Freedom School: Pulling together to prevent summer learning loss

By Lakia Scott

The Baylor Freedom Schools program is a partnership between Baylor’s School of Education, Waco ISD and Transformation Waco, Prosper Waco, and the City of Waco. Freedom Schools is a seven-week summer literacy enrichment program founded by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Social action, character building, and STEAM activities are also built into the program so children engage in an interactive, meaningful curriculum. Throughout the program, children are exposed to culturally relevant books and meet with community guests to learn how to be agents of change in their local areas. The main theme of Freedom Schools is “I Can Make a Difference in Myself, My Family, My Community, My Country, and My World with Hope, Action and Education.” 

In our founding year, serving 50 students at Cesar Chavez Middle School, we experienced tremendous success with helping a great majority of middle school scholars (93%) maintain or increase their reading abilities therefore significantly reducing summer learning loss. Last year, we worked with 70 middle school scholars at Indian Spring Middle School and 100% of students maintained or increased their reading abilities.

Perhaps the most popular aspect of Freedom Schools is the unforgettable morning experience known as Harambee! The Swahili term meaning “let’s pull together” allows us to collectively gather in understanding our purpose and goals for the day. During Harambee, we sing motivational songs, give announcements, and do cheers before our students enter their classrooms. We also host Guest Readers who will read a short children’s book to the students, and entertain a few questions.   It has proven to be a wonderful way to introduce our students to community leaders and lovers of children and to show the children how much adults value reading.

This video will give you a good sense of the day in and day out Freedom School activities and how it works.

This year, we will be working in the Transformation Zone (an in-district charter system within  Waco ISD) at both Indian Spring MS (50 scholars) and JH Hines Elementary School (120 scholars) to provide quality literacy enrichment programming from June 12 through July 26th. This program is completely free and includes field trips, special guests, and meals. 

Would you like to learn more about Freedom School and how you can participate with us in this exciting work?

Please join us on Friday, May 24,  for the second annual “Reading Between the Vines”  fundraiser.  Admission donations of $25 will be collected to offset the cost of staff training, classroom supplies, field trips, and children’s texts used throughout the duration of the program. During the event, which will take place at the Cultivate 7Twelve art space at 712 Austin Avenue, attendees will meet Freedom School staff and learn more about the program while also being invited to participate in the Art Auction and wine tasting selections. Looking forward to seeing you there.  Let’s pull together! Harambee!

Lakia M. Scott, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Baylor University. She currently teaches elementary reading methods and diversity issues courses to pre-service teachers. Her work focuses on social issues in education like equity, social justice, race, gender and social class. In 2017, Scott launched Freedom Schools in Waco, a summer program focused on building literacy among children by curbing summer learning loss and closing achievement gaps.

Knowing history compels me to share it and make it.

(Gloria Conatser, a student at Waco High,  was one of 25 students nationwide selected to present their National History Day documentaries at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture at this year’s National History Day event.  In today’s blog post she shares a bit about what this opportunity meant to her. — ALW )

“Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.” – George Santayana

By Gloria Conatser

I have always bothered my teachers with my questions, and the best of them have humored my curiosity. National History Day has allowed me to pursue the answers to my questions myself. In the past six years since I began creating documentaries, every question that I have been able to answer has uncovered ten more for me to follow. Every year, this year especially, my products have been about revealing the events that shaped today.

A big recurring theme in every corner of history is the presence of conflict, and this year’s National History Day theme, “Conflict and Compromise” could be interpreted in many ways.

The approach that I chose to take was one that highlights the dark angle of compromise. Merriam-Webster describes it as, “a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial.” The title of my documentary this year is “3/5ths to Thirteenth: The American Compromise of Black Livelihood.” As I explored the 3/5ths Compromise and Thirteenth Amendment, and outlined their modern implications, I learned that the livelihood of Black Americans has been compromised throughout our history by people who don’t have to face the consequences.

National History Day has given me the opportunity to exercise mental muscles in a way that is not a standard in the public education system. I have had the freedom to analyze hidden histories, create a product that reflects my research, and hold my own among academic leaders from the local to the national level.

During the week of National History Day, I had the opportunity to present my documentary at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. A few days before flying to Washington D.C. I was notified that my work had been selected. The day after National History Day judging I was featured in the Smithsonian and offered an experience that I never would have been able to dream of.

The ultimate takeaway from these years as a National History Day student has been experience: experiencing perspectives that I would otherwise be blind to, experiencing locations many can only dream of, and experiencing the fulfillment of earning these opportunities myself. Practically speaking, I am as capable as most people, and vice versa, but the difference is that I am aware of my abilities and the potential for impact that I have, and that has made all the difference.

Gloria Conatser is a rising senior at Waco High. This is her fifth Year competing at National History Day. Gloria hopes to study engineering or biology and ultimately become an Astronaut. She also aspires to help create a more equal future through her career.

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.


A Pencil

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Is there anything in this world more hopeful and full of promise than brand new school supplies?  The smell of a new box of colors.   A brand new sharp pencil full of letters and words and pictures and numbers waiting to be set free.  A bright, clean spiral notebook ready to be filled with ideas, and dreams, and problems, and scribbles about who “hearts” who “4-evah,” and drawings of houses and families and fast cars and rockets and dinosaurs.   To all the grown-ups out there…if you have forgotten the joy and power of school supplies, you have forgotten a precious thing.

A few months ago, the Act Locally Waco book group decided to read and discuss the book “Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom” by Lisa Delpit. We had heard through the grapevine that our (then new) WISD school superintendent, Dr. Marcus Nelson, had recommended it to principals in the district, so we put it on our list.  On a whim, I decided to invite him to our book discussion, and lo and behold, he came!  We had a thought-provoking conversation about heavy issues affecting our schools…and more to the point…our children.  I will confess I left the discussion feeling overwhelmed with the complexity and magnitude of the challenges before us.

In the course of the conversation, Dr. Nelson mentioned a poem about a child and a pencil that he thought made an important point…

‘Cause I Ain’t got a Pencil

By Joshua T. Dickerson (reprinted with permission from the author)*

I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready,
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I ain’t got a pencil.

This poem is a prism.  When you look into it one way all you see is poverty.  It can leave you feeling sad and overwhelmed. When you look at it another way you see a bright, capable kid solving problems and figuring out what it takes to keep on keeping on.  She (or he) is exasperated with the rest of us because we can’t see that if we would just help her out a tiny bit with a pencil she could get on with the business of getting an education.

Ramona Curtis who works in the Department of External Affairs at Baylor starts each school year by joining the NAACP to welcome and cheer on the young scholars at J. H. Hines Elementary on the first day of school.   For a few years now, she has noticed that even with the many, many wonderful school supply drives throughout our community there were still too many kids coming to school without supplies.  Several conversations with the principal and outreach coordinator at Hines confirmed that school supplies are a big issue.  Even when kids have enough in August, they often run out long before the school year is over.  I’m sure teachers do fuss at kids who don’t have pencils – I know I did when I was a teacher! – but teachers also routinely dig into their own pockets to provide supplies for their kids.  There never seems to be enough to make it to the end of the school year.

With all this in mind, this year Ms. Curtis is working through the Solid Gold Neighbor Initiative at Baylor along with numerous organizations throughout the community to organize a school supply “power” drive.  The goal of this project is to make sure that the five Transformation Zone schools (Brook Avenue Elementary, J. H. Hines Elementary, Alta Vista Elementary, Indian Spring Middle School and G. W. Carver Middle School) who already have so much on their plates this year, do not have to worry about school supplies.

Ms. Curtis and her team visited with the principals at each of the five schools to make a list of the supplies needed for the whole school for the whole year. They got back numbers like 996 boxes of crayons, 2500 glue sticks, 12000 pencils, etc.

Now they are working through churches, sororities and fraternities, non-profits, local businesses and every other kind of organization they can think of to gather those supplies and deliver them directly to the schools to be divvied up among the teachers and distributed as needed with discretion and discernment throughout the school year.

The Solid Gold Neighbor program has made it easy for you to participate.  You can donate money directly by clicking on or by texting BUSGN to 41444.  Follow the Solid Gold Neighbor Facebook page for updates about how to donate school supplies and what supplies are still needed. Or contact Ramona Curtis at  to see how your business or organization can join in!

Not all problems can be solved with a pencil. But sometimes a pencil – or a box of markers, or some paper, or a glue stick — makes a big difference. We have bright, capable kids in Waco ISD. Many of them face tough situations every day and yet resiliently get to school anyway and go about the work of learning the best they know how to do.  We have some significant challenges in our schools, and it will not doubt take time to chip away at most of them, but one thing we can do right now is to make sure there’s a pencil available when a kid needs one.  Let’s do that!

* You can follow Joshua T. Dickerson on his Facebook page, “Joshua T. Dickerson Speaks,” or on Twitter: @joshtdickerson

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

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.



Is Your Child College, Career, or Military Ready?

By Robin Wilson, Ph.D.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I decided to retire from being a campus principal to return to school to complete my doctorate. I have always loved to learn, and I knew I was ready to embark on a new journey…even though I was a little late in life to be pursuing a Ph.D. While pursuing this degree, I ended up focusing on how to better educate our local high school seniors, teachers, and administrators on what it takes to be college and career ready. There are personal skills, such as time management, study skills, self-awareness, and persistence, required. There are also academic classes, such as dual credit courses or AP (Advanced Placement) courses, that will help prepare a student for college or a career. But, in 2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) added a new term and a new standard of expectation for graduating seniors: CCMR.

What is CCMR?

To better meet the expectations of the 60x30TX, TEA expects all seniors, beginning with the class of 2018, to be College, Career, or Military Ready (CCMR).  Each graduating student must meet at least one of the following to be considered CCMR:

College Ready

  • Earn at least a score of 3 on any Advanced Placement exam or at least a score of 4 on any International Baccalaureate examination
  • Meet Texas Success Initiative (TSI) minimum score requirements in reading and mathematics*
  • Complete a dual credit course/courses (earning at least 3 hours in English or Mathematics OR at least 9 hours in any subject)

Career Ready

  • Earn an industry-based certification
  • Complete a Career/Technical Education (CTE) course aligned with an approved industry-based certification
  • Graduate with a completed Individualized Education Program (IEP) and workforce readiness (for certain students served through special education programs)

Military Ready

  • Enlist in the United States Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marines).

While TEA gives students a variety of ways in which to meet the CCMR, many of these methods will not be known to students (like the TSI or available industry-based certifications/CTE courses aligned to certifications) nor will it be known to students that they should report to their schools if whether they enlist in the US Armed Forces. Therefore, everyone needs to be more familiar with this new requirement.

What is TSI?

The TSI (Texas Success Initiative) is the placement test used by colleges and universities to help determine if your child is ready for college-level courses. Although your child can be “admitted” to a higher education institution based on his or her ACT or SAT scores, “placement” in college-level coursework will depend on his or her TSI scores.  If your child does not meet the standards or exemptions below, he or she will be enrolled in a developmental education program designed to help him/her become college ready. These developmental courses do not count for college credit, but your child will still have to pay the cost of enrolling in these college-level courses.

Minimum scores on TSI to be considered-college ready:

  • Mathematics: 350
  • Reading: 351
  • Writing: a placement score of at least 340, and an essay score of at least 4: OR a placement score of less than 340 and an ABE Diagnostic level of at least 4 and an essay score of at least 5.

Exemptions from the TSI Reading/Writing assessment can be earned based on ACT/SAT scores or course completion:

  • Score a 23 or higher composite on the ACT and a minimum of 19 on the English section
  • Score 480 or higher on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and writing section (no composite score needed)
  • Receive credit for completing the College Preparatory English course

Exemptions from the TSI Mathematics assessment can be earned based on ACT/SAT scores or course completion:

  • Score a 23 or higher composite on the ACT and a minimum of 19 on the Mathematics section
  • Score 530 or higher on the SAT Mathematics section (no combined score needed)
  • Receive credit for completing the College Preparatory Mathematics course

What do these new standards mean for our school districts?

These new standards change the expectations for graduating seniors and how our high schools will receive their “A-F grade” from TEA ( The elementary and middle school campuses’ grades from TEA will still be based on STAAR test scores (100%), but high schools will now be graded on STAAR scores (40%), CCMR rate (40%), and graduation rate (20%). This new accountability for high schools will take the work of a village to ensure that all of our seniors graduate ready to pursue a degree at a higher education institution or move into the work force career-ready.

How can parents help make sure their child is college and career ready?

Parents can help in numerous ways:

  • Encouraging your child to not only take dual credit or Advanced Placement courses but also perform well in those courses and on their exams;
  • Reminding your child to take his or her opportunities to take the TSI seriously and to study any practice materials available for the TSI;
  • Aiding your child in finding opportunities to earn an industry-based certificate (if their goal is to be career-ready) through participation in CTE courses, the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy or the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy;
  • Urging your child to utilize the college planning guide.

Your local high schools also need you to help educate your neighbors about CCMR. The new standards can be conquered, and our high schools can continue to provide our students with skills and knowledge necessary to be successful, but it will take the work of a village. Help spread the word in our community on what it takes to be college, career, or military ready!

Dr. Robin Wilson is the College Readiness Coordinator and AVID District Director for Waco Independent School District.  She earned her Masters degree from University of Texas at Tyler and her Doctorate at Baylor University. She has worked as a classroom teacher, campus principal, a district administrator, an AVID professional development staff member, 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.



Summer Showcase (May 5): Great way to start planning for summer fun!

By Larry Carpenter

“‘Cause a little bit of summer is what the whole year is all about’.” These lyrics from pop singer John Mayer’s song, “Wildfire,” ignite a spark of anxiousness as the end of the school year inches closer and the summer months draw near—especially for students who have worked hard in the classroom all school year long reading, writing, testing, and growing their minds and bodies.

As a student, I remember so vividly how the looming summer vacation from school would bring opportunities to be outdoors, attend summer camps, go to the swimming pool, or even just mow the lawn and smell the fresh cut grass. The length of the sunny days would unfold and give rise to something new and challenging everyday. And when the Texas heat grew too hot to be outdoors for long periods of time, it was important to have activities indoors to keep me occupied and engaged.

That is where the Hawthorne Youth Center came into play for me. The HYC was a very small, community-based summer activity center in my old hometown. Owned by a local family, giving back to local kids was priority number one. Just a three-quarter mile bike ride from my front door, the HYC provided creative, athletic, educational, and social activities and events for youth of all ages. It was there that I not only learned the value of being part of a team, but I learned the value of social interaction, developing confidence to start conversations with others I didn’t already know. I enjoyed those summers at the HYC, and I was so very thankful that my school let the group promote their summer camp so that my family had the opportunity to let me go and grow.

It’s not very different for kids today. As we move closer to the close of the 2018 school year, students and their parents will be looking for activities to occupy their time in creative, fun, and educational ways.

In an effort to highlight many of the amazing opportunities available to families in the Waco area this summer, the Waco ISD Department of Student Services and Family Engagement is sponsoring a Summer Showcase on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at the Mayborn Museum from 9:00 a.m. to Noon.

Organizations, clubs, companies, and non-profits, among others will be sharing information about summer camps, student-centered activities, and other summer happenings at the Showcase. Whether you are looking for artistic outlets, growing a garden, developing leadership opportunities or just finding a way to keep cool in the summer heat—the Summer Showcase is the place to explore all your options. Many of the events and offerings are free or low-cost, and the Summer Showcase is a perfect time to find out what’s going on in our community this summer.

At the Cinco de Mayo themed event, families will enjoy food catered from George’s Restaurant,  get free prizes from the various organizations represented, be entertained by a variety of activities and performances, and most importantly, get information on summer activities for youth of all ages.

The event is open to all of the Waco area community. It is never too early to see what’s happening in the community to help you make the most informed plans for the summer.

As the hard work of another school year comes to an end, it reminds me so fondly of my summers at the Hawthorne Youth Center and what a difference those experiences had in my life.

Waco ISD hopes to share some of those exciting opportunities to the community through the Summer Showcase! So, we hope to see you on May 5 at the Mayborn Museum from 9:00 to Noon!

Happy Summer everyone!

Larry Carpenter is the Director of Fine Arts for Waco ISD. Having been with WISD for 18 of his 24 years in education, he has served WISD as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant director of Advanced Academics and now Director of Fine Arts.


WISD Empowerment Summits inspire Young Leaders

By Aranza Torres and Jon Singletary

With a commitment to inspiring, guiding, and connecting young leaders in Waco ISD, Superintendent Marcus Nelson introduced the first Empowerment Summits for Young Men and Young Women.  Campus staff and administrators identified approximately 450 students in grades seven through 12 as future leaders from seven Waco ISD campuses.

Students had the opportunity to hear from local experts in the medical, legal and educational fields on topics ranging from managing stress, social media, sexual violence, college access and leadership development during panel-style discussions. At the Women’s Empowerment Summit, Jolanda Jones, a Houston ISD trustee, former city council member, author, attorney and former All-American athlete and member of the United States track and field team, served as the keynote speaker. Jones was also a former contestant on “Survivor” and star of WEtv’s “Sisters in Law.”

Jaime Carias, the keynote speaker for the men, is the Civic Engagement Coordinator at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Carias is also a leading urban educator, author and national speaker who is well known for his ability to inspire and educate students of all ages.

 Approximately 75 men and women from the Central Texas area representing various professions and community organizations volunteered as table hosts to provide a strong leadership presence and facilitate conversations with the attendees. The following reflections are from two of our table hosts. – Robin McDurham, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services & Family Engagement

Empowerment Summit for Young Women

As a college recruiter, I have the privilege of walking students and families through the transition from high school to college. Occasionally I am given the opportunity to participate in community events such as the Waco ISD Young Women’s Empowerment Summit on February 23rd. As a table host, I had the pleasure of meeting 8 wonderful young leaders who were hand-selected by their campuses to participate in the summit. Our table included students from different campuses and of varying grade levels. It was great to witness them get to know one another, share related experiences and provide advice and encouragement. I was thrilled to hear of the many ways these bright young women demonstrate their leadership through school clubs, dual credit classes, athletics and additional community opportunities.

I enjoyed the time I spent with my group and gained new insights thanks to the excellent speakers. The panelists covered a number of relevant topics including; social media, sexual violence and consent, college readiness, stress management and personal development. They were able to offer concrete advice and action steps students could take now. One of my personal highlights of the morning was the keynote speaker, Jolanda Jones, whose powerful and resilient life experiences are a testament to the power of hard work and the importance of finding confidence in one’s self. I feel very lucky to have been invited to the summit and have shared this time with my group.

Young leaders are one of the best elements of our school campuses. Recognizing them in our community and investing in them is imperative. Ensuring that they feel supported and heard will serve to encourage their growth. We will look to these young leaders as they move to their next grade level, the college of their choice and contribute to our community. No matter where these young women end up I am confident that they will be hard-working and successful.  – Aranza Torres

Empowerment Summit for Young Men

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a few local leaders on a panel as part of Dr. Marcus Nelson’s inaugural Young Men’s Empowerment Summit. Some eyes may have been on us, the panelists, but our eyes were on the amazing gathering of men in the room that day. Not only did three dozen men from Central Texas, representing a wide range of professions from accounting and law to medicine and ministry, come together in support of men’s empowerment, but more importantly were the 200 young men from Waco ISD schools who gathered. As those of us on the panel looked out on that room, we noticed the pride and confidence of the men, and the potential and hope that they represent. Too few young men in today’s culture are invited to reflect on the value of their past and even fewer have a clear expression of hope for their future. On that day, I saw that perspective shift in dozens of middle and high school men. As the panel reflected on social challenges from technology to sexuality, and as our guest speaker, Jaime Carias, shared his own journey of struggle and hope, these young men laughed, their eyes lit up, and they looked ahead at what their lives might hold. And, if this event is a glimpse of the future that Waco has with the leadership of these youth and the leadership of Dr. Nelson, then our future together is bright indeed.  – Jon Singletary

Aranza Torres has lived in Waco for a majority of her life (21 years!). She is a University High School graduate who continued her education out of state at Goshen College located in Goshen, IN. After graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work she returned to Waco to give back to her local community. She is currently a Recruiter and Dual Credit Advisor at McLennan Community College. In her spare time she enjoys being a part of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, Advisor to the MCC Hispanic Student Association, doing puzzles and spending time with her two large pitbull puppies (they’re not really puppies).

Jon Singletary, PhD, MSW, MDiv, is dean and professor of the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. He has served on faculty at Baylor since 2003.   His wife teaches at Hillcrest PDS in Waco ISD and their children attend the Atlas Academy at Tennyson Middle School and Waco High School.

It Begins At Home

(Para leer este artículo en español, haz clic aquí.)

By Jaime Carias

Over the past decade, I have had the honor and privilege of working with parents across the country from all walks of life. Working with parents at different schools and community centers has impacted my outlook on family engagement. Every experience in my line of work has reinforced my belief in the importance of parent engagement during their children’s K-12 educational journey. The earlier that we work with parents to demonstrate the value that they bring to the educational success of their children, the better chance we have at keeping them engaged.

Parents always ask me, “Mr. Carias who do you like to work with the most? Our children, their teachers, or us parents?” To which I reply, “I enjoy working with everyone.” In order for our children to succeed in and out of the classroom and pursue a college education, all three teams: students, parents, and teachers need to work collaboratively and not against each other. Communication is key towards establishing trust amongst all three teams. Parents continue to ask me, “but if you had to choose one group to work with who would you choose?” When asked that question again (it has happened multiple times) I can’t help but stop and look at the parents asking me this question. The answer is simple: I enjoy working with parents. I am a firm believer that student success begins at home, and I have made it my personal commitment to work with parents across the country to help change the toxic narrative that parents do not care to be involved. For so many years this false narrative has hindered underrepresented communities and students of color by being portrayed as disinterested in education. Instead, educators need to create opportunities for parents to become involved. Most importantly, educators must help parents understand the value that being involved brings to their children’s personal, academic, and professional success.

In our book “Buscando Vida, Encontrando Exito: La Fuerza de La Cultura Latina en la Educacion” (Accomplishing Success: Supporting Our Children with The Power of Culture) we highlight the journey and obstacles parents encounter when discussing educational success, educational goals, college enrollment, and career paths with their children. It’s not unusual for low-income families to fail to understand why their sons or daughters might want to go away for college. Our book is a practical guide meant to help parents understand how to become proactive advocates in their children’s educational journey. The influence of family on a student’s college-going decision is huge. Other times, parents are not involved at all and the student is left on their own to make very difficult decisions. Through our research, we have discovered that parents want their children to succeed in school, yet very few of them fully comprehend the role that they play in helping their children fulfill that vision. In my presentations, I seek to change this narrative. I focus on having parents understand the value of developing growth mindsets to create college-going cultures in their homes. Changing the narrative from a fixed-mindset to a growth-mindset allows parents to understand the value of continuous learning and family engagement. As educators, we have to develop culturally competent programming for parents of color so that they can feel welcome and can actively participate in the K-12 school system.

I am very excited to visit Waco ISD for student and parent programming. As a first-generation college student who was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles by Guatemalan parents, I understand the struggle and journey of the students and parents I will be serving this week in WISD. Collectively we will continue to work together to provide the opportunities parents seek for their children. Our children need to thrive and not just survive in the world of the 21st century. We need to remember that it all starts at home, as we move forward and develop student and parent programming. We are all equally invested in the future success of our youth; educators and parents need to collectively work together towards that common goal. I look forward to meeting everyone in the WISD.

Jaime Carias was born and raised in the low-income community of South Central Los Angeles to Guatemalan immigrant parents and has dedicated his entire career to helping young people and parents seek better opportunities in school and in life. Carias has been featured on several national and local media outlets for his work developing educational and community-engaging programs aimed at creating access to higher education and empowering underserved communities across the country like his.



Empieza En El Hogar

(To read this post in English, Click here. )

Por Jaime Carias

Durante la última década, he tenido el honor y el privilegio de trabajar con padres por todo el país que vienen de todos los caminos de la vida. Trabajando con los padres en diferentes escuelas y centros comunitarios ha impactado mi perspectiva sobre la participación familiar. Cada experiencia en mi línea de trabajo ha reforzado mi creencia en la importancia de la participación de los padres durante el viaje educativo K-12 de sus hijos. Entre mas pronto trabajemos con los padres para demostrar el valor que aportan al éxito educativo de sus hijos, mas posibilidad tenemos para mantenerlos comprometidos.

Los padres siempre me preguntan, “Sr. Carias, ¿con quién le gusta trabajar más? ¿Con nuestros hijos, con los maestros, o con nosotros los padres?” A lo que les respondo: “Me gusta trabajar con todos.” Para que nuestros hijos tengan éxito dentro y fuera del salón y persigan una educación universitaria, los tres equipos: los estudiantes, los padres y los maestros necesitan que trabajar en colaboración y no uno contra el otro. La comunicación es clave para establecer la confianza entre los tres equipos. Los padres continúan a preguntarme, “Pero si tuvieras que elegir un grupo con quien trabajar, ¿a quién elegirías?” Cuando me preguntan esa pregunta nuevamente (que ha sucedido varias veces) no puedo evitar pararme y mirar a los padres que me están preguntando. La respuesta es simple: me gusta trabajar con los padres. Creo firmemente que el éxito estudiantil comienza en la casa, y me he comprometido personalmente a trabajar con los padres de todo el país para ayudar a cambiar la narrativa tóxica que a los padres no les importa participar en la educación de sus hijos. Durante muchos años, esta narrativa falsa ha obstaculizado a las comunidades de color, al ser retratadas como comunidades desinteresadas ​​en la educación formal. En cambio, los educadores necesitan que crear oportunidades para que los padres participen. Aun más importante, es que los educadores deben de ayudar a los padres comprender el valor que ser involucrados le inculca al éxito personal, académico y profesional de sus hijos.

En nuestro libro “Buscando Vida, Encontrando Éxito: La Fuerza de la Cultura Latina en la Educación”, destacamos el viaje y los obstáculos que enfrentan los padres cuando hablan sobre el éxito educativo, la matriculación universitaria, y las trayectorias profesionales con los hijos. No es inusual que las familias de bajos ingresos no comprendan la razón por la cual los hijos o hijas se salen de la casa para asistir la universidad. Nuestro libro es una guía práctica para ayudar a los padres a entender cómo convertirse en partidarios proactivos en el camino educativo de sus hijos. La influencia de la familia en la decisión de asistir la universidad es enorme para los estudiantes. Otras veces, los padres no participan y el estudiante se queda solo para tomar estas decisiones tan difíciles. A través de nuestras investigaciones, hemos descubierto que los padres quieren que sus hijos tengan éxito en la escuela. Sin embargo, muy pocos de ellos comprenden el papel que juegan en cumplir esta visión con sus hijos. En mis presentaciones, busco cambiar esta narrativa. Me enfoco en convencer a los padres sobre el valor de desarrollar una mentalidad de crecimiento para crear culturas universitarias en sus hogares. Cambiar la narrativa de una mentalidad fija a una mentalidad de crecimiento permite a los padres comprender el valor del aprendizaje continuo y la participación familiar. Como educadores, tenemos que desarrollar una programación culturalmente competente para los padres de color para que se sientan bienvenidos y puedan participar activamente en el sistema escolar K-12.

Estoy muy emocionado por mi visita al distrito Waco, donde entregare mi programación para padres y estudiantes. Como estudiante universitario de primera generación que nació y se crió en South Central Los Ángeles por padres de Guatemala, entiendo la lucha y viaje de los estudiantes y los padres que voy a servir esta semana en el distrito Waco. Continuaremos a trabajando juntos para brindar las oportunidades de éxito que los padres buscan para sus hijos. Nuestros hijos necesitan prosperar y no solo sobrevivir en el mundo del siglo 21. Mientras los educadores desarrollan programación para los padres y estudiantes, debemos de acordarnos que todo empieza en la casa. Todos estamos igualmente invertidos en el futuro éxito de nuestra juventud; los educadores y los padres deben de trabajar juntos para alcanzar ese objetivo común. Espero conocer a todos durante mi visita al distrito Waco.

Jaime Carias nació y fue criado en el Sur Centro de Los Angeles por dos inmigrantes Guatemaltecos. Ha dedicado toda su carrera a ayudar a jóvenes y padres en la búsqueda de mejores oportunidades en la escuela y en la vida. Carias ha aparecido en varios medios de comunicación nacionales y locales por su trabajo en el desarrollo de programas educativos y programas de comunidad que crean acceso a la educación superior y apodera a las comunidades desatendidas en este país.

Brook Avenue Elementary: Living into Excellence

By Hannah Rigg

A neighborhood school.  Each morning children are dropped off at the front entrance of Brook Avenue Elementary School and personally greeted by Brook Avenue staff as they make their way to their classrooms.  Each afternoon, those same families are congregated outside of the school waiting to walk home with their children.  This is what a neighborhood school looks like.

Brook Avenue is in the second year under the leadership of Principal Sarah Pedrotti and Assistant Principal Jessica Torres.  They are faced with the challenge of leading Brook Avenue out of the Improvement Required status as set by Texas Education Agency (TEA).  You may have read recently that Brook Avenue is one of the five Waco ISD campuses that is at risk of closure at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.  Although the threat of closure is one reality, excellence is the reality that Brook Avenue is living into.  To ensure excellence, it will take the full dedication of this Waco community.

In the three full months that I have been working at Brook Avenue, I have experienced a transformed campus.  Students are provided with opportunities to improve their reading skills through CIS groups, Kids Hope USA mentors, and literacy groups with staff.  Students receive a book on their birthday.

When students miss class, they miss instruction time with their teacher and classroom engagement. We need our students in the classroom actively engaging in the work they are completing to ensure increased test scores. At Brook Avenue, attendance is rewarded at each six-week period in order to encourage students to come to school consistently.

Communication between the school and community has increased, and so has the level of involvement.

Brook Avenue is redefining itself as a neighborhood school where families and community members are invited onto campus.  The first Tuesday of each month you will find a group of parents gathered in the lunchroom for Coffee and Conversations.  The November meeting was filled with determination as parents refuse to allow Brook Avenue to fall below standards for another consecutive year. Every parent in attendance signed up to volunteer to read with students or to support teachers by completing preparation activities.

As Brook Avenue continues to work towards success, they are creatively supported by their new staff provided by the Texas Title I Priority Schools (TTIPS) Grant, Columbus Avenue Baptist Church (Kids Hope USA Mentors), Communities in Schools (CIS), Klaras Center for Families, and the BEAR (Be Emotionally Aware and Responsive) Project. Each agency has responded zealously to the call for improvement this school year.

The TTIPS grant has allowed Brook Avenue to become a campus of innovation. Initiated by parents and funded by the TTIPS Grant, an outdoor classroom will be created in the back of the school allowing teachers to uniquely engage their students during lessons.  And, a Maker’s Space allows students to utilize creativity as they bring their learning to life. The TTIPS grant made it possible to purchase one iPad for each student to promote technological learning.  It also heled support non-traditional seating options for classrooms so that the classroom can be arranged to better suit the learning styles of the children.  The grant has also enabled additional learning trips for all students.  These trips give students an opportunity to make connections between their classroom learning and hands on real-world experience. As a campus, we are honored that the state has recognized Brook Avenue as a priority for receiving this funding and it is essential that our community recognize Brook Avenue as a priority as well.

Look for the hashtag #BrAveLearns on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook throughout the year as we watch Brook Avenue achieve success. Our students are learning, our teachers are engaging, and our community is behind us.  The next time you see Brook Avenue Elementary School in the news, look for their accomplishments.

Hannah Rigg is a student in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and serves as a social work intern on campus at Brook Avenue and West Avenue Elementary Schools through the BEAR Project.  She has been living in Waco for two years and loves exploring this city.