Through the Lens: Community Building at Red Bird

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By, Elysse Alvarado

Walk into Southwest Center Mall (or Red Bird Mall as it’s commonly known) on any given day and it is clear to see that this once burgeoning shopping center has lost its spark. With shuttered storefronts and phantom parking lots, it may seem at first glance that there is not much left for visitors to enjoy. But in fact, this mall has flourished into a unique community of its own.


Apart from the few anchor department stores, local businesses are the pulse of what’s left at the mall and what makes it special. Morning walkers make their rounds through the long shopping halls, while store owners set up for the day ahead. And this summer, Red Bird SOARS has returned to provide engaging, summer programming for students. Summer learners are greeted by shop owners as they walk in for camp and the mall itself serves as the backdrop for activities such as photo walks and dance practice. This shopping mall has become more than just a mall, it has evolved into a close-knit community of its own.

Big ThoughtThrough the Lens: Community Building at Red Bird

#ThisIsBigThought – Meet Kiara

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By, Carson Bolding

Kiara Dismuke has been at Big Thought for just over a year. Starting as a Project Manager for Dallas City of Learning last May and then a Program Manager for Thriving Minds After School, she now works as the Manager of Talent and Recruitment.

Kiara points to the opportunities she’s had to grow and learn as one of her favorite parts of working for Big Thought. “I’m all about growth,” she explained. “I believe the sky is the limit, and I like working for an organization that believes that too.”

In her current role, she’s in charge of recruiting new talent into the organization, and she’s leading the effort to collaborate with local colleges and universities to provide students with work-study opportunities at Big Thought. These opportunities will primarily be as site guides for Thriving Minds After School. Since 2011, Thriving Minds has been working to “strategically connect partners and resources across the city to address the specific educational needs of students and families.” The program continues to grow each year, with each program site tailored to the community to provide invaluable out-of-school enrichment to students.  

Thriving Minds site guides provide direct assistance to the site coordinators at each school. They learn the ins and outs of the program, so that they can help ensure that things run smoothly and provide a safe, caring and enriching environment for children.

In addition to spearheading the work-study program, Kiara also leads information sessions every first Monday of the month. These sessions provide information about our various initiatives to individuals and organizations that are interested in working with Big Thought. From Dallas City of Learning to Thriving Minds to Creative Solutions, volunteers have plenty of options for where to invest their time and talents. These handy information sessions provide everything you need to make the best choice!

When asked about her absolute favorite part of working for Big Thought, Kiara says it’s “the community-orientedness of it all. Everybody here has a hand in doing great work for the community.”

Apply here to be a part of the great work being done at Big Thought.


Big Thought#ThisIsBigThought – Meet Kiara

Poetry in Motion: Rail Writers Connects Students to the City through Literacy

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By, Carson Bolding

Dallas City of Learning, a city-wide initiative to promote experiential summer learning, is made possible through a network of partnerships with public and private organizations. Each of these organizations brings new perspectives, ideas, and activities to students all over the city. Throughout the summer, The Writer’s Garret has been an invaluable partner, leading students in a number of activities to put their thoughts and experiences into words.

Aaron Glover, Co-Executive Director, explains that The Writer’s Garret aims to “connect readers and writers through the power of language.” One of their programs, Rail Writers, takes this connection a step further, adding a third group to the mix: riders! Rail Writers began in spring of 2016 with the goal of helping “urban youth find themselves through reading, writing, and exploring communities while riding the rails to notable landmarks in Dallas” (Rail Writers).

SOARS campers from West Dallas and Red Bird had the opportunity to participate in this exciting program. On these day-long field trips, staff from the Writer’s Garret led the kids in writing workshops, drawing from their experiences at various stops in Dallas, such as the Dallas Museum of Art and Klyde Warren Park. After writing poems and stories, they shared them with DART riders at “flash mob readings” at various light rail stops.

Some students teamed up for group performances, including one entitled “If I Was the President…,” where five young poets shared their dreams for the future and invited the audience to reflect on their own dreams. Others brought their own creative flair, incorporating song and dance routines. One student shared his experience on DART, explaining that a mural he had seen while riding the train opened his eyes to a different perspective of Dallas, one outside of his neighborhood of Oak Cliff.

“Our brains are active 365 days a year,” Glover reminds us, emphasizing the importance of summer learning. Programs like Rail Writers teach us that learning doesn’t just happen inside the classroom, and embracing that mindset allows us to be “open, curious, and thoughtful” when approaching the world.

Big ThoughtPoetry in Motion: Rail Writers Connects Students to the City through Literacy

Redbird SOARS Back for Summer Learning!

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By, Elysse Alvarado

In partnership with the Dallas Mayor’s Office, Dallas City of Learning is an initiative that brings together hundreds of organizations to connect innovative out-of-school learning experiences that tap into new interests, develop new skills and encourage informal learning wherever it happens. This summer, SOARS is returning to Southwest Center Mall (or as locals call it Redbird) for a second year and seeks to engage students right in their own neighborhoods.  Located in Southern Dallas, Redbird mall is easily accessible for many families and the perfect place to connect the community to fun summer learning programming.

Designing and painting at Redbird SOARS!

Redbird SOARS brings together community artists and organizations to deliver exciting summer programming Kristina Dove, Director of Systems at Big Thought, emphasizes that “there are so many talented kids in these communities that rarely get an opportunity to explore such pathways as STEM, dance, creative writing and production.”  At Redbird SOARS, our partners are key to giving students a chance to explore all these new ideas. Here is an inside look on what learners are discovering this summer.

Students launching their slingshots!STEM

HAK Electronics is committed to inspiring the next generation of engineers by breaking down complex concepts through interactive projects. Students are learning how to connect LED lights and even build their own slingshot! Elijah, who is seven years old loves science and is excited to go to HAK every morning. “I get to play with all these cool things, and like launching our sling shots!” This kind of excitement isn’t something that can be gained in a traditional learning environment, and gets students excited to learn.

Young photographer exploring Redbird.Photography 

While many summer learners might have a smartphone, many have never learned about photography as an art form. Sir 3, a local artist, partnered with Big Thought to show students what it means to be a photographer. Redbird is the backdrop for their projects and the young photographers love taking walks to explore the mall and create their very own images.

Ms. Jones (Jones 2000) teaching students how to tie their shoes.


Summer is a great time to flex creative muscles. This is exactly what SOARS campers are doing with Jones 2000. From constructing wearable art like bracelets to designing their own t-shirts, students are free to create.

Summer at Redbird SOARS is sure to be full of exciting learning experiences. Want to see what fun educational opportunities are happening in your area? Head to Dallas City of Learning to check out the latest summer programming.



Big ThoughtRedbird SOARS Back for Summer Learning!

Dive into Summer Learning: Time to go to the Perot!

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By, Elysse Alvarado

Dallas City of Learning believes that summer learning shouldn’t be confined to a classroom. Instead, students should be encouraged to learn by getting their hands dirty and interacting with the world around them.

Through DCOL’s partnership with KERA Learn, students focus on STEM learning through projects such as planting herb gardens, creating art projects using recycled items and even designing their own airplanes! Students at West Dallas SOARS dived into summer science learning by visiting the Perot Natural History and Science Museum.

Discovering new things at the Perot Museum!Dallas City of Learning helps close the opportunity gap by providing high quality education programming. DCOL also aims to connect children to their community in unique and fun ways. Visiting local institutions gives students the chance to further connect with their home city and shows them that learning can be fun. The day began with an IMAX movie about the famed Galapagos Islands. They learned how the islands were created and about the diverse animals that inhabit the islands. Then it was time to explore the Perot!

Students diving into summer learning at Perot.

From learning about native Texas critters to marveling over dinosaur fossils, the day was filled with plenty of wonder and lots of giggles. But, who better to ask about their day then students themselves? Here is what students at Dallas City of Learning had to say about their day.

What was your favorite part of the day?

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Summer is a great time to jump into learning! Fight the “summer slide” by sending your child to a great summer learning program or exploring Dallas through exciting, educational opportunities

Big ThoughtDive into Summer Learning: Time to go to the Perot!

Big Things Happening in West Dallas

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By, Elysse Alvarado

The West Dallas Community Center offers a variety of services including programming for senior citizens, healthy meals and education counseling offered by El Centro Community College. But apart from these offerings, the center functions as a meeting place for the neighborhood. Walk in and see locals chatting over coffee or people playing card games. The smell of home-cooked lunch waifs through the halls. This community center is welcoming and warm, yet the building itself didn’t reflect the energetic and diverse community that the center serves. But now that local muralists, Reggie and Sanah Bowers have arrived to work with students at Dallas City of Learning a whole new look welcomes visitors and showcases the vibrant personality West Dallas.

Sanah Brown teaching how to shade the mural

Reggie and Sanah Bowers are constantly seeking ways to do good in the Dallas community through their art. Reggie, a military veteran and artist, is currently working on a masters in Social Work and learned about Big Thought through a professor who knew of his passion around art and children’s well-being. Sanah, an experienced photographer and artist, heard about Big Thought for years and thought this would be good opportunity to get involved and work with kids in the West Dallas community.

Working on the mural with Dallas City of Learning.

This led to both artists utilizing their talents to teach art through the design and development of three mural projects at the West Dallas Community Center. Some students had never taken an art class so the entire process gave students the chance to learn the foundations of art from professional artists. Inspired by the West Dallas community, Reggie and Sanah wanted each piece to be a direct reflection of the community showcasing the warmth, diversity and energy of the neighborhood. 

Sanah Brown working with students at Dallas City of Learning!

An average mural takes about 60 hours to complete, but with lots of little hands, Sanah emphasizes that painting three murals can be a little challenging. “The initial challenge was getting them to focus and not paint everything at once, but now they understand how to paint a mural.” Students loved coming to camp everyday to paint the murals and see how they change everyday.

Mural painted by students at West Dallas Soars

Reggie and Sanah agree that their overall goal for these murals was not only to teach art to students, but also to connect them to their neighborhood in a deep and meaningful way. Community members joined in on that goal by leaving notes filled with advice and encouragement for students. These notes will be incorporated into the murals to show community support and showcase its generous spirit.

Now that these colorful murals have been completed visitors will instantly know that they are in a special place that is welcoming to all and committed to supporting education. 

Looking for creative ways to teach your child more about art and culture? Check out learning opportunities happening across Dallas at Dallas City of Learning!

Big ThoughtBig Things Happening in West Dallas