This spring, Baylor began sharing stories of students, faculty and staff who, through their actions and commitments, shine a light that inspires others and brings glory to God. Here are two among thousands of #BaylorLights. See more at baylor.edu/lights.
Spending time with elementary and middle school students is something that drives Dr. Lakia Scott in her work as Baylor assistant professor of curriculum and instruction. It reminds her of the impact that can be made at the college level as she prepares new teachers to enter the workforce.
Scott’s work focuses on social issues in education—equity, social justice, race, gender and social class.
“I love the versatility that I can have in working with pre-service teachers but also working with students directly,” Scott said.
In 2017, Scott led the launch of Freedom Schools in Waco, a summer program focused on building literacy among children by curbing summer learning loss and closing achievement gaps. The program is offered through the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), which works to provide a healthy, fair, safe and moral start in life for children with the help of caring families and communities.
The seven-week program was offered at no cost to 50 Waco-area students entering sixth and seventh grade. In 2018, it expanded to include eighth graders with up to 70 Waco-area students.
Children from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds attend with Baylor students engaged as servant-leader interns. The program offers targeted intervention in a culturally affirming learning environment.
“Children who participate in the program often don’t remember that we’re teachers. They feel like we’re older sisters or brothers. They feel like we’re mentors,” Scott said.
The morning begins with fun encouragement and a celebration of reading. Guests from various professions read self-selected books and answer the children’s questions.
Community-building and intergenerational leadership are key aspects of the model and foundational pillars of the CDF Freedom Schools program.
“They don’t come to Freedom Schools expecting to gain the camaraderie or community, but they definitely leave that way,” Scott said.
Daily reflection time is followed by a high energy motivational song that gets students excited about why reading is fun and how it makes a difference. The children then work on the integrated reading curriculum, which is prescribed by the CDF. Students are given the book they worked on that week to add to their personal libraries.
“These books are culturally affirming and developmentally appropriate and are selected by a panel of expert librarians and reading specialists,” Scott said.
After lunch, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities are incorporated into the program with things like building rockets, racing cars and checking buoyancy. New clubs were added this summer, ranging from gardening to debate.
“Dr. Scott truly embodies the great command of God that says we are to love the Lord and others,” Alexis Hooker, BSEd ’18, said. “Her commitment to the people of Waco and their children is admirable. She is adamant about staying connected with the families and each child’s success beyond the Freedom School summer.”
Hooker served as the site coordinator.
“All children need someone to love them and know that they care,” Hooker said. “Freedom Schools provides the perfect culture and climate to not only make that possible but easy.”
Student assessments reveal the program is making an impact. More than half, and in some cases 70 to 80 percent of students, increased their independent and instructional reading level for sight word recognition and reading comprehension.
Scott will add a review of new and returning student data to see if the outcomes are higher as a result of multiple summers in the school.
“We want to expand our outreach and our impact so Waco can be best served,” Scott said.
Tanner Vickers, BBA ’10, MS ’12, is associate director of student activities for campus programs. For him, being a light on campus is less about his good works and more about reflecting God’s love.
Although he is not a scientist, Vickers knows the sun is so bright that its light travels more than 90 million miles, reflects off the moon and beams to Earth.
“Have you ever been outside during a clear, full moon?” Vickers asked. “It is beautiful, a soft light covering everything indiscriminately. We’re like the moon, reflecting the Light, the Source.”
Vickers is committed to leading and serving in his role, working with students. He knows from his experience that one of the most powerful predictors of a student’s persistence to graduation is a sense of community.
In 2006, Vickers began his freshman year at Baylor knowing no one on campus. He said he would have transferred if not for his Penland resident chaplain, who challenged Vickers to get involved. In fall 2007, Vickers joined the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, and it changed his life by teaching him how to serve and connecting him with friends.
Today, Vickers leverages campus programs to create experiences that help students thrive. His job—and his calling—helps students find a place to call home within the broader Baylor Family.
Part of his work includes advising the Baylor Activities Council (BAC), which is the student- led event planning group behind Christmas on 5th Street, Welcome Week’s Big Event and other defining campus experiences. Alongside Vickers, BAC members do everything from manage complex projects to carry overstuffed trash bags to dumpsters after an event.
“I believe it’s these kinds of moments, inside and outside the classroom, where Baylor moves from a place a student attends to a place a student calls his or her own,” he said. “These experiences mold them, challenge them and refine them into capable, confident leaders.”
A career in student activities means a work schedule above and beyond an 8-to-5 day. As Line Camp director, for example, Vickers helped to welcome thousands of incoming freshman students and introduce them to beloved Baylor traditions—which doesn’t allow for someone to clock out at 5 p.m. And when Spiritual Life organized a trip to Houston to serve the communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey, he was more than ready to sign up.
“Being from Houston, when I saw the email asking for staff volunteers, I jumped at the opportunity to lend a hand,” Vickers said. “Watching students sacrifice their fall breaks so they could love on hurting people was illuminating.”
Returning to his thoughts about the moon, Vickers pictures each of us presenting cratered, dusty, cold hearts to God, anticipating being turned away and lost in the void.
“He is covering us in His light, and it reflects outward,” Vickers said. “I cannot hope to be the Light, but I can have hope in faith in the Light. Feel Him shine on you.”