Editor's Note



major goal of Focus is to unite the Waco and Baylor volunteer communities. When planning this semester’s issue, we realized no element of a community is as crucial to unity as education. The education system functions as one body; every person within it performs a separate purpose, but without one individual’s contribution, the whole body suffers. To us, this system doesn’t stop when a student walks across the stage at graduation, and it isn’t confined by the walls of the schools’ buildings or the hours of the school day. Waco’s education system includes thousands of people who make sure every student is cared for (see page 28), who overcome huge obstacles (see pages 4, 8 and 21) and who know that learning is a lifelong endeavor (see pages 17 and 25). Though some forms of education may not be as traditional as others (see pages 11 and 14), they all have a unique place within the body of education. Our community offers a wealth of organizations with opportunities to get involved or get help, some of which you’ll find in this magazine. Check out more on our Web site, www. baylor.edu/focus or send us feedback at focus@baylor.edu. Maybe we’ll learn a thing or two from you.


Special Thanks To: Julie Freeman, Paul Carr, Mike Blackman, Kevin Tankersley, Carol Perry, Dr. Clark Baker and the Baylor Journalism Department

Jenna Dewitt Bethany Poller

Table of Contents
Lead Designers
Brittany Black Rachel McGinness

4 8 11 14 17 21 25 28

Megan Duron Paige McNamara Amanda Molleur Ashley Morris Sarah Rafique Michelle Rava Ashleigh Schmitz

Suzy Azzam Daniel Cernero Sarah Griffith Stephen Green Sarah Groman Lauren Guy Lindsey Scribner

Chris Derrett Megan Duron Brittany Hardy Vanessa Mosharaf Julia Musker Sarah Rafique Whitney Tennison Meghan Swartzendruber

Seeing Through Blind Eyes Family Abuse Center Embraces New Beginnings Lessons from Home Community Backbone Brings Hope to East Waco Going the Distance Life Without Limits Adult Student Gets a Leg Up Inspiration to Last a Lifetime

Focus Magazine is owned and published by Baylor University. It is produced through the student publications department. The entire content of Focus Magazine is protected under the Federal Copyright Act. Reproduction of any portion of any issue by any means, mechanical or otherwise, is not permitted without the consent of Baylor University. © 2010, Baylor University


Seeing through blind eyes
story by julia musker photos by suzy azzam design by ashleigh schmitz

couch donning a green Baylor sweatshirt and polka-dot rain boots. Her short blonde hair is neatly combed and parted down the middle. She has headphones on and her head is lightly swaying to whatever she is listening to. I announce my arrival and she gladly removes her headphones, smiles and faces my general vicinity. We chat about the torrential downpour outside and its interruption to our daily schedules. I look at Stephanie when I talk to her and practically forget that although she looks at me, she doesn’t see me. Stephanie is blind and has been since birth. The blue-eyed 23-year-old is the first blind

Stephanie Lee sits comfortably on a leather

undergraduate student to attend Baylor University.

One other blind graduate student attended Baylor
“Baylor is slowly making a name for itself in the world of colleges and universities that have services for disabilities,” disability advisor Cece Lively said. “Baylor is the top Christian institution that comes up in Web searches for universities with a disabilities service.”

nearly 15 years ago, but since then no one else with the disability has chosen to make Baylor home.

Stephanie, however, knew about Baylor from her local ties. She grew up West, about 20 miles north of Waco, and even began her preschool


“I don’t think any part of her college experience has been compromised in any way.” -Cece Lively, disability adviser
education in Waco. Stephanie has had “mainstream” education, meaning she has gone to school like any other student her whole life. Teachers began coming to her house when she was 2 weeks old. These teachers helped her learn occupational skills such as sitting. She also learned different concepts like telling the difference between salt and sugar. Difficult for any infant, walking was made easier for Stephanie with a cane crafted out of a hula-hoop. At age 2, she was told she could not see, but her mother, Pat, made sure she knew she would be treated just like any other child—and she was. Presidential scholarship upon graduation to attend McLennan Community College, all expenses paid. After two years she had earned an impressive 4.0 and yet said, “I taught (MCC) a lot. The disabilities office was very ‘fend for yourself.’” Lee was ready to move on. With her older sister Leslie already in attendance, Stephanie entered Texas A&M University for her junior year. “It was the worst semester of my life,” Lee said. “My tests were never ready, people were not helpful, and I had $14,000 dollars worth of equipment in my dorm room that was ruined by humidity before I even got there in August.” By the middle of the semester she was back in Waco to interview with Baylor.

tephanie enrolled in preschool at the normal age of 3 and attended from 8 a.m. from 2 p.m. She attributes part of her success in preschool to her cousin. “She was there to help me and was a big support system,” Stephanie said. The second blind student to attend West High School (the first was her cousin Scott), Stephanie was happy with the school district for catering to her educational needs. They provided her with a desk and textbooks. Stephanie proudly says that even though she was the second blind student at West, she was the first to graduate with honors. She earned the


Stephanie thought she might want to get her college degree in journalism, a major A&M did not offer. After meeting with journalism professor Maxey Parrish, she knew Baylor was the right place for her. Another reason Stephanie decided on Baylor is its strong Office of Access and Learning Accommodation. The advisers have a heart for working with students like Stephanie. They encourage independence and have the students do most of their work on their own, but are there to help if the students

Always better with words than numbers,


need it. A main goal at OALA is to prepare the students for life after college. Stephanie knew she would be taken care of, and she has been.

included, costs anywhere between $5, 000 and $10,000 compared to the $300 textbook a seeing student might have to pay for. Besides being so expensive, these volumes are tremendously heavy. A more convenient way to go about reading a textbook is through a system called Plextalk, in which she can insert the CD and Plextalk reads the textbook to her. She can also insert a blank CD to record notes in class. Another option is going to bookshare.org and downloading an e-book. For math classes, a system called Thermaform enables graphs to be drawn in Braille on a plastic sheet. Stephanie’s portable note taker, Braille Note, functions like a computer but looks more like a miniature xylophone. It has a calculator, planner and address book, and is small enough that she can take it with her to class. To check her e-mail, Stephanie’s computer reads aloud to her, and she responds by typing on her Braille keyboard. Stephanie takes tests at OALA. Lively reads the tests to her and Stephanie says the answer aloud. Another option is that Lively will make a Braille version of the test so Lee can follow along as she reads the questions and answers. OALA is also responsible for picking Stephanie up and taking her to class when there is construction on her normal path to a certain class or the weather is bad.

nowing she would be the first blind student, Stephanie was ready to take on any challenge presented to her. In fact, she would go above and beyond. She plays the cymbals in Baylor’s marching band, is active in St. Peter’s Catholic Church community and is involved with the journalism department as a reporter for The Baylor Lariat. “Stephanie is such a diligent student. I don’t think she even understands the meaning of no,” Lively said. “She studies hard, she works hard, she performs well, and she has a great social life. I don’t think any part of her college experience has been compromised in any way. She has made the most of every moment and she is an inspiration.”


grades without being able to see a textbook? Or return e-mails promptly and with proper spelling? The answer: technology. Stephanie’s textbooks are known as “Braille books.” A regular textbook is transcribed by prisoners into Braille volumes. For example, Stephanie’s geometry book comes in 60 volumes. One book, all volumes

So how does a blind student turn up stellar

hough she can’t see, Stephanie is a happy and fun young woman who enjoys many different hobbies. One of them is cooking. Upon hearing this, a fellow student chimes in and says, “I can’t cook and I can see!” Stephanie and I laugh and she explains how her oven, stove and microwave are labeled in Braille for her and how she goes about making sure she is using the right ingredient. For example, she can tell what flavor soup is, for the most part, by shaking it. “It’s happened before where I ended up cooking something different than I thought. One time I was cooking tomato soup for dinner, but when I went to eat it I had actually made cream of mushroom,” she said, laughing. These accidents happen not only with soup


Above: Stephanie runs her fingers across the pages of her “Braille books” to read for class. Because of these books, Stephanie is able to maintain her high GPA.


but with colors, too. Today and every other day Lee looks color-coordinated, much of which she attributes to her color tester. To ensure she is putting on two of the same color socks or shoes she holds the tester up to the item and it tells her, in Braille, what color it is. “One time in high school I was in a hurry to get ready and put two different color flip-flops on,” Stephanie said. “When I got out of the car at school, my mom told me I had two different color shoes on and she drove back home and brought me the right pair.”

West, has been her biggest support along the way. Her most recent encourager is her new dog, Bailey. She just got her this semester and is learning the joys of responsibility that come with owning a dog.

Her mom, who is a secretary at a school in

In the last few months of her college career, Stephanie is stressed about sending out her resume and trying to find a job like any graduating senior. She is willing to move to a new city like Dallas, where public transportation or walking will be her mode of transportation. Stephanie said she hopes to land a job in journalism but will take anything she can get to start paying off her loans. A beautiful person inside and out, Stephanie is an example of optimism and joy. Eager to learn despite her disability, there isn’t much she cannot do or will not try. As the first blind Baylor student in 15 years, Lee has set the stage for future students with the disability. As she says herself, “I am always thinking ‘How can I make this work?’ and I always find a way.”
Above right: With the help of Braille on her stove dials, Stephanie can cook for herself. Middle right: Bailey is one of Stephanie’s biggest supporters, encouraging her and helping her learn more responsibility. Right: Stephanie uses her cane to get around between classes and in her daily life.


story by whitney tennison design by michelle rava
he school bus doors open and 15 children of various ages run, backpacks in tow, to the doors of the unmarked building. Laughing and yelling, they are excited to end their school day. The doors to the building open and the adults inside meet the kids with enthusiasm and questions about the day. On the walls are finger paintings and a colorful poster board collection of little handprints. Some of the children are related, some go to the same school, but they all have one thing in common: These children come from abused homes and they, along with a parent, find refuge and temporary care with the Waco Family Abuse Center. The children at the Waco Family Abuse Center have either experienced or witnessed abuse. Many of the children struggle emotionally because of their prior experiences, and having no home only escalates their stress. Children lack the comfort of their own clothes and toys as families often flee abusive homes quickly and do not have time to collect their belongings. The children are in a new place, with new people, without their things, and to add to their problems, their abused parent is often overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Despite all of the chaos and difficulties surrounding these children, a private school bus arrives every school morning and delivers the homeless children to their schools, where they continue their education and maintain some sense of normalcy.


family abuse center embraces new beginnings

size of her body, and when asked about the secrecy of her temporary home, she responds, “Yeah, it’s a secret so Daddy won’t find us.” To enter into the building, the assistant at the front desk must press a button to unlock the doors. The school bus that comes to pick up the students does not stop along the way to pick up other children for safety reasons, and also so that the other children at school won’t know that the Family Abuse Center children are homeless or abused. Waco Independent School District provides the uniforms the children need in order to attend school, and they also provide a consistent tutor to assist the children after school at the center.

Before the children are able to go to school, they and their parents talk to Sarah Viviani, the Children’s Services Coordinator at the center. With dress-up At the Family Abuse Center, the safety of the families is the primary concern. It is clothes, dolls, balls and picture books strewn around, Viviani’s workspace looks more like a playroom than important that the children’s location not be disclosed an office. Viviani has both administrative and direct in order to protect them and other families from abusers. Six-year-old Elizabeth bounces a pink ball half the practice responsibilities. She organizes children’s

“It's a secret so Daddy won't find us.” -Elizabeth, child at the Family Abuse Center


group activities three nights a week for the different age groups and counsels each child individually. She is also in charge of placing new students into schools and she acts as a liaison between the schools, the Family Abuse Center, and the parents and students. When families come from other counties or states, Viviani calls the superintendent and talks to the homeless liaison to find a place for the children in the school district. She prefers to contact schools with a Communities in Schools program. The program provides the students with a counselor during school to watch out for the them, talk to them and to help them manage school under the stress of their circumstances.

Discussing the needs relating to education at the center, Viviani unfolds a large piece of paper with a penciled graph and notes along the edges. The graph explains the different educational goals for the kids at the center. From the ages of 0 to 5 years, the graph shows that early attention to education in areas like motor skills and spatial skills is important for children, but as they get older, the home life (which is shelter life for the Family Abuse Center children) and education go hand-in-hand and caretakers at school can replace caretakers at home. In order to ensure that the children fall where they should on the graph and have the skills necessary for their age groups, the center has applied for a grant for the funding of new computers and educational software. Currently

Including the children in the

shelter, there are 125 stu-

dents that require the services of Klista Bloomberger, the Communities In Schools program manager at Doris Miller Elementary. Bloomberger explains that “most of our students are dealing with multiple issues in their home life and school life, which often make learning difficult for the child.” With the support of Waco Independent School District, Communities in Schools counselors and the after-school tutor at the Family Abuse Center provided by the school district, the students are afforded the help to continue their education even while homeless. Viviani admits that “the reality is that the depth of the needs of the kids is so big that we have to prioritize where to help them the most.” When children struggle in school, Viviani usually calls the Communities in Schools counselor, but when she realizes that education is a stronger need than the emotional issues, she helps the child in the area of need. “I’ve had a 13-year-old and realized, oh my goodness, you don’t know your multiplication facts,” Viviani said.

the center has only two computers for general use and often the women within the shelter need to use the computers for job searching. “We want these kids to have the same experiences technologically as other children,” Viviani said.

or the younger children, a donation of $1,000 is supplying Leap Frog learning toys to help with reading. The volunteers at the center will receive training on the functionality of the games in order to initiate constructive play. Realizing that education is a means of escape for children in oppressive situations, the Family Abuse Center pushes connections to school, to Communities in Schools and to extracurricular activities so that children have outlets and support outside of the home. Education through the traditional school system is a major priority at the Family Abuse Center; however,



the center also strives to educate about abuse. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, 3.3 million to 10 million children witness or experience some form of domestic violence annually in the United States. For that reason, those at the center feel that it is crucial to educate the children about abusive relationships. The kids learn about abuse and relationships at their group sessions with Viviani, from Communities in Schools counselors and through special programs. One volunteer comes to the center periodically to teach the children about different cultures. Through another program, the social work interns for the Family Abuse Center plan monthly visits to Mayborn Museum for the older elementary age students. They visit exhibits like the optical illusion exhibit, and connect what they learn at the museum to real-life situations.

the strong, yet gentle arms that rock families back into well-being, that cradle children through difficult times, that reach out to struggling women and children, and that push families back into the community with a fresh start. The kids find the resources they need in order to succeed through Waco Independent School District and the Waco Family Abuse Center. They are able to continue their educations and meet positive and encouraging contacts through their involvement in school. The children who pass through the doors of the Family Abuse Center have certainly faced complex and heartbreaking situations, but with the support and understanding of the community and the resources offered to them, the children have the opportunity to gain the confidence, knowledge and determination to break the cycle of abuse.

The interns help the children draw conclusions such as: things are not always what they seem, or I may feel this way, but I am acting another way. The various resources available to the children provide support and educational experiences that relieve the anxiety that comes along with instability. The children learn about abuse, and therefore are equipped to end generational cycles of abuse.

“We have to prioritize where to help them the most.” -Sarah Viviani, Children's Services Coordinator

cates children in the Waco area through the StartFirst program. The Start First program educates children from kindergarten through 12th grade in issues of violence, including family abuse, child abuse and dating abuse. There are 16 Start First programs in the Waco area. Each program lasts six weeks and informs children about abuse, a subject on which the community is often uninformed. When the center educates the children about abuse, they not only work to reduce abuse, but also establish an understanding of abuse so that children from abused homes do not feel isolated in schools and in the community. The Family Abuse Center services act as

The Waco Family Abuse Center also edu-


Lessons from home
One family explores the benefits of homeschooling

Hannah, Mia, Grace, Anthony and Nicoles Orosco take a break from their daily homeschooling schedule.

The Orosco’s dining room has transformed into a classroom, with posters of Spanish conjugations and maps of the U.S. replacing typical home décor.
story and design by sarah rafique photos by lauren guy
ina’s two sons sit at each end of the kitchen table. She explains a lesson to Nicoles, 11, then turns to help Anthony, 7. As the boys scribble down answers in their workbooks, Tina starts preparing lunch. Lorena resident Tina Orosco isn’t just a stay-athome mom. Tina is mother, friend, teacher and guiding hand to her five homeschooled children. The Oroscos didn’t always plan on homeschooling their children, but when Tina was pregnant with her first child she heard a talk radio program about homeschooling. She and her husband, Nonie Orosco, decided to consider it. “There’s many things out in the world today vying for our children’s attention and heart,” Tina said. The Oroscos decided homeschooling their children would be beneficial to mold their futures and help keep them on the straight and narrow path.


Anthony and Nicoles Orosco sit at the dining table, where they spend their days studying at home.

“There’s a lot of degrading influences in our culture and the culture at one time used to be in line with what parents wanted to pass down to their children,” Tina said. “Now, the culture is against us.” n various occasions, Tina gave her daughters the option of going to a regular high school. Nineteen-year-old Hannah Orosco decided to shadow students at high schools in Waco. Startled by the interaction between boys and girls in the hallway and



accustomed to a serious work atmosphere, Hannah decided to finish her education at home. “I loved it so much that I did it all 12 years, even though I had a choice to do something different,” said Hannah, who is now a criminal justice major at McLennan Community College.

— particularly in terms of her being the sole teacher of her children. “My weaknesses as a parent can show up in my children because they’re around me all the

Parents are more likely to be lenient on their children if they know they’ve had a busy day at home or something has happened in their family. Terri said the co-op

owever, the family experienced the social stigma associated with homeschooling. “Are your children lacking socialization because they’re secluded at home and they don’t ever get out?” Tina and Nonie are often asked by parents curious about homeschooling. With church, co-ops, regular involvement in the community and special interests in music, gymnastics and karate, the Orosco children find no difficulty building friendships with both public and homeschooled kids. “We weren’t socially deprived,” Hannah said. “We’ve done so many extracurricular activities to make sure we get to know people and socialize.” One avenue that allows homeschoolers to expand their social skills is the Brazos Valley Co-op. Through this program, students are homeschooled four days a week, and then meet on Fridays to experience a traditional school setting. “It just gave us the opportunity to be with other kids and get a sense of what a school setting would be like,” Hannah said. “It was a nice change from being at home.” However, Tina recognized the disadvantages of homeschooling


Nicoles Orosco spends the afternoon working on math homework during his homeschool lessons.

time,” Tina said. The co-op classes are also important because they allow the children to get out when they get cabin fever. Terri Rowell, committee member of the co-op and mother of two, said the co-op allows children to interact with students of their own age that they might not have contact with in their own family. It allows students to participate in group-oriented projects similar to those that children at public and private schools experience, such as putting on goggles and starched white coats for biology and chemistry labs or rehearsing lines for a theater production. Terri’s kids have always loved theater, but with just the two of them, practicing acting skills was difficult. Students are able to use their imaginations and expand their creativity when interacting with other kids at the weekly classes.

educates children about the importance of meeting deadlines and provides an outside opinion on their school work by allowing someone other than their parent to grade it. “I’ve always been afraid of when I jump into college I’m going to be in the whole classroom environment,” said 16-year-old Mia Orosco. “The co-op classes kind of gave me a way to get ready for college.”

gram that helped Hannah in her transition to college was dual credit courses, which allowed her to attend MCC and earn college credit while still enrolled in high school. Hannah said her load at McLennan County College wasn’t too heavy, but with the guidance of professors and a classroom full of diverse students, it was enough to help her transition to meeting deadlines and familiarizing herself with a conventional school setting

Another important pro-


Tina said Texas is one of the best states in the U.S. in which to be a homeschooler because, according to the Texas Education Code, homeschools are considered private schools and are not regulated by the government. “I don’t have people looking over my shoulder or demanding to see my curriculum or asking me to count for my days,” Tina said. Homeschooled students are not required to take the standardized TAKS test that public school children have to take. However, Tina said she tests her children to keep her teaching abilities on track and see how they are progressing. “If for any reason I needed to, I can say, ‘Here’s their scores and you can see they’re proficient in all of these areas,’” Tina said. “So for my own self, I do that testing.” Hannah said that when it comes to grading, being homeschooled was more encouraging. “It wasn’t so much you get an A or a B or an F,” Hannah said. “It was more of, ‘OK, this is where you have weaknesses and that’s what we are going to work on.’” When students reach the high school level, they are often independent in their studies. The parents’ role turns to supervising their child, planning weekly assignments and finding help for them if they’re studying a complex subject. Once Hannah decided to apply to college, transcripts came into play. Hannah and her mother went through years of records, made their own transcript and had it notarized. Since Hannah had already taken dual credit classes at MCC,

her SAT score wasn’t really necessary, but she said it was beneficial in giving her a sense of how she kept up with traditional school kids. “I measured up pretty well, so that was nice,” Hannah said.

schooled are more willing to talk to their parents about questions and problems they are facing. “If there’s a teacher you don’t know, you can’t discuss your problems with them because you’re worried they won’t understand,” Nicoles said. “But, you can tell your mom your problems and she understands.” Since the children are at home, the Oroscos are able to build a stronger family connection. “Homeschooling tends to become a lifestyle,” Tina said. “It’s been a good decision.”

champion in fiddling, said she is able to follow that passion because being homeschooled allows her to devote more time to it.

Mia, the Texas junior state

“She practices two or three hours a day, whenever she wants for as long as she wants, and still get all of her schoolwork done,” Tina said. “It fits her very well in terms of being a musician.” Additionally, if Mia has an important recital or upcoming competition, Tina allows her to focus solely on her fiddling, canceling classes for the week and adjusting the following week’s lessons accordingly. Emulating the typical high school experience, Mia said school has its ups and downs, and though she knows she could handle public school, she’s glad she doesn’t have to deal with the pressures and issues teenagers face daily. “Mom’s always been a great teacher and I’ve felt like I’ve always had someone that I can go to who understands my pace and the way I think about things,” Mia said. Terri said children who are home-

Mia Orasco enjoys fiddling. She has been named Texas junior state champion.


hirley Langston, owner of Restoration Haven, is passionate about seeing lives change. Determined and business-like as she relays the details of the organization, tears fall from her dark eyes as she transitions into describing what makes her demanding job worth it.


brings hope to East Waco
story by brittany hardy photos by sarah groman design by ashley morris


“I’m actually seeing people’s lives that were entrenched in hopelessness, who thought there was no way out, who are saying ‘I’m going to school now,’ ‘I bought a car,’ ‘I found a job,’” Langston said. “There are people who have been stuck for years and are becoming unstuck. They may not be all the way there, but just to see people moving and having hope again. Seeing children brag about their parents who’ve gotten a job or who have gone back to school. They’re breaking the cycle of poverty.” Six years ago, Langston’s grandmother, who had faithfully raised her, was ill, and the corporate world’s well of luxury and affluence had run dry, leaving Shirley empty and unsatisfied. She left the commercial domain of Dallas to discover that her former home in East Waco was drastically different from the haven of safety and community it had been during her childhood. Between 1990 and 2000, the East Riverside neighborhood of Waco lost 171 people. Then, it is estimated that another 144 people left the neighborhood from 2000 to 2005. Between 2005 and 2009, 11 acres of formerly developed property became vacant. Soon, Langston realized it was up to her to bring restoration and education to her formerly adored expanse. After working with Mission Waco and serving as a volunteer for AmeriCorps, Langston — with all her characteristic spunk and determination — broke out on her own to work specifically with East Waco.


violating the rules of good nutrition, as many basic needs are left unmet. While these physical needs are important, the emotional stability of the children may be of even greater concern. In single-mother households, there is often no one there to affirm the sons’ masculinity or to show a daughter how she deserves to be treated. angston tries to serve as this stability. She is clothed in strength: the muscles of the missing fathers, the tight fibers of the other otherwise-lacking resources and the strings of ministry she weaves in her Bible studies and life skills classes. One specific example of a program connected to Restoration Haven is the GAP program, which stands for God’s Abundant Provision. As a result of this program, individuals in the community may come in once a month to receive basic resources. Upon arrival, each individual is checked for how well he or she is sustaining his or her life — expressed through growth in work and school. If he or she is not working in either of these outlets, he or she must attend life skills classes. In return, they receive supplies such as toiletries, food and clothing. Langston blames integration for the drastic changes in her East Waco community since her childhood. “We were a really good community, thriving, business, good students and schools, when integration hit they bused all the kids in this community to Richfield,” Langston said. “With that came the loss of jobs and thus professionals leaving to seek employment and housing elsewhere, just leaving the working poor with no tax revenue coming in. At one time all the teachers, doctors and such lived in this community. I was proud as a little girl knowing my teacher, my doctor — they all lived in my community. It’s not like that anymore.” Langston found herself unsatisfied with her corporate career. Now, she is a woman of grace and love — gentleness mixed with unmatched


Justin Denwitty and Shirley Langston show a documentary entitled “Maafa” at Restoration Haven.

Now, entering the comfortably decorated Restoration Haven refurbished apartment, one almost immediately comes face to face with a giant black bridge painted across the wall. For Langston, this is the perfect representation of what her organization is all about. zekiel 22:30 is also relevant to what Langston has created and is a verse found on the Restoration Haven website: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” Restoration Haven is committed to bridging the gap between the rich and the poor — between the people of the East Waco community and the resources and education they need. The group also seeks to inform outside organizations of the unmet needs and distinguished potential within the neighborhood — and in a city with a 27 percent poverty rate, this mission is both necessary and ambitious. Langston is the com-

munity’s stable, solid backbone. Like a foundation, she attaches the upper body of the outside community — its schools and businesses — to the lower body, a community wrecked and ravaged by poverty. “Our main goal and focus is to empower the people in this community through parenting classes, budget class, nutrition, Bible studies — anything that would affect the quality of life for a person,” Langston said. “We are also advocates. We do a lot of advocating for these residents.” Restoration Haven fights for improved education, acts as an intercessor in juvenile and child support courts, provides bus passes and works in doctors’ offices and with hospital relations.


“Our main goal and from Restoration Haven focus is to empower are composed of a single mom and several children. the people in this com- Among the many other remunity through parent- sources extended through Restoration Haven, these ing classes, budget class, families may attend indinutrition, Bible studies vidual, group and family counseling sessions. -- anything that would In this type of family affect the quality of life structure, the mom often works, while the children for a person.” spend most of their time - Shirley Langston, Res- alone. A child alone eats and chips, whattoration Haven owner cookieson the counter, ever is

Ninety-fivereceiving of the percent families aid


determination — divinely entrenched with the beating heart of this growing community. he weight of their problems falls on Langston, but she remains upright. Instances of hope include Langston receiving contributions from her clients.


“(The people of this community) have to be able to identify themselves through their creator. They need to know that everyone has a destiny and a purpose.” - Shirley Langston, Restoration Haven owner
Christ is the foundation of the work Langston has done in the community. It is especially important to her that the members of the community are educated about their worth through the renewing word of God. This concept is so vital to Langston’s life and mission that she hopes to publish a book about finding one’s identity in Christ alone. “[The people of this community] have to be able to identify themselves through their creator. They need to know that everyone has a destiny and a purpose,” Langston said. “It’s not based on where you live or what you have; it’s based on using the gifts He’s given you to accomplish something in life.”

“It may be $5, but I know the sacrifice they made to give me that $5,” Langston said, “The first of the year is really hard sometimes. We were really low on GAP supplies and they would come in and give what they have. One of my clients gave about three bags of stuff that she bought and some money and I just bawled.”

are afraid their children will struggle with that stigma. We want to break off the perception that people are lazy. While we do have people like that, we also have people who are working really hard — the working poor. You make minimum wage and you have three or four children. That’s really hard.”

Langston has spent the last six years trying to understand what will break the cycle of poverty her neighbors are experiencing. For her, and for Restoration Haven as a whole, education is an indispensible entity of what they do. “I feel like education is the key, on both sides of the spectrum,” Langston said. “When we educate people who live in poverty and educate those outside the neighborhood on what it is like to live in poverty, they’ll have a whole new perspective. And we educate the poor to have hope. They have two choices: they need to be working or going to school. It is the only way, I believe, they will ever make it out of poverty.”

Langston has found joy in the selfless hearts of the community children. When much of Shirley Langston is the current operator and founder of t is through Haiti was Waco’s Restoration Haven. Her goal with the organiorganizations destroyed zation is to see at-risk communities become places of like this one that by earth- refuge and to see peace restored. lives are changed. quakes in Working, single mothers gain education January, many of the children apand employment. Children become proached her to find out if there were empowered. Negative perceptions ways they could help. are broken and tossed aside. This is how restoration occurs. “They wanted to give to Haiti. These are kids who have a need them“There’s such a perselves but want to help others. Some of ception. They want people these kids don’t have food or a toothto stop believing they’re brush but they want to make sure the lazy,” Langston said, kids in Haiti can brush their teeth and “Sometime situations take a bath,” Langston said. “And somecan cause you to times I wonder if that’s because they fall into poverty. know what it means to have a need.” Many women



Going the Distance

One man’s heart pushes him toward his goals, in the classroom and beyond
story by chris derrett photos by daniel cernero design by amanda molleur

He is crazy. Out of his mind. Borderline insane.
They were all saying that; his friends and family tried to rationalize his decision to no avail. Nobody could figure it out. Why was he putting himself through this? Did he even know what his decision entailed? Not fully aware of that himself, he strolled through Baylor University’s campus on the first day of class. His backpack full of supplies matched those of any other student, but his two hearing aids, large glasses and gray hair drew confused expressions as he entered the classroom and took his seat. He looked old enough to be a professor’s father. Or grandfather. Instead of writing his name on the board and distributing the syllabi, though, he prepared his notebook like everyone else. When the professor gave the first lecture, he began taking notes. But like everything else about him – his appearance, scholarship situation and life story – his note-taking skills proved a far cry from those of the other students. The notes came too quickly. His poor handwriting could not keep up. Finally, after the first week of lectures and assignments, 82-year-old Weldon Bigony realized that college would not be as easy as it was in 1941. It would be a long senior year in Waco.

took so long to decide to do it. But it struck me that I never did get that part finished in my life,” Bigony said of his decision to earn his bachelor’s of business administration from Baylor in 2002, 65 years after he first pursued the diploma. Raised in Big Spring, with five little sisters, Bigony began developing his work ethic in his early years. He retired from cotton picking as a 5-year-old after securing enough money for a red coaster wagon. A paper route, caddying job and stint with the city scraping water deposits off sewage pipes kept him physically fit before he earned an athletic scholarship to Baylor. During his freshman year in 1938, Bigony ran track and played football and basketball, and he devoted his sophomore and junior campaigns solely to the gridiron. The most notable game of his collegiate career, a 7-7 tie against the then No. 1 ranked Texas Longhorns, remains fresh in his memory today. For the “student” part of “student-athlete,” Bigony managed a B average. Prior to the spring of 1941, he was on track for a degree in addition to his fourth varsity letter. Then, at the young age of 21, he began learning the difference between aspirations and reality when the United States entered World War II. Bigony joined the Naval Air Corps and requested a fighter pilot assignment, ready to take all necessary steps toward earning a seat in the cockpit. His high marks earned him the title of valedictorian at training camp. Despite Bigony’s excellent grades, the Naval Air Corps denied his request. He would not dogfight with the Axis powers for supremacy in the skies; he would

A bygone era
“It just kind of struck me. I don’t know why it


deliver war goods in a multiengine plane. Trained for service, he reported to Shanghai, China, for the remainder of the war.

A second chance
Six decades later, Bigony was living in Big Spring but wanted to go back to Waco. By that time he had watched his mother return to Texas Tech in her 70s and live to be three months short of 100 years old. He lost his wife in 1996, three years short of their 50th anniversary. Bigony had already retired from a career with Air America and Air Jamaica. When he applied for readmission to Baylor, he was also a 10-year cancer survivor, defeating it with just a healthy diet and exercise plan and no chemotherapy. Unlike his fighter pilot dreams, his desire to finish his Baylor degree came to fruition. Only one problem existed. The call came midafternoon, three days before classes began. “It was Friday when (Bigony) got this phone call from Baylor saying he could come back,” Vicki Peters, Bigony’s daughter, said. In one weekend, Peters and her husband, James, scrambled to help organize Bigony’s living arrangements. The Peters followed Bigony from Big Spring to Waco, where Bigony temporarily stayed with his cousin, and the Peters took Bigony for his mandatory physical examination and completed his paperwork. By Monday morning, Bigony was on campus and excited to start. Off campus, the

Peters were thinking. “The next day, (James) looked at me and said, ‘We just can’t leave your dad here. We’re going to have to sell our house and come back (to Waco),’” Peters said. They explained their plan to move from Big Spring to Waco, but Bigony originally found it unnecessary. “They were smarter than I was,” Bigony said. “I don’t think I would have made it on my own.”

Physical aliments also threatened Bigony’s chances. “At that time he had dizzy spells that would come on, and they would also cause him nausea,” Peters said. One day Bigony willed himself to finish a class, not wanting to draw attention for getting up and leaving early, and found a restroom afterward. He immediately called the Peters for help. Sometimes, assistance from those around Bigony went a long way toward his goal.

Eat, sleep, study, repeat

21st Century Education Even with his meals provided and house cleaned by a A little aid was all Bigony needed to loving daughter and son-in-law, conquer one class that especially frightened Bigony had plenty to worry about. him. For him it was a new era, a new atmosphere and a brand new Baylor.
He soon learned the pace quickened from the last time he attended. Professors demanded much more than Bigony remembered in 1941. “When I was here the first time, I took a full academic schedule and played sports,” Bigony said. “(In 2002) all I was doing was eating, sleeping and studying because of the workload. How the athletes have time to go practice and keep up in class is amazing.” Taking notes by hand failed to suffice, as did using a voice recorder in some classes that prohibited them. Bigony finally found students who could reliably provide notes after class. Taking tests was another process Bigony had to learn for his grades’ sake. “He would do tests in sequential order. We had to tell him to do the ones he knew, then go back to the hard ones,” Peters said.

Weldon Bigony returned to Baylor to complete his senior year in 2002, 65 years after he first pursued a degree in business administration.

At first he thought he could escape computers and ISY 1305, titled Introduction to Information Technology and Processing. Bigony could not even identify a computer’s power button, much less access the Internet and produce a Word document. For the first semester Bigony had another class substituted for ISY 1305, but it only prolonged the inevitable. Somehow, the technologically removed man would have to master the mouse and keyboard to graduate. A professor’s generosity allowed


him to do so. “It was a little too fast-paced in the class, and so it was easier for me to take it one-on-one with him,” senior lecturer Carolyn Monroe, Bigony’s class instructor, said. Monroe had never given exclusive instruction to a student before, but she was as determined as Bigony to see him get the credit. “This professor was so good that she recommended taking me one-on-one. That was outstanding,” Bigony said of Monroe’s extra effort. They began with the basics, as Bigony would watch and repeat Monroe’s steps on the screen. By the course’s conclusion, “he was surfing the Web with the best of them,” Monroe said. Bigony appreciated the much-needed help, but he would tell you his greatest source of success came neither from himself nor those around him.

For nearly 90 years full of meaningful pursuits and even more important relationships, Bigony can only thank God. “The Lord has blessed me with good health,” Bigony said. “I give Him all the credit for it, and I think He’ll continue to see me live a long life.”

The Last Day of School
A year’s worth of work finally came down to one day. Bigony’s heart raced as he focused on one final meeting with the dean. His nerves rendered him oblivious to everything else around him. He did such a good job blocking distractions, that even the audience escaped his attention. “He couldn’t hear, didn’t know what was going on, and couldn’t see them,” Peters said. “He was focused on the dean walking straight to him, and that’s when he was turned around and we told him, ‘Hey, look...’” The dean approached him as 10,000 people had risen to applaud Weldon Bigony, class of 2002. He met his professors’ requirements, survived final exams and passed each class. He raised his diploma while his son, who earlier distributed fliers asking the crowd for a standing ovation, and numerous family members proudly watched. The chapter ended while Bigony’s story continued.

God above all
“(Bigony) would greet me each day with, ‘This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Monroe said. God had given him each moment of his 82 years to that point, Bigony believes. With the small amount of the time not devoted to education that year, he did his best to give back to God. He found a local church, Grace Community Church of Waco, and joined a Life Group. There, nothing else mattered; grades took a backseat to helping one another grow in their relationships with Christ. Bigony came regardless of impending tests or homework every Sunday for church and Tuesday for fellowship night. It began with a few church visits and shaking hands on Sunday mornings, morphed into more consistent attendance and finally Bigony became attached to his new family. “You can call him an elder. His wisdom and ability to lead people is unbelievable, and it’s grown from there. It’s more than a friendship. It’s a family,” church secretary Sue Martin said of her and the church’s relationship with Bigony.

A state champion
“My mother had so many projects that kept her so busy, she had too much to do to die early,” Bigony explained. His ambition, he continued, follows after that of his mother.
Standing in front of Pat Neff Hall, Bigony displays one of his medals from his athletic career at Baylor.


At age 89 Bigony stretches before stepping onto the running surface at Baylor’s Hart-Patterson Track and Field Complex. Hip replacements prevent him from jogging, but they do not stop his training. He cannot afford to lose a day; the 2010 Texas Senior Games begin in October. There he hopes to add medals in the 1,500and 5,000-meter race walk, events in which he has already claimed gold several times at the state level, most recently at the 2008 Texas Senior Games. In odd-numbered years Bigony competes in the national Senior Games meet, where in 2009 he beat a competitor by eight seconds to earn a 5,000-meter gold. Between meets, Bigony finds other activities that keep him in Waco. Still an active member of his church, he works on occasional projects and visits hospitals. A fanatic of Baylor athletics, he follows each sport and can proudly say he attended each home football game and basketball game of the 20092010 year. Bigony delved further into the athletic program upon graduating, taking a training program to prepare for a job with the track team. “He officiated some of the track meets here at Baylor,” former Baylor director of student-athlete services Don Riley said. Like many others, Riley formed a friendship with Bigony that grew when Bigony was free of academic restraints. “He is a delightful person,” Riley said. “He’s very personable and doesn’t act or even look like an 89-year-old person.” Bigony’s charm also helps him with another, less physical job. He helps develop leads for Coldwell Banker, getting prospective home owners’ contact information and relaying it to the real estate agency. Between his daily walks and referral associate job, Bigony’s calendar stays full.

Bigony ran track while at Baylor and continues to run in several meets around Texas. Here, he walks around the track near Baylor’s campus.

Not over till it's over
Some would say he has done it all. Seen it all. Lived it all. And they could be right. Bigony rests in his apartment, with a diploma hanging on the wall, family and friends a phone call away, and hopefully another pair of medals to come next fall. At this point in the day he has already awakened, humbly thanked God for more time in this life and looked for what he can do before the Lord calls him home. Now he graciously sets aside time to retell a piece of his story to a young, aspiring journalist. “It’s like a lot of other things. I wouldn’t take for the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again,” Bigony said of his senior year. He doesn’t have to. He finished what he started, and accepting that part of his life any other way would have been crazy. Maybe even insane.


Life without limits
hen Hilary Gill walks into room 120 at South Bosque Elementary, she is greeted with a huge smile and an enthusiastic “Giillll!” It’s just Ben. Again. One of her favorites. As the physical therapist for Midway Independent School District, Hilary visits the special education programs at each school to work with students with physical disabilities. Hilary works with students like 8-year-old Ben, who has cerebral palsy, to enable them to perform day-to-day activities most people take for granted, like sitting on the ground or getting in and out of a chair. Being a physical therapist is just one of the many roles Hilary plays. As a mother, when Hilary walks into her home after a long day, she never knows what will greet her. A ‘Hey, Mom’? A hug? Or maybe nothing at all. At least with Ben she knows what to expect. In many ways Nick, Hilary’s son, is like every other 17-year-old boy. He loves video games, hates English class, is involved in his church youth group and school choir, and has a new favorite food every year. Although many people he sees on a daily basis don’t know, there’s no doubt that Nick sees the world through very different eyes. story by vanessa mosharaf photos by sarah griffith design by paige mcnamara


ick grew up doing everything his older brother Matthew did. When he needed something, Matthew was there to speak up. But when Matthew, who’s 21 months older, went to preschool, Hilary noticed something was different about Nick. “Nick would just lie around,” Hilary said. Or, instead of playing pretend like most children his age, “he would take a book off the shelf and just page through it for like two hours.” When she spoke to him, Hilary said she felt as if he was looking through her, like he couldn’t hear what she was saying. So she and her husband, John, decided to have his hearing tested. What they learned changed their lives. Their precious 4-year-old had autism. “At first, it’s as if the child you thought you had died,” Hilary said. “When you have a child, you have expectations and dreams for them and


“I think he feels proud of himself for accomplishing things that they do.” -Ashley Ballew

then when they tell you he has around. autism, it just wipes that out. And it’s not like you don’t have any [expectations]; you just don’t know what they are.”

come into the public eye in recent years, 13 years ago, John explained, there wasn’t much information on treatment, which made Nick’s diagnosis even more difficult. To cope, the family turned inward. “We leaned on each other a lot; we leaned on God a lot,” John said. For a time, anger, depression and uncertainty crowded Hilary’s thoughts. She grieved the loss of her child, until one day things turned around. “I remember looking at Nicolas as he was sitting at the table doing a Blue’s Clues drawing and I just thought, ‘Maybe you still have unlimited potential. We just have to find it,’” she said. From that point on, autism was no longer a diagnosis, but a way of life. The family, with Hilary as the front-runner, became Nick’s biggest advocates to make sure he had every opportunity to grow. Hilary quit her previous job to work for the school district just so she could be on Nick’s schedule. The family drove hours every weekend to speech therapy programs and Hilary became an expert in communicating with her son whose words seemed “locked inside.” 22

Although autism has

Hilary Gill accompanies Ben Ballew through the halls at South Bosque Elementary.

In fourth grade, Nick outgrew the special education program and learned to communicate well enough for regular education classes. Knowing she couldn’t always protect him from bullies, Hilary never kept him from doing anything he wanted to do, even if she knew it could hurt. When Nick wanted to ride the bus in middle school, she put her fears aside and let him. “I was a walking social blunder,” Nick said of his middle school years. Often the victim of ridicule because of his differences, Nick dealt with bullies the only way he knew how. One day on the bus to school a boy asked him, “Are you retarded?” Nick didn’t respond. But when asked, “Do you even know what that means?” Nick gave him a dictionary definition of the word, which promptly shut the bully up. “If you think about it, that was a really good response,” Nick said. “They use ‘[retarded]’ for everything; it’s just a filler word.” Stories like that make it impossible not to see the positives of what is often looked at as just a disability. Having autism gives Nick a unique perspective and because Hilary works so hard to equip him with the tools to communicate, he is able to share it with others.

“(His classmates) look up to him because of the gift he has. They respect it.” -Jeff Rice,

Nick Gill enjoys choir at Midway High School.

never had a hard time communi-

One person Nick has

“It’s hard to imagine how other people perceive me.” -Nick Gill
cating with is his brother and best friend, Matthew. According to Matthew, their bond goes beyond brotherhood to a relationship in which words aren’t necessary, but when used are powerful. Autism has made honesty part of Nick’s genetic code, Matt explained, taking their mutual understanding for each other to a level of trust he’s experienced with no one else. One day while Matt was praying for Nick, he thanked God for both Nick’s strengths and weaknesses. “He was stunned,” Matthew said, “that I would be thankful that he had autism and he wasn’t perfect at everything, but I meant it because it’s the fact that he has autism, the fact that he had those weaknesses, that made us so close.” One thing he wished he could tell others, however, is not to consider him a “them,” but to realize that each person diagnosed with autism is unique. With an estimated one in 70 boys diagnosed with autism today, he couldn’t be more right. The “autism spectrum,” Hilary explained, is so broad that it means something different in every diagnosis. Nick is considered “high-functioning,” which means that while he struggles with communication, many creative processes and social cues, his intelligence is unaffected, if not above average. To illustrate, Nick describes himself a “left-brain thinker” who thrives in a structured world.

tions, although hidden, are there. “When he was little, I would just hold him in my coat waiting for the school bus and I would pray over him,” she said. “One day I was holding him, and I said, ‘Oh, Nick, I just love hugging you. I love you. Do you love me?’ And he said, ‘I’m just using you for warmth,’” she remembered, laughing. “I’ll take that,” she added with a smile. ince life is rarely as structured as he would like, Nick finds solace in what comes naturally to him: music. As a member of the award-winning Midway High School choir, Nick’s deep bass voice helps him fulfill a leadership role in ways he cannot fulfill socially. Midway High School Choral Director Jeff Rice explained that with perfect pitch, Nick is able to “notice the slightest inconsistencies of pitch in other people” and act as a guide for those around him. Choir is more than just a hobby for Nick; it’s a chance to bond with his classmates. According to Rice, these classmates “look up to him because of the gift he has. They respect it.” “He’s fearless,” Rice said. “Some of that comes from a lack of awareness that he’s supposed to be afraid, but he just will do anything. That’s a strength.”


say,” Hilary has had to learn to speak Nick’s languageand appreciate what he has to offer. As a woman in an all-male household, she often craves the communication that doesn’t come naturally to Nick, but she takes comfort in knowing the emo-

As Nick struggles with “finding stuff to

Ben Ballew flashes a smile on his way to class.


One talent Nick’s classmates are often amazed with is his uncanny ability to read music backwards and forwards. “Give him a song and he can sing it backwards without hesitation,” Matthew said. “That’s not normal.” Even more amazing to Matthew is the humility Nick has maintained throughout his success. In fact, the first time Nick sang at church, it wasn’t stage fright that made him tell his mother he never wanted to do it again. It was the reaction from audience members who bombarded him with words of praise after the service, using speaking voices much higher than normal conversation. Since then, like all things out of his comfort zone, receiving praise became something Nick practiced. After several rounds of faked highpitched squeals from his dad, Nick now accepts the high pitches for what they truly mean. hat Hilary learns as a parent she takes to the classroom. She said it’s important to find the balance between helping her students cope and pushing them to go farther. Her goal is always to enable them to adapt to the world, rather than limit their capabilities. She believes there should be an expectation for a child to grow. She wants parents and teachers to empower their students, not limit them. It’s this philosophy that makes her a favorite among students and teachers alike. Ben, for example, has already exceeded expectations, and every day he achieves more independence and class involvement.

“I think he feels proud of himself for accomplishing things that they do,” Ben’s mom, Ashley Ballew, said. As a parent who sees both sides of the education system, Hilary said it frustrates her when parents place limits on what she can expect from her students. Seeing firsthand what Nick has been able to accomplish, she knows that all children are capable of growth. “Sometimes there’s an expectation that the school should adapt for the child,” Hilary said. “That’s not a good thing to teach your child because school prepares them for life and there’s no way the whole world is going to adapt to your child.” In many ways, Nick’s diagnosis has dictated Hilary’s life. Desperate to be a part of his world, she devoted all she could to helping him.“When you’re child has autism, your work is cut out for you, but it’s worth it because your child is worth everything,” she said. Ultimately, Nick’s autism has taught Hilary to cherish the smaller victories in life. “The rewards are great,” she said. “You get to see miracles in everything they do. I remember the first time Nick carried a gallon of milk, the first time he spoke, the first time we had a conversation.” Today, those miracles may go beyond what she thought was probable, but never impossible. Her ability to see the unlimited potential in her son and students gives meaning to her work and new meaning to life for a child with a physical disability.


“When your child has autism, your work is cut out for you, but it’s worth it because your child is worth everything” -Hilary Gill

Adult students get a leg up

Fatima Peña an d Norma Sego via correct senten ces in front of the class.

s on writes sentence Freddy Delgado the class. of board in front the dry erase

story by meghan swartzendruber photos by stephen green design by brittany black
number one, is that they’re coming because they want to. No one is making them,” said MCC’s Adult Education Program Director Shirley Crockett. “They have been out of school long enough to know that they aren’t going to get anywhere without it.” Their dedication, she added, inspires their teachers. “When you have students that motivated, you just work so hard to make sure they progress,” she said. Courses are offered in Adult Basic Education, or ABE; Literacy; General Educational Development, or GED, preparation; English as a Second Language, or ESL; and Citizenship. For the majority of students, the courses serve as a second chance to complete high school. Nearly 58 percent of students in 2009 tested into the Adult Basic Education class, meaning their functional level in math

in the Adult Education program at McLennan Community College. It’s called determination. It’s why a person rises before dawn to walk to an elective class; it’s why a working mother of four, following her eight-hour graveyard shift, pursues daily her GED certification; and, it’s why, a young man, after his 10-hour work day, devotes each evening to night classes. While the reasons for the students’ determination may differ, their common desire to enrich their lives is deep-rooted. Their determination, teachers say, provides the foundation for MCC’s thriving Adult Education Program. These classes can be what helps them stand on their own two feet. “I think why it is so much fun to teach them,

A recurring characteristic emerges among those


and reading is somewhere between kindergarten and eighth grade. ABE class is a step in the right direction because most of the ABE students advance into the GED preparation class, which can eventually lead to the equivalent of a high school diploma. All of the students realize the importance of education, their teachers say, whether it’s to obtain a promotion in a current profession or begin the steps to a career for which a college degree is required. Their drive, say teachers, is typified by their punctuality and presence in class every day. “I choose to be here because I feel like if I’m here, I have better chances in life than being in the streets,” said Paul Williams, who’s now taking the GED preparation course.
Fatima Peña, Marlene Serrato and Lorena Montes listen to their teacher.

Obtaining his GED will mean he has high schoollevel skills in reading, writing, math, social studies and science. He then plans to further his education through college courses at MCC.

he worked as an air conditioning technician for WalMart and GMC, so when he came to the U.S., he felt his calling was to start his own air conditioning business. His biggest setback? A lack of English speaking skills. “When I came here I didn’t know how to spell my name,” Oscar said. That is when his relationship with MCC’s Adult Education Program began.

Two hundred students in MCC’s Adult He started in the ESL Education program receive class, coming 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., “I choose to be here because I feel like if their GED every year. I'm here, I have better chances in life than Monday through Thursday to While the GED preparation get a leg up on his English. being in the streets.” course is free through the program, including books “It is up to you to learn and - Paul Williams and one-on-one time with practice. You have to try and an instructor, the GED use your English as much as test itself is not covered. you can,” Oscar said about his Because many students cannot afford the $70 to pay for success in the course that came from motivated studying the test, the Adult Education Program attempts to cover in class and practice in the community. After a year most of the exam’s cost through donations from such and a half in the ESL class, his instructor, Sue Sadosky, groups as Central Texas Literacy Coalition, McLennan and encouraged him to begin studying for the GED. Bosque counties juror fees and Altrusa International of Waco. Oscar spent another year in the GED prep course and passed on his first attempt in September 2004. In that same month, he began two years of classes at Texas or a third of the students attending MCC’s Adult State Technical College in the Air Conditioning and Education classes, it is not a second chance at education, Refrigeration Technology Program, finishing in December 2006. but a way to start things off on the right foot in a new country. ESL students, like every other student in the Adult Continuing with his entrepreneurial plans, Oscar Education program, are extremely motivated to learn and received his associate’s degree from MCC in Business in are eager to explore the new opportunities offered to 2008 and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in them in the United States. Business Administration through Tarleton University, a degree offered on the MCC campus. Many of the ESL students also go on to pursue a GED with the program, in order to attend college. But, Oscar said, he credits his progress to the generous support and encouragement he received at Oscar Rosales reflects what the Adult Education Program strives to do for its foreign students. He moved to MCC. “I am just thankful there are [teachers] who Waco from Mexico in 2002 at the age of 20. In Mexico,



care and try hard. I am thankful that this country has teachers like that. I am always going to remember those teachers.” CC’s Adult Education Program boasts an impressive history. Since the program’s partnership with MCC began in 1990, it has become affiliated with 43 school districts, receiving all grant money allocated for adult education to each of the school districts in the four counties the program spans. This has increased grant money from $70,000 to almost $750,000, Crockett said. The program was recognized by both TexasLEARNS and the Texas Education Agency for its success with meeting all the mandates stipulated in the MCC Adult Education program grant. Recently, at the state Adult Education Directors’ conference in Dallas, the program won recognition for meeting all performance measures outlined in the grant. The MCC program surpassed all performance measures by having a fixed percentage of students complete each course offered, complete 12 hours of instruction and make progress in reading, language arts, math, oral skills and literacy skills. In the last year alone, it has won the Texas Recreation and Parks Society Service Club Award for its partnership with the South Waco Community Center. The Texas Association named Crockett Adult Educator of the Year for Literacy and Adult Education in February.

A&M. After receiving her master’s in Adult Education, she returned to her work with the Education Program. Since then she has been promoted several times within the program: education center director, literacy and volunteer coordinator, assistant director of adult education in 1983 and adult education director in 1997. It is clear with the continuing growth of the MCC Adult Education program that Crockett and the rest of the program’s 49 staff members share the attribute of determination with the students. The success of the program is directly correlated to the dedication of the teachers who work with the students in the program. It seems the teachers’ and students’ motivation comes from one another. GED student Paul Williams said, “If [the teachers] spend their time out here to do it, I feel we can, too. They are getting up early in the morning, coming and putting their time and effort into it, then we can come and put our time and effort into it too.” This ideal is mirrored in instructor Sadosky’s sentiment: “It is the most moving thing I have ever seen. Most students come in and say, ‘I really didn’t think I could do this.’ So I just find it really moving.”


Director Shirley Crockett helps a student with her work.

ue also said that while the program educates adults, it also improves the wellbeing of children. “There are a lot of people who focus on helping the children learn. Our philosophy is that another way to help children is by helping their parents become educated. They start to read with their children and take an interest in their school work.” Every year, MCC’s Adult Education Program honors students who complete and graduate from the courses. The next graduation ceremony will be held May 13 at Baylor University’s Waco Hall.


“I was hired 34 years ago by a program I had never heard of, only for it to become one of the most important parts of my life,” she said. Her first position with the Adult Education program was as an instructor at the South Branch Library (now the South Waco Community Center, MCC Adult Education’s highest producing class). It was during this time that she discovered she wanted to make a career in this field, and enrolled in the newly formed master’s program in Adult Education at Texas


any of us don’t remember our elementary school teachers, and if we do, we might remember them as “Mrs. What’sher-name” or “the teacher who always sent me to detention.” It’s not often that a student keeps in touch with a teacher nearly 12 years after attending their class, but for Spring Valley Elementary teacher Sherrie Lightsey that is a common occurrence. Many of the students that Lightsey taught in the second or third grade still talk with her on a regular basis. Lightsey has been the head of the classroom, teaching both the second and third grades, for 19 years. For her first six years of teaching, Lightsey taught at Woodway Elementary and then moved to Spring Valley Elementary, where she has been teaching for the past 13 years. As she says, “In 19 years, I have seen a lot.”


to last a

story and design by megan duron photos by lindsey scribner
their needs is what makes a great teacher.” This is exactly the approach that Lightsey takes with her students; she teaches to each student as an individual and not just to a classroom. Lightsey believes the student-teacher impact is a two-way street. One student in particular Lightsey remembers fondly. This young boy was being raised by his grandparents and struggled with trust issues from the abandonment by his parents.


“He was just the most unique student in 19 years that I’ve However, the elemenever taught. It took a “She once told me I tary school teacher treats each long time to bond with changed his life, and I student that crosses her path him, but once we did said, 'Well, he changed we kept in touch. I saw with the care and consideration that she shows her own second- mine.'” -Sherrie Lightsey him graduate from high grade daughter, Maddie Grace. school. We’ve kept in Baylor freshman Addison Fiend had Lightsey touch and every year since, his grandmother as his third grade teacher at Spring Valley will make me a birthday cake,” Lightsey Elementary over 11 years ago. Fiend still said. “She once told me that I changed his takes time out of his busy college schedule life, and I said, ‘Well, he changed mine.’” to keep up with her. Lightsey is not just appreciated by her students, but by other teachers as well. “She truly knew each of her indiAs the head of the classroom, Lightsey must vidual students on a personal level, which allowed her to help us grow not only as stu- keep her classroom under control and well disciplined. dents but as unique people as well,” Fiend said. tudents have a certain respect for her, so much so that other teachers will take Baylor senior and student teacher their own students to “Lightsey Land,” as it is Anna Ligon believes that Lightsey has figoften called, for time-out so they can learn a ured it out. “I would say the biggest struggle lesson. in the classroom is remembering that every single child is different,” Ligon said. “You “All my students, they know that I have to constantly remind yourself that each care about them, even the ones that come student learns differently, and adapting to



in for time out. I was raised on tough love,” Lightsey said. “They have to know that youcare about them, to earn that trust, so that hopefully they’ll rise up to meet that expectation. They have to know that you see good in them.” Once you’ve earned that trust, Lightsey said, they don’t want to disappoint you. Ligon said Lightsey is a role model for many of the younger, less experienced teachers. “Ms. Lightsey is one of those teachers you can’t help but want to emulate,” Ligon said. “She is very outspoken and seems to really be able two connect with her students and really make a difference even when dealing with students as young as second grade. She has changed students’ lives and I know she has a deep passion for teaching and the kids.” being the “scary teacher,” within five minutes of meeting Lightsey anyone can tell that’s far from the truth. The teacher believes it may be her height and her fiery red hair that scare her students into behaving, but she has such a sense of humor she is hardly able to keep a straight face during our interview. “She can be strict, but her students love her and think she is hilarious,” Ligon said. Lightsey recognizes the reward when these children, who struggle with behavioral issues, learn what it means to behave in a classroom. “It’s fun to see when they

finally start getting it and start to grow up. I’m always careful to be respectful of their parents because the parents are doing the best they can,” Lightsey said. “When I say you’re going to miss recess if you don’t do your work, I really mean that. And I tell them, those first few weeks especially, ‘You know,

him after school.” A few days later the boy’s friend was brought to Lightsey Land after he misbehaved and Lightsey said, “I asked (the other boy) to come over and I said, ‘Come here, tell him what happens in here if we don’t follow the rules.’ And the boy goes, ‘Man, I had to stay after school one day with her, just one day, and I learned. And I changed my behavior, and you can do it, too, and I want that for you.’” Lightsey said she has found that it’s easiest to establish who is in charge from the very beginning so that students are able to adjust accordingly. “The first couple of weeks I do a lot of training; they’re getting used to each other. I talk about how we’re all a family in here. I say, ‘Look around. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., these are your

“Ms. Lightsey is one of those teachers you can't help but want to emulate.” -Anna Ligon
that might work at home, but remember, I’m not your mom. When you come in to Lightsey Land you’ve got to switch gears.’” The teacher laughs as she recalls a particular situation with one of her students. “I had a situation this year with this boy who had been homeschooled for a year. I kept saying I’m going to have to keep you after school, I’m going to have to keep you after school,” Lightsey said. “He totally didn’t believe me so one day I kept

While she often jokes about

Sherrie Lightsey helps a student during reading time in a classroom full of learning tools and fun toys to keep students’ attention.


brothers and sisters. We take care of each other in here and we’re also going to have a lot of fun, but I’m not going to put up with anything.’” Whenever another teacher walks into her classroom, Lightsey encourages her students to clap in appreciation for the teacher entering. However, when it’s time to gather their attention again, the students need to know there’s a time to have fun and a time to learn, Lightsey said.

ne observation that Lightsey takes into account is the home life of her students. “It’s changed a lot, just the dynamics of families in general. Parents work a lot full-time; kids are on their own a lot more,” Lightsey said. For the teacher, this often means walking the kids through their assignments as if it was their own child if they’re not getting this help at home. “We’ve got some that come from rough home lives, more than back when I was there.” One observation that Lightsey takes into account is the home life of her students. “It’s changed a lot, just the dynamics of families in general. Parents work a lot full time; kids are on their own a lot more,” Lightsey said. For the teacher, this often means


Sherrie Lightsey stands at the head of the classroom at Spring Valley Elementary School as she uses her unique teaching style to hold her students’ full attention.

walking the kids through their assignightsey said she wants to ments as if it was their own child if keep teaching second grade. they’re not getting this help at home. “We’ve got some that come from “I’m good at teaching; I love rough home lives, more than back it. Second grade is the age. They’re when I was there.” mature enough But while they’re “Ms. Lightsey had all kinds to get what you’re saying but in the classof unconventional ways of they’re young room, Lightsey enough to still likes to help teaching. She would love you.” her students create songs, rhymes, dancforget about Even after 10 any tough situes and clever phrases to years, Lightsey ations at home somehow mainhelp us remember and have fun tains the enin the classuseful ideas.” ergy to handle a room. Fiend, classroom full of the Baylor -Addison Fiend second-graders freshman, every day. “Do remembers the I fix them? No,” said Lightsey with a excitement that Lightsey would bring laugh. However, she invests the extra to education. effort to make each of her students feel cared about. “Ms. Lightsey had all kinds of unconventional ways of teaching. “Ms. Lightsey didn’t just care She would create songs, rhymes, dances and clever phrases to help us about teaching the books or passing the TAKS test. She cared about me remember useful ideas,” Fiend as a person, and that has made all said. “However, Ms. the difference in my life,” Fiend said. Lightsey’s truly unique teaching method was “It’s teachers like Ms. Lightsey that her ability to share change lives. Not because of what they teach, or even how they teach her love and it, but because of who they are and passion for education.” the care they have for others.”



To get involved,
Contact this issue’s nonprofIts
Restoration Haven www.restorationhaven.org 254-732-5413 Family Abuse Center www.familyabusecenter.org 254-772-8999 Brazos Valley Coop www.brazosvalleyco-op.com McLennan Community College Adult Education Department www.mclennan.edu/departments/aed/ 903-299-8748 Baylor University Office of Access and Learning Accomodation www.baylor.edu/oala 254-710-3605


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