ALW Book Club & future book ideas

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I’m sharing a link to TxCCDN Learners Book Club. The Texas Christian Community Development Network website states: “This book club provides a safe place for the reader to learn and grow on topics such as community development, professional development, racial injustice, poverty, self-growth, and much more. Some of these topics are uncomfortable and at times difficult. Rest assured not one of us knows it all but together we have the opportunity to dialogue and learn from each other.”

Their list of upcoming books may be ones to think about for ALW Book Club.

Here’s the link:

Our next meeting will be March 16 and the book is See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, by Valarie Kaur. Here’s a link to one of her TED talks

We’ll send out meeting details as we get closer.

The May 11 book will be Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath (rain delay, May 25, if needed)

We will take off June, July, and August. 

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

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

New Head Start Director Takes the Reins

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Welcome aboard, Susanne Wilson!

Susanne Wilson was born and raised in Argentina, lived a few years in Europe, but graduated from high school in Sugarland, Texas, and then went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. She claims to be a “Longhorn through and through.” In addition to being a Longhorn, she is now also the new Director of the EOAC Head Start program that serves Waco, as well as locations throughout McLennan and Falls Counties.  She took over the role from long-time Director Debora Jones who retired earlier this year.

Susanne Wilson

Wilson found her passion for working with children and families while doing her student teaching as an education student at UT.  Wilson feels fortunate that after college she found work at one of the largest non-profits in the state, Neighborhood Centers Inc. in Houston (now known as Baker-Ripley).  That is where she got her first job with Head Start, and she has been with Head Start ever since. 

After Houston, Wilson spent a few years up north as director of a program in Michigan, then moved back to Temple, Texas, to be closer to family and to enjoy some warmer weather.  She came to us from Temple.  She started the position at the EOAC Head Start in May.   “Oh my goodness!” She says when asked about starting a new job in the midst of a pandemic. “It has been quite overwhelming, but we are making plans to make it work!”

Dealing with Covid has taken up quite a bit of Wilson’s time since starting.  The health and safety of the children and staff are her first priority.  She has also been taking time to get to know everyone, and to get to know the community and the local program.

What is Head Start?

For those who may not be familiar with Head Start, it is a federally funded school readiness program that began in 1964. It is administered by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Office of Head Start (OHS).

The goal of Head Start, from the beginning as it still is today, is to break the cycle of poverty by helping to close the achievement gap between children who grow up in homes with very little income and those who grow up with more resources.  Head Start is now in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Head Start is actually two programs: “Early Head Start” which serves children 0-3 years old and their families, and “Head Start” which serves children 3-5 years old and their families.  The two programs are collectively known as “Head Start.” Head Start specifically serves low income families.  There is no cost to the families who participate.  Head Start for McLennan and Falls Counties has been managed by the Economic Opportunities Advancement Corporation (EOAC) in Waco for many years.  Early Head Start is typically a year-round program and Head Start typically follows the 10-month school calendar of the local public school system.

What everyone should know about Head Start

What are three things Wilson wishes everyone knew about Head Start?

  1. Head Start works.  It does help to reduce the achievement gap.  It is also very empowering to families.  “We have several parents who are now on staff,” Wilson says. “They started making goals when their children joined Head Start, and now they have completed their education and come back to teach.”
  2. Our teachers are well trained educators. Some of our teachers have an associate degree with a child development credential.  Many have bachelor’s degrees, and some have their master’s degrees. 
  3. Head Start is not simply “day care” or “watching kids.” It is an educational program that works to develop the whole child and to empower parents.

The Head Start approach is positive, individualized learning for the whole child.  Head Start educators develop learning plans to suit each child’s individual needs.  Those plans include social and emotional learning and information about health along with language, literacy, and numeracy. 

Health is a particular emphasis.  Children in Head Start get health and developmental screenings throughout the year and referrals to the appropriate resource if they are at risk.  They get nutritious meals including breakfast, lunch, and a snack.   They learn about how to develop good health habits.  For example, they learn about brushing their teeth and practice brushing their teeth after meals at Head Start. 

Head Start also focuses on family well-being.  Families who participate in Head Start have the option of working with a Child & Family Advocate.  These advocates meet with parents and families and help them set goals.  The advocate then helps the family connect to resources in the community that can help them meet their goals.  Goals might include things like obtaining stable housing, completing a GED, learning English as a second language, or developing job skills.  

Head Start in McLennan County

There are 11 Head Start locations in McLennan County.  Some have both Early Head Start and Head Start, and some have one or the other.  All in all, they serve 112 children in Early Head Start and 823 in Head Start. 

There are three Head Start program options: Collaborations, Center-based, and Home-based.

Collaborations are partnerships with local educational institutions.  EOAC Head Start has eight classrooms that are collaborations, two with Waco Charter School (another project of EOAC), two with Harmony Science Academy, and four with Waco ISD.  “We love to collaborate so that we are maximizing resources,” says Wilson. “At the collaboration locations the children are dual enrolled in the Head Start program and the program at the location.  We have teachers working together from both programs.  Our Head Start teachers co-teach with the Waco ISD teachers in the same classroom, for example.”

The rest of the classrooms are center-based programs.  They are housed in stand-alone locations throughout Waco, Marlin, Mart, Moody, and one on TSTC campus through December 2020.

Another option that works well for some families, is the home-based program.  In this program, visiting educators (home visitors) come to the participating student’s home once a week and provide coaching and lesson plans to the parents/guardians.  The visiting educators help the family work with what they have around the home to educate the child.  Twice a month the families in the home-based program get together for a group activity.  Currently there are 12 Early Head Start and 24 Head Start slots in the home-based program.

What does the new school year look like for Head Start?

Since Head Start follows the local school district calendar, the new Head Start year has been pushed back to September 8 to match the new Waco ISD School year.  Also, just like in WISD, Head Start parents will have the option of virtual or in person instruction.  Virtual instruction will build on the skills learned during their 2020 summer school program.  The summer school program served about 60 4-year-old children.  They provided each child with a tablet (Ignite by Hatch) to use in their home. They trained parents on how to use Zoom and then provided the children with individual instruction via Zoom two times per week with small group instruction with their peers via Zoom on a third day.  

There will be some scheduling changes this fall due to Covid.  At the center-based programs Head Start would normally have all children five days a week.  Instead, to transition children and teachers back to school during  September, there will be two groups to allow social distancing.  One group will come on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group will come on Thursdays and Fridays.  That will leave Wednesday for cleaning and planning. If all goes well, they hope to be able to expand the days  in October and for the rest of the year.  

Normally, the hours at the centers would be 7-4:00 for working parents and 8-2:30 for parents who are not working.  Due to Covid, and to help with the transition back to school,  the hours for everyone will be 7:30 to 12:30 for now.  The program will evaluate whether or not to expand days and hours on a site by site and week by week basis.  

Collaboration classrooms will follow the same schedule as the collaborating institution.

What does the Future hold for Head Start?

Thanks to Covid, Wilson hasn’t had as much time to think about the future at this point as she would have liked.  But she does have a few ideas percolating.  She would like to form partnerships as much as possible, both with educational institutions and with other service providers in the community.   She doesn’t want to duplicate services.  Instead she wants to ensure families are referred to resources available in the community.

Wilson wants to be very responsive to community needs.  She plans to update the Head Start community assessment soon.  Depending on what they find out from the assessment, she might consider a teen parent program or more support for homeless families or children in foster care.  She wants EOAC Head Start to be a program that staff and the community are proud to work at and to call their own.

How to enroll in Head Start

Head Start enrolls year-round.  There are several spots open now.  To apply you can go to  From there, click on “Head Start” in the menu at the top of the page.  Then click on Head Start Parent Portal.   Create a Username and Password and enter your information.

You can also apply in person by completing a form at any Head Start location.   

If you have questions call 254-753-0331.  To speak to Susanne Wilson directly, the extension is 1800.

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 is retired from Baylor works part time helping to organize after school programs for Transformation Waco. 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 [email protected] for more information.

Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018

by Ashley Bean Thornton

One of my favorite things to do in the world is edit the Act Locally Waco blog.

December is a wonderful, but hectic, month for most of us so I thought it might be nice to give my beautiful bloggers a month to focus on family, friends and the joys of the holidays rather than on meeting our blog deadlines.  So, for the month of December we will have one or two new posts, but mainly we will be reprising “2018’s greatest hits.”

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 list inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… but of course they couldn’t all be in the list of the 10 most opened. I would love for you to reply in the comments or on the Facebook page with a note about some of your favorites.

We will be reposting these in the next few weeks between now and the new year — but I know some of you are “list” people who would like to see them all at once.  So, I offer the list below, with thanks to everyone who has written for the blog this year, with pride in what we have created together, and with no small amount of wonder at the beautiful complexity that makes up our beloved community!  Enjoy!

Think of it as a Christmas present from your community to you, and invitation for you to write in 2019! – ABT

  1. I admit it…I did not want to go to the March for our Lives  by Ashley Bean Thornton (676)
  2. Downtown Dwellers: Waco Cha Launch  by Jaja Chen (561)
  3. What is “Co-working space?” and Why does Waco need it?  By Caroline Thornton (415)
  4. Ascension Medical Mission at Home, brought to you by Providence by Paige Reinke (394)
  5. “What Were You Wearing, Waco?” by Berkeley Anderson and Geneece Goertzen (348)
  6. Human Trafficking: 5 Things You Need to Know  by Kim Millington (323)
  7. What’s a Community Health Worker? By Christy Perkins (323)
  8. Jacob deCordova: Founding Father of Waco by Monica Shannon (312)
  9. Faith in Action Initiatives provides medical supplies & equipment for non-profits By Matthew Hoffman (311)
  10. Want to have a great time in Waco? There’s an app for that! By Karen Rios (287)

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 [email protected]  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 [email protected] for more information.



2018 Greatest Hits #1: I admit it…I did not want to go to the March for our Lives

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 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: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT)

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I went to the “March for our Lives” rally Saturday, but I did not really want to go.

I do not like political rallies and protest marches.

Sure, I can appreciate a clever sign and an inspiring speech as much as anyone, but once the initial emotional high has worn off, I feel bad.

I want to believe people can work together to understand each other’s points of view and to find a way forward together when it comes to difficult issues.  Once the PA system and the signs come out, however, I feel like we aren’t trying to understand each other and work together any more…we are trying to make sure our side wins.

I have a democrat sticker on my car and I have heard people say that means I hate guns.  I don’t hate guns. I would characterize my feeling toward guns as neutral.

I don’t personally own a gun. They are not interesting to me, so I spend my money on other things.   Also, I am pretty much blind in one eye…the one you need for shooting it turns out.  So, there’s that.

But, I don’t hate guns. Many of my friends have guns for all kinds of different reasons… hunting, protection, fun.  I don’t have any problem with that.  I don’t have any problem with you carrying your gun in your purse or your pocket or your holster or your pick-up truck.  If you are not using your guns to shoot innocent people, and you are keeping your guns away from little kids, then I don’t have any problem with your guns.

I do not hate guns.  Most of the time I don’t even care about or think about guns.

One reason I have the luxury of not caring about guns is that most of the people who do own guns are very responsible with their guns.  Most gun owners are responsible. I get that.

I also get that responsible people don’t like having their rights and privileges abridged because of the behavior of irresponsible people.  I don’t want my car taken away because someone else drinks and drives.   I don’t want my cell phone taken away because someone else texts and drives.  You don’t want your guns taken away or your gun ownership made inconvenient because some other guy was irresponsible.  I get that.

Also, I believe that some (maybe most) gun owners “get” some of things that are important to me.   For example, I am fine with a whole lot of people having guns, but there are some exceptions.  I am not fine with unsupervised teenagers having guns that can kill people. I am not fine with certain kinds of criminals having guns.  I am not fine with mentally unstable people having guns.

I bet most gun lovers can understand why I believe some people ought not to have guns.   I believe we could have a fruitful conversation about where to draw those lines and how to enforce them. I believe we could make some headway that would keep us all safer.

When it comes to “assault guns” or “AR-15’s” or whatever the right word is for guns that fire many, many bullets incredibly quickly…I don’t like them, but I can understand why some people might not want to have them banned completely.  I bet most gun lovers can understand why I think the standards and rules for owning such a dangerous weapon should be very, very strict.  I bet if we got in a room together with the goal of coming up with rules we could both live with on this matter, we could come up with something that would move us down the road.

There have always been and always will be trade-offs between freedom and safety. We can’t protect ourselves or our children from every harmful person, but we can work together to get better at it than we are doing now. I believe that’s what we should do.   Or more to the point, I believe that is what our elected representatives should be doing in our names.

I don’t really like rallies and marches because I feel like, if we are not careful, they become opportunities for vilifying each other, reinforcing our worst opinions about each other and making it harder than ever to work together.

So why did I go to the “March for our Lives?”  Honestly, I succumbed to peer pressure.  My friends were going, so I did.  And, despite my misgivings, I’m glad I did.

The young people who spoke were magnificent! Smart and poised and well-reasoned, they gave me hope for the future of our country.

Also, bluntly, the way I wish we would work together doesn’t seem to be working.

As I stood in the sun listening to the speeches, I thought about how long we have been trying to figure out how to protect our children and ourselves, and it seemed to me we have made no progress.

As I looked around at the crowd of hundreds in Waco (and the pictures that showed crowds of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands in other cities) I thought, “I guess this is what it takes to make progress. It takes bodies getting out into the street. It takes showing the sheer physical mass of people who care about an issue. This is what it takes to get an issue on the table.”   I understand this is what it takes, and I am so very grateful to those hardworking souls who are making it happen, but I still wonder why … why can’t we just talk? I wish we could.

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 [email protected] for more information.


Delighted by Delight

By Ashley Bean Thornton

There are many things I love about my husband:  he knows how to grill a steak just the way I like it, he does most of the grocery shopping, he brought Mo-town and peppermint ice cream into my life, he’s good looking, etc. etc.

But, if I had to pick the one trait that I love most of all about Mr. Thornton it is that he has a wonderful capacity for delight.  He laughs out loud at the Sunday morning funnies.  When he is reading a good book, he reads the best lines out loud to me. He takes full-hearted joy in watching our dogs zoom around the house. A cookie, an onion ring, the sound of a wind chime, a full moon, clean sheets, warm towels, elephant jokes…he delights me nearly every day by taking delight in things that I might have missed.

One of the least disturbing examples of the graffiti we saw.

A few weekends ago our Waco Walks group took a walk with Erika Huddleston.  Erika is an artist who specializes in “nature paintings in urban settings.”  Thanks to the Art Center of Waco, she has a series of paintings on exhibit at the Mayborn Museum that are her interpretations of Waco Creek.  Our walk with Erika took us into parts of town that many of us – left to our own inclinations – might have avoided.  As is my habit sometimes, I saw plenty of ugly things: disturbing graffiti made all the more disturbing by the obvious artistic talent of the ones who created it, a stringer of dead fish covered with flies and stink, broken concrete and glass, and everywhere trash, trash, trash.

Thanks to Erika’s gentle leadership we also saw some beautiful things.  One of the most beautiful was standing on the 15th Street bridge overlooking Waco Creek listening to Erika talk about what she saw there. She described how the chaos and beauty of nature in the midst of the imposed structure of the city inspired and delighted her.  With the aid of her delight I saw the limestone, the fall color in the leaves, the tiny fish… all beauty I might have missed.

As part of my job at Baylor I have been doing a little tutoring at J. H. Hines Elementary.  We are trying to figure out ways that the University can partner with the public schools within a two-mile radius of campus for the benefit of both.  I was working through a box of sight word cards with a first grader the other day when he grabbed the pile of cards containing words he had

One of Erika’s Waco Creek paintings.

read successfully and fanned them out like hundred dollar bills – “Look at all the words I can read!”  he beamed.  Little kids are notorious carriers of delight.

I called my mom last night.  Our family Christmas plans are a little rushed this year and I needed to delicately negotiate spending time with Family in Houston while still getting back to Waco in time for church obligations.  I was slightly annoyed when she didn’t answer the phone.  This morning I got a text, “Sorry I missed your call – watching Sound of Music and singing along.  Please try again.”   Thanks Mom, for raising me to understand the importance of delight!

As one year sets and another rises, there are some heavy problems out there in our city and in our world.  Good people have been chopping away at them for a long time.  Sometimes it feels like we are making progress and sometimes it doesn’t.  How do we keep going?  How do we renew our spirits?  Keep an eye out for the delights along the way, my friends, and keep on chopping!  Merry Christmas to all and onward to 2018!

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 [email protected] for more information.



Welcome to Waco, Dr. Nelson! I think you’ll be glad you came.

By Ashley Bean Thornton

A few weeks ago I attended a welcome and “get to know you” reception for our new Waco ISD Superintendent, Dr. Marcus Nelson.  The event, sponsored by the Waco NAACP and the local chapter of educator sorority, Phi Delta Kappa Inc., was a terrific success.  Dr. Peaches Henry, NAACP president, told me they had put out 50 chairs before the event – by the time Dr. Nelson rose to speak they needed 200. Dr. Nelson made some fans for himself that night.  His introductory speech was masterful:  full of  humor, passion, challenge and confidence. His speech wasn’t exactly a sermon, but there were plenty “amens” from the congregation as he shared key elements of his educational philosophy.

A few days later I happened to be walking out of a different meeting with school board member Norman Manning.  I told him I thought they might have hit a homerun with Dr. Nelson, and Mr. Manning agreed.  As we were talking, though, he mentioned some other conversations he has had about our new superintendent.  He told me several people had been asking, “Well, if he’s so great — why does he want to come HERE?”

Why here?  I don’t know Dr. Nelson yet, and I can’t read his mind, but I can think of at least three big reasons why a superb educational leader in the prime of his career would want to come to Waco, Texas.

First, if you believe in the power of education, Waco is exactly where you want to be.   Sure, there are probably easier places to work.  But, for someone who believes in the power of education, that’s not where the action is.  There are school systems with more money.  There are schools where the students have more advantages. There are probably even some schools where, honestly, the students are going to be fine if you are even a moderately competent educator.  But, where’s the sport in that?  The purpose of public education is not to perpetuate the status quo.  The purpose of public education is to perpetuate the dream – the dream that a person, any person, starting from any circumstances, can work hard and achieve and build a good life.  Waco is a place where “the rubber meets the road” when it comes to that dream. Waco is a place where educators make a huge difference in students’ lives every day.

Second, there is plenty to build on in Waco.  I’m an outside observer, I know, but I have some favorites: The Income Tax Prep program at the A.J. Moore Academy at University High; The Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWAMA), the Greater Waco Health Career Academy (GWACHA) and the new Construction Sciences Academy; the fine arts programs including the amazing musicals; our support for homeless students…the list goes on.   We have terrific students at WISD.  When they are given the opportunity, they can knock your socks off.  We also have some terrific educators who are working and innovating every day to give them those opportunities.

Finally, the community of Waco needs a strong school district and we know it. I get phone calls and emails regularly from people who are moving to Waco and want the “inside scoop” on living here. I have not had one of these conversations yet that did not end up being a conversation about school districts.  These conversations reinforce for me what we all already know: Any community that expects to thrive must have a strong school district…and Waco expects to thrive. Our community has shown it is willing to join in the work of building up the school district.  Through community-wide efforts such as the Education Alliance (now a part of Prosper Waco) we have been rallying support for years. Organizations such as Avance and  Communities in Schools, tutoring programs sponsored by a variety of churches and community groups and numerous individual volunteers stand ready to help.

In 2015 our community showed its support for WISD by passing a Tax Ratification to direct new financial resources into the district – resources that have been used to improve literacy programs; to explore and implement positive, effective ways to work on behavioral issues; and to provide outstanding dual credit opportunities to WISD students.

Certainly, Waco ISD has its challenges. We also have the wisdom and the will to face those challenges head on.  By all accounts, Dr. Nelson did his homework before accepting the job as superintendent of our school district.  I think he saw a terrific opportunity in Waco, and was smart to jump on it.

For the first day of school the Waco NAACP organized a group of us to “greet the scholars” at J. H. Hines Elementary.   As we welcomed the children back to school and wished them a wonderful school year, Dr. Nelson showed up to do the same.  I had the honor of introducing him to Pastor Pam Rivera of St. Luke A.M.E. Church.  She welcomed him warmly to Waco, and as he acknowledged the welcome he lowered his voice a bit to say seriously, “We have a lot of work to do.”  She didn’t hesitate in her response, “and plenty of people who want to help.”  Amen, Pastor Rivera!

Welcome to Waco, Dr. Nelson.  Hard work pays off!

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 [email protected] for more information.




2017 Greatest Hits #3: Prejudice then and now…

(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 Ashley Bean Thornton

I have a cloudy memory from when I was very young, six or seven years old at the oldest, maybe even as young as four or five. I was born in 1961, so this would have been sometime between 1966 and 1968, I guess.

Some adult in my life, a woman, sat me down and explained to me why, according to the Bible, black people were meant to be subservient to white people.  I don’t remember who gave me this lesson.  I think it was at my grandmother’s house, but I don’t think it was my grandmother.  It might have been an aunt or maybe just one of my grandmother’s friends.  It doesn’t really matter. Plenty of people would have told me the same story.

The explanation had to do with Noah after the flood.  Noah had gotten drunk and was lying naked in his tent.  One of his sons, Ham, saw his father in this sorry state and reported it to his brothers.  When Noah found out about this, he cursed Ham saying that Ham’s offspring should always be slaves to his brother’s children. So, Ham’s children became black people and the brothers’ children became white people and that is why black people were always meant to be subservient to white people.

Nowadays I’m sure every white person I know would cringe at hearing this story.  I imagine most of my friends find it downright offensive.  I hope they do.  It’s a terrible story. I’m ashamed to even tell it.

The reason I am telling it is because I have thought of it often these last few years as I have watched gay people gain more and more rights and have observed the strong resistance to that progress.  I thought of it this morning as I read that two years after the Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, gay people still cannot get a courthouse wedding in Waco.

You may be thinking that the woman who sat me down and told me the story of Noah and Ham and black people must have been some kind of mean, ignorant, “white trash,” low-class person.  Even though I can’t remember exactly who she was, I can tell you that was not the case.  Any adult woman I would have met at my grandmother’s house would have been cut from basically the same cloth as my grandmother: hardworking, educated, church-going, white women who had all endured some hard times, and who, despite that, liked to laugh, tell stories, watch Laurence Welk and talk behind each other’s backs about who had the best pound cake recipe.

In other words, I imagine the woman who tried to pass her racial prejudice on to me was a good person by most every measure.   I believe she took the time to make sure a small girl understood the lesson about Noah and Ham because she believed the story was true and that it was right and important to pass it on to me.

In the same way, I think that many people who oppose gay marriage and other gay rights believe very deeply that they are correct in their opposition. They believe God’s word is clear. They believe it viscerally. They feel all the way down to their bones that they are right.

This story from my own childhood reminds me that at one time, not so long ago, many otherwise decent people felt the same way about racial segregation and opposing the civil rights of black people.  You can see it in the angry faces of the white people in the pictures of the mob scenes when schools were being integrated or black people were marching for their rights.  I have heard it in angry words coming out of the mouths of my own family members. These white people who opposed civil rights for black people believed they were right.  Being told they were wrong caused a kind of outrage on two fronts.  On one front, they were outraged because black people were demanding to “rise above their rank” and were “disrupting the natural order of things.”  On the other front, they were outraged because other people, black and white, were judging them for standing up for what they believed was right.

They felt viscerally, to their bones, that they were right.

But, they were wrong.

Thanks to legislated integration, my grandmother, by the time she retired, had taught many African-American second graders and worked with at least a handful of African-American teachers. She realized, at least partly, that she had been wrong about black people. Her attitude changed.  Not as much as it should have, perhaps, but it changed some.  My mother’s attitude has changed even more.  Mine has changed even more.   We’ve changed enough that I feel ashamed of a story that at one time was accepted and defended among my kin as “what the Bible says.”

I believe a generation from now we straight people will feel just as ashamed at having tried to deny gay people the right to marry as we white people feel now at having tried to deny black people the right to vote and to be treated equally and fairly.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been born in my grandmother’s generation or my mother’s generation instead of my own.  I don’t know if I would have recognized the way black people were treated as being wrong, or if I would have gone along with the prevailing beliefs of most white people in the South at the time.  But, living here and now, and having learned from that example, I will say that I would be proud for gay people to be able to get married in our courthouse in Waco.  I am sorry that we have not reached that point already. I hope we get there soon.

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 [email protected] for more information.


Time to activate our mediocre super powers

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Several years ago my friend Marianne Stambaugh and I were enjoying the Baylor Homecoming parade when the string of snazzy convertibles carrying the “Outstanding Young Alumni” rolled past.  When Marianne and I are together almost everything is funny to us, and this struck us as particularly hilarious. We immediately decided that we would start a group called “Mediocre Middle-Aged Alumni.”   Our plan was to insert ourselves in the parade directly behind the Outstanding Young Alumni. We would ride in a caravan of old pick-up trucks, a happy multitude of grey-headed men and women, comfortable in our stretchy pants and matching green and gold “MMAA” T-shirts, sharing some nice snacks, and waving contentedly at the homecoming crowd.

I’m not knocking outstanding people at all.  Lord knows we need them. We need some people who poke their heads up above the crowd and see new sights and dream new dreams. We need the people who use their energy, smarts, originality, creativity, hard-headedness or whatever it takes to accomplish things that impress the rest of us.  Outstanding people deserve to be celebrated.  They are inspiring!

I’ll admit though, that sometimes when I hear about all the brilliant things the outstanding people are doing, it makes me want to take a nap.  I don’t have the time or energy to keep up with that.  Anyway, it sounds like they have it under control… Don’t we have anything to eat in this house?… I wonder what’s on TV?

In that moment, as inspiration fades in the face of inertia, it’s important to remember that when it comes to making the world – and Waco – a better place, the real power is not with the few “outstanding” ones in the convertibles, it is with us plain old folks in the pick-up trucks. Yes, we ordinary folks who make up the big middle section of the bell-curve of humanity are the ones who hold most of the cards – and most of the responsibility.

For example, the Keep Waco Beautiful awards program is coming up soon. They will be recognizing individuals and groups who have worked especially hard to keep our city clean and beautiful.  There are some outstanding individuals who will be recognized, and deservedly so.

Imagine, though, how much cleaner and more beautiful our city would be if, in addition to the outstanding work these few people are doing, a whole herd of us middle-of-the-pack folks consistently did just a little bit of mediocre work.  What if 10,000 of us, for example, made it a habit to pick up just one small bag of trash a week.  Our city would go from litter full to litter free!  (Of course the best thing would be if ALL of us in the middle of the bell curve had the habit of disposing of trash properly in the first place.)

The key word is habit.  Habits are what give the multitude of us garden-variety folks our super powers.  Occasional big efforts are admirable and exciting, but, honestly, it is the everyday habits of the majority of us average folks that have the potential for making the biggest difference.  The water wears away the stone not in one big splash, but by constantly dripping on the same place for a long time.

Small positive behaviors, carried out regularly by a bunch of us run-of-the-mill people can have a bigger effect on the health of our community than occasional heroic efforts by a few.  Here are some examples of the kinds of things we could easily be doing…

Take a walk in the neighborhood once a week or more. – If we all get in this habit we will end up with healthier, safer neighborhoods where we know each other better.  Those kinds of neighborhoods are the building blocks of strong cities.

Lean toward local. – We don’t all have to take a blood oath to never set foot in a big box store or a chain restaurant, but we can get in the habit of making local restaurants and stores our default choice.  Consistently patronizing our local businesses helps them thrive and gives our community it’s unique flavor.

Volunteer a little and give a little – Volunteer for just an hour, but do it consistently once a month or once a week.  Even the smallest effort – picking up one bag of trash – done consistently makes a difference.  Give $2 or $3 a week to an organization you care about, but give it every week.  It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment – an hour or two a month of consistent volunteering or a few dollars a month of consistent giving adds up when enough of us do it.

Our power as members of the middle of the bell curve is not in doing an exhausting amount of good, it is in more of us making a habit of doing a very reasonable amount of good consistently.

So thank you outstanding folks!  We appreciate your herculean efforts on our behalf.  Now the rest of us have few little things to get done before we take our naps!

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, and helps out with Act locally Waco. She likes to walk. If you see her, 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 [email protected] for more information.







Where do we go to learn to be citizens in a democracy?

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I was visiting with my friend Austin Meek (host of the fantastic KWBU program Downtown Depot) the other day and he asked me, “What’s the best thing happening at Baylor right now?”  Wow! So much to choose from…we just named our first woman president, who by all accounts will be a super-star.  We’re about to graduate another stellar class of brand new Baylor alums off to make the world a better place in all kinds of ways we can’t even imagine yet.  Baylor researchers are making new discoveries about everything from the effects of algae in the water supply, to how to detect eye cancer, to how to teach number sense to pre-k kids. I couldn’t pick the BEST thing, so I slyly answered a slightly different question: What’s MY FAVORITE thing happening at Baylor right now?

Before I reveal my answer, I want to take a little detour to consider the purpose of higher education.

College tuition is going up. Student debt is increasing.   Some people are starting to wonder if a college education is “worth it” in terms of increasing lifetime earning potential.  On another front, technology is making it easier and easier to “deliver content” in all kinds of convenient ways – perhaps much more convenient than sitting in classes for four years… I do not know what the future holds for higher education, but it will almost certainly include some big changes.  The aggravating thing about change is that it is almost always disruptive and stressful.  The good thing about change, though, is that it pushes us to circle around and think about core purposes and what we are really trying to accomplish.

What, then, is the purpose of higher education? One purpose is certainly to help people prepare for a career – a good job with good pay.   No argument there.  Just as certainly though, that is not the only purpose.  To me the “higher” in higher education, in the USA at least, is educating the citizenry of a democracy to govern themselves wisely and well.

Where do we learn to wrestle with the big questions of “truth, beauty and justice?”  Where do we learn to think about what kind of world we want to create together?  Where do we learn the skills of how to work together to create that world?  Where do we learn to listen and to present a reasoned argument instead of just yelling at each other? Where do we learn to have some empathy for our fellow humans even when we disagree with them?  Where do we learn to discuss difficult issues in a productive way?  Where do we learn to leaven our zeal for efficiency, productivity and profit with an understanding of the roles of diversity, creativity and compassion?

I don’t think we can run a democracy without citizens with this kind of knowledge and skill, and I don’t think we can take for granted that people will develop it on their own.  This kind of learning and thinking is the journey of a lifetime.  I think it is a core purpose of higher education to equip people for that journey and to give them a good running start on their way. As the form of higher education evolves, I don’t want this purpose to get lost along the way.  I want our institutions of higher ed, Baylor included, to be as creative in thinking of ways to fulfill this purpose as we are in thinking of ways to help students get the skills they need for a career.

That brings me to a terrific program that has taken root at Baylor this last year.  It’s called The Baylor Public Deliberation Initiative, “PDI” for short. PDI’s work is to “invite Baylor students, staff, and faculty as well as local community members to participate in forums about local and national issues to better understand the perspectives, possible outcomes, and trade-offs of different options.”  In other words, they set up workshops where we can practice doing democracy together. They invite not only Baylor students, but also the Waco community to participate, because part of what it means to do democracy is to do it with all kinds of different people from different stages of life, different walks of life and different life experiences.

The PDI folks have already facilitated deliberations on topics like Immigration, Campus Carry, and Climate Change.  At each deliberation participants share personal connections to the issue, have a civil discussion about the pros and cons of at least three different approaches to the issue, and then deliberate about what actions they believe they could agree to take despite differences in perspective. Doesn’t that sound like a terrific way to do democracy together?

As an extension of this work, PDI is hosting a “Civic Life Summit” that is open to the public.   On June 1 & 2, the summit will offer practical sessions designed to help us  learn the skills of citizenship.  Topics include “Living Room Conversations on Race,” “Beyond Reactions and Factions: A Pragmatic Approach,” “GRIT 101: Getting Gritty Doing Civic Engagement,” and many more.  The sessions will be led mostly by active Waco community members (including some Baylor faculty and staff) with a sprinkling of experts brought in from other communities. Registration is $95 until May 15, and a few scholarships are still available.

I love that my Alma Mater is hosting an event that focuses on civic learning, an event that invites students and the rest of us in the community to learn to be better citizens together.  Is it the best thing happening at Baylor right now? Not sure…it has lots of competition.  But, it is my favorite!  Hope to see you there.  It’s more fun to learn to be better citizens together!

 This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, and helps out with Act locally Waco. She likes to walk. If you see her, 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 [email protected] for more information.