Holy Spirit Episcopal Church’s New Disability-Inclusive Playground

By Hilary Yancey 

It’s an exciting time at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church! This fall, we opened a new playground on our campus on Wooded Acres Drive, just behind the Target. The playground, geared towards developmental ages 2-6, is not only well-shaded and features fun musical instruments but it is also disability-inclusive and accessible. The turf is anti-static, which means that unlike some other turfing or playground surfaces, it does not interfere with cochlear implants or other hearing aids. It’s also fall-safe from a height of 6 feet. Children can play on the small hill (complete with tunnel) in safety and the turf is easily learnable for anyone with vision differences. The space has high-contrast colors for visual cueing, is completely level for wheelchairs, scooters or other mobility devices to access directly from the accessible parking in front. There are ADA-compliant bathrooms on site. The last feature – picnic benches that include cutouts for wheelchair roll-up, went in just a couple of weeks ago.

I’m a mom of a son with disabilities, and in the four short years I’ve been privileged to parent him, I’ve often longed for spaces where his needs can be not only heard but also anticipated. The playground is a space, we hope, that anticipates the needs of children with disabilities from the very beginning. My Jack loves the drum and the big xylophone at one end of the playground, and riding the tricycles that are available during the church’s business hours to ride around the trike path. With my son’s visual differences, I worry in some playgrounds that he won’t be able to safely navigate the drop into the play space or the distance between some of the structures. This playground is a space where I am confident he can learn the space through all of his senses – the turf, the hill, the other color contrasts, the sounds – and play freely.

I’m also a philosopher, finishing up my PhD in philosophy at Baylor. Over the past few years, I’ve spent more and more time trying to better understand and appreciate how we can think better about the nature of the human person. It is all too common to think of disability as merely bad or unfortunate, or to think that individuals with disabilities must have a worse quality of life than others. But these conclusions are too hasty. Like so many features of our lives, disability is—from what I understand from listening to the testimony of individuals with disabilities—complex, many-faceted, often both beautiful and difficult. What makes many disabilities particularly difficult is not a person’s bodily situation but the structures of his or her society. Are there accessible bathrooms or doorways? Is there a quiet space nearby where someone can reset after being sensorily overwhelmed? Are the places and activities that we create in our communities aware of and appreciating how all members of our community might need to access them?

Part of our mission at Holy Spirit over the next several years is to create a space where we live out our core belief that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. For too long, individuals with disabilities of varying kinds have suffered injustice, from lack of access to shared and communal spaces, to lack of understanding and listening to their experiences, to lack of opportunity to lead in our communities according to their gifts and callings. We hope, in small and concrete ways, to begin righting these injustices by creating new spaces for our communities where individuals with disabilities to be welcomed and their needs to be listened for, understood, and met.

As I continue to live in and make Waco my (and my family’s) home, I am grateful and excited by the things happening to create more spaces of welcome and inclusion for individuals with disabilities: from the No Limitations sports organization to the sensory friendly Trunk or Treat at Elite Therapy Center, to the community life at Friends for Life. We hope to see the playground at Holy Spirit become such a space of welcome and inclusion.

This fall we also marked the start of our inclusive recreational ballet class – a weekly class, free to parents, open to students with or without disabilities to come and enjoy ballet together. We meet in our Parish hall on Wednesdays from 4:45 – 5:30, and we are always welcoming new students ages 3-12 to come and try it out! If you have any questions, contact Hilary Yancey at hyancey@holyspiritwaco.com.

Hilary Yancey loves good words, good questions, and sunny afternoons sitting on her front porch with Pinewood coffee. She and her husband, Preston, and their two children, Jack and Junia, live in Waco, Texas, where Hilary is completing her PhD in philosophy at Baylor University. Her first book, “Forgiving God: A Story of Faith” is on shelves now! 

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Transformation Waco Urban Educator Residency Program (TWUERP) is recruiting its second cohort of teachers for 2020-21

By John Jenkins

Transformation Waco is now accepting applications for the Transformation Waco Urban Educator Residency Program (TWUERP).  Click  www.transformationwaco.org for more details and the application.

Transformation Waco is a nonprofit, in-district partnership within Waco ISD.  They manage and operate five schools within the district: Alta Vista Elementary, Brook Avenue Elementary, G.W. Carver Middle School, Indian Spring Middle School, and J.H. Hines Elementary.  The goal of the partnership is to dramatically improve outcomes for students.

TWUERP Cohort #1

We are seeking highly committed and dedicated individuals who want to make a positive impact with Waco students by becoming teachers. The state, the region, and Waco are dealing with a teacher shortage, particularly for high need schools. To attract, train, and retain high quality teacher applicants we are offering a tuition free path to teacher certification and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Tarleton State University.

The Transformation Waco Urban Educator Residency Program (TWUERP) is an innovative partnership between the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), Tarleton State University (TSU), and Transformation Waco (TW) to provide participants with the training they need to be prepared to teach in the challenging, fast-paced environment of today’s classrooms.  

The TWUERP is an alternative certification pathway for experienced professionals or recent graduates seeking to become highly effective teachers through hands-on training. This highly selective program will only accept and certify the highest-potential candidates who have the time and energy to fully commit to a rigorous graduate program and the necessary focus to learn and apply best practices in pedagogy.  

Over the course of the two-year program, participants in TWUERP earn a master’s degree and teaching certification through a cohort-based learning experience while leading a classroom at one of the five Transformation Waco campuses. Participants receive personalized support from AUSL and TSU experts to gain the skills needed to become highly effective educators and to join an elite group of educators who learn, teach, and inspire in Waco. The TWUERP requires commitment, so aspiring educators must commit to serving in a TW school for at least 5 years in order to be eligible to enter the program of study.

Participants will earn a M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction from Tarleton State University (TSU) through the Tarleton Model for Accelerated Teacher Education (TMATE) program. TMATE provides a program of study where participants will earn a master’s and alternative certification through a cohort-based learning experience in a hybrid online and in-person environment. The full cost of tuition is covered for participants who successfully complete both years of the program.

The process for this second cohort will be:

Applications will be reviewed by the Transformation Waco team on a rolling basis. Qualified candidates will receive an invitation to interview no later than January 31, 2020.

During your interview, you may be asked to deliver a sample lesson and speak with program representatives about your experience, qualifications, and passion for teaching.

If accepted, the first phase of the program is an internship. Interns will participate in a yearlong urban teacher training program facilitated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). During the training year, participants will work with a carefully selected and trained mentor teacher in the classroom and receive intensive professional development from AUSL and TSU that will enhance effectiveness.

Interns will be invited to participate in either spring or summer programming (this does not guarantee a teaching placement).

  • Spring Programming: Early accepted and qualified interns will be eligible to start working in January 2020. Up to eight interns will be invited to start substitute teaching full-time in Transformation Waco schools for the spring semester. This will allow interns to develop practical teaching skills while networking with campuses to secure fall employment opportunities.
  • Summer Programming: Summer Internships are a full-time (8am-5pm) commitment over the course of 8 weeks, starting June 1, 2020 with a break for the week of July 4th. Selected interns will receive high-quality professional development, practical teaching experience in summer school, and support for passing the certification content exam. Interns will receive a $640 weekly stipend for summer programming.

Upon successful completion of spring/summer programming, and passing the content exam, interns who have performed well will be eligible to be hired as “residents” and invited to lead a class at one of the five Transformation Waco schools.  They will start with an annual teaching salary of $49,000, competitive health benefits and an opportunity to earn additional stipends after the first year of teaching.

You can apply to be a part of the second cohort to TWUERP at: www.transformationwaco.org or contact the residency director at: 254-754-9448 for more information.

Dr. John Jenkins is a Talent Developer for Transformation Waco. He has been in public education since 1995 with multiple Texas school districts. His role experiences include Student Initiatives Director, High School Principal, Alternative and Virtual School Principal, DAEP and District Training Principal for Administrators and Teachers, Middle School Principal (Waco ISD), Academic Dean, Assistant Principal, Special Education Coordinator, and Teacher. This is John’s sixth year at Waco ISD and is currently working with the Alternative Teacher Certification Program to increase teacher retention in Waco. He lives by the motto that “work is not work if you love what you do.” John is grateful for his time in Waco and working alongside the many caring and supportive family, organization, and teaching partners who put children first. 

On the Ballot November 5: Proposition 5 for Texas State Park Funding

By Michaela McCown

Several times a year, but especially in October, my husband and I make an effort to get out of Waco for a weekend and enjoy the scenery at one of our local state parks. We hike, kayak, watch birds and wildlife, camp, stargaze, and use the time out in nature to decompress from the busyness of our jobs and reconnect with the environment around us. This time is particularly essential for my sanity, and I appreciate having such beautiful public parks around Texas to go visit!

Studies have shown the benefits of spending time outdoors – nature experiences may reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and attention deficits (Kellert, 2005; Louv, 2005, Buzzell & Chalquist, 2009). With over 80% of North Americans living in urban areas, it is essential to have public spaces for people to go out and enjoy nature. In Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is one of the main organizations that fills that niche through the Texas State Park System.

TPWD maintains 80 state parks across the state – from Big Bend Ranch and Franklin Mountains State Park in West Texas to Caddo Lake State Park on the Eastern Texas border. We have our own selection of beautiful state parks within an hour’s drive of Waco: Mother Neff, Meridian, Lake Whitney, and Fort Parker State Parks. Parks across the state keep getting busier as more people move to Texas and discover these gems. Unfortunately, TPWD has not been able to keep up with the higher demand and traffic in these parks: more parks have experienced damage to facilities that they have not had time or funding to repair, and parks across the state have become overcrowded. During the upcoming election on November 5th, you can vote for Proposition 5 to help direct more funding towards Texas State Parks to address maintenance concerns, facility upgrades, and even develop new state parks altogether.

Voters may be concerned that Proposition 5, though great for the state parks, would mean more taxes for Texans. However, there is actually no increase in taxes through Proposition 5 – it just ensures that funding that has already been allocated for TPWD actually goes where it is supposed to! The U.S. and Texas have a long history of setting aside funding for the management of wildlife and public lands – starting in the 1930s with the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. This act, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was approved by Congress in 1937 and implemented a tax on hunting goods to fund wildlife conservation across the nation. This became one of the main tools to help fund wildlife conservation across the nation, and the effort was expanded in 1950 with the addition of the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, which taxes fishing goods.

 In addition to the funding TPWD receives from these two pieces of legislation for wildlife conservation, TPWD also has to manage its state parks, which do not fall directly within the bounds of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration or the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Acts. Our state parks, to ensure that they are available to individuals of all income levels, are not self-supporting and rely on outside funding sources. Before 1994, a minor tax on cigarettes helped to fund our state parks. In 1993, the Texas Legislature decided to expand the idea of the Federal Aid Acts described above and devote the portion of taxes already collected on sporting goods back to state parks and historic sites. This is called the Sporting Goods Sales Tax Allocation, and, when it was created, had great potential to contribute a consistent amount of annual funding to our state parks and historic sites.

Unfortunately, since its establishment in 1993, most of the Sporting Goods Sales Tax Allocation has not been used for state parks and historic sites but instead has been used to balance the state budget. This has made it incredibly challenging for TPWD to maintain a consistent budget for the state park system and has led to budget shortfalls and almost $800 million in deferred maintenance (Tatum 2019).

If passed on this upcoming ballot, Proposition 5 will ensure that the intention of the 1993 Sporting Goods Sales Tax Allocation is actually followed – that the money already set aside for state parks will, in the future, always be allocated towards state parks. Proposition 5 will not raise the current tax rate that Texans pay, and it will have immeasurable impacts for the public wild spaces we so dearly love. If you want to know what specific projects will benefit from this additional funding, TPWD has a list of current projects on their website at TexasStateParks.org/BrighterFuture. So please, get out and vote for Proposition 5, and then go visit a state park to appreciate how your voting decision will help keep Texans wild for generations to come.

Michaela McCown is a native Texan whose passion for wildlife and conservation stemmed from her experiences growing up on a ranch outside of Dripping Springs. For the last several years, Michaela has been teaching biology and environmental science at Vanguard College Preparatory School in Waco, TX. In addition to teaching, Michaela serves on the Sustainability Board for McLennan Community College and on the Board of Directors for the Texas Land Conservancy. In her spare time, Michaela enjoys spending time with her husband and dog while they explore Texas by foot, bike, and kayak.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org  for more information.

Halloween Safety for Motorists and Pedestrians

 Halloween is coming soon, and children will be out in their neighborhoods to enjoy treats, fun, and games. Motorists and pedestrians can take steps to make this year’s Halloween a safe one!

Although Halloween comes before the change back to standard time this year, the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting longer. With shorter days comes more night driving.  Because nighttime driving is more dangerous, it requires extra attention from motorists as well as pedestrians. NHTSA also reports that nearly two-thirds of all fatal pedestrian crashes occur in lowlight conditions. 

Sadly, Halloween also increases the number of drunk drivers on the road at night. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reporting 42 percent of those killed in traffic crashes on Halloween night from 2013 to 2017 died in crashes involving a drunk driver.

The large number of young pedestrians out on Halloween evening makes this an especially dangerous time. Here is a scary fact from the National Safety Council, children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than on any other day of the year. That’s why Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Family and Community Health Educator Colleen Foleen, McLennan County reminds motorists, parents and children of the following safety tips to keep in mind during Halloween and all year long. 

 Tips for Motorists

  • Avoid using handheld electronic devices.
  • Remember that as soon as you step out of your car, you become a pedestrian.
  • Be especially alert for all road users, including pedestrians, at night.
  • Slowdown in areas where pedestrians are likely to be or where sight distances are limited. Keep your windshield clean. Watch for children walking on roads, medians, and curbs. Enter and exit driveways carefully
  • Be especially alert for children darting out from between parked vehicles and from behind bushes and shrubs. They’re excited – and they are not paying attention.
  • Never drink and drive – tonight or any night. If you are partying, designate a driver.
  • If you see a drunk driver or impaired pedestrian on the road, contact local law enforcement.

Tips for Parents

  • Adults should accompany children at all times and supervise their “trick or treat” activities.
  • Teach children to “stop, look left-right-left, and listen” before they cross the street.
  • Use a flashlight, and wear retro-reflective strips or patches on your clothing or costume to be more visible to motorists.
  • Be certain that the mask does not obstruct vision or hearing.
  • Ensure that costumes do not impede walking or driving ability. 

Tips for Pedestrians (children and adults)

  • Before crossing a street, stop at the curb or edge of the road and look left, right, and left again to be sure no cars are coming. Continue to check for traffic while on the street.
  • Walk – never run – from house to house or across the road.
  • Cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks.
  • When crossing at an intersection with a traffic light, be sure to watch for turning cars. Obey all pedestrian signals.
  • Walk on sidewalks whenever possible. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the left side of the street facing traffic.

By taking some extra time to make sure drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists obey the rules, Halloween can be a safe time for all.

This information is provided by The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension