First of Its Kind: City-Level Health Dashboard makes getting the data you need easy

By Christina Helmick

Have you ever been working on a project, article or something else in the health-realm of things, and wanted to see how Waco stood against other cities? If so, you were met with the reality that health data is only available at the county level, until now. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Resource Network (NRN) and the NYU School of Medicine have piloted a joint venture of analysis and producing city-level health data.

Waco, along with other cities across the nation, took part in a competitive application process to pilot this program. Accompanying Waco in this pilot program are three other cities: Flint, Michigan; Kansas City, Kansas; and Providence, Rhode Island.  What is a common thread between us and the other three cities? We all face economic challenges and are working hard to improve the overall quality of life.

You can view the City Health Dashboard by clicking here.

Okay, so let’s look at a metric together. Click “Waco, TX” and are click “Unemployment.” What appears is a whole bunch of numbers and a visually pleasing map.  What does that all mean?

Waco’s average for unemployment is 8.5%. Particularly useful, the dashboard also notes how far above or below the national average Waco sits. Waco’s unemployment rate is 3.5% above the national average of 5% — meaning Waco has more people seeking jobs and unable to find a job than the national average.

The map shows what parts of the city have higher rates of unemployment than others.  A darker purple means higher unemployment and light blue means lower rates of unemployment.  In our city, there are pockets of high and low unemployment rates—the lowest rate being 1.4% and the highest rate being 24.4%.

Also useful is the notation of the data source, years of collection and the definition of how the measure is calculated.  When looking at unemployment, the data comes from the Census data using a 5-year estimate.  The 5-year estimate means the data was collected between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2014. The definition of unemployment is as follows: percent of the civilian population age ≥ 16 that is unemployed but actively seeking work.

Being able to have this disaggregated data allows our community to better target our efforts. So, by looking at the Unemployment data from the City Health Dashboard, we are able to connect the Waco Foundational Employment Network’s efforts to certain areas in our community. The city-level data can be passed to community partners, such as Skillpoint Alliance, to help them target recruitment efforts for their free rapid workforce training program. Or, to Goodwill Industries to promote their career fairs and the free job training classes they offer.

I know (first-hand) data can be intimidating and confusing, so don’t forget that the Prosper Waco team is here to help. Our director of data and research, Brittany, is a data guru and loves to help organizations and people better understand how to find data, understand data and (better yet) how to effectively use data. She can be reached by sending a quick email to

Peruse the health dashboard to look at the 26 different measures. Is there one that sparks your interest? For me, it’s the walkability measure. Waco scored 34 out of 100. We can do better!  One group in town that is working to improve walkability is Waco Walks. I’m adding their next meeting to my calendar so I can help be part of the solution of improving our community, one step at a time.

Christina Helmick is the director of communication at Prosper Waco. She is a recent graduate of Baylor University with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. Originally she is from Washington, D.C., but has stayed in Waco post-graduation.  She is an active mentor at J.H. Hines Elementary School, enjoys spending time with her family and watching Baylor football. Sic ’em Bears!

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 for more information.




Join the Health Cities Challenge! Learn to cook a traditional Hispanic meal the healthy way!

By Courtney Restivo Wollard

As a follow up to a previous healthy blog post, I wanted to highlight one of the partners in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge (HCCC) – The CenTex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Throughout the years, the Chamber has hosted free family funfests and women’s conferences during the month of February. This year, the event will focus on empowering women’s health, heart, soul, family, and home.  It’s called the Hearts & Homes Ladies’ Conference. The event will include several vendor booths to provide information on resources to the community including career building and home buying assistance, home maintenance tips, and a wellness zone plus door prizes! Lunch and snacks will also be provided. Something new this year that the Chamber will offer as a partner in the HCCC will be providing a healthy traditional Hispanic meal cooking demonstration and food sampling during the event.

If you didn’t catch the previous blog about the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge, I will briefly describe its importance for our community. This is a national challenge consisting of 50 other communities (Waco-McLennan County included) all working to improve the health of their residents in many different ways. Communities could choose to improve on one of five metrics including community safety, built environment, social/economic factors, environmental factors, and healthy behaviors. Some communities are focusing on improving asthma rates for children, others are working to prohibit smoking in vehicles with children, some working to improve physical activity opportunities, and some are working on improving wastewater management. Waco-McLennan County will be working on the healthy behaviors metric more specifically increasing healthier eating and consumption of fruits and vegetables. The top communities at the end of the two year challenge (which began October 2016) that show an improvement in their metrics compared to baseline data submitted could win prize money for the community between $25,000 and $250,000 for our community tier.

All of that to say, it is important that residents know how to cook meals in a healthier way and learn how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their daily diet. That is where our partner, the CenTex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce comes in. They will be hosting three healthy traditional Hispanic meal cooking demos and samplings throughout the two year challenge in order to educate community members on cooking their favorite comfort foods in a healthy way and in a way that tastes great. The Hearts & Homes Ladies’ Conference is where the first of the three cooking demos will occur. We are very grateful to have the Chamber join in this fun and healthy challenge and we challenge you to eat more fruits and veggies! Be sure to attend the event on February 25th 2017 at the Waco Convention Center in McLennan Hall from 10am-3pm so you can be a part of the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge!

Courtney Restivo Wollard is a lifelong Waco resident who works as Public Health Planner at the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and serves as Chair for Live Well Waco, the group working to decrease obesity rates under the Prosper Waco Health Committee Initiative. She is also an alumnus of the Waco Foundation LeadershipPLENTY Institute. Courtney graduated with her Masters of Public Health from Baylor University and right away began her career as a health advocate. She is married to Kyle, with whom she has two fur babies – a Chihuahua and a Labrador. Courtney hopes to continue to create healthier environments for McLennan County residents.

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 for more information.

Are You Smarter Than a 4-Year 0ld? In Waco ISD – Maybe Not!

By Bruce Gietzen

Remember the Jeff Foxworthy TV show “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?”  I remember watching, and too many times the answer to that question was a resounding “No”!

That was old school.  Waco ISD has a newer – and younger version that may make you feel even more embarrassed unless you’re a parent of one of our 4-year olds in the District’s acclaimed prekindergarten program.

Every Waco ISD elementary campus plus University High School has at least one of those early success classrooms – there are 55 in all.  Each and every one of nearly a thousand students in the program get a great start on being smart.

Plus, it’s not just the little folks who learn.  Moms and Dads in those families are having intelligent dinner conversations with their children because of our family engagement plan.

Kids go home with letters – in English and Spanish – that explain the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math they’re learning.  Those letters also include questions parents can ask about the class day, so students barely old enough to tie their shoes can tell Dad how heat can turn a solid into a liquid.

It’s all pretty cool, and apparently state lawmakers agree.  They appropriated $118 million dollars for high quality prekindergarten programming.  Waco ISD got nearly $650 thousand dollars of that to spread over two years, and those funds are making a good program even better.

To qualify to get money, school districts were required to meet enhanced quality standards in curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance and family engagement.  WISD was already on board with most of those.

The comprehensive science curriculum encourages learning by doing, and doing it a lot more often. Two years ago Waco ISD teachers reported spending an average of 36 minutes each day on STEM related instruction in preschool classrooms.  The national average was about two minutes per day.

That 6,120 minutes – or more than 100 hours of added STEM learning – led to astounding results.

A 2016 Meadows Children at Risk Pre-K report found economically disadvantaged third graders who attended full day Texas pre-kindergarten had 40 percent higher odds of reading at a college-ready pace in the third grade (the key grade to measure reading proficiency).

Those same students also scored approximately 80 points higher on the 3rd Grade STAAR Reading exam.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part.  If your child qualifies for the Waco ISD program, it’s FREE!

When the state provided the funds to pay for half a day of instruction for these young people, WISD’s Board found the money to pay for the other half.  Thank you, Trustees, for that wise investment in our future!

You should know not everyone qualifies for the program.  Family income is a factor, and so is age.  A child is eligible for enrollment if he or she is at least four years old by Sept. 1, and meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Unable to speak or comprehend the English language;
  • Educationally disadvantaged (which means a student eligible to participate in the national free or reduced-price lunch program);
  • Homeless (This is more common than you think.  Waco ISD has more than 1,000 homeless kids in K-12);
  • The child of an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces;
  • The child of a member of the U.S. armed forces who was injured or killed while serving on active duty;
  • Is or ever has been in foster care.

There is a teacher and a teacher’s aide in every classroom, which means an 11-1 ratio of educator to student.

What kinds of things will they learn?  Simple science investigations help them ask the right questions, gather information, and make informed decisions.  Then they will knock your socks off explaining their findings.

These young students will study several new vocabulary words each day, and by the end of the year the ones who are learning English as a second language will know 1,000 more words and the correct sentence structure for using them.  By the 2nd grade those kids will be fluent in two languages.

There’s also classwork in reading, writing, fine arts, and social studies – including the importance of voting.   For good measure, preK students also practice basic functions on computers and related digital technologies, which breeds self-confidence.

Interested?  Registration is in May, and if your child is the right age and meets one of those requirements listed above, it’s free.  It’s one of the best investments you can make in your children.

That’s something even a 4-year-old can figure out.  Especially one of ours!

I wonder if Jeff Foxworthy has been to Waco?

Bruce Gietzen made the move from News Anchor at KXXV-TV to the Director of Communications at Waco ISD last June.  He crossed from one side of the media fence to the other to help tell stories about some of the great things happening in WISD, including the efforts to revive the Planetarium at Waco High School.  Bruce is also on the Board of Directors for Communities in Schools and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and he’s a member of the new Communications Task Force for Prosper Waco.  He enjoys Waco with his wife, Dana, and if he had more spare time it might be spent on the golf course.

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 for more information.