Helping students figure out a future that fits

By Elizabeth Brownlee

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is difficult for a 30-year-old adult, so you can imagine teenagers have a tough time with it.

House Bill 5, passed in 2013, increased the pressure for our students to plan for their future careers at an earlier age.  All ninth graders are now required to select one of the following endorsements:

  • Arts and Humanities Endorsement 
  • Business and Industry Endorsement 
  • Multidisciplinary Endorsement 
  • Public Service Endorsement 
  • STEM Endorsement 

An “endorsement” is a series of courses that are grouped together to support a particular career path. To implement this requirement successfully, schools have had to expand career exploration opportunities for students, and also start the career exploration process sooner.

At Connally ISD, one of the major ways we help our students find their future career path is through the Connally Career Tech Early College High School.  Our campus is completely focused on students working towards their chosen future careers.  We help them get started on their career path and get experience in their chosen fields before they graduate.  As the counselor of Connally Career Tech I spend a lot of time with students trying to help them create plans not only for high school, but for their futures once they graduate. It may seem unrealistic to ask a fifteen-year-olds to plan out their future career paths and expect them to stick to it, and maybe it is, but getting them to start thinking and talking about a path is important.

For me helping a student choose a career path is all about building a relationship.  I know in education we constantly talk about test scores and grades, but when it comes to being a counselor, you have to build relationships with your students.  Getting to know my students and their interests helps me guide them along their career exploration path. I am constantly trying to get to know my students.  I try to see them in their element, whether it’s while they’re in study hall, in the classroom, or just talking to their friends. I talk to parents about their student’s interests.  Parents have insights into their student’s likes and dislikes that I may not see. 

My relationship with a student is my most important tool for helping them.  I need to know what’s important to them.  Without the relationship, I wouldn’t be able to have those important, hard, honest conversations when their goals and their interests don’t seem to match.

Sometimes a student will want to study for a particular career path because an older sibling really likes it, when in reality he/she has no interest in that career.  He/she is just unsure of what to do in the future.   I never try to force a student in a certain direction. I give them an idea and tools to help them research it to see if it’s something they are truly interested in pursuing. If possible, I have them speak with someone in the field or someone teaching in that field. 

I find a lot of students want to go into a career field because that’s all they’ve been exposed to growing up.  We’ve all heard of doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and similar careers.  We see them all the time and they are all great career choices, but they don’t fit all students.  

Each year when we have our College and Career Fair or our Recruitment Night for Connally Career Tech, I bring my students to speak to specific tables or programs that I know fit with what they want to do in the future.  By encouraging a student talk to someone from a field they don’t automatically think about, I help them get exposure to new choices.  While I want them to go and talk to every program or table that interests them, I want to make sure I help them see what they wouldn’t normally choose.

We also try to take our students on field trips that cover multiple career fields.  This helps expose our students to different careers they may not think of right away. It is my goal to help my students find out about the lesser known, sometimes behind the scenes careers they don’t always know about.  Many times I get to go with them and observe their reactions. This helps me guide them in their career choices. Students will come back from a field trip and begin to have conversations about what they saw, what they liked or didn’t like.  Then we start moving forward with career planning based on what they tell me.

My students and I spend a lot of time talking about their career goals for the future and how their high school choices are helping them get to that career. Sometimes a student settles on a career choice, but then they get to experience a little bit of it.  They may come and tell me that it’s not what they thought, or they didn’t realize everything that went into that career and they want to change.  That is probably one of the best parts of our program. Students get to experience at least a little of what a particular career is like before they graduate from high school. They don’t have to wait until after high school and waste money and time working towards a career that they end up not enjoying. I want them to be able to make well informed decisions about their future career.  For many students, the experiences we provide help them do that.  I’ve seen too many students graduate from high school unsure of their future. I make it one of my goals to help my students have a plan or a vision for their career path before they graduate.  

Elizabeth Brownlee is in her 4th year as the Connally Career Tech Early College High School Counselor and her 10th year in education.  She has been married for just under a year.  She and her husband have two pit bulls and chihuahua.  In her free time, she enjoys crafting, running, and anything outdoors.

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.

When it comes to domestic violence, please think before you comment

By Lulu Henderson

As I sit and watch the women on the television recount their experiences of domestic violence, tears begin to stream down my face and I turn the television off. I cannot take the pain that is surging through my body as I relive my own past.  As a child I watched my mother being abused by multiple men in her life. I also had my own experiences. The heartbreaking part is the comments I see on Facebook and posts from those who take the issue so lightly. They joke about continuing to support the man.  They blame the women who are reporting the crimes years later.  As one comment said, “We all was fast and tried being with an older man.”  They blame the parents of children who were molested.

Is this what our society has come to that we start blaming the victims instead of the aggressors? I vividly remember my mother’s boyfriend standing over my mother’s lifeless body screaming “Where the f*** are you going? I’ll kill you and the kids before I let you leave.” To this day I am terrified of men when they start using a loud voice. I start to go into panic mode, crying inside, trying to find that safe place within myself. It took me three years and some professional counselling to realize that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress.

I’d also like to address the people who blame parents when their children are molested. “Where was the parents?” they comment.  One of my most heartbreaking memories is my father crying when he found out I was being molested and had been molested over a period of time.  Like most parents, both of my parents were protective and very selective about who I was around. They would have never thought the person they trusted with my safety would expose me to this predator. I didn’t say anything because who would believe a 16-year-old talking about a man who was well known in the community? He had groomed me to believe that I had seduced him, and that it was twisted act of love he was showing me by doing this to me.

We need to be more sensitive whenever someone tells us about an incident that occurs to them and not blame them. I have gone to support groups and met many others who had the same experience I did. They were assaulted by someone prominent in the community or who was respected in their circle.  They were groomed to believe that no one would believe them, and that they would have no place to turn to for help.  And when they finally told their story, they were not believed.

When are we going to start taking these accusations and reports more seriously and stop with the victim blaming? Sometimes our financial ties and status get in the way — no one wants to be seen as too liberal or too vocal.

When groups such as social clubs start frowning on the behavior of these predators and start taking it seriously, then we can start healing those being victimized. Then we give them a platform to voice their concerns. All too often we strip the voice of the victims and they become silent. My hope is that we will do better and try to support these women rather than victimize them again with comments and ideas that do not help their healing. We make a positive difference when we stop and educate ourselves about what’s really going on rather than commenting and speaking out of ignorance.  

Louise Henderson has four daughters — one at Texas A&M (Elizabeth), two at University High School (Rachel and Naomi) and one at Cesar Chavez Middle School (Rebecca) — and puppy named Rico. She and her family have lived in Waco for six years and are very active in our community. She is a member of the Junior League of Waco, NAACP of Waco, and Waco Knight Riders.  She graduated from McLennan Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Child Development and is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Child and Family studies at Tarleton State University.  She loves Taco Tuesday at Rosas Café and volunteering in Waco.  She is the founder of the Central Texas Divas, a social club for women and young girls to empower and educate about them about self-improvement and our community.

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.

Towny Waco: Off to see the wonderful Whizzbangs of Waco

(Welcome to the Act Locally Waco/Towny blog series. Towny is an app that exists to connect consumers with local businesses. It’s loaded with answers to the question, “Why local?” Through this blog series, the folks at Towny will be sharing the stories behind some of our high-quality, local products and helping you get to know some of our energetic local entrepreneurs. We hope you enjoy it! Supporting local business is a terrific way to support the Waco economy! Plus, it’s just fun to get to know your neighbors. For more posts in this blog series, click here: Towny Waco.– ALW)

by Tori Freeman

What do hot air balloons and hamburgers have in common?

Long ago, a cross-country hot air balloon trip gone astray landed one fame-seeking, adventure-chasing Captain Billy Whizzbang in central Texas. Too ashamed of his failed attempt to return home, Capt. Billy instead invented a specially prepared hamburger and opened up Captain Billy Whizzbang’s Old Fashion All American Hamburger Stand. Or so the story goes.

In today’s post, Captain Billy Whizzbang’s honors the legacy of the famed Capt. Billy by serving up the same old-fashioned style of burgers. Owner Trent Neumann shared with us some of what’s been cooking over at his restaurant…

Can you tell me about the origin of this restaurant and how you got connected with Captain Billy Whizzbang’s?

“The business started back in 1977. A guy by the name of Mike Parton started it a long time ago. It went through a couple different owners’ hands, and I bought it in July of 2009.

“The guys who owned it before me were friends of mine and they were looking to sell it. It was actually me and my dad who went in and bought it. And then about a year and a half later, I bought my dad out of it.”

What changes have you made since you took over?

“We cleaned it up a bit but we kept the same kind of tradition. Captain Billy Whizzbang’s has been around a long time, so there’s a lot of good things that were already going on. We kept with the same old-school way of doing stuff, buying everything fresh and as much local as we can.

“For example, we buy all of our meat every day from the local meat market here in town. I call first thing in the morning, like 7 o’clock every morning, and tell them how much meat we need. They deliver that fresh every day, and then we take that meat, mix in our seasonings, and then hand patty every patty.”

What makes Captain Billy Whizzbang’s stand out from other restaurants?

“That’s the main thing that makes us, in my opinion, so much better – the freshness of everything that we do and then the attention to detail that we have. Everything we make is to order. We don’t pre-cook anything. We don’t hold anything in warmers. We don’t do any of that kind of stuff. As soon as people walk in and place their order, we make it exactly how they want it and fresh every time.

“We also have something on our menu called our Whizz-Pigg hamburger, which is a half ground bacon, half ground beef patty. It’s been one of our favorites for the about last four years.

“That’s actually the burger that was featured when the TV show, The Texas Bucket List, came in and did a special on us. That was in March of 2017.

“Then a couple months later, toward the end of their season, I got another call. They feature a burger restaurant every episode, so at the end of the season they do a special on their top five burgers of the season. They picked ours as their number one, so that was really good for us.”

Do you have any other highlights or favorite parts of running the business?

“Seeing how much we’ve grown is one thing. We went from doing anywhere from 75 to 100 hamburgers a day to now we’re making around 300 to 350 hamburgers a day. It’s pretty fun to see that kind of growth.

“Also, adding our food trucks was a big deal. We have two food trucks right now. One of them is at the Silos every day. And then the other one we use for a lot of catering and to go out to special events and different festivals.”

Are there any customer interactions that stand out to you?

“I can’t think of any individual, but we definitely have a pretty loyal following here in Waco. I would say that probably 60 or 70 percent of our customers eat here at least once or twice a week. We even have one guy who comes in almost every single day to get food. So, we have a close relationship with a lot of our customers, and to see that is pretty neat.”

What do you love most about the Waco community?

“Oh, Waco is just awesome. I mean the local people are great. They tend to really support local businesses. As many other restaurants – and especially bigger chain hamburger restaurants – as have come into our area, we have never seen it affect our business at all.

“If anything, we’ve grown at a steady pace. That alone shows that the local community really supports us, and they really support local businesses in general, which is pretty awesome. Anything that we can do to give back and to help support Waco, we try to do.”

Well, Waco, you’ve earned yourself a shout out for supporting local! Keep up the good work with the help of Towny – your free online guide to shopping local. (PS – Want it on the go? There’s an app for that!)

Tori Freeman is a Colorado native turned Texan and a graduate of Baylor University. She works as a part-time paralegal and creative freelancer with expertise spanning writing, editing, and photography. Tori knows firsthand how local businesses can change lives—she met her husband, Braden, while working at the Hippodrome! They now happily live in Waco with their spoiled golden-doodle and their even more spoiled baby boy.

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.