Back in middle school, Danny, now a senior in high school, said he had trouble paying attention in class.
“Everything went in one ear and out the other,” he admitted. “I was careless.”
Before his freshman year of high school Danny realized home was not the best place for him and he chose to live at Methodist Children’s Home and attend the MCH charter school.
Residents of MCH attend the University of Texas-University Charter School on the Waco campus, which serves youth grades 6 through 12, or other Waco public schools. The charter school also serves a limited number of youth from the community through the Day Student program. Childcare and school staff work together to determine the most appropriate educational plans for students.
For Danny, this was just the change he needed to get on track. He is now on the honor roll and will graduate in May 2019. He feels the learning system in the charter school and availability of staff helped him improve.
“I love the staff here,” he said. “They are amazing. They are right there when you need them.”
Students at the charter school have access to several extracurricular programs including leadership organizations, academic competitions, recreational activities, and community service. They can also participate in competitive sports such as six-man football, volleyball, basketball, track, and golf. Future Farmers of America (FFA) is also offered through agricultural science class at the charter school.
Danny signed up for agricultural science class as a freshman and has stuck with it into his senior year. Through the class, he learned to care for animals and show them at local livestock shows. He also discovered a new skill and is now one of the best welders at MCH. Steve Kruse, Ag teacher for the charter school, has had Danny in his class all four years of high school and witnessed his hard work.
“Danny first entered my classes as a freshman with no confidence; he couldn’t look you in the eye and hold a conversation, and had a vocabulary that consisted of ‘I can’t do that,’” Kruse said. “As Danny built confidence, we started to see a young man emerge who wanted to learn, wanted to succeed and wanted to please not only himself but teachers, home parents and his peers.”
Last year at a local livestock show, Danny earned two scholarships to Texas State Technical College for his ag mechanics projects. Kruse said he is proud of Danny for the growth he has shown during his time at MCH.
“MCH turned a little boy who had little self-esteem and confidence into a productive young man who will contribute something to his community and society,” Kruse said. “I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help mold, teach and groom this young man.”
Along with FFA/Ag, Danny became involved in athletics and plays basketball and football for the MCH Bulldogs. It was his first experience playing in team sports, and he enjoys the competition and expanding his skills.
“I’ve been living here for four years now and it has kept me in good condition,” Danny said. “I felt like home wasn’t where I belonged right now and I was right. I have multiple opportunities here – a good education, scholarships – that I wouldn’t have at home.”
As part of its strategic plan, MCH has recently taken steps to transition the focus of residential programs from child welfare to education in order to give youth like Danny opportunities that they may not have had if they stayed at home. These steps include academic additions to enhance the learning environment, events that will normalize the educational experience, and extracurricular opportunities for students to explore their interests and talents.
“Our emphasis on education not only includes academics, but also learning skills and giving our students the total school experience,” said Moe Dozier, vice president for programs. “Being involved in extracurricular activities increases a student’s chance of success. We want to keep our students engaged and there is much to be learned by being part of a team and competing against students from other schools.”
MCH students can join theatre, choir, FFA and try out for the cheer team or an athletic team. Students show leadership by becoming a Safe School Ambassador or member of Bulldog Pride, a group that receives incentives for good grades and behavior. Most recently, MCH teamed up with the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce for the LEAD Mentorship program. Selected students will be paired with mentors from the business community who meet regularly to expose them to various business fields with hopes to motivate them to graduate and pursue higher education.
Juniors or seniors who are academically eligible and wish to get a head start on college can take dual-credit classes at McLennan Community College or attend courses through the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWAMA) or Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy (GWAHCA), a job skills training program offered through Waco ISD. This year MCH has five students enrolled in GWAMA and two in GWAHCA.
School leadership has also made efforts to normalize the school experience through events offered at other schools such as a baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors, “fish day” for incoming freshmen, and an awards banquet to recognize student achievements in academics and extracurricular activities.
The athletics program continues to grow with the addition last year of junior high teams for boys track and basketball. Students are encouraged to get involved in competitive sports to learn to work as part of a team, build confidence and become physically fit. MCH Bulldogs are part of the Texas Christian Athletic Fellowship (TCAF) league but also compete against larger schools in the local area. Last year, the MCH Bulldogs were TCAF state champions in six-man football.
MCH and the charter school team up to encourage youth to connect with others in order to have the best chance for success. Class sizes are small to give students individual attention. Childcare staff and school staff collaborate on decisions and rely on each other’s expertise to make sure the needs of students are met. MCH also supports the school with field trips, and 60 laptops were provided for classrooms this year by the MCH donor-funded Education Enrichment Fund. Michelle Arocha, executive principal at the charter school, said she is grateful for the support from MCH.
“UT and MCH make sure we are doing what is best for our kids,” Arocha said. “We are able to get students’ needs met. We function as a team.”
All staff and educators are trained in trauma-informed practices which are utilized in the classroom. In 2013, the charter school received the “Innovative Education Program of the Year” award from the Coalition of Residential Excellence for its success.
“I think we do a really good job of developing an individualized plan for each student to meet them where they are and help them move forward so they can be successful,” said Jeff Creel, program administrator for school and transition services. “We have many kids who wouldn’t have graduated had they not come here. We realize that the behaviors we see are not always out of defiance.
There’s an underlying need to be addressed. We work hard to address those so the kids will succeed.”
Once students become juniors and seniors, they begin working directly with Transition Services (TS) coordinators from MCH to help prepare them for life after graduation. TS coordinators teach life skills, assist students in preparing a plan for after graduation, and help them in signing up for advanced placement tests, applications for college, or any other needs. Creel said the goal is to make sure MCH is providing opportunities to help students graduate and become successful.
“I feel like we have a very supportive environment,” Creel said. “We’re compassionate. We give a lot of second chances. And we help students find their inspiration and their drive to succeed.” •
Embracing Residential Education
- 2003: MCH school opens in partnership with University of
Texas-University Charter School
- Fall 2007 – Spring 2009: Expansion of extracurricular activities
including athletics, fine arts and clubs
- 2009: Boys Ranch students start attending MCH charter school
- Vocational Agriculture added
- 2012: Sensory training and Trust-Based Relational
Intervention added to help establish optimal
- Fall 2013 – Spring 2016: Dual credit and certificate opportunities begin
through collaboration with Waco ISD
- Fall 2016 – Present: Expansion of Transition Services to teach
life skills and better prepare students for
success after graduation
- 2018: Day Student program revamped with focus on positive
behavior and educationally-motivated students