Upward Bound grants extended to help students finish high school, plan for college

By Katie Johnson

Every year, over 1.2 million students in the United States drop out of high school, and about 14% of high school freshmen fail to graduate on time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In hopes of redirecting this trend, Education Service Center Region 12 implements three grants in Connally and La Vega, Waco, and Killeen ISDs. These three Upward Bound grants have been awarded a continuation, providing $297,600 per year per grant for the next five years to aid Central Texas high school students.

Upward Bound students in Waco

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound is an innovative program aimed at closing the gap and increasing the academic achievement levels of first-generation and economically disadvantaged students to succeed in high school, post-secondary education, and beyond.

“One of the most gratifying elements of this program is to have our Upward Bound alumni come back and work with our current participants as an ESC Region 12 Intermittent employee,” says Tammy Horner, ESC Region 12 Upward Bound project director. “Their presence in working as tutors, instructors and chaperones, while they continue on their own post-secondary education path is an encouragement to our students as they see that college can become a reality.”

Upward Bound supports participants in their preparation for college entrance and offers opportunities to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Projects offer academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages.

Upward Bound students from Connally & La Vega high schools

ESC Region 12’s Upward Bound program constitutes three separate grants as each contributes to helping high school students in different cities. One grant serves students at Connally and La Vega high schools. The second grant supports Waco and University high schools. The last grant is geared toward students at Killeen and Pathways high schools in Killeen ISD, and Richard Milburn Academy, a Killeen charter school.

The Upward Bound programs at ESC Region 12, which began in the fall of 2012, assist up to 60 students each year, per grant. Students are selected through an application and interview process, where report cards, transcripts, and teacher recommendations are evaluated. Once accepted into the Upward Bound program, rising ninth through eleventh-grade students are tracked through high school and six years beyond graduation to ensure completion of post-secondary education.

Since parent involvement is one of the driving factors behind overall student success, the participants’ parents also receive support during their child’s high school career and college application process. This aid and involvement includes informational meetings, financial aid and scholarship information and counseling, college requirement counseling, and financial planning.

Kick-off celebrations for each Upward Bound program is Sept. 24. Upward Bound Waco will meet at ESC Region 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upward Bound Killeen will meet at Killeen High School, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upward Bound Connally and La Vega will meet at Connally High School, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

For more information on the Upward Bound program, please visit esc12.net/upwardbound.

Katie Johnson is graphic design & communications specialist with Education Service Center Region 12.

Helping students figure out a future that fits

By Elizabeth Brownlee

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is difficult for a 30-year-old adult, so you can imagine teenagers have a tough time with it.

House Bill 5, passed in 2013, increased the pressure for our students to plan for their future careers at an earlier age.  All ninth graders are now required to select one of the following endorsements:

  • Arts and Humanities Endorsement 
  • Business and Industry Endorsement 
  • Multidisciplinary Endorsement 
  • Public Service Endorsement 
  • STEM Endorsement 

An “endorsement” is a series of courses that are grouped together to support a particular career path. To implement this requirement successfully, schools have had to expand career exploration opportunities for students, and also start the career exploration process sooner.

At Connally ISD, one of the major ways we help our students find their future career path is through the Connally Career Tech Early College High School.  Our campus is completely focused on students working towards their chosen future careers.  We help them get started on their career path and get experience in their chosen fields before they graduate.  As the counselor of Connally Career Tech I spend a lot of time with students trying to help them create plans not only for high school, but for their futures once they graduate. It may seem unrealistic to ask a fifteen-year-olds to plan out their future career paths and expect them to stick to it, and maybe it is, but getting them to start thinking and talking about a path is important.

For me helping a student choose a career path is all about building a relationship.  I know in education we constantly talk about test scores and grades, but when it comes to being a counselor, you have to build relationships with your students.  Getting to know my students and their interests helps me guide them along their career exploration path. I am constantly trying to get to know my students.  I try to see them in their element, whether it’s while they’re in study hall, in the classroom, or just talking to their friends. I talk to parents about their student’s interests.  Parents have insights into their student’s likes and dislikes that I may not see. 

My relationship with a student is my most important tool for helping them.  I need to know what’s important to them.  Without the relationship, I wouldn’t be able to have those important, hard, honest conversations when their goals and their interests don’t seem to match.

Sometimes a student will want to study for a particular career path because an older sibling really likes it, when in reality he/she has no interest in that career.  He/she is just unsure of what to do in the future.   I never try to force a student in a certain direction. I give them an idea and tools to help them research it to see if it’s something they are truly interested in pursuing. If possible, I have them speak with someone in the field or someone teaching in that field. 

I find a lot of students want to go into a career field because that’s all they’ve been exposed to growing up.  We’ve all heard of doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and similar careers.  We see them all the time and they are all great career choices, but they don’t fit all students.  

Each year when we have our College and Career Fair or our Recruitment Night for Connally Career Tech, I bring my students to speak to specific tables or programs that I know fit with what they want to do in the future.  By encouraging a student talk to someone from a field they don’t automatically think about, I help them get exposure to new choices.  While I want them to go and talk to every program or table that interests them, I want to make sure I help them see what they wouldn’t normally choose.

We also try to take our students on field trips that cover multiple career fields.  This helps expose our students to different careers they may not think of right away. It is my goal to help my students find out about the lesser known, sometimes behind the scenes careers they don’t always know about.  Many times I get to go with them and observe their reactions. This helps me guide them in their career choices. Students will come back from a field trip and begin to have conversations about what they saw, what they liked or didn’t like.  Then we start moving forward with career planning based on what they tell me.

My students and I spend a lot of time talking about their career goals for the future and how their high school choices are helping them get to that career. Sometimes a student settles on a career choice, but then they get to experience a little bit of it.  They may come and tell me that it’s not what they thought, or they didn’t realize everything that went into that career and they want to change.  That is probably one of the best parts of our program. Students get to experience at least a little of what a particular career is like before they graduate from high school. They don’t have to wait until after high school and waste money and time working towards a career that they end up not enjoying. I want them to be able to make well informed decisions about their future career.  For many students, the experiences we provide help them do that.  I’ve seen too many students graduate from high school unsure of their future. I make it one of my goals to help my students have a plan or a vision for their career path before they graduate.  

Elizabeth Brownlee is in her 4th year as the Connally Career Tech Early College High School Counselor and her 10th year in education.  She has been married for just under a year.  She and her husband have two pit bulls and chihuahua.  In her free time, she enjoys crafting, running, and anything outdoors.

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.

Innovation for Career Readiness at Connally ISD

By Hermann Pereira

When I entered into the education field 10 years ago I thought to myself, “Next year I will find a real job…” I had studied business administration at Stephen F. Austin and thought the corporate world was where I wanted to spend my career. We had moved to Waco and I figured teaching would be easy. Boy, was I wrong! Being an educator was challenging and rewarding and I was hooked early on. I followed my wife into the profession after I saw the influence she had in the classroom and as a coach. I wanted to do the same for students that looked like me and ones that came from blue collar families like me as well. I found my motivation to impact young people’s lives early in my teaching career at West ISD. Then, as I began working at Connally ISD, I realized my motivation to impact others needed to be broader.  That led me to Baylor University where I earned my Master’s degree in Educational Administration.

I have been blessed to lead the team at Connally Career Tech for the past year and it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. We have had success in a short amount of time and I think that all boils down to a few key ingredients: motivation and partnerships.

Motivation is key

More than three years ago Connally ISD decided to think outside of the box. They created Connally Career Tech Early College High School. Leaders at Connally were motivated to serve the students at Connally ISD in a unique way because the reality is not every student has the desire to attend a 4-year university. We are a school within a school model, which means students can experience high school sports and activities and attend college classes. One important feature of our campus is that all tuition, books and supplies are free to the families so cost is not a barrier to students. All students from Connally High School can apply to be a part of our campus if they have the desire to enter into one of our career clusters. Those clusters consist of Construction, Computers, Criminal Justice, Drafting, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Technology, Transportation Technology or Visual Communications. Once students show an interest in these fields we educate them on what types of opportunities they may have if they study one of these fields.

Students are learning hands on career skills in a certain field as well as soft skills that will help them to become the very best in their chosen industries. We have seen that once students begin working in an industry for which they feel a passion, their motivation will push them to achieve more than they would have ever imagined. Students receive extra support and guidance in a “small school feel” from teachers and faculty due to the Early College High School (ECHS) model that we follow.  Some students will finish with college hours in a career field, some will complete certifications or an Associate’s degree in a certain field. Either way they are realizing that these opportunities are generation changers.


Connally ISD is fortunate to be part of the greater Waco area which is filled with people, companies, higher ed institutions and other organizations that are ready and willing to partner with the efforts of all schools. For schools like ours, that make college hours available to students, it all begins with our higher education partners. Texas State Technical College was the first college partner that opened its doors and made its programs available to our students. On TSTC’s Waco campus, Connally Career Tech students are able to earn certificates and Associate’s degrees in high demand technical fields. Our students are able to learn from the best professors and are able to experience top notch facilities in these different fields. Our focus on career readiness also led us to a partnership with McLennan Community College that will kick off this upcoming fall. With this new partnership Connally Career Tech students will be able to choose from a number of public service careers. Our students will have the opportunity to earn certificates and possibly Associate’s degrees in industries such as health care and emergency service fields. Recruiting is almost over for next school year and we have had a great deal of interest from families about our new career offerings.

In a short amount of time we have found that members of the community are eager to partner with us to help create more well-rounded, career driven students. So far we have relationships with large companies, small local businesses, and nonprofits who are providing mentoring, opportunities to serve those in need, career guidance, supplies for clubs and activities, and paid internships. These key relationships have been fostered through our active advisory board at Connally Career Tech.

In my conversations with students I try to stress to them that in a few short semesters they will be walking the stage as Connally ISD graduates and we all will be proud of them. Students are motivated to finish high school, but what I emphasize is that they need to make sure they are college and/or career ready before they shake my hand on stage. Our career driven campus serves students in our school district well, but it is also something that could be replicated. Hopefully in the coming years other local school districts will choose to embark on a similar journey, and when they do Connally Career Tech will be there to partner with them.

Hermann Pereira is the Principal of Connally Career Tech Early College High School and has been in education for 10 years. He is a Houstonian who roots for all Houston sports teams but has called Waco home for the past decade. He has been married to Kristi for 13 years and has two children, Hudson who is 8 years old and Ruby who is 5 years old.