Big Thought Institute is Creating Great Learning Experiences

The innovation caught national attention – and it began with field trips. 

Dallas is a hub for arts and culture, but for years these experiences weren’t accessible to all elementary school students. Due to budget constraints, less than 30% of elementary age students in the Dallas Independent School District were going on field trips, and many didn’t have access to any high-quality arts and cultural experiences. 


In the late 1990s, Big Thought, known then as Young Audiences of North Texas, worked to establish a partnership with the City of Dallas, Dallas ISD and Dallas’s arts & cultural community. Known as Learning Partners, the collaboration focused on providing equitable access to field trips for all Dallas ISD elementary students. 

News of the innovative partnership didn’t stay in Dallas, and soon caught national attention. Arts leaders and educators across the country were inspired to consider how an initiative of this kind could benefit their own city. Those leaders began to ask about Learning Partners and Big Thought began consulting. 

One of the first of these consulting projects was in Amarillo, TX. Big Thought helped leaders build out what field trip support could look like in their region and context. That project became Window On a Wider World, an organization dedicated to enriching the education of Texas Panhandle students through arts, science and cultural experiences. 


The ad hoc consulting work that began over 15 years ago led to the establishment of Big Thought Institute (BTI) – a team of Big Thought staff that provides professional learning, curriculum design and consultation services to help other nonprofits and organizations teach, develop and create. 

In recent years, that work has included curriculum writing for the State Fair of Texas as well as Mercedes-Benz Stadium and College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, GA. Other projects have encompassed strategic planning, including for a new Indianapolis Center for Arts Education and Innovation housed at Butler University. 

“One of Big Thought’s values is to ‘create impact which reaches youth we will never meet,'” states LeAnn Binford, Director of Consulting Services. “Through our consulting work, we can share our knowledge and expertise for others to adapt to their learning environments.” 


In fall 2021, Big Thought Institute began working with seven local education agencies to help them plan a Strong Summer Learning Program, providing technical assistance to those districts and schools through the Texas Education Agency’s Additional Days School Year Planning and Execution Program (ADSY PEP).  

In summer 2022, BTI staff visited those schools as the summer camps that resulted from months of planning began. The program themes ranged from outdoor adventure to world travel, but the intention behind each design was to provide a high quality summer learning experience for all students.

“The goal for each of the summer programs was to balance academics with opportunities for enrichment which would engage students in their learning and provide hands-on experiences,” says Binford. 

Big Thought Institute will continue to support summer learning by partnering with more districts for 2022-2023, and is also working through the Texas Education Agency to provide assistance to multiple districts in developing and sustaining high-quality after school programs. 

Learning experiences beyond the classroom are crucial because they connect learning to the real world. After 30 years of providing out of school time educational experiences, Big Thought Institute is eager to share what the organization has learned from this work. 

For more information about Big Thought Institute, visit