Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media Effect on Youth Mental Health, PANS Syndrome & Mental Health Support for SchoolsPart of June 15th Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium 

Education Service Center Region 12 staff, educators, mental health advocates and care providers will join forces for the 18th Annual Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday, June 15 at 2101 W. Loop 340 in Waco.

ESC Region 12 and Partners Cedar Crest Residential Treatment Center and Daybreak Health want to gather educators, mental health providers and community members to learn and take action to help save the lives of challenged youth. The event will encourage awareness, intervention and prevention of teen suicide, regarded as the ‘preventable epidemic’ among Texas youth. 

“This year’s event focuses on issues and trends impacting youth in many ways that educators, parents and care providers are seeing in our schools. From speakers on Pediatric Acute Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (or PANS), to discussions about the US Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media and its Effect on Youth Mental Health, we are presenting cutting-edge topics that have a direct impact on our teens and their mental health,” said Jenipher Janek, a counseling services coordinator and lead for the Region 12 School Crisis Response Team.  

The ESC Region 12 School Crisis Response Team includes ESC counselors and communication staff, school counselors and mental health advisors from the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network. The group coordinates grief response and provides logistical and communications support, and crisis recovery at no cost to area schools. In the last year, the team has responded to 18 calls to support educators and students affected by the loss of a student, employee or other crisis incident impacting school operations, including loss of life to suicide. Part of this work includes connecting schools to mental health providers and creating awareness about TCHATT, the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, which provides telemedicine or telehealth programs to school districts to help identify and assess the behavioral health needs of students and provide access to mental health services. 

Event partners, expecting 80 attendees, hope to bring in even more educators, mental health providers, police officers, counselors and emergency services personnel. Advance registration ($45) is requested at: Schools in the Counseling Services Membership may send staff at no additional fee. For more on ESC Region 12 Counseling Services and School Support, visit
Additional event supporters include the Central Texas Regional Advisory Council, Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network, Heart of Texas Regional Advisory Council, Heart of Texas Suicide Prevention Coalition and VOICE.

In Celebration of the Public Library

By: Dr. Peaches Henry

I am relieved that the Llano County (Texas) commissioners kept their library system open and returned banned books to the library shelves.  Yet, I am dismayed that Missouri’s House voted to cut all funding for libraries in its version of the state’s annual budget, because the American Civil Liberties Union, the Missouri Association of School Librarians, and the Missouri Library Association are suing the state over the censorship of some books from school libraries across the state.  I do not intend to litigate the practice of banning books here.  [To get my view on that, see my 1992 essay “The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn.”]  Instead, during National Library Week (April 23-29), I want to celebrate the Waco McLennan County Library for the profound way it touches the lives of Wacoans.  

Our library provides essential services to children, families, individuals, and the community at large.  A truly remarkable place, the public library provides safe, accessible, one hundred percent free educational resources to everyone.  It pools local resources like educational offerings, job training, and computer or internet access and puts them all in one place for use by the whole community.  Whether you are a family looking for a fun story time, an immigrant looking for language help, a student working on a History Fair project, a person needing help on their taxes, or a homeless person looking for a place to cool off, you can find them all at the library—a place that has undergone transformation that makes it an altogether different place from the one previous generations enjoyed. 

Indeed, the modern public library that serves Waco McLennan County is not your grandparents’ library.  These days, there is more to the story when it comes to the library which provides services far beyond the traditional task of checking books in and out.  Even that has been transformed.  Patrons can access ebooks, emagazines, and audiobooks in the CloudLibrary and read them anywhere.  They can also check out a mind-boggling range of “Special Items” which include blood pressure kits, sensory backpacks for specials needs children, disc golf kits, discovery boxes, and puppet kits.  Special Items educational kits include flash cards, literacy kits for preschoolers, and STEAM kits for upper-elementary children.  Among the most prized of the special items are the free family passes to local museums and sites including the Mayborn Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, and the Dr. Pepper Museum to name a few.  The library’s Special Items collections offer free access to materials that many families cannot afford to purchase.  

The library also boasts numerous, varied children’s programs aimed all ages.  Everything from themed storytimes (money smart, STEAM, or super hero) to painting to a Minecraft and Roblox club to a look behind-the-scenes tour of the library to summer reading programs is available to children.  As a member of the Library Commission, I was delighted to judge the library’s inaugural Edible Book Festival on April Fool’s Day.

In addition to catering to children, the library also offers essential support to adult Wacoans.  It maintains partnerships with local entities which deliver needed services.  The Heart of Texas Goodwill, for instance, holds computer skills and financial literary classes at the library.  The Heart of Texas Workforce Solutions gives free one-on-one job skills training.  The library hosts books clubs such as Books & Brew or the Mystery Book Club.  It sponsors adult programs such as healthy crock pot cooking, an adult anime and manga club, and free tax preparation not to mention the work of the Genealogy Center.  

The modern Waco McLennan County Library is a completely different place from the old Palestine Carnegie Library that I used to walk to as a child.  Yet, in the most meaningful way, it  remains the same iconic institution that I grew up with.  The library is still the community hub that connects people to information, offers essential services and resources, brings people together, encourages lifelong learning, provides safe havens for children and adults, helps build healthy communities, and transports individuals around the world and to other worlds.  Like libraries around the state and nation, our local library is an important public institution that we must support and protect now more than ever.

Dr. Peaches Henry is a member of the Waco McLennan County Library Advisory Commission.

HB 2827

This proposed bill will drastically weaken regulations that have protected the North Bosque Watershed, Lake Waco and, in effect, the Waco Water Supply from pollution caused by dairy farms.


Prior to 2001, the Waco Water Supply was polluted as a result of dairy farmers spreading cow manure that would run off into the North Bosque River, and then into Lake Waco.  This caused the growth of algae that can kill fish and made our water smell and taste bad. In 2001, the City of Waco successfully advocated for the passage of state legislation that would mandate stricter permits for dairies on the North Bosque watershed, along with waste management regulations.  If you’ve been in Waco since that time, you will likely recall how poorly Waco water smelled and tasted during that time.

To date, while there has been significant improvement in the taste and smell of Waco water, the North Bosque River is still polluted and classified as impaired by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and as recently as 2022, TCEQ said more work needs to be done on this watershed. 

Proposed Legislation

HB 2827 would revert back to a permitting system that was allowed when the pollution into the watershed was at its peak. Further, it would reduce pollution prevention, testing and reporting, thus likely increasing pollution in the North Bosque River (and thus the Waco Water Supply). 

Of note, the bill’s author argues that the current law is an over-regulation. Also of note, there are nearly the same number of milk cows in the counties that touch the North Bosque watershed now as there were when the 2001 legislation was passed, and the trend indicates the number of milk cows are likely to increase.  However, with of the regulations in place, Waco’s water quality has improved.

Actions the City of Waco has taken to advocate for Waco’s Water Supply:

  • Communicated directly with the bill’s author, Waco’s elected State representatives, as well as the House Environmental Regulations Committee, in opposition to the bill.
  • Collaborated with local stakeholders like the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and Baylor University.
  • Engaged and informed families who own property along the North Bosque River to ensure they able to advocate appropriately.
  • Sent information the Bosque River Coalition membership.
  • Sent information to the Brazos River Authority. 
  • Engaged the EPA and TCEQ.
  • Engaged with other current and former local leaders and requesting advocacy for the Texas Legislature to oppose the passage of HB2827, or ensure there are drastic amendments made that protect the Waco Water Supply from harmful dairy farm pollution.  

Citizens with opposition to or concerns about HB 2827 can contact Rep. Anderson and Sen. Birdwell:  

About the City of Waco and Lake Waco

Lake Waco is a man-made reservoir located on the west side of Waco, in McLennan County, Texas. The City of Waco maintains the water rights to Lake Waco, which serves as the primary water source Waco as well as other cities including Bellmead,Hewitt, Robinson, Woodway and others. The City of Waco owns and operates water treatment facilities and is responsible for treating the water from the lake to make it safe for drinking and other uses.

Region 12 honors school, district counselors

Education Service Center Region 12 honored Counselors of the Year and others Feb. 12 during its 10th Annual School Counselor Appreciation Luncheon.

Left to right: Amanda Wilson, Elementary Counselor of the Year in Lorena ISD; Becky Lane, “Lone Ranger” School Counselor of the Year in Gholson ISD; Tara Podjenski, Secondary Counselor of the Year in Rice ISD.

This year, the Elementary Counselor of the Year is Amanda Wilson of Lorena Elementary in Lorena ISD, and the Secondary Counselor of the Year is Tara Podjenski of Rice High School in Rice  ISD. There was also a special category to recognize a school counselor who serves an entire district, K-12. This year’s 2023 ESC Region 12 “Lone Ranger” School Counselor of the Year is Becky Lane of Gholson ISD.

“From academic achievement strategies to mental health support, celebrating the essential contributions of those who serve in school counseling is important,” said Jeni Janek, Region 12 education specialist. “ESC Region 12’s annual luncheon is a way to show well-deserved appreciation and honor the Counselors of the Year. It is always a fun and special time.”

Canine and handler school crisis responders

This year Region 12 recognized the positive impact of “canine and handler school crisis responders,” a news release said. “Their contributions and impact on area students and educators have steadily increased over the past few years and bring balance to the counseling process. This year’s inaugural recipients were from Bella’s Buddies and Go Team Therapy.

The event, which started at Region 12, one of 20 centers in Texas, has now grown across the state as other regions honor school counselors in much the same way. Partners McLennan Community College and Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network helped to recognize the work and dedication of the school counselors.

Recognitions included retiring counselors, members of the Regional Crisis Response Team, ESC Region 12 New Counselor Academy members, and Elite School Counselors. ESC Region 12 joined the National School Counselor Association in celebrating National School Counseling Week Feb. 6-10. The week honors and celebrates school counselors’ contributions and highlights their tremendous impact on helping students achieve success.

Hill appointed to vacant MCC trustee position

The McLennan Community College Board of Trustees has appointed Jonathan Hill as their next board member, filling the District 1 position that was vacated when board member Doug McDurham moved out of the district.

Jonathan Hill

Hill is senior brand strategy specialist at Baylor University. He graduated from MCC in 2013 with an associate’s degree in general academics and from Tarleton State University-Waco in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He continued his education and graduated in 2018 with a master’s in educational leadership from Baylor University.

Hill has served on a variety of local and statewide boards, including the City of Waco Transit Advisory Board, Bosqueville Excellence in Education Foundation Board, the City of Waco Animal Welfare Advisory Board, Baylor Sport Management Association, and the Texas Junior College Student Government Association.

“As an alum of both MCC and the University Center, I am thrilled for this opportunity to serve the college’s faculty, staff, students, and the community as a trustee,” Hill said. “MCC never shut the door on me and offered me patience and grace as a student when I needed it the most. I hope to give back even a fraction of the gift that the college has been to me and my family.” 

District 1 includes precincts 1, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 38, 39, 41 (partial), 42, 45, 46, 47, 48, 54 (partial), 88 and 89. It encompasses the area around the MCC campus on 19th Street and College Drive, as well as parts of North and East Waco. Hill will take the oath of office at 6 p.m. Feb. 28 during the regular board meeting at Northwood House at MCC. 

Hill is married to Erin, a licensed social worker at Baylor University. They have one son, Jameson, and live in the Cedar Ridge neighborhood in Waco.

Read more about Hill on the MCC website.

“The Addams Family” to be featured at Feb. 23 Hearts in the Arts Theatre Gala

Reservations are open for the 21st Annual Hearts in the Arts Gala sponsored by the McLennan Community College Foundation. This year’s gala on Feb. 23 features a McLennan Theatre performance of “The Addams Family-A New Musical” at the MCC Ball Performing Arts Center. 

Tickets are $100 each and include drinks and dining at 6 p.m. and the performance at 7:30 p.m. Dessert will be served at intermission. Tables for eight are $800 and include preferred dinner seating.

Guests will be transported to the Addams’ ethereal Central Park mansion for an evening hosted by the most macabre family in the neighborhood. Wednesday Addams, daughter to the delightfully spooky Gomez and Morticia, has invited her new boyfriend, Lucas, and his parents over for dinner. There is only one catch: Lucas is a well-mannered suitor from Ohio who does not have a ghoulish bone in his body. Musical comedy carnage ensues as Gomez and Morticia try to persuade the family to act “normal” for Wednesday’s sake. Also appearing are familiar Uncle Fester, devious brother Pugsley, stoic butler Lurch, and the ever-helpful Thing. 

The McLennan production will be directed by Kelly Parker and choreographed by Joe Taylor and will feature elaborate costuming and sets to immerse the audience in the Addams Family vibe. Honorary Hearts in the Arts Chair Nell Hawkins will host the evening as the elegant Morticia Addams.

Hearts in the Arts is an affinity group of the MCC Foundation that supports the arts at McLennan. All proceeds from the gala benefit McLennan scholarships and special projects benefitting visual and performing arts students and faculty.

Gala reservations are due by Feb. 16. For more information, visit To make reservations, contact the McLennan Community College Foundation at 254-299-8604 or [email protected]

MCC unveils new logo through rebranding project

McLennan Community College has unveiled a new logo as part of its ongoing project to unify its brand and create an identity that portrays the value of an MCC education and the focus on student success, a news release said. 

The College partnered with World Design Marketing, “a firm with extensive higher education experience,” the release said. “WDM researched the college and held numerous workshops with students, employees, the Board of Trustees, and community leaders to gain understanding of the college.”

The new logo combines features that reflect MCC’s history, location, and values. “The outer ‘M’ represents the Bosque River, where the campus is nestled along the banks, and the greater Waco family. The inner ‘M’ signifies the culture of the college as the MCC Family. The chevron heart ties back to the McLennan Family Crest and represents the students and their families.”

Transformation Waco receives $2.5M Department of Education grant

Full-Service Community Schools Program grant will support expansion of school-wide wraparound services and creation of new programming to meet student needs.

By Josh Wucher

Transformation Waco announced Friday it is a recipient of a $2.5 million Department of Education Full-Service Community Schools Program grant for its Community Alliance: A Waco-Driven Solution to School Improvement project. The grant will enable TW to expand its community schools model and establish new programs to increase students’ and families’ access to social, emotional, mental health, and academic support.  

“From our inception, TW’s community school model has been foundational to helping students grow academically and improve their well-being,” said Robin McDurham, TW’s CEO. “We treat schools as neighborhood hubs that bring together academics, youth development, family and community engagement with an infusion of wraparound health and social services. The FSCS grant funding will help sustain our integrated systems across schools and help us fulfill our mission to educate all students through data-driven instruction and holistic support.”

Every TW campus has a coordination of care team that assesses a student’s holistic needs, provides direct services and makes referrals to community partners who bring services into school buildings. The Community Alliance project will see a consortium of six community partners work alongside campus teams to follow the four pillars of the FSCS model.

The six organizations are Communities In Schools of the Heart of Texas, Inspiración, Prosper Waco, Waco Family Medicine, Waco Housing Authority, and the Waco Police Department. Their work includes health, mental health, early childhood, housing, dropout and juvenile crime prevention, and adult education and employment.

“We are grateful for the vital support of these existing partners,” Dr. McDurham said. “Together with our campus teams and these strong community partnerships, we will use every tool at our disposal to meet the unique needs of the students, families and communities we serve.”

Grant funding will enrich the following programs and services:

1)    Collaborative family engagement groups led by Grassroots Community Development will expand from two elementary campuses to three schools. Staff-led parent focus groups develop family-friendly campus cultures and equip parents with resources to engage in their child’s education.

2)    Community Youth Development programs will continue providing juvenile delinquency prevention services to groups in middle schools and one elementary school through after-school programming.

3)    Early childhood programming for at-risk Latinos on the Alta Vista campus through Inspiración will add personnel and expand programming from four days to five days a week – providing programming to ten cohorts and serving an additional 12-16 children and families weekly.

4)    Telehealth medical and behavior/mental health services through a partnership with Waco Family Medicine will expand counseling and health consultations for students.

5)    An annual Vision Fest event to supplement the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Vision Center that provides free eye exams and glasses to all Waco ISD students ages 6+. Following a similar event in 2019, a new Rapoport Vision Fest aims to serve approximately 300 students with screenings, eyeglasses and any necessary follow-up referrals in a single day with collaboration from the community and optometrist offices.

6)    The National Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, Inc. (PALs) Pilot Program is an initiative through the Waco Police Department that provides mentorship, service, athletics, recreational enrichment, educational opportunities and resources in the prevention of juvenile crime and violence. This program will serve a single campus in year one and add a secondary campus in year two.

7)    The School Readiness Initiative will launch at the Estella Maxey Place Apartments East Waco housing complex in the fall of 2023. The program will use the “Parents as Teachers” curriculum to serve up to twelve families with children ages infant to four every week. Families will attend a weekly cohort training at a centralized apartment unit. 

8)    Service-learning projects are new enrichment opportunities that offer students experiential education. Students will design objectives to address a community problem, seek out community involvement and develop problem-solving skills. Thirty students at one elementary and one middle school will participate weekly in year one. By year two of the grant, projects will expand to all TW campuses.

9)    Prosper Waco’s UpSkill Employment Training Courses will be provided to TW families. UpSkill Waco is an initiative to increase equitable workforce training pathways in high-demand, high-paying occupations across McLennan County by offering skills training, credentials and job placement.

“This is an ambitious project with multiple goals,” McDurham said. “We will support students with integrated wraparound services and opportunities for enriched learning; provide comprehensive support and rigorous interventions to address chronic absenteeism and prepare students academically; operate school campuses in collaboration with family and community involvement; and utilize collaborative leadership to drive TW decisions.” 

This week, the Department of Education announced $63 million in new FSCS grants across 42 local educational agencies, non-profits or other public or private organizations and institutions of higher education to expand existing community schools or establish new programs. This year’s grant competition received the most applications in the program’s history, with almost half of the cohort being first-time grantees. 

McLennan Steinway Series to present Yoon & Terry in concert

The McLennan Steinway Series presents Drs. Angela Yoon, soprano, and Jason Terry, pianist, in concert at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at Ball Performing Arts Center on the McLennan Community College campus.

The concert titled, “Broken Harmony: Reconstructing Art – A Musical Journey through World War I,” will be a multimedia production outlining the effects of WWII on the arts and society. The concert will include MCC professors Kelly Parker as narrator and Jon Conrad as trumpeter.

Tickets are $5 and may be purchased through the MCC Box Office at 254-299-8200 or [email protected].

Carver-Indian Spring event fulfills wish list for 50 students

By Josh Wucher

Stephanie Marsteller was not expecting a personal call from a popular Instagram personality with millions of followers after submitting an entry to the influencer’s holiday challenge. The G.W. Carver Indian Spring Middle School sixth-grade math teacher entered The Bucket List Family’s sneaky elf challenge to help give away thousands of dollars to help someone in need.

“The mother just really loved what I wrote,” Marsteller said about her submission, which explained the circumstances around the middle school’s merger after a fire destroyed the G.W. Carver campus in the summer of 2021. 

“These are the kids I work with every day, and of course, I want to do anything I can for them. She Facetimed me to say how much she loves our story and wants to be part of it by helping our students.

Marsteller knew a perfect fit was to have the Gee family, the actual Bucket List family, sponsor 10 students in the school’s Winter Village program. Communities in Schools runs the adopt-a-student event, which aims to alleviate some of the stress of the holiday season by taking care of students’ gift wish lists.

“We know that the holiday season can be a difficult time for families in need,” Stefanie LeBlanc, CIS site coordinator, said. “For me, the holidays have always been about the kids, and I want our parents to know we are here to support them. My thought behind the Winter Village name is the quote, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’”

The program asks sponsors to provide at least one basic need and one want for a student. Requested items have included sheets, backpacks, clothes and food, with wants spanning skateboards to sports equipment, sketchbooks, books, games and puzzles. The program served six students when it started three years ago, then 26 students, followed by 36 last year. 

“We’ve had a lot of support from the community and our teachers this year. It’s been awesome,” LeBlanc said. “When Mrs. Marsteller reached out about Instagram, I was so excited! With the help of staff, community partners, friends and family, we helped 50 kids. Everyone who applied was served.”