A “Creative” Approach to Trauma-Informed Practices

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By Stephanie Drenka

For more than 20 years, Big Thought has partnered with the Dallas County Juvenile Department and Southern Methodist University to provide trauma-informed job training to adjudicated young people through the arts. Through this process, youth are able to express their voice in a safe space and gain skills associated with job and college readiness such as teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication.

Many of the young participants in this program have a high number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and cope with chronic, heightened stress in their daily lives.

“Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—which include emotional or physical neglect; verbal humiliation; growing up with an addicted or mentally ill family member; and parental abandonment, divorce, or loss — can harm developing brains, predisposing them to autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, depression, and a number of other chronic conditions, decades after the trauma took place.” (Psychology Today)

According to research about childhood trauma, risk factors can be offset by the presence of a stable, caring adult in a child’s life. Lisa Schmidt, the founder of Creative Solutions, has been one such adult for hundreds of young people over the years.

She describes some of the symptoms that surface with trauma-affected youth:

Early childhood trauma can actually impact brain development.

One of the things we’ve seen is that 16-17-year-olds who have experienced trauma are often responding emotionally, and sometimes intellectually, like someone an average of 2-3 years younger. So, you’d see a 16-year-old responding emotionally more like a 13-year-old, having difficulty with abstract thinking.

And we see students who have shut down all emotions, and one of the only ways they can feel is in extremes— extreme ecstatic happiness or extreme anger, but there is no middle ground.

Often when you ask kids, “are you angry?” They say “No, I’m never angry” or “No, I never cry.” They’ve shut themselves off from basic healthy emotions.

They also respond to facial expressions differently. Their brains have been conditioned to read adult facial expressions as ones of anger. You may be looking at a child with a quizzical look, but they misread it as distrust. 


As the number of adverse early childhood experiences mounts, so does the risk of developmental delays. Source: Barth et al (2008).

Credit: Center on the Developing Child.

Teenagers are not the only ones who are impacted by trauma, and the symptoms are numerous.

“The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and other problems. Adults with more adverse experiences in early childhood are also more likely to have health problems, including alcoholism, depression, heart disease, and diabetes.” (Harvard)

In order to help children and teenagers who have been affected by these adverse experiences, trauma-informed practices and models are necessary. These are typically organized around the principles of safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, and empowerment.

At Big Thought, we weave these concepts of social emotional learning into every one of our programs. Lisa founded Creative Solutions with the mantra, “It’s not where you’ve been that determines who you can become, it’s where you will go and what you will do!”

That philosophy continues to empower Creative Solutions and all of Big Thought’s work.

bigthoughtA “Creative” Approach to Trauma-Informed Practices

The Incredible Lisa Schmidt

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By Carson Bolding

Last night, Studio Movie Grill honored Big Thought’s own Lisa Schmidt with their third annual Opening Hearts and Minds Award, an award presented to leaders who go above and beyond to create positive change in their communities. The night included a red carpet and a special screening of Incredibles 2 to honor this incredible woman.

Lisa is the founder of Creative Solutions, a program that uses performing and visual arts to teach job and college readiness skills to youth on probation. For over 30 years, Lisa has been impacting young people across the Dallas-Fort Worth area and inspiring those who work alongside her. Her influence and energy is exemplified by the words shared by her family, friends, co-workers, and students.

“[This award] acknowledges the wonderful and passionate work Lisa does. And it’s all because her heart is so full of life and joy and so much creativity to share with so many children across the Dallas metroplex.” (Mary Hernandez)

“Passionate advocate. Nobody works harder, works longer, and is more passionate about serving kids than Lisa.” (Greg MacPherson)

“When I started in the program, I was very angry. I didn’t even want to smile. But she would come up to me and break me out of that shell, make me smile, make me laugh.” (Bone García)

“Inspiring. She’s full of energy. She’s done countless things to help youth across Dallas. She motivates us to no end.” (Kristi Flanders)

“Her passion goes beyond barriers, beyond culture, beyond skin color.” (James Adams)

Click here to view more photos from this “incredible” event.

bigthoughtThe Incredible Lisa Schmidt

“Creating School Cultures that Promote Academic Excellence”

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By Carson Bolding

If your garden’s not growing, don’t blame the veggies.

That was the lesson at the core of Dr. Pedro Noguera’s lecture this past Monday as part of Hayles Educational Incorporated’s Professional Learning Series. Noguera, the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, has spent his career researching the influence of social and economic conditions and demographic trends on schools (Pedro Noguera). He understands that the majority of students don’t learn best in a traditional classroom structure.

“The schools we have now were designed to obtain the current results,” he emphasized throughout the lecture. In order to improve, schools must adjust to students, rather than expecting students to conform to the classroom. That can only be accomplished by looking at the various factors that influence a child’s learning.

When you plant a garden, you have to make sure to use quality soil, provide an appropriate amount of sunlight and irrigation, and keep out the weeds. Each plant requires attention and care. Similarly, when seeking to understand a student’s academic achievement, you must consider the various factors influencing that student’s growth. A child’s race, gender, socioeconomic status, or home life is likely to affect the way they learn. Assuming that every student learns the same way only creates barriers to learning.

“We should not be surprised by the diversity of our children,” Dr. Noguera explained. If schools are committed to deeper learning and equity, “educators should seek to understand each child’s individual learning needs” (Noguera, Darling-Hammond, and Friedlaender). When teachers and administrators take the time to build relationships with students, those students receive the attention they need. This personalized learning keeps kids invested in their education and community.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” (Audrey Hepburn)


bigthought“Creating School Cultures that Promote Academic Excellence”

Summer is Coming

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By, Carson Bolding

Temperatures are rising into the triple digits. Days are getting longer. And students are holding their breath as the last minutes of the school year tick away. This can only mean one thing: summer is almost here.

As students walk out of their classrooms for summer break, it’s important that learning doesn’t stop. How students spend these summer months has a large impact on their health, safety, and academic performance. The inequity of opportunity during the summer can widen the achievement gap for low-income students, as they often face academic setbacks and a lack of access to healthy foods (Wallace Foundation).

However, high-quality summer learning programs can push these students ahead. Research from the National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment shows that “three to four consecutive summers of high-quality learning beginning in pre-kindergarten can get kids reading on grade level by third grade, making them four times more likely to graduate from high school” (Summer Learning). By keeping kids learning throughout the summer, we can ensure that they’re classroom-ready when they return to school in the fall.

 summer learning programs positively contribute to academic performance

While summer learning programs positively contribute to academic performance, they also provide an opportunity for students to dive into subjects that spark their interest. Engaging them in new and innovative ways, these programs meet kids where they’re at, allowing them to explore their interests hands-on. Summer camps and community events go beyond “drill-and-kill” instruction, so that the educational “experiences of summer… feel different for students” (Wallace Foundation). These programs do more than just prepare students for the next school year. They engage them in the lifelong process of learning.

DallasCityofLearning.org is a comprehensive online directory of affordable and no-cost summer programs to help children and youth explore their interests during out-of-school time. Create a free account and start exploring all of the fun and educational summer activities the city has to offer, including Coding, Robotics, Sports, Performing and Visual Arts, Science, and more.

bigthoughtSummer is Coming

Art is Activism

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“Art is commonly stereotyped as a solitary practice that forces you to isolate yourself and suddenly emerge with this outstanding piece of work that shows all of your troubles and how you overcame them.

This isn’t true. Although art in many forms is about expressing what you feel/experience, it isn’t something that requires the artist to do alone. There used to be a time where I tried to keep to myself and write a poem or two but, in the long run, I would always look to my mentors for help. I realized that being creative and brainstorming isn’t always something you have to do alone.

Many people grow and experience similar situations in life, which is part of the reason we create such strong bonds with one another.”

– Christian Morales, Youth Development Correspondent

Auditions for the 2018 season of Big Thought’s Artivism program are this Saturday, May 19th from 2-4pm! Youth ages 16-20 will work together with professional artists to create an original play or film that speaks out about racial and social justice issues. Stipends are paid for the work. Do you know someone who may be interested? Share this page with them! Sign-up to audition here: https://www.bigthought.org/artivism
bigthoughtArt is Activism

Muffins with Mom at Cowart Elementary

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Our mothers are our first teachers, and we teach others the same lessons we learn from them.” – Caroline Kennedy

Families at Cowart Elementary School celebrated Mother’s Day with a special “Muffins with Mom” event. Big Thought teaching artist Jennifer Kindert led an art activity for moms and their students. Together, they painted a beautiful bouquet of tulips and enjoyed a delicious breakfast before school started.

Click here to view more pictures from the Cowart Elementary “Muffins with Mom” event.

bigthoughtMuffins with Mom at Cowart Elementary