First-year teachers — How did 2020 Baylor Education grads do?

By Baylor School of Education

Baylor University’s teacher-education graduates of 2020 experienced a career launch like no other class. Their classroom internships were cut short by the global COVID pandemic, and then they entered their first year of independent teaching still in the midst of a pandemic that lasted the entire school year. 

It’s a good thing the Baylor School of Education teacher-education program is designed to prepare graduates thoroughly through rigorous coursework, as well as intense faculty-guided field experiences. Baylor’s preparation is so rigorous, in fact, that 2020 teacher education majors had completed their state-required classroom experiences and already taken their certification exams when the pandemic hit.

But were they really ready? Could anything have prepared them for a first year of teaching in a pandemic? Read the reflections of four of our 2020 graduates after their first year in the classroom and find out. Spoiler alert — our graduates are amazing! Congratulations (and thank you) to them and to all teachers who are leading during these challenging times.


Emily Holland, BSEd ’20, All-Level Special Education

Emily Holland

Robinson Elementary School, Robinson ISD

Functional Academics (first-third graders)

“One thing that I was not prepared for was teaching students with disabilities through a computer screen. It is already challenging enough to differentiate instruction for your kiddos in person let alone online with that barrier. . . . Most of my students ended up in my classroom, but I did have two that chose to stay home for the entire school year. I could handle the challenging behaviors, disengaged learners, or the unpredictability of each day. But that added layer of asynchronous/synchronous instruction is the main reason that I finished each day completely drained. However, this year gave educators the opportunity to learn and try so many amazing online resources that I hope we will all continue to use in the future.”

READ EMILY‘S COMPLETE REFLECTION


Augie Strauch, BSEd ’20, Secondary Social Studies

Augie Strauch

Vandergriff High School, Leander ISD

Eleventh Grade U.S. History

“I knew engagement and relationships were going to be the biggest hurdles this year, and I really felt like my time at Baylor helped prepare me to make the adjustments necessary to have a great year. . . . To keep students’ attention, I knew they needed to be a part of the lesson, not just an observer. . . . I ended up finding a collection of tools that allowed me to embed questions into my presentations that would prompt questions to the entire class while I was teaching.”

READ AUGIE’S COMPLETE REFLECTION


Sahira Kodra, BSEd ’20, Elementary Education

Sahira Kodra

Akin Elementary, Leander ISD

Fourth Grade 

“All my Baylor classes and time in the classroom prepared me for teaching, but I think nothing prepared me for teaching virtually all of my first year. Baylor also instilled a love of learning in me that I was able to pass down to my students. . . . My favorite memory was when my students and I participated in an escape room I created — thanks to Dr. Neil Shanks. We had done an in-person escape room in his methods class, I reached out and asked him a few questions. I then created a math escape room that allowed my students to go through it in teams while being virtual.”

READ SAHIRA’S COMPLETE REFLECTION


Cami Cox, BSEd ’20, Elementary Education

Cami Cox

Cypress Elementary, Leander ISD

First Grade

“Going from virtual to in-person to being quarantined to the constant revolving door of students, change was the name of the game! I grew so much this year, and I will carry the lessons I learned throughout my teaching career. . . . All the different experiences I had through Baylor definitely prepared me. . . . One of my students told me, ‘Ms. Cox, I know you’re a new teacher, but I like that you change stuff up. It makes it fun!’ I’m really glad she thought so because this year was full of change!”

READ CAMI’S COMPLETE REFLECTION


For more than 100 years, Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, leaders in K12 and higher education, psychologists, academics/scholars, and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Visit www.baylor.edu/SOE to learn more.

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 [email protected].

MCC expands scholarship opportunities for McLennan County high school students

By MCC Marketing & Communications

McLennan Community College has introduced a new scholarship opportunity recognizing McLennan County high school students ranked in the top 11-20% of their class at the end of their junior year. The Rising Star scholarship is an extension of the current McLennan Scholarship, which offers free tuition for McLennan County students ranking in the top 10% of their high school class.

Rising Star Scholarships cover 50% of tuition and fees at McLennan for four semesters, excluding summer terms, and are valid for four long semesters after high school graduation. Recipients must enroll full time (12 credit hours or more per semester), maintain a cumulative grade point average of 2.5, and complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.gov. Recipients will be notified by McLennan’s Financial Aid office and their high school principal at the end of their junior year.

MCC has also made significant changes to the McLennan Scholars program, which recognizes students in the top 10% of their class. Scholarships will be awarded to students based on their ranking at the end of their junior year in high school. McLennan Scholars receive 100% tuition and fees for four semesters, excluding summer terms, after high school graduation, and these scholarships are valid for four long semesters after high school graduation.

Recipients must enroll full time (12 credit hours or more per semester), maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0, and complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.gov. Recipients will be notified by MCC’s Financial Aid office and their high school principal at the end of their junior year.

Both the McLennan Scholars and the Rising Star Scholarship programs are also available to five home schooled students in McLennan County. These students must complete the McLennan Community College Foundation scholarship application and indicate their interest in the home school McLennan Scholars or Rising Star Scholarship.

For more information about these and other scholarship programs at McLennan, visit www.mclennan.edu/scholarships/index.html. Or contact Shelley Cotten at the MCC Foundation at [email protected] or 254-299-8818.

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 [email protected].

Longest serving member of Waco ISD board to step down

Anyone interested in being appointed to fill the vacancy is encouraged to submit a letter of interest.

By Josh Wucher

During the July 22 meeting of the Waco ISD Board of Trustees, Allen Sykes announced that he plans to resign as a school board member as soon as his replacement is sworn into office. Sykes represents Waco ISD Trustee District 5, which includes the neighborhoods between Richland Mall and the lake as well as some areas near Baylor University. He was first elected to the board in 1999 and is the longest serving of the district’s current board members.

Allen Sykes

In a letter to fellow board members, Sykes wrote that the timing of his resignation was “based on other commitments making it increasingly difficult to allocate sufficient effort to fulfill the requirements entrusted to me.” He also noted his gratitude to the voters who elected him to represent them and his hope that making the announcement now will allow others who wish to serve the community to consider this opportunity.

Reflecting on 22 years of service, Sykes noted that the district has changed in meaningful ways since he was first elected. Among the changes that he highlighted was the construction of University High and the improvement of other campuses made possible by voter approval of a $172.5 million bond package in 2008.

Sykes’ announcement comes as the board is considering asking voters for approval of a $376.1 million bond package. Earlier this year, a community advisory committee recommended that the board consider replacing Waco High, G.W. Carver Middle, Tennyson Middle and Kendrick Elementary with new schools built in the same location as the existing campuses. The board will decide whether to call a bond election for November at their next meeting on Aug. 12.

“The bond election being considered at this time will have major impact on the Waco community, and I am in complete support of the broad scope as determined by the tireless work of the Community Advisory Committee,” Sykes wrote. “Under Dr. [Susan] Kincannon’s leadership, the district is well positioned to dramatically improve student performance with facilities aligned to promote achievement through well planned and designed learning environments.”

Board President Angela Tekell announced that the board will discuss filling the vacancy created by Sykes’ resignation at their meeting on Aug. 12. Sykes’ current term ends in May 2022, and the board can appoint a replacement to serve through the end of the term, call a special election to fill the vacancy until that time, or leave the vacancy unfilled until May 2022 when voters will elect someone to a new three-year term representing District 5.

Anyone interested in being appointed to fill the vacancy is encouraged to submit a letter of interest describing their qualifications and why they want to serve on the board to the board president no later than Aug. 23. Letters can be delivered to the Waco ISD Administration Building, 501 Franklin Ave, Waco, TX 76701. They can also be emailed to [email protected].

To be eligible to fill the vacancy, an individual must be registered to vote, be a resident of the state of Texas for at least one year, and be a resident of District 5 for at least six months. A map of the trustee districts can be found online at wacoisd.org/trusteedistricts

“Allen has been a thoughtful voice for our students and employees for more than two decades,” Dr. Susan Kincannon, superintendent, said. “He has a remarkable legacy of service on this board and in our community. While Allen may be stepping down from the board later this year, I have no doubt that he will continue to make a difference in the lives of our students.”

A senior vice president at Extraco Banks, Sykes is a CPA by training. He also serves as the secretary of the McLennan County Appraisal District Board of Directors and a member of the Waco ISD Education Foundation Board of Directors. His wife, Jane, retired from Waco ISD earlier this year after 35 years as a teacher at Tennyson Middle and Parkdale Elementary. They have two adult sons, who are Waco High graduates.

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

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 [email protected].

Midway’s Krystle Moose regional secondary teacher of the year

From a release by Jennifer Marshall-Higgins

Out of 77 school districts across the 12-county education service area of Region 12, two outstanding educators have been selected for the top teaching award — the 2022 Region 12 Teachers of the Year. Krystle Moos of Midway High School is Secondary Teacher of the Year. James Cook of Cedar Valley Elementary in Killeen ISD is Elementary Teacher of the Year.

“We are extremely proud of these remarkable educators,” said Jerry Maze, Ed.D., executive director of ESC Region 12. “The time and energy they dedicate to their students, their peers, and the profession is truly an inspiration for others to follow.”

Krystle Moos has been teaching for 12 years, currently serving as a chemistry teacher at Midway High. She is also a professional learning community leader anda science fair and science UIL coach. Before joining the Midway Panthers in 2012, she was a teacher for Waco ISD.

“Mrs. Moos is unsurpassed in enthusiasm and motivation,” said Midway ISD Superintendent Dr. George Kazanas. “She is magnetic; the AP Chemistry program has tripled and flourished as students continue to flock to her classroom and excel in AP testing. Beyond academics, Mrs. Moos takes a sincere interest in connecting with each student. I could not ask for more from any educator. She is so deserving of this honor!”

Krystle Moos

The daughter of a science educator, Moos began with a passion for uncovering the science in the world around her. She brings this passion into the classroom through hands-on lab experiments and lessons while building students’ confidence in working through complex concepts. 

Inspired by her growth mindset, Moos emphasizes learning as a life-long process to master difficult topics. She encourages student growth through productive struggle and uses this principle to guide her chemistry lessons. 

Moos creates and uses a positive environment to build relationships with students, help them celebrate small successes, and feel the support necessary to work through assignments. Knowing that students have different learning styles, she provides multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning, emphasizing understanding processes rather than only having correct answers.   

Through these instruction practices, she sees students gain a deeper understanding of the content, motivation increase to solve problems — driving an increase in assessment scores, student engagement, and excitement. 

Much to the credit of Moos, enrollment in advanced-placement chemistry has tripled over four years, with ongoing student-to-student mentorship that extends after high school. AP chemistry is now more diverse than ever before while maintaining AP exam scores above the global and Texas averages. 

The impact she sees through her mentoring and student leadership in STEM and science activities encourages Midway students to keep pushing boundaries within each lesson to continue to inspire students in realizing their full potential.

Moos’s classroom culture encourages scientific inquiry and builds scientific interest, often transcending the classroom, crossing over to other subjects and programs. One example includes a program for students at the high school to mentor intermediate students to develop projects based on science-related issues. 

Another example of her efforts to expand effectiveness across classes and grades includes her role in the growth of the district’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program for high-achieving students from groups underrepresented in college. Moos learned that the program provides benefits for all students in every classroom and worked with the team to develop lesson formats for teachers to use in science classes that would benefit all students. This includes coaching science teachers in strategies, such as developing problem-solving journals and incorporating gallery walks of laboratory reports connecting, writing, collaboration, and reading in the laboratory investigations.

Moos is also a teacher leader for APTeach and works on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process. From leading worldwide professional development sessions to hosting pre-service teachers in the classroom, she hopes to inspire current and future education leaders and foster a classroom that embraces diversity in learning by celebrating the productive struggle for students.

Moos holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Hartwick College and teacher certification in science. She is married to Scott Moos, an engineer at L3. They have three children.

As Region 12 Teachers of the Year, Cook and Moos will serve as nominees for Texas Teacher of the Year, which TASA will announce in mid-August. Also, the Region 12 Superintendent of the Year is Dr. Brandon Hubbard, Superintendent of Chilton ISD.

Jennifer Marshall-Higgins is director of customer & marketing services for the Region 12 Education Service Center.

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 [email protected].

Highlander Restart puts former MCC students back on graduation track

By MCC Marketing & Communications

McLennan Community College is celebrating the success of students in the inaugural semester of the school’s newly launched debt-forgiveness program, the Highlander Restart Program. This new initiative aims to assist and provide resources for those former students who owe MCC money, want to re-enroll, and wish to complete a degree or certificate at MCC.

The program, which began in spring 2021, celebrates 97 returning students currently enrolled who have paid more than $38,000 in outstanding balances to the College. Nine students in the program who are now eligible to graduate this summer or fall semester.

To participate, students must be in good academic standing and not have been enrolled the previous year. Students owing $500 or less are eligible to enroll immediately with no payment due. Students with balances greater than $500 must make payments to lower the balance to $500 before becoming eligible to enroll.

Once enrolled in the program, students are responsible for the current enrollment cost, unless eligible for financial aid, and must take a minimum of six credit hours per semester while maintaining a 2.0 GPA on any new coursework. Additionally, students will complete financial literacy training and be matched with one of MCC’s success coaches to help guide them through to graduation.

The College is reaching out to an additional 5,600 former students that are eligible to benefit from the Restart Program in hopes of encouraging them to continue their education and earn their credentials. Former students interested in joining the program should complete the Highlander Restart Program form at engage.mclennan.edu/register/restart and a MCC representative will contact them.

For more information about the Highlander Restart program, visit mclennan.edu/restart.

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 [email protected].

Waco ISD selects Saxenian as next Waco High principal

She has served as an assistant principal and dean at the campus for 21 years.

By Kyle DeBeer

Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon announced Friday, July 16, that she has selected Lisa Saxenian as the next principal of Waco High School. For more than two decades, Saxenian has helped lead the campus as its dean of academies and an assistant principal.

“A generation of Waco High families know Lisa as someone who has made a difference in their students’ lives,” Kincannon said. “Her commitment to the campus, its students and our community is unmatched, and I am confident that she is the right person to lead Waco High forward.”

Lisa Saxenian

Saxenian joined Waco ISD as a Spanish teacher in 1986 and became the assistant principal of Lake Air Middle in 1996. She moved to Waco High in 2000 to serve as one of the campus’s assistant principals and became the school’s dean of academies in 2016. Saxenian was honored as the Region 12 Secondary Teacher of the Year in 1992 and as the Region 12 Assistant Principal of the Year in 2006.

Saxenian knows the Waco High building inside and out. In addition to serving as an administrator there for 21 years, she is a 1980 graduate of Richfield High, as the campus was known before Waco ISD consolidated high schools in 1986.

“Waco High is home for me in more ways than one,” Saxenian said. “As both a Richfield Ram and a Lion, I’ve seen the pride that our community has in this school. There is a team of educators here that goes to work everyday committed to helping kids excel, and I am honored to have the opportunity to lead them in service to our students.”

Saxenian becomes principal at a momentous time for the campus. Earlier this year, a community advisory committee recommended that Waco ISD replace the existing Waco High building with a new campus at the same location. The school board is currently weighing whether to ask voters to approve issuing bonds to fund the construction of a new Waco High and other facilities. That decision could come as soon as next month.

“Education has changed since Waco High was built in 1961,” Saxenian said. “Regardless of where they live or which high school they are zoned to attend, every student in our district deserves the same educational opportunities, including a modern learning environment.”

Saxenian succeeds James Stewart, who became the principal of Waco High in 2019. Stewart will become the dean of academies at University High.

Kyle DeBeer is chief of staff of Waco ISD.

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 [email protected].

Waco ISD names Gutierrez deputy superintendent

She brings more than two decades of experience in educational leadership to the role.

By Josh Wucher

Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon has selected Dr. Josie Gutierrez as deputy superintendent starting in August. Gutierrez is now Waco ISD’s assistant superintendent for human resources. Prior to that, she was a consultant on educational leadership and held senior leadership positions in some of the largest school districts in Texas.

Josie Gutierrez

“We were fortunate to recruit someone with Josie’s experience to lead our human resources department,” Kincannon said. “In that role, she has worked closely with principals for the past two years supporting them as they recruit, develop and retain great teams to serve our kids. In her new role, Josie will work even more closely with our campus leaders to give them the support they need to make a difference for our students.”

As deputy superintendent, Gutierrez will provide leadership and direction for all Waco ISD schools, working closely with principals to ensure that their priorities are aligned with the district’s strategic plan. In addition to serving as the district’s senior administrator in the superintendent’s absence, she will oversee major projects that involve multiple departments.

Gutierrez is also one of three Waco ISD leaders who have been tapped to participate in the inaugural cohort of The Holdsworth Center’s school leadership pipeline program. The center’s materials describe the 18-month program as an effort to “build internal leadership capacity, with the end goal of having a strong bench of leaders ready to step into school leader positions when they arise.”

Gutierrez previously served as the chief of schools officer in Spring ISD, an assistant superintendent for school leadership in Dallas ISD, and as district steward and director of school leadership in Fort Worth ISD. Her consulting work has taken her across the country in support of the University of Virginia Partnership for Leadership in Education Program and the Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership among other projects.

“I’ve worked in school districts across the state and around the country, but this community’s willingness to invest in making sure that every student has access to a great education stands out,” Gutierrez said. “That commitment became evident to me this past spring during the long-range facilities planning process. More than 60 parents, educators and community members spent five months studying our facilities needs. Their recommendations focused on addressing the all too dramatic differences in the condition of our school buildings in order to provide more equitable and modern facilities for our students – especially our middle school and high school students.”

Gutierrez has a doctorate and a master’s degree in education administration from the University of North Texas. Her undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University is in education. She holds current principal and superintendent certifications.

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The community advisory committee recommended that the district replace Waco High, G.W. Carver Middle, Tennyson Middle and Kendrick Elementary with new schools built in the same locations as those existing campuses. The committee also recommended renovating South Waco Elementary. Waco ISD’s school board is currently reviewing the committee’s recommendations and could decide as early as next month whether to seek voter approval to issue bonds to fund the projects.

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

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 [email protected].

Waco ISD trustees approve $10,000 retention bonuses for teachers

Custodians and cafeteria workers will receive a $1,000 incentive for hard-to-fill positions.

By Josh Wucher

During Thursday night’s school board meeting, Waco ISD trustees unanimously approved a multi-year plan to pay classroom teachers $10,000 in retention. The district will use $8.1 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant to fund the bonuses over the next three school years.

Dr. Susan Kincannon

“Considering the shortage of certified teachers throughout the State of Texas, it’s essential that we show our appreciation and encourage our best and brightest to stay in Waco ISD,” Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said. “Getting our teachers in place, providing our students with stability is really important right now and we want our students to succeed.”

The retention bonuses are structured in tiered payments depending on teacher start dates. For teachers beginning this August, a total retention bonus of $10,000 will be divided into three payouts across December 2022, December 2023 and September 2024; for new hires starting August 2022, $5,000 will be divided into two payouts across December 2023 and September 2024; and new hires starting August 2023 will receive a one-time payment of $2,500 in September 2024. 

“Our educators placed themselves on the front lines during this pandemic, and we have the funds to show that not only do we value our teachers, we want them to stay with us,” Board President Angela Tekell said. “These retention bonuses reflect the Board’s and district’s ongoing commitment to staying competitive in recruiting and retaining hardworking educators who are passionate about addressing our students’ academic and social emotional needs.”

The Board also approved an additional $500,500 in ESSER funding for retention bonuses for custodians and cafeteria workers. There will be three total payouts based on the employee’s years of service with the district: 0-4 years – $500; 5-9 years – $750; and 10+ years – $1000. The three payout dates are December of 2022 and 2023 and September of 2024. 

“We average about 12-15 custodial vacancies and 35-40 cafeteria worker vacancies at any given time during the school year,” Kincannon said. “Though these positions are hard to fill, they are incredibly rewarding jobs for people who care about our kids and want to make a difference.”

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

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 [email protected].

Lifelong Learning joins Mayborn Museum

By Terry Wright

Baylor University’s Lifelong Learning is excited to join the Mayborn Museum Complex and give our long-standing program a new home.  Lifelong Learning is a primarily volunteer-led membership-based organization that offers an array of learning opportunities and experiences.

Each fall and spring semester, member-designed courses and special events entice intellectually curious adults, age 50 and older, to explore a wide range of interests. Join us if you are looking for a comfortable venue for friendship, leadership opportunities, and stimulating learning.   

Members of the Lifelong Learning program are invited to join us at the Mayborn 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, July 30, for a Membership Picnic. This will be our first official event since formally merging with the museum June 1. This lunchtime event (food served 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.) will include a hot dog picnic and a museum trivia contest. Admission for the event is a paid annual membership to Baylor Lifelong Learning at the Mayborn for the 2021-2022 program year. 

A special museum trivia contest has been developed for the event for those who want to participate. LLL members will receive a form to fill in the blanks as they move from room to room in the museum. The activity is designed for approximately 60-90 minutes of museum viewing. Forms can be submitted at the end of the activity (before 3:00 pm) with the five LLL members earning the most points receiving prizes. 

Current, former, and new Lifelong Learning members are encouraged to sign up for membership prior to the Membership Picnic. Membership status will be verified before admittance. A Lifelong Learning membership includes a membership to the Mayborn Museum and also enables the LLL member to enroll in fall/spring courses for the coming year at $20 per course, as well as to attend coffee speakers and other special events. 

Learn more about Lifelong Learning and purchase a membership at baylor.edu/mayborn/lifelonglearning

Terry Wright has called Waco home since 1981. He initially worked for a local nonprofit. In 1997, he joined Baylor as the system analyst in the Office for Scholarships and Financial Aid, where he worked until his retirement in 2017.  Terry was introduced to BU Lifelong Learning by his wife, Linda, where they have both been active in courses and events for many years. He was installed as president of the organization in June.

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 [email protected].

Midway ISD commencement celebrates seniors’ resilience, success

By Katy Durham

After days of rain, the skies over Panther Stadium cleared just in time for 630 Midway High School seniors to walk across the stage and receive their much-anticipated diplomas. 

Dr. Becky Odajima, director of innovation and learning at Midway High School, presents her son, Grayson, with his diploma at this year’s commencement. (Photo by Traci Marlin)

Family members, friends, teachers, and administrators were eager to share in the excitement of recognizing the Class of 2021 as they crossed the finish line and graduated high school on the evening of Friday, May 28.  

“These students have been dedicated and persisted through tough times,” Midway High School Principal Alison Smith said. “I have enjoyed watching them grow to become strong young adults that are ready to take on the world.”

After Midway ISD was able to hold in-person classes and keep its doors open throughout the entire school year, many of the students who spoke during the ceremony expressed how meaningful it was to gather as a class one final time in celebration of their achievement and the past 13 years of hard work. 

“Tonight is a fantastic evening to have the entire Class of 2021 back together for this finale of their high school careers,” Smith said. “We just thought that the Class of 2020 would be the only group affected by the worldwide pandemic, but I truly feel like the Class of 2021 has persevered through much more.”

After an unpredictable year, the dedication and determination displayed by this year’s group of graduating seniors was highlighted in multiple speeches.

“Life has thrown so much at us so quickly,” Midway High School Valedictorian David Park said as he addressed his classmates. “But that diploma isn’t just validation of your hard work and efforts. It’s also a tremendous testament to your character.”

Midway High School top five graduates (l-r):  Walker Pierce, Codi McMillan, Drew Pinkstaff, Salutatorian Avery Hammond, and Valedictorian David Park. (Photo by Traci Marlin)

Midway High School Salutatorian Avery Hammond also reflected on how navigating high school through a pandemic was no small feat.

“As a class, we learned to be flexible, to be resilient, and to appreciate each moment spent together,” Hammond said. “Although this was not the senior year we expected, it most definitely was a senior year worthwhile.”

Midway ISD Superintendent Dr. George Kazanas noted in his speech that when the Class of 2021 first began high school, no one had any idea they would have to walk through such a historical event during some of their most formative years.

“But I think because of the pandemic, the class of 2021 is more prepared for life than any class that came before them,” Kazanas said. “You are more encouraging, more imaginative, compassionate, and more resilient. This journey has grown and stretched you, and you will not be defined by COVID-19, but you will be known for what you gained from it.”

There was also no shortage of gratitude from the student speakers, who each took time on behalf of their class to express appreciation for the faculty and staff at Midway who supported them throughout their education.

“As we prepare to leave, let us take a moment to remember what Midway has given us,” fifth-ranked graduating senior Walker Pierce said. “From the custodians, to the administrators, to everyone in between, these people have spent their lives in dedication to us and our future success.” 

“Our administrators, counselors, teachers, custodians, and guardians have worked harder than ever to accommodate both in-person and virtual students this year,” Park said. 

The graduation ceremony concluded with a fireworks display in celebration of Midway High School’s newest graduates and their well-deserved success.

“This senior class has provided Panther Nation with so many reasons to be proud,” Smith said.

Katy Durham is a senior journalism student at Baylor University and a communications intern for Midway ISD.

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 [email protected].