the connections I had with former teachers, mentors, people that raised me along the way,” Stewart said. “So, I figured, why not Waco? I figured if I was going to do something in the community, I figured I’d want to do it for my home community.”

Stewart’s compassion and overall influence on Waco ISD students was largely based upon his experience growing up in Waco.

“I know what it’s like to come from generational poverty and so to try to come back and explain to kids, ‘Hey there’s a lot more outside of the city that you may not get to experience.’ So, I’m trying to make sure that they understand that education is the ticket out,” Stewart said. 

He gives his students advice about life beyond classrooms and cafeterias.

“One thing I say on the announcements quite often is, ‘You have to get paper to make paper.’ First you have to get your diploma, then you have to work on getting a certificate of a trade or some kind of a degree,” he said.

Since working with Waco ISD, Stewart has made it a priority to make changes in his community starting with the most vulnerable.

“I usually mentor at least two young boys and try to take them, when I take my daughters to Texas State games or college games, I try to give those kids an opportunity to come with me and my family, so they get to see what college life is like,” Stewart said. My biggest calling is to “give other kids the exposure or chance to see what it’s like outside Waco.”

Seeing local kids grow and mature is the most rewarding part of his career in education. Kids come in as “squirrely freshmen,” but they mature and learn to “walk away from incidents that they didn’t walk away from when they were freshmen.” They grow into young adults, and “that’s the biggest highlight as a professional,” Stewart said.

Kristin Hookassian is a junior psychology and advertising student at Baylor University. She is from Tennessee. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

Parkdale teacher named to Yamaha’s ’40 Under 40′ list of top music educators

By Waco ISD Communications

Parkdale Elementary Music Specialist Giselle Vento is receiving national recognition as an honoree in Yamaha’s newly-launched “40 Under 40” music education advocacy program.

Giselle Vento

Vento joins 39 other innovative music educators under the age of 40 who exemplify the highest level of music education in the United States.

“I feel grateful to have been nominated,” Vento said “And I’m excited to receive this recognition for myself and my supportive Waco community, and am inspired to continue in my journey as an educator.”

The 40 Under 40 music education advocacy program was established by Yamaha to celebrate music educators at all grade levels, public or private, as well as private music instructors, selected from hundreds of music education leaders nominated by students, parents, teachers or administrators, local instrument dealers and mentors last fall.

“Despite immense challenges, educators are undertaking the most innovative, creative and impactful programs to truly make a difference in strengthening music education nationwide,” said Heather Mansell, Yamaha’s segment marketing manager in education . “Yamaha shares the same commitment to high-quality music education for all, and we look forward to supporting and encouraging the efforts of these 40 outstanding educators and the thousands more like them across the country.”

In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “As Giselle grows, her kids grow! Music has become their passion under Ms. [Vento] Banda’s guidance, and they have so many more opportunities to develop their musical arts learning because of her.”

As a Waco ISD student, Vento realized the choir room provided a safe space for her to be expressive and feel a strong sense of belonging. She wants her students to be just as empowered and valued, which is why she refers to students as “scholars.” 

“I want children to be globally-minded, lifelong learners,” she said. “I also want them to know that their teachers are scholars, too. When I refer to them as ‘scholars,’ my students’ behavior shifts, and they take pride in learning.” 

Honorees were selected based on one of four qualities: 1) proactively takes necessary steps that lead to a stronger music program; 2) proposes and implements new or bold ideas; 3) shows innovation and imagination in achieving plans and objectives; or 4) establishes and grows, or improves, music education in their schools and communities. 

“I had the pleasure of visiting Ms. Vento’s classroom the first week of school and just adored watching her lesson.” Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said. “Her class is such a great place for kids. She’s so passionate, and I saw how her enthusiasm directly kept her students actively engaged in class. She’s very deserving of this national recognition.”

To see what other program honorees are doing in their local communities, please visit

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at

Bond refinancing to save Waco ISD taxpayers $15.8 million through 2038

By Waco ISD Communications

Waco ISD has refinanced approximately $106,740,000 of its existing bonds, resulting in an overall savings of over $15.84 million to district taxpayers through the remaining life of the bonds until the year 2038.

The district’s financial advisor, Robert Traylor of RBC Capital Markets, reports the bonds’ initial 4.28% interest rate has been reduced to approximately 1.655%.

“This was a clear opportunity to demonstrate good fiscal stewardship of district and community resources,” said Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon. “With RBC Capital Markets’ guidance, our business and financial services department has taken advantage of low bond interest rates to save taxpayers money and reduce the district’s debt service costs.”

As part of this process, Waco ISD’s bond rating of “Aa2” was reaffirmed by Moody’s Investor Service.  

“This is a very strong rating and reflects the district’s history of conservative budgeting and management practices,” said Waco ISD Assistant Superintendent of Finance Sheryl Davis. “We are pleased that favorable market conditions provided us the opportunity to refinance these bonds to benefit the district and taxpayers.”

This series of bonds from 2014–2016 are part of an earlier refunding of bonds issued to fund the construction of University High School and three elementary campuses including J.H. Hines, Bell’s Hill and Dean Highland.