District IV Waco City Council vacancy filing process announced

The application filing period has begun for the District IV Waco City Council vacancy. It will end at 5 pm Tuesday, Jan. 3. 

Eligible applicants must have resided in the City of Waco for 12 months and in District IV for at least six months. The City Council will interview applicants Tuesday, Jan. 10.

Vacant seats on City Council are filled by a majority vote of the remaining members for the unexpired term or until the next City general election. The oath of office for the appointee is planned for Jan. 17 during the City Council’s regular meeting.

Applications should be filed with the city secretary at 300 Austin Ave., first floor of City Hall. Contact the City Secretary’s Office 8 am-5 pm Monday-Friday at 254-750-5750 to schedule an appointment, or the applications can be scanned and emailed to [email protected].

Amazon chooses MCC, Tarleton, Tech as education partners for Career Choice program

Amazon’s Career Choice program has chosen McLennan Community College, Tarleton State University-Waco, and Texas Tech University as education partners for its Career Choice program, which provides Amazon’s hourly employees access to associate degrees, certifications, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees.

Image from Amazon’s Career Choice website.

Career Choice is an education benefit that enables employees to learn new skills for career success. The program allows employees to advance their education through a variety of “upskilling opportunities,” including pre-paid college tuition and industry certifications for in-demand jobs, an MCC release said. It also promotes “foundational skills,” such as English proficiency, high school diplomas, and GEDs.

Amazon is investing $1.2 billion in the United States to “upskill more than 300,000 employees by 2025 to help move them into higher-paying, in-demand jobs,” the release said.

“McLennan Community College is pleased to partner with Amazon for the Amazon Career Choice program, which will provide educational opportunity for our local citizens,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “We desire to be a catalyst for our community members to invest in a better life for their families and to support economic development.” The program is an example of the commitments by MCC, Tarleton, and Tech to “provide our community with an educated workforce. We look forward to our relationship with Amazon.”

Tarleton President James Hurley said: “We’re proud to partner with MCC to offer flexible academic programming for Amazon employees. Collaborations like this perfectly complement our 123-year commitment to educational opportunity and access for all students. Amazon employees will advance their careers, and North Central Texas will prosper.”

Brian Still, vice provost for e-learning and academic partnerships at Texas Tech, said: “Our partnerships with McLennan and in Waco are strong. It’s because of these strong partnerships that Texas Tech is joining this program in Waco. Amazon employees participating in the Career Choice program in the area can feel confident they are receiving a top-notch education.”

With about 8,000 students per semester, MCC offers more than 140 degrees, certificates, and occupational skills awards at an affordable cost with flexible class schedules on a 275-acre campus adjacent to Cameron Park and the Bosque River. Learn more at www.mclennan.edu.

In 2001, MCC established its University Center to offer MCC students opportunities to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees on the MCC campus through distinguished partners like Tarleton and Texas Tech University. Students take their basic courses at MCC, transfer those credits to a University Center partner, and complete a fully-accredited bachelor’s degree that is no different from the degrees earned at the universities’ home campuses. MCC’s University Center makes earning an affordable bachelor’s degree more attainable without leaving McLennan County. Learn more at www.mclennan.edu/uc.

Tarleton-Waco offers degree programs for working adults in a range of fields with classes in the evenings, daytime, weekends, and online. With more than 1,000 students in 30 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, Tarleton-Waco offers degrees in fields like nursing, criminal justice, social work, education, business, computer information systems, and more. Learn more at www.tarleton.edu/waco.

In Waco, Texas Tech offers a “student-centered atmosphere of a smaller college with the academic resources of a Carnegie ‘very high research activity university.” Texas Tech, a Hispanic Serving Institution, serves more than 200 students with 16 majors and 27 minors offered for undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs on the MCC campus. Among other degree offerings, Texas Tech’s Waco site offers programs in high-demand fields such as communication studies, digital media and professional communication, sociology, biology, human sciences, education and public administration. Learn more at www.depts.ttu.edu/waco.

Amazon’s Career Choice program has a selection process for third-party partner educators, choosing partners that are focused on helping employees through their education programs, assisting them with job placements, and overall offering education that leads to career success.

“We’re looking forward to MCC, Tarleton State University-Waco, and Texas Tech University coming on board as an education partner for Career Choice,” said Tammy Thieman, global program lead of the Amazon program. Hundreds of “best-in-class offerings available to our employees.”

“We’re committed to empowering our employees by providing them access to the education and training they need to grow their careers, whether that’s with us or elsewhere,” Thiamin said. “We have intentionally created a partner network of third-party educators and employers committed to providing excellent education, job placement resources, and continuous improvements to the experience. Today, over 80,000 Amazon employees around the world have participated in Career Choice and we’ve seen first-hand how it can transform their lives.”

For more information on Amazon’s Career Choice, visit: https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/workplace/career-choice.

Virtual open house for Franklin Avenue improvements

The Texas Department of Transportation is proposing improvements to Spur 298 (Franklin Avenue) from SH 6 to SL 398 (Valley Mills Drive) in McLennan County and is offering a “virtual open house” now through Thursday, Dec. 8, on the public meeting webpage. 

This is not a live event, but the materials can be viewed at your convenience.

Additionally, TxDOT providied an in-person meeting Wednesday, Nov. 16, at SpringHill Suites in Woodway.

TxDOT invites you to learn more and share your comments on the proposed improvements. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Michael Rhodes, Environmental Coordinator, Waco District at 254-867-2739 or [email protected].

Brook Avenue students give 288 pairs of socks to Mission Waco homeless shelter

By Josh Wucher

Brook Avenue Elementary School students hope their “Socktober” service project brings winter relief to Mission Waco’s My Brother’s Keeper Homeless Shelter. Students collected and donated 288 pairs of socks to the organization.

Brook Avenue Elementary gifted and talented students, teacher Diane Sriram, and Mission Waco’s groups director Libby Barnhill stand in front of the Mission Waco van before donating 288 pairs of socks the campus collected for its “Socktober” project.

“We’re helping people live, and it makes me feel good,” said Ezra Watson, a second grader.

“It feels great because we’re helping the homeless,” said Delvin Dunner, a third grader. “It’s important to me that we take care of them, so they’re not in a worse condition this winter.”

Kindness is Brook Avenue’s theme this school year, which fits well with a goal in Diane Sriram’s gifted and talented class to develop student leaders.

“As leaders, they look for problems either in their school or community and work to develop solutions,” said Sriram. “Our students are very familiar with Mission Waco and what they do in the community. They worked with Mission Waco to come up with an idea, and we did research to find out why socks are important. It’s good because they know what they’ve collected and have an idea of where it’s going and who it’s going to help.”

Libby Barnhill, groups director at Mission Waco, met with students and picked up the socks, which span child and adult sizes. Barnhill says socks are typically a high need for the homeless during the winter. Mission Waco gives many pairs away at the shelter and their December toy store event.

Brook Avenue Elementary first graders show off sock puppets they made during their Socktober service leadership project to collect socks for Mission Waco’s My Brother’s Keeper Homeless Shelter.

“These kids really put in the effort to get socks for their neighbors, their friends, and people right down the road,” said Barnhill. “This is a community taking care of its own community. This many pairs of socks is huge and makes an impact for hundreds of families. So, we are super thankful.”

Sriram said her students were also excited to create Socktober projects, which included sock puppets and tri-fold boards to showcase their research. Second grader Orlyn Quiroz Jr.’s butterfly-winged themed puppet even “flies to the stores to get the socks.”

Josh Wucher is chief communications officer for Transformation Waco.

Cooper recognized for state and national math education leadership 

By Gracie Ozburn

Sandi Cooper, professor in the Baylor School of Education’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction, was selected as the 2022 recipient of the E. Glenadine Gibb Achievement Award. The award honors a member of the Texas Council for Teachers of Mathematics for contributions to the improvement of math education at the state and national levels. Cooper, Ph.D., received the award at the Conference for the Advancement of Math Teaching in San Antonio in the summer.

Dr. Sandi Cooper

She was nominated by two Baylor colleagues — Trena Wilkerson, professor of mathematics education, and Ryann Shelton, lecturer in Baylor’s online Doctor of Education program in learning and organizational change.

“She is an outstanding colleague and offers significant leadership for the entire mathematics education community,” the nomination said. “She is an exemplary scholar, teacher, and leader.”

“It is an honor to work with [Cooper] in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, and her vision and leadership continue to move our department and the University forward,” said Wilkerson, Ph.D. and interim chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction.

In 2016, Wilkerson received the award, which is named after E. Glenadine Gibb, former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a leader in math education in Texas. Wilkerson said Gibb was known as a visionary. “I think that captures Dr. Cooper perfectly. She is a visionary!”

Cooper has been a longtime member of both the national and state math teachers organizations and served as president of Texas body 2017-2019. She was also president of the Central Texas affiliate 2012-2014.

She earned her Ph.D. in math education at Texas A&M University in 1994 and is professor of mathematics education, coordinator of mathematics education, and coordinator of the SOE’s minor in informal education. She was the founding program director of the online Ed.D. in learning and organizational change, Baylor’s largest doctoral program.

Cooper’s main research focus is related to early number development of children in PreK to second grade and the effectiveness of teachers who teach these early learners. She has applied her research to founding and leading the Math for Early Learners Academy, a summer intervention program launched in 2016 to provide positive learning experiences while developing early number concepts for children entering kindergarten and first grade. The MELA research team is developing a curriculum and assessments customized for early interventions.

In her acceptance speech at TCTM, Cooper spoke about how thankful she is for the recognition and for the hope and promise she saw in the roomful of math educators.

“I am honored,” Cooper said. “I became a math teacher in 1985, and I have loved every minute of it. We all know we are facing a crisis in education right now. When I look out and see you, I have hope. You are here spending your time learning, and you’re going to go back and take this information to help your school grow. Thank you for what you are doing in your classrooms and schools. You are really the true champions, and I am honored to be a part of this profession.”

A longer version of this story can be read on the Baylor School of Education’s Instant Impact page.

Waco Wonderland Parade sign-up open until Nov. 28

Join the 2022 Waco Wonderland Parade and help spread some holiday cheer!

The City of Waco announced that entries are now being accepted for the annual holiday parade, which returns to downtown Waco Saturday, Dec. 3. If you know a group or organization that would be interested in this opportunity, please let them know. There is no cost to participate.

Presented by the Family of Faith WC Waco, the parade begins at 10 a.m. and travels down Austin Avenue, from 11th Street to 3rd Street.

Registration forms are due by Monday, Nov. 28, and can be downloaded at wacowonderland.com/parade.

Mayborn becomes first Smithsonian affiliate in Central Texas

The Mayborn Museum announces its new status as a Smithsonian Affiliate. The museum joins a network of more than 200 Smithsonian Affiliates in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Panama. The Mayborn will now be the Central Texas connection to the Smithsonian and its many resources. This recognition makes The Mayborn Museum one of 13 Smithsonian Affiliates in Texas and the only one in Central Texas.

“Smithsonian Affiliates are collaborators on many Smithsonian strategic priorities, adding local content, context, and expertise to help tell a fuller story,” said Myriam Springuel, director of Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Smithsonian Affiliations. “Including the Mayborn in our Affiliate network provides greater access to the rich history and culture of Central Texas and we look forward to creating experiences that align those stories with national initiatives at the Smithsonian.” 

Smithsonian Affiliates represent the diversity of America’s museum community and serve all audiences. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the Mayborn will have the opportunity to collaborate on unique, public programs and workshops, professional development opportunities, co-develop youth programs, host traveling exhibitions, borrow artifacts, and co-host public lectures by Smithsonian scholars. 

As part of the first phase of collaboration, the Mayborn is bringing the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership Program to Waco. The initiative works with local schools to empower young people to act on environmental issues. With support from the Smithsonian, the Mayborn will develop young people’s leadership skills with the goal of inspiring climate-literate leaders in Central Texas. Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership for Sustainable Communities is funded in part by a Jeff Bezos gift to the National Air and Space Museum.

“Our partnership with the Smithsonian will facilitate new exhibits and programs for our visitors that will inspire a deeper understanding of our world and how it can be changed for the better,” said Charlie Walter, executive director of the Mayborn.

Dr Pepper Museum marks first year of civil rights exhibit; new Bottling Room exhibit coming

By Mary Beth Farrell

November marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of the “Sit Down to Take a Stand” Waco lunch counter exhibit at the Dr Pepper Museum. The lessons learned in the process of creating this exhibit and living with its impact have shaped the staff and board in ways we could not have anticipated.

At last year’s ribbon cutting (l-r): Dr. Stephen Sloan, director of the Institute of Oral History at Baylor University; Autumn Outlaw, 2021 Dr Pepper Museum board chair; Rachel Pate, VP of economic development with Center-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce; Joy Summar-Smith, associate director of the museum; Gary Myles, museum board; Cherry Boggess, featured in “Sit Down to Take a Stand”; Daisy Joe, widow of Arthur Fred Joe Sr., featured in “Sit Down to Take a Stand”; Dexter Hall, museum board, Anthony Betters Sr., 2022 museum board chair; Chris Dyer, president and CEO of the museum; Blaine McCormick, 2021 museum board.

Thank you to our exhibit committee members – Dexter Hall, Anthony Betters Sr., Gary Myles, Dr. Stephen Sloan, and Joy Summar-Smith – for leading us to a better understanding of the influence our Soda Fountain could have on visitors.

Over 2.7 million visitors have come to the museum since we opened in 1991, and the Soda Fountain – the original home of the Dr Pepper float – has been a favorite part of the experience for so many. However, before the civil rights movement, people of color were denied service at locations throughout Waco, including local soda fountains.

In the reexamination of our exhibits and the stories they tell, we realized the nostalgia surrounding soda fountains that people found in our space was not substantive enough to carry us through the next 31 years. The result of this reflection is “Sit Down to Take a Stand,” a recreated lunch counter that features audio from local sit-in participants, video from sit-ins in Houston, and photographs from across the South creating a moving, immersive experience for museum visitors.

The exhibit is in the Soda Fountain so all visitors can access it without paying admission. The Soda
Fountain was also redesigned with a 1960s theme to reflect a time when all patrons were welcome while keeping the vintage feel visitors expect.

“Sit Down to Take a Stand” is only the beginning. In February 2023, the most iconic space in the Museum – the historic Bottling Room – will reopen to the public featuring the stories of the workers who operated the bottling plant. Unfortunately, this exhibit hasn’t been updated since the museum opened in 1991 and currently tells the story of nostalgia from the perspective of those running the company, largely leaving out the contributions of everyday workers.

If you have never visited the museum or it’s been a while since you’ve stopped by, now is the time! In addition to telling the stories of Dr Pepper and the soft drink industry in a way we have never done before, the experiences the museum has to offer are one-of-a-kind. Make-A-Soda, Taste-A-Soda, the Extreme Pepper Experience, and the Paranormal Experience take your visit to the next level.

To support the historic Bottling Room renovation, visit our website and donate to our annual Challenge Grant. Our Challenge Grant goes to the preservation of our historic buildings and our collection. With every dollar donated, Keurig Dr Pepper will match the donations up to $100,000.

Mary Beth Farrell is director of development & communications for the Dr Pepper Museum.

New CREW in town; MCC fights basic needs insecurities among students

By Clara Lincicome

College students often face circumstances that make pursuing their education especially challenging. An online student at McLennan Community College recently let the school know that a broken had prevented him from finishing a semester.

Shanna Rogers is project director for MCC’s Campus Resources Education Web (CREW), which is a program to help students struggling to meet their basic needs. Rogers learned of the student’s broken laptop and connected him to the library, which had recently received a grant to lend laptops to students in such situations. The student had no form of transportation, so Rogers drove the laptop to him in Killeen.

“When he got the laptop he got reinvigorated,” she said. “He was able to get back on his feet.”

CREW is funded by a federal grant and is MCC’s latest initiative to support students with their nonacademic needs. CREW “strives to ensure every student who wants an education can receive one without being hindered by basic needs insecurities.”

CREW meets with students and faculty on an individual basis to assess their needs and connect them to a resource that can help, ranging from child care, to groceries, to gas money. 

Another resource CREW provides is Paulanne’s Pantry – a stop-and-go place to shop for free groceries. Shoppers at the pantry are given autonomy to select their food, rather than given a bag of miscellaneous items. On the backend, CREW orders food and gets shipments twice a month to fill the pantry. Student volunteers are also a part of keeping the pantry stocked.

Not only does CREW offer their own resources, they also partner with other organizations in Waco and McLennan County to best serve students.

“We work to connect them with different resources off campus,” Rogers said. “That means learning about the resources, but also building those relationships with the resources off campus so we know that we have them. For instance, Shepherd’s Heart.”

Shepherd’s Heart is a food pantry in Waco that provides the community with free groceries through mobile distribution, hosting food pantries in four local schools and delivering groceries to seniors.

“We have Shepherd’s Heart that comes on to campus now to help deliver food to students, faculty, staff, or anyone in the community that could use it,” Rogers said. “It provides a location where students don’t need to drive all over town to get food.”

CREW hosted a Resource Fair Sept. 15, where dozens of organizations from the Waco area came to MCC’s campus to talk to students about what they provide.

In addition, the first “Third Thursday Thoroughfare” will be hosted in the Student Life Center Oct. 20, where several local resources are going to be available to talk to students over lunch about their services, the student’s eligibility, and how they can apply.

CREW hopes to remove any stigma around using available resources. Emma Cartisano, a doctoral intern for student engagement at MCC, researches stigma in her study of higher education. 

“The biggest act towards removing stigma is by talking about it,” she said. “Stigma gains its power through silence. As much as we can, we will talk about resources available for students. There is no shame in using them.”

Rogers noted that many students need help, which is why MCC is dedicated to the effort. “I haven’t met many college students who haven’t needed extra help,” she said. “Usually the ones who don’t need help are the exception to the rule, not the rule.”

For more information, check out the webpage.

Clara Lincicome is a senior journalism major on the PR track at Baylor University from Washington state. Her minors are corporate communication and leadership studies. She is a PR intern for the Department of Marketing and Communication at McLennan Community College and a tour guide for Baylor University.

ALW Book Club: Next up is Freedom Colonies

By Ashley Bean Thornton

The next gathering of the Act Locally Waco Book Club is Jan 10, 6-8 pm, at the Good Neighbor House, 2301 Colcord Ave. We’ll be discussing, Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow, by Thad Sitton and James H. Conrad.

Here’s some information about the book:

Freedom Colonies is a history of independent African American settlements in Texas during the Jim Crow era, featuring historical and contemporary photographs.

In the decades after the Civil War, nearly a quarter of African Americans achieved a remarkable victory — they got their own land. While other ex-slaves and many poor whites became trapped in the exploitative sharecropping system, these independence-seeking individuals settled on pockets of unclaimed land that had been deemed too poor for farming and turned them into successful family farms.

In these self-sufficient rural communities, often known as “freedom colonies,” African Americans created a refuge from the discrimination and violence that routinely limited the opportunities of blacks in the Jim Crow South.

Freedom Colonies is the first book to tell the story of these settlements. Sitton and Conrad focus on communities in Texas, where Black residents achieved a higher percentage of land ownership than in any other state of the South. The authors draw on ex-slave narratives, oral histories, written memoirs, and public records to describe how the colonies formed. The authors also recreate the “lifeways” of African Americans who made their living by farming or in skilled trades, such as milling and blacksmithing.

They explain the forces that led to the decline of the communities from the 1930s onward, including economic hard times and the greed of Whites who found legal and illegal means of taking Black-owned land. The authors visit some of the remaining communities to discover how their independent way of life endures into the 21st century.

Stay safe and if you have comments or thoughts, please don’t hesitate! Email us!

Do you have friends who want to join our book club?  Sign up to be on the mailing list here.

Ashley Bean Thornton is the founder of both Act Locally Waco and the Book Club. She still leads the Book Club, and our community is the great beneficiary.