Waco High Journeys “Under the Sea” with Mermaid!

By K’Lynn Childress

As the directors of the Waco High Musical Theatre Department, we’ve had the opportunity to “go” a lot of places. A few years ago, we went to the jungle with our production of Tarzan. Last year, we traveled to Paris with She Loves Me.  In the early years of the musical theatre program we went to Egypt in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and went into the woods in…well, in Into the Woods.

Last year, as we started thinking about where we wanted to go this season, one place rose to the top of the list very quickly—under the sea. Music Theatre International, the licensing agent for many musicals, made the rights to the stage version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid available at the end of Summer 2015 and we knew that we wanted to jump at the chance to be one of the first schools to produce it.  We couldn’t keep it a secret for long, and announced our plans on opening night of She Loves Me that Fall.

We tend to start planning for shows right away, even when they’re months out, and this was no different. Ideas were bounced around, but when Cory Garrett (Waco High Technical Director) suggested setting our under the sea tale in the world of Old Hollywood, Vegas, Vaudeville and Follies, we knew that our love for spectacle and this classic story would perfectly blend in this concept. Research began with Cory at the design helm, and with student designer Julian Nicholson at his side, we soon had a set design that centered around the classic Vegas-style staircase with plenty of glitz, glam, and glitter thrown in (we REALLY love glitter!).

Dion Grisby, Julian Nicholson

Construction began just after the 2016-2017 school year began, with Julian Nicholson heading up the crews as Student Technical Director and Alex Lujan as Construction Crew Head. An unprecedented number of tech students showed up to every single rehearsal to tirelessly work to bring the design to life. The vast majority of the set was constructed entirely by students, under Mr. Garrett’s oversight. We never cease to be amazed at what these students are capable of doing.

While the set was going up, plans for other technical components were well underway. In a show like The Little Mermaid, you already assume that you’ll be using plenty of fun colors and creativity, but when you add the extra element of setting the story in the world of Vegas razzle-dazzle you end up with quite the job ahead of you. Fortunately, we received a grant from the WISD Education Foundation for the creation of a costume and makeup lab, so we were ready for the challenge.

When all was said and done, we ended up with 108 different costumes for 45 performers. These costumes, designed by Mr. Garrett with the help of Student Designer Dion Grisby, were truly a labor of love. They were the product of multiple orders from Amazon (for individual pieces that were then altered, modified, and pieced together), trips to Dallas for some of the most beautiful fabric I’ve ever laid eyes on, 3 professional seamstresses, 2 choir directors who always swear they aren’t going to make any costumes but always do (Carrie Forehand and Christie Lujan are the BEST), innumerable burns from hot glue guns and dozens of students working together to create beautiful sea creatures, amazing foam wigs and the most fabulous mermaids you’ve ever seen.

This was the most ambitious production WHS Musical Theatre has ever taken on, but we definitely operate with a “great risk—great reward mindset”, and our students never disappoint. This year, we added two locations to our travel list as we went both under the sea and under the big lights of Old Hollywood and Las Vegas. We’re not sure just yet where next year will take us, but we know one thing for certain—we’re so happy to be going there with the amazing students, staff, administration and supporters of Waco High and Waco ISD.

Corey Garrett, Carrie Forehand, Christie Lujan

K’Lynn Childress is the Director of Theatre Arts at Waco High School. She, Cory Garrett, Carrie Forehand, and Christie Lujan make up the faculty of the Waco High Musical Theatre Department. Now in her 6th year of teaching at Waco High, K’Lynn is also the Speech and Debate coach and UIL Academic Coordinator. In the rare times she’s not at the school she enjoys photography, attempting to teach herself calligraphy, spending too much time on Reddit, and Steel City Pops.

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.

Don’t let choosing a college spook you!

By Brittany Davis 

I hardly make it to the door of the school most mornings before I am greeted by a barrage of questions from eager seniors. This is the time of year when their ‘when I grow up’ dreams take the first step into actuality. This is my favorite time of year. Before the applications, paperwork and testing can begin there are several conversations that seem to be on replay in my office.   

Choosing a College is like buying a car

After working at higher education institutions for the past eight years I have seen firsthand how we try to sell students on our schools however we can; it is a business after all. I once had a student tell me that what sold him on our school was that we had a build your own waffle station in the dining hall….my point being students often get caught up in the details — the fresh strawberries and whipped cream instead of the academics and degrees. So — to reel students back in from the beautifully glossy pages of college catalogs and the build your own waffle stations — I compare choosing a college to buying a car. You wouldn’t go into a dealership unprepared without doing your research or having an idea of what you want, and the same should go for choosing an institution where you will spend the next two to four years. Students should be prepared to answer the following questions before choosing a college:

  • Big school or small school?
  • Public or private?
  • How far are you willing to go from home?
  • What teacher to student ratio will you be most successful in?  

College major or degree plan is a major factor in this equation, yes, but according to the National Center for Educational Statistics roughly 80% of students change their major at least once. It is just as important for the campus as a whole to be a good fit. A resource I love for this is the Big Future College Search created by The College Board. It asks students all the hard questions and then provides them with a list of schools that fit their criteria.  

Explore Your Career Interest

Students feel pressured into being definitive in their major choice from day one of senior year and often times that can be counterintuitive as they may overlook an opportunity for which they may be better suited. We had 4 seniors last year that had their minds made up about studying dental hygiene and after visiting campus to tour the program, one of the four was still committed to the program, and the other three couldn’t even finish the tour before they were pale faced and ready to toss their lunch. Which is why I encourage students not only to take campus tours when at all possible, but also take every opportunity to explore his or her career interest. We are so lucky to live in a community where businesses and community members rally around our students and are eager to help them. Students can reach out to professionals in our community to shadow them and ask them questions about their field of interest. Academic Advisors at your campus can also help students get connected. Take the opportunity to get connected, volunteer your time, and you will not only be more sure about your major but also more motivated to complete a degree you are truly interested in. 

Ask for help, and ask often!

The college application and financial aid process is a challenge to navigate and can differ by college. For a first generation college student, this can be daunting and discourage them from college altogether. Thankfully in Waco, we have several campus-based as well as community engagement pieces that are in place to help students overcome these hurdles. Most campuses in our area have a designated college counselor or advisor. University High, Waco High, and La Vega High School have the Project Link program, MAC foundation, and CAP program is also available to McLennan County students. These programs help students through every step of the application process. However, for many students, the application process is just one of the many barriers they will have to overcome to be successful college students and eventual graduates. Just like high schools, colleges also have student-focused resources to help students be successful. After all, colleges are in the business of getting students graduated and if there are significant barriers inhibiting students from completing degree plans it is in their best interest to offer resources to help them be successful.  Most colleges offer, at the very least, supplemental instruction, writing labs, counseling services, and career centers. All of these services are completely free to students! Community Colleges often offer specialized services as they typically serve more non-traditional students with unique barriers such as on-site daycare, student care clinics, and crisis intervention services. Ask for help students, these services are grossly underutilized in most schools. The tools and services are there for you to be successful, you just have to ask! 

Your education is an opportunity to change your corner of the world, be brave and make bold decisions with your future!  

brittany-davisBrittany Davis is an Academic Advisor at University High School. She was raised in a small Texas town and is a recent transplant to Waco, and loving it! As a first generation college student, Mrs. Davis understands firsthand how overwhelming and intimidating the process can be, and strives to use her 9 years of higher education experience to help students feel capable, brave and significant in setting out to achieve their goals. Her favorite thing to do in Waco is going to documentaries on Mondays at the Hippodrome with friends.

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.






The big stage! – How I went to St. Louis, performed in front of 10,000 people and made 10 great friends!

By Nick Atkins

On February 29th, I received the email. I had been accepted into the MUNY/Webster Intensive, a three-week musical theatre intensive in St. Louis, Missouri. (MUNY is short for the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis.) I would participate in workshops, take classes at Webster University, and 0perform in the MUNY’s production of Mamma Mia with professional Equity actors in front of 10,000 people a night.

Four months earlier, Waco High’s Technical Theatre Director, Cory Garrett, asked me to audition. He believed I could best represent not only Waco High, but also Waco itself. So I began the application process, including preparing three separate videos—a monologue, a song, and a dance performance. I didn’t know at the time that only eleven students from across the country would be selected.

group-shotWhen I walked in to the boys’ dorm, I found myself greeted with high fives, handshakes, and stories of our hometowns. Alex from Canada, Harrison and Miller were both from Kentucky, and the other Harrison was also from Texas. We were told to go to the living room for a “team meeting.” While we were waiting for the girls, we heard thundering from the hallway. From around the corner, six girls came in, squealing in excitement that the last of the group had finally shown up. Brooke and Becca were from Florida, Karissa and Rachel lived in California, Tori was from a small town outside Boston, and Anika was a Rhode Island girl. Of my three weeks in St. Louis, that first day was one of the best. We all sat there in a circle, learning about each other, telling stories from our hometowns, listing the roles we had played in performances. It was that night that I realized how close theatre really brings people together. We all came from different places, different backgrounds.

The next two weeks were hectic, sweaty, and amazing. Every morning, we’d all wake up, get dressed in whatever our color of the day was, and head to rehearsal at 10 o’clock. The eleven of us were in the ensemble, meaning we learned the music for every song, and were on stage numerous times dancing. One day I was on the side of the rehearsal studio waiting for my cue to come on. There was an adult Equity ensemble member waiting with me named Kevin Zak. He noticed how quiet I was and decided to make some conversation. We started talking about theatre and how we got into it. I jokingly asked how many Broadway shows he had been in and he answered with, “Well I was in the original Off-Broadway Cast of Clinton: The Musical.” My jaw dropped. I asked him what part he played. Ken Starr. I met the man that played Ken Starr in Clinton: The Musical.

Our evenings were different each night. We got to see the MUNY’s production of both The Music Man and Young Frankenstein. We had three workshops and got to work on our college audition pieces with choreographer Josh Rhodes, actress Julia Murney, and actress Nancy Opel. One night, we went to a place called The City Museum. At first, I just expected a history museum with exhibits pertaining to St. Louis, but it was actually a giant playground. Three glorious stories of mazes, jungle gyms, and slides. We were all so tired after that, we totally forgot about our midnight tech rehearsal that next day.

At the MUNY, the musicals have two weeks to rehearse and one week of performance. When a show ends, the next musical has a “midnight tech” rehearsal in which the sound, lighting, and set elements are put to the test just hours before the opening. The Mamma Mia midnight tech rehearsal went so smoothly, we were headed home around 11:45. That afternoon, the cast got together for “sweat tech”, a last minute run through of the show in the sweltering St. Louis afternoon.

crowdThen came the fun part. Opening night. We arrived thirty minutes early to get our microphones and costumes ready, and headed to our places. For most of us, our first dance number wasn’t until a few scenes into the show, but a few of them were in the opening scene. After that first scene, they came back with their jaws dropped. It was packed. 11,000 seats, filled to the brim. My first number, “Lay All Your Love”, where I waddled onstage with four other guys in flippers and goggles and did a little dance in front of two leads, I glanced out to the crowd to get a good look and I nearly forgot my dance and stopped right there. I had never seen that many people in an audience. It was truly beautiful.

During the performance week, we took classes at the Webster campus during the day. We all referred to it as “Webster Week”. We took yoga, improv, dance, and acting classes. Lara Teeter, the head of the musical theatre program at Webster, worked with us on college audition pieces alongside Tim Ocel and Ron McGowan. Together, they helped us with every aspect of Musical theatre. I learned things that week that I can use in any part I play. I have already used some of the tips for my part in Waco High’s production of The Little Mermaid.

Tthe-munyhe one question I always get when talking about this trip is, “What was your favorite part?” That becomes harder and harder to answer every time I look back on it. I learned a lot in the Webster classes, and had a blast performing in Mamma Mia. However, those memories would not have been so amazing if not for the other ten people that were with me 24/7. These people are lifelong friends. Some of the most fun times were at the dorms after rehearsal when we crashed on the couches and talked. We shared every meal together. We would stay up late just to practice dances together so we knew we had it down. These ten people are all so talented; I have no doubt in my mind that they will all do amazing things in the future, not necessarily in acting. They aren’t just great actors, great singers, or great dancers. They are all great people. In our workshop with Julia Murney, she said something that stuck with all of us: “You’re worth more than a 5, 6, 7, 8”.

Nick Atkins is currently a senior at Waco High School. He is involved with the varsity choir, show choir, theatre program, NHS, and mascot at WHS. He would like to thank his family and all of his directors for giving him the courage to pursue theatre. After high school Nick plans on getting a BFA in Musical Theatre.

“I set a Goal I Thought I Couldn’t Achieve – to win National History Day!”

By Harper Hoover

walking awayYoung historians around the world will soon begin the process of months of historical research that leads to National History Day. As the competition springs to life for another year, I grow more and more thrilled at the idea of history fair. American history as never been more fun than this (unless presented in rap musical form, of course.) My name is Harper Hoover, and I recently competed at National History Day at College Park, Maryland, where I won first place in the division of Junior Individual Performance. History fair is near and dear to my heart for many reasons, and my journey this past year includes quite a few memorable ones.

magazine covers - CopyCreating a National History Day project takes A LOT of work. It may not be exactly “life consuming,” but I spent many hours on my performance to make it historically accurate, interesting and as sharp as possible. This past year, my performance was on the early history of the National Geographic Society and how it has changed the world as we know it. As a part of my research, I had the opportunity to speak to people involved with National Geographic, such as their archivist staff, and I was able to attend a lecture led by one of their photographers at the Perot Museum in Dallas. When my ATLAS 8th grade class visited the Washington D.C. in May, I was able to visit the actual archives deep inside the National Geographic Headquarters (I even ate lunch there; I recommend their chicken.) The very kind and patient archivists gave me a tour of the thousands of photographs held there, and told me about the history of their photography. The experience was a once in a lifetime, but the best part? Unexpectedly seeing CBS correspondent Mo Rocca in the lobby.

in costumeSpending a great amount of time on the computer polishing my research undoubtably made my project stronger, but the competition is by far the best part of history fair. Regional competition held at Baylor consists of performing in the early hours of dawn, then waiting all day for the results to be announced. State brings even more excitement and anxiety, where you have to perform in morning preliminary rounds, and hopefully again in the afternoon finals. Late afternoon brings the awards ceremony with hundreds of nervous teenagers in a confined space (yikes.) Many students go home empty handed, but the others are soon to embark on a very intense, yet very rewarding, journey to Nationals.

Competing at the National level (or even in State finals) is similar to being nominated for an Oscar. Whether you place or not, your project is already in the very top percentage of your competitors. I’ve seen countless projects compete at Texas History Day that are better than projects at the National level from other states. While it may be easy to get caught up in the lights of Nationals, it really is amazing to be surrounded by some of the best young historians in the world, let alone compete with them. Trading state buttons may be the most important social event of NHD, but growing closer with my classmates, competitors and fellow Texans is definitely one of my favorite parts of the experience (but buttons are pretty cool too.) crowd picThis year, I’ve competed with students from Guam, South Korea, Guatemala and more- people from countries I may never visit, all because of National History Day.

Don’t get me wrong, the competition is grueling and very nerve-racking. I’ve walked into my finals room before thinking, “What are my first words?” “Did I forgot a prop?” “I don’t have enough sources!” Yet, I’ve managed not to pass out at any competition yet. This year, I was very lucky to do well in my performance and to have judges that appreciated my work.

shaking handsThe awards ceremony at Nationals is possibly the most anxious three hours of the entire week. It consists of countless minutes of talking until your category is called. Then your stomach sinks to your feet, and it’s hard to remember you’re “having fun.” The feeling I was overwhelmed with when they called my name was one of shock, excitement and honestly just a lot of confusion. I sprinted down the stairs, whether to keep the ceremony moving or because I couldn’t stand to walk. I had done it!

At the beginning of the last year, my social studies teacher, Mr. Wright, had us write down a goal for the year. I could have written “To pass the STAAR test” or “Make A Honor Roll”, but instead I wrote a goal I thought I couldn’t achieve – to win National History Day. As I share my experience with others or look back at this summer, all I am is thankful. Thankful that the dice rolled my way, thankful for my family and friends who pushed me to do the best I can. I’m thankful for my church and school family, my school district and teachers who give so much so that I can have an opportunity like this, and really thankful for a community that supports me in whatever I do. There isn’t a day that goes by that I regret doing history fair, no matter how stressful it might have been. And I’m thankful that I didn’t give up.

Harper Hoover 2Harper Hoover is currently a freshman at Waco High School where she stays busy with band, choir, school and community theater, and her 3 cats. This was her fourth year competing in the NHD contest, and her second time to make it to Nationals. She would like to thank the Waco Scottish Rite Foundation, the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair and Waco Independent School District for making her journey to Nationals possible.

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.

Service Learning at Indian Spring: Helping Kids Learn to be Citizens

By Travis Cheatham

At Indian Spring Middle School, we describe service learning as “an educational experience that meets real community needs in collaboration with schools and the community.”

caritas - CopyWhat does this look like for us? Volunteers from around our community come to our school to facilitate small groups based on the students’ preferred topics. The word “facilitate” is key. Although some instruction will be required, the main goal is to create an environment where students respect each other, their interests are piqued, and they are challenged to develop their own achievable service project. The groups develop their own proposal and our staff gives a stamp of approval or recommendation for changes.

The foundation for a successful service learning group is strong relationships, and the ability to build and strengthen relationships is the number one qualifier for being a good group facilitator.  According to the Search Institute, a research organization that focuses on what kids need to succeed, relationships are 10x more powerful than demographics as a determinant for success in life. On top of that, students are 21x more likely to be successful in making good decisions during stressful times if relationships are strong. Talk to any non-profit in town – if you want to make a difference in our town, relationships are the way. (The Search Institute has a 50-year legacy of linking research and practice to address critical issues in education and youth development; check them out at http://www.search-institute.org/ )

The Search Institute is quick to point out that relationships alone, aren’t enough, they must be paired with engagement. That’s why a natural second piece to our program is developing group dynamics, trust, and expectations to facilitate engagement. The time that is set aside each week for service learning at ISMS is short and precious. Team members follow the group norms to ensure success of their projects, and high expectations for meaningful engagement pull everything together.

girl powerService comes naturally to early adolescents, but incorporating the rigor of the classroom is as important as doing good. When it comes to curriculum for service learning, development is done as a team. The facilitators work with me and I work with teachers and instructional specialists to see how academic content can be reinforced. An easy example is the Girl Power group. This year they wrote letters to local businesses to encourage them to help support the Family Abuse Center. But these weren’t simply scrawled on construction paper, they were formal business letters that met proper form and syntax. What better way to learn English skills than to give it a purpose?

In May our students selected their favorite meta topics. Our incoming 7th graders showed the following interests:

Graph of interests








While our incoming 6th graders had their own preferences:

6th grade interests - Copy







As you can see, there’s interest in a lot of different areas! No one topic took more than 27% of either age group and therefore we are now recruiting facilitators from a swath of different areas.  What if you aren’t a pro in one of these topics? Great! Neither are the kids; it’s OK to be learning about topics together. Volunteers commit to come once a week for about one hour and spend an additional 30 minutes planning for the week. Facilitators must commit to volunteer for at least one full semester, but preferably a full school year (because relationships take time). To help, all facilitators will get training on the basics of service learning and working with our students. Once a month we’ll also have roundtable discussions to share feedback and evaluate.

Long-term, the goal of service learning at Indian Spring Middle School is to provide opportunities for students to apply new knowledge in our community and to foster a sense of empathy and civic duty. With your help, we hope this may be an opportunity that can become firmly rooted here and even spread to other schools.

For more information, contact me at [email protected], or give me a call at 217-553-6943.

Service Learning website: http://www.wacoisd.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=13246&pageId=424889__

Travis CheathamTravis Cheatham became the Service Learning Manager for Indian Spring Middle School in February. Before ISMS, Travis was the Executive Assistant at Mission Waco and helped lead a culinary class with the MPowerment job development program. Travis is also the Chef/Owner of Cuppa, Waco, TX a catering and food consulting business that was a regular at the farmers market in 2015. Travis is a ’06 Baylor grad who loves this community and loves to travel with his wife, Amy whenever possible.

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.


I loved my time at University High!

By Roman Novian

It happens all the time. I meet someone new and during the course of the conversation I am asked what high school I attended. I respond, “University High School!” Then, like clockwork, their eyes grow huge. By now I know what the next questions will be. “Were you scared”? “Did y’all have to pass through metal detectors every day”? And on and on. No, I was not scared and no, we did not have metal detectors and actually, I loved every minute of it!  I will admit, I was definitely scared my first day as a freshman. Of course being an awkward freshman on the first day of school is nerve-racking for anyone, but the rumors and comments from the public surely didn’t help. As the first day turned into weeks and then months I realized that I was in a great place. I started making great friends and becoming involved in many of the activities that were available through the public school system. I realized that all of the negative comments that I had heard over the years were completely erroneous. I received a top-notch education, extracurricular activities that helped me discover myself, and an unparalleled support system from my educators that went beyond the textbook to help me prepare for the real world.

Today, I am one of the top real estate agents in the country. I can certainly say that my time in the Waco public school system has helped me to be the person that I am.

I recently created the Roman The Realtor scholarship fund for local high school students. I believe it is important to give back to our community and there is no better way than education. Through the Waco public school system I was given an opportunity to succeed and I did.


The “Roman the Realtor” scholarship is open to University High School seniors who have been accepted and plan to attend college. Students should be ranked in the top 11%- 25% of the class and have demonstrated community involvement and volunteerism. Specific application requirements will be announced in early 2017. To learn more about the Roman the Realtor Scholarship, please contact University High School and ask for Mindy Place or Lisa Cain. The Waco ISD Education Foundation manages several scholarship funds for Waco and University High Schools. A committee of Education Foundation members, teachers, counselors and/or administrators reviews applicants and selects recipients. Those interested in contributing to or setting up a scholarship may contact the Education Foundation at 254-755-9517 or [email protected].

Roman NovianRoman Novian is a top producing real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors in Waco, Texas. He was born and raised in Waco and attended Waco public schools. His recent accolades include being among the top 1% of real estate agents worldwide for Coldwell Banker, the Coldwell Banker 30 under 30 award, The National Association of Realtors magazine 30 under 30 award, and Waco’s most loved Realtor by Locals Love Us.

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.

Easter with Emily

By Tansy Ackermann

I met Emily “Blank” Merton in person the night of Friday, March 11th. (She doesn’t have a middle name: I love to give her a hard time about that.) She arrived on a big yellow school bus, straight from DFW, in the Waco High School parking lot along with 20 other exhausted German teenagers. We took her home, let her get settled in, and we’ve been exploring Waco ever since.

Photo of Tansy & Exchange StudentEmily is my GAPP (German American Partnership Program) exchange partner. The foreign exchange program with our counterparts in Kerpen, Germany, began at Richfield High in the 1985 – 1986 school year.  When Richfield, Jefferson-Moore and Waco High Schools combined to become what is now known as Waco High, the exchange program kept going at the newly combined high school.  Every other year, the German students visit Waco for several weeks, living in the homes of Waco High students while becoming immersed in the Texas culture and attending classes at Waco High. In the summer, the Waco High students reciprocate the visit by traveling to Kerpen to experience life in Germany.

It has been a blast these last few weeks showing Emily around the Heart of Texas, and my home, Waco. We’ve climbed Jacob’s Ladder, walked the river walk and Suspension Bridge, shopped in the Spice Village, laid in the bluebonnets, taken pictures in front of the murals downtown, shopped until we’ve dropped at Central Texas Marketplace and the Richland Mall, but most importantly we’ve eaten some good ole’ Texas home cooking. We’ve done so many fun things together, and I’ve made memories with her that I will cherish for years to come, but my all-time favorite so far was spending Easter with Emily.

wacotownEaster is a time to rejoice in the Lord and His grace, fellowship with friends, and eat a whole bunch of candy with your family. This year my Easter was all that and more because I got to experience it with Emily. We started that Sunday morning with my grandmother’s homemade biscuits and gravy with eggs and bacon. Her biscuits are hard to beat, and before I met Emily I thought it was impossible; but seeing someone take their first bite of their first biscuit ever is a delicacy within itself. Then we went to church, and hearing God’s word is magnificent, especially when worshiping with a friend. After church we visited my friend Lexie Field out at her grandparents’ ranch so that Emily and Lexie’s German exchange partner, Lissi, could ride horses, and celebrate Easter at a classic hamburger/hotdog cookout.

We ate too much and laughed too hard when we were supposed to be quiet while hiding Easter eggs for the little kids to hunt all over the property. We watched the little ones stumble trying to carry baskets full of plastic eggs encasing candy that were almost as big as they were. The grand finale to the perfect Easter day was chasing each other with confetti-filled eggs and cracking them on each other’s heads under the Texas sunset. It took us hours to shake the confetti out of our hair and Sunday dresses, but no love was lost because we had good food, good friends and a good God.

The thing that has touched my heart the most during the time I am spending with Emily is the way she talks about the people of Waco. I loved this city before she came to visit, but now that she’s here I have a different kind of appreciation for my home. When Emily meets someone new, the first thing she says to me after meeting them is, “They were so nice.” And they are. People here don’t talk to you because it’s a “common courtesy”, or the “polite” thing to do. People here will talk to you because they have something to say, and they want you to feel welcome. We’re half a world away from Emily’s home in Sindorf, Germany, but Waco has made her feel at home, and that cannot be said for every town in the country, or even Texas. I can’t wait to visit her in Germany this summer, but I know that nowhere else in the world has a heart the size of Waco’s (though the chocolate in Germany might just make up for it).

Photo of TansyTansy Ackermann is a sophomore at Waco High School, the top of her class and has been on the varsity Mock Trial team for 2 years. She is also an active participant in UIL Cross Examination Debate, and extemporaneous speaking. She enjoys reading and the outdoors, and hopes to attend the University of Texas at Austin and graduate to become a prosecuting attorney.

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.

Youth Council Trip to Nashville a Terrific Experience!

By Sandra Arias

I’ve always had large ambitions of traveling to new places. When I first heard that I would be heading to Nashville, Tennessee for the National League of Cities Conference I knew that I was in for a great time.

For the past two years I have served on the Waco City Youth Council, an organization dedicated to helping the youth of Waco become more active in the community. Within this organization I have been a part of many wonderful projects such as fundraising for the Waco Humane Society and donating gifts to some of the five hundred foster children in McLennan County. Annually, the Waco City Youth Council, along with the Waco City Council, travels to the National League of Cities Conference. Delegates from across the country meet at this conference every year to discuss local issues, and hear from speakers who have made a great impact in their communities.

students in NashvilleThis year I, along with five other students from Waco, attended this conference as youth delegates. Never in my life had I left the state of Texas, let alone been on a plane, and for me to travel to the country music capital was inconceivable. There are not enough words to express the excitement I felt. Weeks prior to our departure my good friend and fellow delegate, Kristen Petree, and I spent our time planning everything we wanted to do when we landed in Nashville. However, to actually be in the city was a breathtaking experience.

On November 2, 2015 we departed for Nashville, Tennessee. As we landed in the grand city, it was very clear that it was a vibrant place filled with great energy. On our first day we made our way to the Music City Center, one of the largest convention centers in the country and got a first glimpse of the convention. Thousands of people gathered in this large building, spanning the length of five city blocks, for the sole purpose of finding ways to improve their city. We also met with several other youth delegates from all around the country. What was astounding to me was that so many of these young adults, like myself, cared very much about their community. One of the major highlights of this trip was hearing Vice President Joe Biden speak. In his speech he highlighted the importance of small businesses, and the vital necessity of city infrastructure to bring in companies that could provide jobs for our citizens. Within our small Joe Bidencity of Waco, I believe that we truly embrace the words of Vice President Biden. In Waco, we embrace our small businesses with the hope that our citizens will prosper. We have also done well by providing the infrastructure needed to house large companies such as M&M Mars, which employs many people in the area.

During the rest of my stay in Nashville I enjoyed a variety of other things. Our group had plans to consult with various companies about their proposals for developing our city. We met with council member Alice Rodriguez on several occasions to discuss with her all that we had seen and heard. The Nashville youth delegates gave us a tour of the city and its historic sites. We were also treated to a private concert by some of Nashville’s up and coming artists.

Overall, my journey to Nashville was spectacular. I was able to meet many great people who provided me an outsider’s perspective of my wonderful city. I am very grateful to the Waco City Council, as well as the Waco City Youth Council for allowing me to attend this wonderful trip. In the end, I learned about many ways to improve my community, and I plan to employ what I learned to help our community prosper.

Do you know a young person who might be interested in Waco Youth Council? The Waco Youth Council’s primary function is to provide the Waco City Council a teen perspective on issues facing the City, and to provide a voice for teens in the community. The group typically volunteers at functions such as the annual Feast of Sharing, Brazos River Cleanups, and at community center events such as Easter Egg Hunts and Halloween carnivals.  Applications are available from high school counselors, or by emailing Earl Stinnett at [email protected]. The deadline to apply is Thursday, April 21, 2016. <Youth Council Application> <Youth Council Information Sheet>

Sandra Arias-2Sandra Arias is a senior at Waco High School, with plans to attend the University of Texas at Arlington this fall. She will major in science and exercise, and hopes to earn her Master’s degree in athletic training. She is very involved in Waco High’s student athletic training program, and has also been a part of Waco High’s cross country, track, and Lady Lion soccer teams.


Thanks Waco Voters – for Recognizing our Potential and Investing in our Future!

by Kaleigh Huser

As a junior in high school, I am sorting through those “next step” questions about what type of career I will pursue and where I will attend college. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher; I also considered marine biology. As of today, I have abandoned the idea of becoming a professional violinist, but you never know. I very much enjoy theatre and music, and while I can’t say for sure where my interests will lead, I know that I am going to college. I have always known that even if it means drowning in student loans… college is my future. Thanks to Waco voters, I don’t have to worry as much about the student loans. With the approval of the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) I can enroll in classes that will allow me to earn college credit while in high school at no cost to me or my mother.

Prior to this year, high school juniors and seniors were limited to two dual credit classes per semester. The Texas Legislature passed new laws that lifted the limits on the number of dual credit classes a high school student can take and opened up dual credit for underclassmen. This means that incoming freshmen can even get an associate’s degree while in high school should they chose to do so.

I like the structure of the dual credit classes. Expectations are clear, and we are getting experience with college systems. I use Blackboard for notes, grades, handouts, projects, and pretty much everything. I don’t use my planner anymore, because it is all on my phone. When I am talking to my friends who go to school at University of Texas, it feels good to know that I am doing a lot of the same things that they are. When I get there, I will be better prepared thanks to the dual credit experience.

While some high school students qualified for a tuition waiver, my family and many others paid the full MCC tuition. Financial aid is not available for high school students, so taking a full slate of courses can become very expensive over the four years of high school. Next year, I plan to take three to four dual credit classes each semester, which will equal almost three thousand dollars over the school year. With the tuition waiver for all Waco ISD students, I can take the classes without worrying about the financial pressure, and I will enter college with 24 to 30 hours already paid for. If I go to UT, a year of tuition is $9, 346. We are so blessed to have this opportunity! I have friends who do not attend school in Waco ISD, and they are attending the same dual credit classes that I am.   They are responsible for tuition, which sometimes limits their options.

If you voted to have your taxes raised or worked to get the TRE passed, thank you for your generosity. I am not just speaking for myself when I say we are honored that you recognized our potential and voted to invest in our future.

Kaleigh Huser-2Kaleigh Huser is a junior at Waco High School. She is an active member of the Theatre Company, Show Choir, A Capella choir, National Honor Society, and Advanced Academics Student Advisory Board and she plays the violin. Kaleigh is ranked among the top five students in her class, and she spends every waking hour at Waco High or working on projects for classes at Waco High.

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.


“Linking” My Community to Success: Project Link and a Positive Outlook!

by Marlayna Botello

As a new young professional in the Waco community, I believe it is my responsibility to make sure that students not only receive the opportunity to achieve their dreams, but also that students know they have a mentor there to support and guide them through any adversity that they may face. My professional role as a Project Link Liaison at University high school is to guide students via one on one advising sessions that target academic success and college readiness and via group sessions. I also conduct activities specific to each student’s grade level to properly prepare them for a successful college experience and career choice.

Project Link
Every student deserves an equal chance of succeeding after high school. Project Link is a new grant-funded collaborative effort under the leadership of Tom Stanton, Executive Director of The Rapoport Foundation and Matthew Polk Executive Director of Prosper Waco. This grant is intended to increase college enrollment and success among Waco-area students. Project Link provides an opportunity for students to receive individual guidance beginning in the 9th grade and continuing to the student’s second year of college.

Marlayna Botello - 1Project Link’s Mission is to create a college going culture by linking Waco-area students to postsecondary education and workforce opportunities. We are devoted to challenging and supporting students to reach their full potential by advocating success through personal discovery, academic growth, and community involvement. To achieve this, Project Link has provided staff at two local high schools, Waco ISD’s University High School (including myself) and LaVega ISD’s LaVega High School as well as staff at MCC and TSTC to ensure that students have a coach and cheerleader from ninth grade through college.

My role is to work with the students at University High school, and it has been such a blessing. These students are beyond determined to make a name for themselves after high school…we just need to give them a chance. Project Link will give our students the push and motivation to complete the college readiness process. We, as Project Link Liaisons, are excited to see where our students end up in life.

Growing Up in Waco
My passion for the Waco Community grows stronger every year that I live and serve in this city. No city will ever match the wonderful people, the unique beauty, and the family feel of Waco, Texas.

I have lived in Waco all of my life, have developed a pride for my city and want to give back in the biggest way possible. I graduated from Waco high school in 2011 and went on to get my bachelor’s from Baylor University December 2014. I am proud of growing up and continuing my journey in Waco.

Growing Up In Waco ISD
I attended all Waco ISD schools from Pre-k to my senior year of high school. I walked the beautiful halls of Dean Highland Elementary School, Lake Air Middle School, and Waco High School. While attending these schools, I discovered that my life in the Waco Independent School District allowed me to explore diverse educational, cultural, and extracurricular opportunities. My eyes were opened to a world of inspiring classmates and educators.  At this time in my life I have discovered that I would have never become the individual that I am today without growing up in Waco ISD.

Waco ISD has a very special place in my heart. I believe that the time I spent in Waco ISD revealed the abundance of potential that the young people of this district possess. This experience has inspired me to help our students believe that their life goals and dreams are obtainable and can in fact become a reality.

How Can You Help? Invest In Our Youth Today
If we as a community want change our city, we need to invest our lives in inspiring change in the societal barriers that exist in our education system. I admit, like many others, that at times I find myself getting so caught up in the selfishness of my life that I don’t realize that there are thousands of students that are going to bed hungry, or are working two jobs to support their families in my own city. This is the same city that I take so much pride in. How can we say we are proud when we let things like this happen in our community everyday? Many of us need to think about how we can be a helping hand to the community today. How can we change lives for the better?  It starts with our youth. It should be everyone’s priority to invest in our youth to ensure that our city continues to excel.

How can you help today? Step inside the walls of our public schools right now and volunteer. And when you volunteer, don’t only observe our students, but interact with them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how classes are going. Ask them about their struggles. I have learned that all our students look for in an adult is someone that cares. Caring creates trust, which will make a big impact in our student’s lives. Why? Because, they aren’t used to that kind of treatment from society. They are not used to being treated like they belong.

Finally, I would ask you consider the misrepresentation of these students, whose daily struggles surpass anything you could ever imagine a 4-18 year old would experience. There is so much work to be done in our community before we can change the world, but it will take the entire community to make these changes.

I am very thankful to be a part of the Project Link Program. The amount of support that we are receiving from other organizations and institutions is just astounding. We are ready to get our students started on the right path to success! You can help make that goal a reality!

Be proud of where you came from and strive to make your home a better place.

Marlayna botello-2Marlayna Botello is a Project Link Liaison at University High School. Born and raised in Waco, Marlayna is a proud graduate of Waco ISD schools and Baylor University. She just purchased her first home  and plans to continue to support her Baylor Bears for many years to come!  Sic ’em! 

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