Building the school to career pipeline

By Jennifer Branch

Talent. It is the top need of employers across the country. Texas and Waco are no exceptions, especially with historically low unemployment rates.

As the “baby boomer” generation continues to age and exit the workforce, employers are becoming more and more desperate for adequately trained workers. The growth of a competitive economy and rapid advances in technology have changed the face of the job market and we as a community must answer.

The Heart of Texas P-20 Council is a school-to-work initiative that builds pathways from education to workplace to provide a skilled workforce. Our mission is to create collaborative partnerships that connect students to both college and career readiness. The council has historically had a strong presence of collaboration from educators, but the missing link remained – industry feedback.

My work with the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce has been incredible. I have the pleasure of sitting down face-to-face with local employers throughout McLennan County and learning more about their businesses and the dreams and passions that led them to their line of work. I am often invited to celebrate successes, but I am also challenged with partnering with businesses to overcome issues they are facing. Ninety-five percent of the time, the greatest challenge our local businesses face is recruiting and maintaining Talent and Workforce. They often face growth restraints due to the lack of qualified workers. Markets are hot, products and services are in demand, but businesses simply cannot accommodate all requests because they do not have capacity. If they had the qualified, trained employees they need, they could more closely meet the demands.

The feedback from my visits is aggregated and collectively shared with educators, curriculum planners and community leaders. Allowing the first-hand transfer of information about the specific skills and needs the employers are looking for has helped the P-20 Council’s overall local mission and commitment as well as supported the state’s 60×30 strategic plan for preparing students for the workforce. The newly launched Talent Portal and the ongoing, strategic relationship with the US Army’s Fort Hood Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program are other examples of workforce initiatives I focus on as well as continuing to support our local industry and community partners.

One thing that I have seen that is most encouraging and fascinates other economic developers is the collaborations within our community. Waco has brought to the table City and County officials, regional early-ed public and private schools, leaders from TSTC, Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas Tech University at Waco, Tarleton State University – Waco, Workforce Development Boards and other community and industry leaders, literally all focused on the same end goal.

While change certainly is underway in our community to develop a robust talent pipeline for employers and to give job seekers more and clearer options and career pathways, we must continue to collaborate and push for continued change. A healthy economy and job market lead to healthy communities, which lead to healthy businesses and healthy families. The bottom line is that there is no growth without talent. Partnerships that nurture, grow and diversify the talent pipeline are vital and partners in McLennan County should be proud of the work started.

Jennifer Branch serves as the Director of Existing Industries and Workforce Development on the Economic Development Team at the Greater Waco Chamber. She is also on the Workforce Development Board as the Co-Chair for the Texas Economic Development Council. She relocated from Dallas to Waco 10 years ago and is settled in China Spring with her two daughters. In her “free” time she enjoys all things outdoors, especially on the lake or one of the rivers flowing through our city center. Along with being an ambassador for our community, she is also an active advocate for many non-profits for which she has a passion.

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.

Collaboration Chain: Continuing Education and Community Collaboration

By Kristi Pereira

I love collaborating. I love being in a room of colleagues and fellow community members, discussing projects and plans, and exploring ways in which we can work together to achieve a common goal. And I especially love this if that common goal is something that has the potential to create an improved quality of life in our beloved Waco. There is very little that is as satisfying to me professionally as when individuals come together to create something meaningful that benefits our community as a whole.

I have had the privilege of working for and with several non-profits within our community, and I now serve as the Coordinator of Community Programs in McLennan Community College’s Continuing Education Department. Over the past several years, I have enjoyed a great deal of partnering, networking, and you guessed it….collaborating. The projects and plans that I have witnessed come together the most successfully can be attributed to each person’s commitment to diligently working together in order to see the task through to the end. I am incredibly grateful to work in a position where I get to witness this very thing on nearly a daily basis. Our Continuing Education mission statement specifically states that we are “deeply committed to the advancement and enrichment of Waco and McLennan County through our collaborations to offer the best learning experiences possible.” We accomplish this in a number of ways, and like links in a chain, we cannot optimally function without every piece coming together.

It starts with our students. Our community has supported our mission to provide lifelong learning for more than 50 years! This long-term dedication has allowed our programs to grow and flourish, all while bringing people together from all walks of life to learn new skills and hobbies. From the children who attend Kids College, to the adults who prioritize lifelong learning, we would not exist without each student’s desire to expand their knowledge through our courses.

Furthermore, we would not function without our incredible team of instructors. Our instructors plan, prepare, and execute courses that meet a wide variety of needs within our community. They come to us excited to share their knowledge and experiences, and we are grateful for their influence. Even during my short time at MCC, I have heard stories of individuals gaining skills that helped them land their dream job, or others turning what was initially a hobby into a thriving career.

Another important link in the collaboration chain are our community partners. In recent years we have established partnerships with a number of local businesses and organization who have helped us expand and promote our course offerings. These partners have opened the doors of their businesses to help us reach an even broader audience, as well as provide new and unique learning opportunities to members of the Waco community.

I am proud to work for an institution that encourages partnership, and also to live in a city that embraces interconnection. We like to say in the Continuing Education Department that “Life is Good in Waco” (we print this very phrase on all of our publications!) And it is true! And life will continue to be good in Waco every time we choose to link together, creating an unbreakable chain of community collaboration.

Here’s the link to see what MCC Continuing Education has to offer:

Kristi Pereira is the Coordinator of Community Programs at McLennan Community College, through the Continuing Education Department. Originally from the Pineywoods of East Texas, she has called Waco home for almost 12 years. Kristi enjoys all things fitness and nutrition, reading, volunteering, and a good cup of coffee. She has been married to her husband Hermann, for almost 15 years, and they have two kids, Hudson and Ruby. 

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.

Pedal car partnership provides authentic, real world learning (and pay!) for high school students

By Clay Springer

Last May, three local entrepreneurs came to me with a challenge.  They had purchased a 14- passenger bicycle car six months earlier and launched “Waco Pedal Tours” (WPT), a startup providing entertainment tours in Waco’s downtown.

Cory Dickman, Jake Cockerill, and Danny Abarca are true entrepreneurs, ready to bet it all in the belief that their product, a pedal car, could play a vital role in shaping the downtown experience for locals and guests alike. But, by the time they came to me, they were emotionally drained.  It turns out the pedal car they had purchased was a hodge-podge of mis-matched imperial and metric parts that the previous owners had thrown together with a working philosophy of “get the next tour finished and worry about the rest later.”

Keeping this Frankenstein pedal car running was a nightmare. They had spent countless hours doing cross-country searches and talking to engineers and designers and still they had no solid replacement parts.  I signed on to help with the project, and we spent additional countless hours researching, brainstorming, designing, and working with the best old-school machinist in Waco until we finally had the pedal car back on the road.

Even after my involvement with WPT, however, problems with the old pedal car were a constant problem: holes in watered batteries, cracked brake drums, split axle shafts, electrical shorts, etc. The original pedal car was built in China and then shipped to America for final assembly. Most problems related to a metric or Chinese version of something not being compatible with what was readily available for purchase in Waco, Texas.

We realized it was time to build from the ground up. We wanted a frame that could be repaired with parts from local stores or junkyards in 24 hours or less. We wanted a better suspension for a more comfortable ride on bumpy roads. We spent hours scheming possible new additions to the bike: water misters for hot days, on board hot chocolate tap for winter, karaoke, massive sound system, air-ride suspension for comfort, Mario Kart (a personal favorite and I still remain the 9-time undefeated champ at the annual RAPS Mario Kart races!), and so much more.

We had lots of ideas for improvement based on customer comments… added space between pedals and bar for folks with long legs, a space to lock up personal items or coolers, a step with a handle for loading and unloading, and an extra seat or two. We wanted a technical service manual and a troubleshooting guide.

Of course, all of this conversation about new features and improvements led to some dreaming about scaling the product up into multiple pedal cars and serving as a vendor for other entertainment startups.

Cory, Jake and Danny knew we could build a better pedal car, but the crossroads of time and money spent to get the original bike on the road again had taken its toll. As we dreamed up design ideas and worked through trade-offs we kept up a running cost analysis on building a new pedal car.  How could they afford it?  Who would build it?

The pedal car project fascinated me. I was drawn to the problem-solving challenge of working on a vehicle that seems simple from the curb but is oddly sophisticated below.  I began to wonder if this was a job that my students at Rapoport Academy Public School (RAPS) could do.

For over a decade the RAPS robotics team has competed every year in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). This competition focuses on technical skills like DC electronics, CAD, CAM, CNC machining, pneumatics, LEDs, fasteners, gears and pulleys. One problem we have always faced while competing in FRC is the time commitment. Our students have to balance their time between wage earning jobs and after school activities like robotics.

Just like that, the idea was born: bring students on at WPT as full W-4 employees! The students could earn OSHA certification and be covered under workers comp insurance. This would help students balance having a job to earn an hourly income and earning class credit. Unlike in a regular robotics project, in this build we wouldn’t have to fundraise the cost of the materials, so we could spend more time teaching fabrication techniques and safety.

We formed a team – four RAPS high school students, three partners from WPT, and one teacher (me!)  – we were in it not just to build a product, but to build a company.

It is almost impossible to list all the good outcomes and highlight moments that have come from this project: The close personal interactions between the students and owners; the opportunity to learn project management, marketing, finances / loan structure; the opportunity to connect STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning from the classroom to real experience in the field. Students were pressed to quickly learn how to read, interpret and fabricate blueprint drafts. They learned how to communicate within a team to get a project up and running.

The brightest highlight by far has been the four high school students themselves. Each student brought a unique skill set and personality to the team. I have known these students since they were in the 5th and 6th grades and it was an incredible experience to go from being a teacher in front of a class to working alongside them on a daily basis. We worked through conflict together.  We got in trouble with management for playing music too loud together. We spent time talking about cars, college, and life… but most of all we learned together.

In the beginning this project was about welding some tubes together, throwing axles and brakes under it, adding a little paint, installing a stereo, and sending a pedal car down the road. It soon transformed into a project about high school students developing the skills to be successful in college, career, and life.

Yes, you have to know how to align gears, and calculate weight-to-gear ratios to build a pedal car, but those are skills we can teach in a classroom. You cannot teach the rush you feel when you meet a high-stakes deadline, or the satisfaction that comes with successfully managing a project that relies on three different people with six different parts progressing at once, or the attention required to improve a design by listening to customers. You have to experience these things. I have learned many, many things through this work-based learning partnership, but one of the most impactful things I will take from it is, “You cannot simulate authentic real-world learning.”

After two weeks of rigorous testing over spring break we will fix and fine tune any problems that arise with the new pedal car. Then we will bring on another set of talented students to help write the technical guides that will accompany the pedal car, to use RAPS drones and cameras to video and photograph the pedal car for marketing packages and social media posts, and to serve as drivers for tours.

This new pedal car is a prototype, created from our imagination.  It is full of imperfections with improvements to be made, but I guarantee you this: our RAPS team is up for the challenge and we are just getting started. So, go take a ride on the new pedal car, your dollars will support local education and you might just have one of the builders from our team as your driver!

Waco Pedal Tours and Rapoport Academy Public School entered into a formal partnership to promote Entrepreneurship and STEAM education together. From trade and technical disciplines to entrepreneurial finance and marketing, local companies like Waco Pedal Tours are the key to the success of our next generation.  I applaud WPT for taking a risk on a couple of knuckleheads with power tools (me included). 

Rapoport Academy focuses on entrepreneurship in STEAM disciplines. We are looking to partner with more companies to meet the interests of every student. I would personally love to connect you with some amazing young talent to help grow your idea or established business.

How could your business and our students mutually benefit from the tools, training and facilities that RAPS has to offer? How can we create some authentic student learning experiences together? There is a little something for every passion in entrepreneurship and it takes every person pedaling for the bike to move forward.

Clay Springer currently serves as STEAM and Career and Technical Education Director for Rapoport Academy Public School. Clay started his educational career at Rapoport Academy in 2010 as a teaching assistant for Quinn Middle school before becoming a classroom teacher and advocate for STEM and Authentic education. Clay and his wife, Joi, welcomed their first child, Shepherd, on Thanksgiving day 2018. They enjoy spending time on the Brazos River on old boats that Clay boldly claims someday will be as good as new.

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.

Connecting Local Teachers to Local Businesses Pays Dividends

By Hermann Pereira

Being an educator is one of the most rewarding and difficult careers around. We constantly invest our time and effort into the next generation and the school year feels like a marathon. So by the time the summer hits we just want to prop our feet up. But educators are some of the most dedicated professionals around so we spend our summers attending professional development sessions in order to improve at our craft.

This past summer teachers at Connally ISD had the unique opportunity to participate in a teacher externship program through a grant that we were awarded through the University of Texas STEM Center. The goal of the externship was to interact directly with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industry leaders and learn about industry trends, needs, and opportunities that they can bring back to the classroom to enhance instruction and ultimately, student learning and achievement. We had 19 teachers from a variety of teaching fields who engaged with industry partners here in Waco. In this blog we will highlight 3 of our teachers and what their takeaways were from the program:

Liesel Wilson – Spanish/AVID

The recent Tex2 summer externship that I was a part of was truly an eye-opening experience!  As a classroom teacher for 25 years, I have plenty of educational experience, but not a lot of encounters with the business world.  This opportunity to spend time with various local businesses and learn first-hand how teachers could better prepare future candidates for the job world was an invaluable lesson.

I was able to visit HOLT CAT Machines and Engines, KWTX TV, Central Texas Iron Works, Vossloh, the Lacy Lakeview Police Department, and a robotics class at TSTC.  At each location, the overwhelming response to what our students were lacking was the basic knowledge of soft skills.  Applicants need to be aware of proper interview dress, use of cell phones (or lack thereof), the importance of eye contact, and a firm handshake.  This take away was something that I was easily able to implement daily both inside and outside the classroom.  Upon entering, all students must shake my hand and look me in the eye while saying “Good morning”, or “Nice to see you”.  It was important for me to first teach my classes HOW to shake hands and the implicit value of body language and eye contact.  After MUCH practice, this has become second nature to my students.  I use myself as an example of the NO cell phone policy that many workplaces enforce.  Students are not permitted to text during class time, so I also follow this rule.  Leading by example shows students that I value the rules and understand why they are in place.

All in all, the externship was a tremendous experience.  I am happy to say that the takeaways were relevant and definitely worth spending time on to ensure that students will be ready to face the world of work after graduation! 

Liesel Wilson has been in education for twenty-four years.  She currently teaches Spanish 2 and is one of the AVID elective teachers at Connally High School.  In her free time, she loves to read, trail run, and have amazing travel experiences with her children Joslyn and Savanna.

Julia Jirovsky – Debate Coach

As a communication teacher, the opportunity to speak with employers around Waco in the TEX2 externship was tremendously valuable. Speaking with Express Employment Solutions highlighted a need for students to leave high school with an understanding of professional documents such as résumés and cover letters. Specifically, students can give themselves an edge in the job market by submitting résumés that are not adapted from popular web templates. In addition, touring manufacturing operations such as Englander dZignPak and Vossloh taught me that many of the most successful employees, regardless of education level, are ones that show up on time, ask questions, and take initiative in the workplace. It was validating to learn that the skills Waco’s job market craves are ones that we teachers can reinforce every day in every content area. We can hold our students to high standards, require attendance and timeliness, knowing that these soft skills will propel our students to success after graduation.

Julia Jirovsky is a second year teacher and debate coach. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently teaches Debate, Professional Communication, and Principles of Education and Training. In her free time, Julia enjoys judging debate, crafting, and going to metal concerts.

Miranda Flanary – Business

As a business education teacher with prior work experience, it is important to take advantage of ways to refresh and renew my knowledge what is happening in today’s workplaces.  The externship offered this invaluable opportunity as I was able to gain insight at a variety of local employers, including KWTX Channel 10, DeuxSouth Creative, Caterpillar, Sherwin Williams, and the City of Waco.  These businesses each demand very different levels of education and work experience amongst their employees.  However, there was a consistent message when it came to transferable skills: these are the foundation on which any successful employee is built.  Dependability, reliability, willingness to learn, and communication skills are essential, regardless of the hard or technical skills needed for a job.  This information allows me to reference real-world expectations at real-world employers, beyond my own work experience, to drive home how students need to be prepared for the next stages in life.

Miranda Flanary is a native Wacoan and has been in education for five years, following careers in financial services and human resources.  She currently teaches Principles of Business, Marketing, and Finance; Entrepreneurship; and General Employability Skills and is the CTE department head.  In her free time, Miranda enjoys live music, traveling, trivia, and spending time reading and drawing with her 8 year old son Regan. 

Opportunities like this need to continue because the beneficiaries of these programs are the students of our community. When public educators, the business community, and higher education entities come together the possibilities are endless.

Connally would like to thank all of our partners that made this experience so meaningful. We look forward to connecting with them and others this next summer:

Hermann Pereira is the Principal of Connally Career Tech Early College High School and AVID Coordinator and has been in education for 12 years. He is a Houstonian who roots for all Houston sports teams, but has called Waco home for the past decade. He has been married to his wife Kristi for 14 and a half years and has two children, Hudson who is 10 years old and Ruby who is 7 years old.



Heart of Texas P-20 Goals for 2018-2019

By Christine Holecek and Scott McClanahan

Preparing local students for a successful journey through school and college to careers is critical to the well-being and growth of our community. The Heart Of Texas P-20 works to promote streamlined, transparent degree pathways for students to move quickly and successfully through their education and onto college and/or a career.  The Heart of Texas (HOT) P-20 brings together representatives from the independent school districts (ISD), institutions of higher education (IHE), Region 12 Education Service Center, industry and government across six counties: Bosque, Hill, Falls, Limestone, Freestone and McLennan to work towards this goal.

According to The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website:

“By 2030, 60 percent or more of all new jobs will require some level of higher education. Today, only 42 percent of young Texans between the ages of 25 and 34 have an associate degree or higher.

Rapid innovation and technological progress are changing the face of work in Texas. Higher education must prepare students for this reality. It must also prepare them to adapt as the job market changes. This calls for new ways of thinking about higher education. We must look at how colleges and universities can meet the civic and economic needs of Texas not only today but in the future.

As Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes said in 2016, ‘We are going to have to innovate – to come up with creative ideas about how to address our needs and achieve our goals.’

It will take energy and creativity to reach the goals of 60x30TX. And everyone in Texas will have a role to play. Success depends on taking bold actions and working together to create and expand promising higher education practices. Together, we can fulfill the four student-centered goals of 60x30TX and make higher education possible for the greatest number of Texans!”

The Heart of Texas P-20 Council met this past week to set the goals and strategic priorities for the next school year. The Council reviewed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) state goal entitled 60X30TX. The Council decided to align our activities to the states goals. Dr. Scott McClanahan, Chair, Provided the list of priorities for the upcoming school year. (Click here to see presentation on 60X30TX.)

Priorities for 2017-2018 include:

  • Analyze (using TSI scores) and improve quality of high school college readiness course (Career Prep).
  • Analyze high school reports developed by MCC to identify focus areas for TSI preparation and other college readiness needs
  • Utilize the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce to facilitate definition of marketable skills by local industry
  • Continue to grow internship and job shadowing programs and expand the number of participating districts and employers.
  • Restructure Annual State of Education Event to speak to businesses about workforce readiness of local graduates and opportunities for employers to participate in P-20 efforts like internships for students and externships for teachers.
  • Use lessons learned from Project Link to develop a local College Access network that will partner high schools, colleges, and local college readiness programs in helping students transition to post-secondary education.
  • Reengage the AVATAR project to continue Vertical alignment between Secondary and Post-Secondary.

If you are interested in attending the quarterly HOT P-20 Council Meetings they have been scheduled from 8:00-10:00 at Education Service Center Region 12:

  • September 5, 2019
  • December 12, 2018
  • March 20, 2019
  • June 12, 2019

Christine Holecek is an Education Specialist at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco. She has worked in the area of Adult Education and Career & Technical Education for the past 25 years. She earned an AAS degree from MCC, a BAAS and Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Tarleton State University.

Dr. Scott McClanahan is the Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction for the Waco Independent School District. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Dr. McClanahan moved to Texas to earn both his Masters degree and Doctorate. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, a community college professor, and a university adjunct professor.

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.


Innovative local programs help students graduate on time and with less debt

By Scott McClanahan, Ed.D.

In the spring of my senior year, I noticed a trend amongst my classmates: they were all discussing college incessantly. I, however, was not. As the son of a factory worker and a retail sales clerk (neither of whom attended college), I was not having those discussions at my house.  I had not met with my guidance counselor for college advice nor had I been approached by any outside entity to help me navigate the college process. My sole source of information was the copious college propaganda that arrived in the mail each day. Impressed by beautiful pictures, stories of campus activities, and lists of amazing opportunities available at the various institutions, I tried to determine where to go, even though I knew my family did not have the financial resources for me to attend. It was not until April of my senior year that I decided on a state school 90 minutes from home; however, by that time, the dorms were full nor had I been awarded financial aid, forcing my parents and me to navigate the worlds of off-campus housing, financial aid, payment plans, and books on our own.

But that was 30 years ago.  And we hope — for the large majority of today’s students — circumstances are different.  However, an occasional student still moves through the high school system and never receives the message that college is both valuable and available, despite any hardships possessed.

As President of the Heart of Texas P-20 Council, I can confidently state that administrators around the region sponsor fantastic College Readiness programs to assist their students: college and career fairs to motivate students to pursue higher education, college testing (such as ACT, SAT, and ASVAB) preparation that opens opportunities at higher education institutions or in the military, and specialized career preparation classes. From rigorous Career and Technical Education programs, to Advanced Placement and Dual Credit course offerings, to Early College High Schools and early degree programs, our region is leading the charge to impact every student. Today’s local students find it increasingly more difficult to make it through to high school graduation without ever hearing about college, without receiving information about paths to college, or without their post-graduation plans being questioned (usually multiple times).

These conversations are part of our region’s efforts to meet the requirements of the State of Texas’s 60x30TX initiative, an enterprise to keep Texans competitive in the global economy. The 60x30TX initiative has four goals: increase the education level of Texas’s 25 to 34-year-old population; increase degree completion levels at Texas community colleges and universities; increase the marketable skills possessed by high school graduates; and decrease the amount of student debt accrued by college graduates. The state’s fifteen-year strategic plan encompasses these four goals, all to be achieved by 2030. Although formidable, all are attainable with intense, directed action on the part of K-12 systems, higher education institutions, and the community.

The first goal seeks to increase the number of adults ages 25-34 statewide who hold college degrees (2-year or 4-year) or national workforce certifications to 60% by 2030.  In an age where the American Center for Progress reports that one in eight Americans lives in poverty, this type of goal is required. A 2012 Brookings Institute study identified two common characteristics of prosperous communities: residents either held a college degree or had earned a workforce certification, and explained this finding economically in a 2015 report:  adults aged 25 to 34 who finish college degrees not only earn more annually but also contribute more to the local economies, causing the whole community to flourish. Similarly, specialized certifications allow workers access to a set of higher-paying jobs. Therefore, the goal makes good sense for all of us.  However, the 2018 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac reports that in 2016 (the most recent available data) only 42.3% of Texans 25-34 held a degree or certification. Therefore, it is in all our best interests to encourage the young people in our lives to pursue one of these avenues.

The Heart of Texas P-20 council, whose focus is to collaborate, inform, and advocate for seamless pipelines from prekindergarten to career, engages local K-12 systems Waco ISD, Midway ISD, LaVega ISD, and Connally ISD, local charter schools Harmony and Rapoport, higher education partners McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College, Prosper Waco, and numerous business representatives in active communication to remove barriers that might exist that prevent students from helping the state to achieve these strategic goals. And, our earnest work toward this mission is seeing results.

At last Tuesday’s McLennan Community College graduation, Rapoport Academy and Waco ISD graduated 13 students with associate degrees before these students had even graduated from their high school.

Waco ISD’s two associate degree graduates with me: Kiara Jackson, Waco High School, and Isabella Lozano, University High School. These young women have both claimed the title of first student in their high schools to graduate with an associate degree.

One Waco High School student, Kiara Jackson, achieved this feat in only three years—graduating from high school a year early and from her associate program three years ahead of schedule. The students completed these degrees at no cost to themselves, helping to meet the state’s fourth strategic goal of reducing student debt levels. These students avoided costs by participating in programs offered at their high schools that are free of charge. Rapoport Academy’s Early College High School and Waco ISD’s ACCELERATE Early Degree Program are just two innovative ways that regional educators are creating options for our students to eventually earn more as workers and contribute to their communities at higher levels as consumers.

Questions about these types of programs can easily be answered by a high school counselor or current participant; however, three main misconceptions tend to keep students from taking advantage of these types of opportunities:

How does a student have time to meet all the high school graduation requirements and complete a college degree at the same time? Do they have a longer year, go to night school, or have to attend during the summer?  – “Dual credit” classes allow students to earn both high school and college credits at the same time. For example, MCC’s History 1302 can be taken to fulfill both the required credit for high school US History and to complete the U.S. History course requirement for any degree issued at a Texas public college or university.  Therefore, with smart planning, students can complete classes that earn credit towards high school graduation and a college degree.

How does a student know what classes will be accepted by universities, particularly out of state? Who will help them navigate that?  – McLennan Community College advisors are extremely knowledgeable about transfer credits and acceptance of classes. Advisors are required to meet each semester with students prior to enrollment, once two classes are completed. During this advising, they will ask students what schools interest them and what their anticipated majors will be. From that, advisors will determine the best classes for the students. Parents and students can always verify transfer policies for any college by calling the transfer coordinator (whose name can be found on the college’s website) to discover how transfer coursework will be accepted once the student is admitted to the university.

Does this type of program keep students from participating in other school activities? – Because students are accelerating their instruction (sometimes by up to four grade levels), they should consider limiting participation in some activities, especially those that cause them to miss school frequently or require long practice hours outside of the school day. Since grades in these courses impact the students’ high school and college GPAs, an overloaded schedule many times will avert focus from academics (or cause students to have tremendous worry about those academics) and performance suffers. This does not mean students must give up all extra-curricular activities. They can participate in activities such as band or choir, sports, and clubs; however, they should make wise choices when investing time and carefully evaluate the time commitment required of each activity before committing to it.

Perhaps if these types of opportunities had been offered when I was a senior, I would have taken advantage of them and saved myself a great deal of time, money, and stress. We have programs to help increase college access throughout our community—Communities in Schools, VOICE, Project Link, just to name a few. Parents who did not attend college should not feel embarrassed about asking for guidance on how to help their children navigate this process. We are all in this together: schools, businesses, the P20 council and the State of Texas. Together, we can meet the state’s challenge and meet its lofty goal, while simultaneously helping to make Waco a more prosperous community.

Dr. Scott McClanahan is the Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction for the Waco Independent School District. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Dr. McClanahan moved to Texas to earn both his Masters degree and Doctorate. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, a community college professor, and a university adjunct professor.

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.



The P-20 Council: Promoting College and Career Readiness in Greater Waco

By Christine Holecek

Preparing local students for a successful journey through school and college to careers is critical to the well-being and growth of our community. The Heart Of Texas P-20 works to promote streamlined, transparent degree pathways for students to move quickly and successfully through their education and onto college and/or a career.  The Heart of Texas (HOT) P-20 brings together representatives from the independent school districts (ISD), institutions of higher education (IHE), Region 12 Education Service Center, industry and government across six counties: Bosque, Hill, Falls, Limestone, Freestone and McLennan to work towards this goal.

The HOT P-20 mission can best be summarized as follows:

  • Collaborating by building cross-community team to address education and career possibilities for all students.
  • Informing our diverse communities about ongoing initiatives, best practices and available resources.
  • Advocating for educational best practices with at the state and local levels.

Upcoming Activities include


Heart of Texas P-20 Forum “State of Education Conference” (Session# 146917)  – April 26, 2018 – 11:00 to 2:00 – Education Service Center Region 12


 A look at SAT from a Math Perspective (Session #126532)  – February 27, 2018 – 9:00 to – 4:00  – Education Service Center Region 12

21st Century New, Emerging, and Evolving Careers (Session #126482) March 1, 2018 – 9:00 to 12:00  – Education Service Center Region 12

CTE Quarterly Network Meeting (Session #126446) – April 26, 2018 –  9:00 to 11:00 – Education Service Center Region 12

Connect3 Conference  –  June 6-8, 2018  – ESC Region 12

Counselor Summer Fly-In  –  June 11-15, 2018  – MCC/TSTC

Advocating (Student Events):

Construction and Welding Expo “Build Your Future”   –  March 23, 2018 – 8:00 to 3:30 – Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy

YES! Expo   –  May 15, 2018 – 8:00 to 4:00 – Extraco Events Center

This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Christine Holecek. Christine is an Education Specialist at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco. She has worked in the area of Adult Education and Career & Technical Education for the past 25 years. She earned an AAS degree from MCC, a BAAS and Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Tarleton State 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 for more information.

HOT P-20: College is what’s next

(The Heart of Texas P-20 Council includes representatives from K-12 education, higher education and employers. They meet regularly to help coordinate efforts to launch our young people into productive lives as workers and citizens. This post is one in a monthly series of posts intended to share information about the work of this important group in our community. For more posts in this series, click here: P-20 education. – ALW)

By Christine Holecek

All across Texas, students are finding their voices, setting goals, and taking steps towards securing their own successful futures. Through these efforts, they become an integral part of a growing movement known as Generation TX. These students are what’s next for our state. They have the power to become the most successful generation ever.

What is Generation TX Month? Generation TX Month combines college admissions and financial aid application efforts into one. Generation TX Month events are designed to take place when schools and community organizations typically host college fairs, financial aid drives, and other college and career-related events. The Generation TX Month provides the perfect opportunity to build on these initiatives around college and career readiness, pull them together to make a broader impact, and expand their reach.

Generation TX Month focuses on getting students, especially those in middle school and high school, thinking about their future with a range of actions and next steps that they can take toward college and career readiness, including:

Prepare (Middle & High School Students)

  • Career Exploration
  • Finding a Mentor
  • Creating a Brag Sheet
  • College Visits

Apply (High School Seniors)

  • College Applications
  • Financial Aid Applications
  • College Scholarships

Download your planning guide today

The Heart of Texas P-20 Council believes that achieving college and career readiness allows students to reach their fullest potential. By accepting the GenTX challenge the council is acknowledging the focus on the future of our workforce and encouraging them to focus on their goals for college and career. GenTX also provides a college planning and financial aid guide to help parents and students make decisions about the future.

Download College Planning & Financial Aid Guide

Student Tools

  • ApplyTexas –  If you are applying to a public two-year or four-year institution in Texas, you will need to complete the ApplyTexas application. This application is available at Once completed, you can use this one application to apply to many schools across Texas.
  • Applying for Financial Aid  – The FAFSA  is the primary form you will need to apply for most financial aid
  • College Major – What College Major is best for you? Find out at MyMajors After taking this assessment, you will be recommended the top majors, colleges and careers based on your academic achievements, interests and personality.

Generation Texas Month supports the regional efforts and goals of the 60x30TX Texas Challenge to Reach Higher, an initiative to increase college applications, FAFSA completions, and college readiness across Texas.

This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Christine Holecek. Christine is an Education Specialist at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco. She has worked in the area of Adult Education and Career & Technical Education for the past 25 years. She earned an AAS degree from MCC, a BAAS and Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Tarleton State 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 for more information.




By Christine Holecek

The mission of the Heart of Texas P-20 Council is to assist with the collaboration of education, business, and community to maximize the utilization of resources, programs and services for all students while encouraging a culture of life-long learning. We envision that all students can reach their true potential as happy, healthy, productive and self-sufficient citizens.  One local event that helps with this mission is S.T.E.A.M. Day.

The City of Waco, along with ESC Region 12, is hosting its annual S.T.E.A.M. Day on October 11.  Geared towards middle and high school students in the Central Texas area, this event helps students explore the fields of science, technology, engineering, architecture, arts and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.).  Participating students will be able to speak directly with professionals about career choices in various fields.  S.T.E.A.M. Day is a free, come-and-go exhibition for schools and at the Waco Convention Center. The attendance has continued to grow over the past several years.  Last year over 2,200 students from 40 schools registered for the event, along with 86 exhibitors from various career fields.  Our exhibitor roster included local manufacturing companies, higher education establishments, engineering and architecture firms, and also high school robotics teams.  This event is free to exhibitors as well.

This is an awesome event for students to get a hands-on opportunity to see future careers in action. This event has morphed over the years from “Engineering Day” to “STEM Day” and now “STEAM” Day.  This event is held annually in October to inspire students to pursue careers in the community in science, technology, engineering, architecture, art and mathematics. This event is hosted by the City of Waco Public Works Department. This year’s event will be held on Tuesday, October 11, 2017 at the Waco Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Christine Holecek. Christine is an Education Specialist at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco. She has worked in the area of Adult Education and Career & Technical Education for the past 25 years. She earned an AAS degree from MCC, a BAAS and Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Tarleton State University.

2017 Greatest Hits #6: Four Things I Wish I Had Known in High School

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Kassidy Munden

After my first year of college, I began to realize there were things I really (and I mean really) wish I had known in high school to help make my transition to college smoother.

The first thing I would advise any high schooler would be to take the high school anatomy class. I didn’t think I would ever need anatomy in my future profession, or even have to take it in college, but I could not have been more wrong about that. High school students considering going to college should seriously consider taking an anatomy class. My biggest regret about not taking anatomy in high school was that when I got to college, I was far behind my classmates and didn’t know a single thing. You can imagine how well a 100-question test over blood flow in the body went for me three weeks into my freshman year.

The second thing I would recommend for any high schooler would be to take dual credit in high school. Looking back on high school, that had to be one of the best educational decisions I made to prepare for college. Thanks to dual credit, I had all of my core English classes completed by the time I began college. Not only was it one less major class I had to take, I also learned how to properly write college papers. This helped me in my other classes as well, because in every class, even math, I had to write some type of proper essay. Knowing how to format and write these essays before my freshman year paid off in a huge way. I wish I had known to take more of the dual credit classes my high school offered, because even though they seemed difficult, they were more rewarding in the long run than they seemed at the time.

The third thing I wish I had known was to take the college transition class offered. Most high schools offer a college transition class and extend the class to all seniors. I did take this class, but I wish I had taken it more seriously. This class teaches students about life in college and how to live on your own, as well as educational enhancements such as how to build a resume. Looking back now, I wish I had learned how to build a proper resume, because that is something I will need for anything and everything. Most freshmen take classes requiring them to build a resume of some sort, and trust me, learning about it in detail in high school is easier than trying to learn it on your own in college.

The fourth and final thing I wish I had known was to get a job or internship. Most high school students declare their major “undecided” when entering their freshman year of college, which is completely normal. However, I wish I had explored more job opportunities and taken internships. These not only look great on a resume but also help you develop an idea of what you might actually want to get a degree in. Having more of a background in several different positions makes you a more diverse and knowledgeable individual. Did I mention it also will give you a stronger resume when you apply for college? That is key for all aspiring college students.

High school is a profound experience-building time for everyone, and I highly recommend that college-bound students seek out all of the opportunities available, because they definitely will pay off in the long run.

Kassidy Munden is a summer intern at ESC Region 12 in the College and Career Readiness/CTE department. She is a student at Texas Tech University and wanted to share her wisdom with current high school students.