By Megan Rule | Staff Writer
Waco businesses and communities come together to support Waco Independent School District students with the Adopt a School program, which fosters students’ success through volunteers.
“In the beginning, there was a need in the schools for extra support, and the community wanted to get involved, and they slowly figured out where they could best utilize their talents and resources,” said Stephanie Hines, community partnership specialist with Waco ISD.
There is are 160 partners across the district, Hines said, where some are district partners and some are school specific. Many partners do reading programs, which is one of the most popular, in addition to programs such as tutoring, providing lunch for teachers or providing Christmas gifts to children. District partners such as Bahama Bucks and Peter Piper Pizza will provide coupons that teachers and staff can hand out as an incentive for good behavior or good grades.
“I’ve been involved with Adopt a School for so many years,” said Leah Jackson Teague, professor and associate dean at Baylor Law School. “It’s an incredible program. I’m amazed with the time students give. But there’s so many great partners that spend a tremendous amount of time, effort and resources doing what we’re doing. It’s an incredible program.”
The community groups that volunteer with students are strictly volunteers, and before anyone steps in to interact with the children, a background check is done. Information about volunteering with Adopt a School can be found on the Waco ISD website.
The programs include students from kindergarten through 12th grade. There are different types of needs for volunteers throughout elementary, middle and high school. An example of this, Hines said, is that elementary schools have reading groups, whereas middle and high schools have financial literacy lessons.
“I know that there will be kids that start with the tutoring, and it helps turn them from a failing grade to sometimes ‘B’ students, so having that interaction and having that constant person in their life, it’s huge. Not just on the fundamental side, but that relationship with a mentor that’s being formed- It’s that constant figure in their life that’s huge,” Hines said.
The Baylor Law School was assigned Bells Hill PDS Elementary School and has law students who do anything from having lunch with the younger students to reading to them. Teague said that at Christmas-time, there is a big, organized activity where the elementary school brings a choir to the law school and performs, and the law school sets up a luncheon for them. The law school also makes sure each elementary student gets a gift.
“For those of us at this level of higher education, we recognize how critically important an educational system is to a community because for children, education is the way out for those that come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Teague said. “For our law students to spend time with them, it gives students an opportunity to realize, ‘I can do this,’ and ‘Why is school important? Because I want to go to college and law school.'”
Teague said the Baylor law program is more than a legal profession – there is a service side to law as well. Law means giving back to the community, and it’s more than a legal heart – it’s having a positive impact on individuals and the community, Teague said.
“I encourage Baylor students to get involved and make a difference in the life of a young child,” Teague said. “The kids get so excited to have someone read and spend time with them. It means so much. It’s a little thing we do, but it has a big impact on their lives.”
Hines said the program has grown over the more than 20 years it has been in service, and moving forward, the volunteers will look for ways to keep things fresh. Hines said some partners enjoy doing the same thing every year, and others enjoy bringing new ideas to the table every once in a while. Hines said another major part of the program is that it isn’t “take-take.” Adopt a School aims to teach students how to reciprocate the actions of the community.
“This is a good way to teach the kids how to be thankful,” Hines said. “Whether it’s writing a thank you note or sometimes taking artwork to the lobby of the business to hang up, we want to have that reciprocal relationship.”