After-School

Community Engagement with SEL

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During April students from Martin Weiss Elementarylearned the importance of community giving. As a part of Afterschool Quality Assessment standards, SEL Site Coordinators and their afterschool students are required to complete a community event. This was a youth-led service project, and students chose a food drive. To kick off spring, the idea was to give gift baskets filled with collected can goods. Following the service project, the staff developed a two-week lesson plan to teach the importance of giving back with healthy food options, and eating healthy regularly.

To help the student’s understand the importance of community giving, the students were read “Uncle Willie and The Soup Kitchen,” by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. This was a great way to introduce the subject of helping poverty and homelessness to children, and encourage them to give back in their communities. In the story, Uncle Willie works part-time at the Soup Kitchen because he believes that sometimes people need a little extra help. The boy in the story becomes sympathetic toward people having a hard time making ends meet, he then finds a sense of pride in his uncle. By sympathizing with the boy in the story, it uplifted the class work as team making the food drive a big success. 

After reading the book, the students were asked reflection questions. They were separated into two groups with age-appropriate questions for each age group. Group A was kindergarten through third grade and group B was fourth and fifth grade. The questions included:

1. Why it’s important to volunteer? Why is it important to volunteer at food pantries?

2. When might a person need to visit a soup kitchen or food pantry? What experiences might they be going through?

3. Could you relate or identify with someone in the community center from the book?

4. Why is it important to give back to others?

5. What are some ways other than money that you can give back?

6. If you could give back somewhere, where would it be? Why?

To further engage the students, Weiss school counselor, Tiffany Daniels, started a food pantry initiative partnering the students with the North Texas Food Bank. As an incentive, the staff offered the students a pizza party, which motivated them even more. The students were very excited and continued to share how they wanted to help their own communities. The students ended up collecting more than 200 can goods! Half of the collected can goods were shared with the North Texas Food Bank, while the other half were used in gift baskets created by students.

SEL Coordinator Deborah Carey stated the only challenge was getting a speaker from North Texas Food Bank to talk about the food pantry to the students.

From learning to cook and promoting the food drive to visiting the food pantry, the youth demonstrated their commitment and perseverance throughout the project. The staff realized that the community service initiative was a success when they could see the enthusiasm and commitment of the youth for the project — and the smiles on the student’s faces. 

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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.

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Social Emotional Learning: Developing the Whole Individual

Social emotional learning, also known as “soft skills,” isn’t a new phenomenon. But it is rapidly gaining momentum nationally as educators, employers and even economists recognize the value of developing the whole individual, not just academic readiness. In this three-part series, we look at social emotional learning from a human interest standpoint, as a burgeoning local and national movement, and as an investment in the future through a grant from The Wallace Foundation awarded to Dallas ISD and Big Thought to create SEL implementation in the district.

Social Emotional Learning At Work

Here’s a story about emotional redemption: A teenager on probation enters the Creative Solutions 2016 summer program at Southern Methodist University. He’s withdrawn, non-verbal, can’t even make eye contact. He has closed off the world in his attempt to hide behind a broken soul.

Two weeks into his work with Creative Solutions, a partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department, SMU and Big Thought that teaches performing and visual arts to teen probates, proves cathartic. He suddenly felt comfortable enough to write down his emotions and recount past traumas through poetry.

“A couple more weeks later and he felt safe enough to share those with his mentors,” says Allison Caldwell, Youth Development Specialist at Big Thought. “During the very last week of the program, he decided that he wanted his words published in the poetry anthology and that his poem was worthy of sharing in front of an audience. His voice shook towards the beginning, but his confidence grew as he felt the support from his peers.”

Writing was the salve, the elixir that helped this teenager overcome depression. “His story is the perfect example of the beginning of a journey towards social emotional growth,” says Caldwell. “He reflected on his emotions and experiences, connected with others, and was beginning to learn how to manage his emotions.”

There you have social emotional learning at work, its transformative powers in full throttle. But what exactly is social emotional learning, and why has it become a national buzz phrase in education? According to CASEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, “social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Caldwell has spent more than five years applying social emotional learning to her work with Creative Solutions and DaVerse Lounge, the spoken word program for middle and high school students in partnership with Journeyman Ink.

“Social emotional skills exist on a continuum – you can never truly master a skill, rather you continue to deepen your understanding of yourself and your relationships as you practice social and emotional competencies,” she says. “All of our programs at Big Thought are infused with opportunities for kids to develop SEL skills.”

Photo: Creative Solutions students triumph onstage after last summer’s “The Island of Lost Souls” performance at Southern Methodist University. Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio.


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