Community Partners

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.

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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.

Senior Partner Relations Manager, Kristina Dove makes her mark on a mural.

CEO/President of Big Thought joins in on the summer fun!

Completed mural with notes from the West Dallas community.

Chief Strategy Officer, Jessica Malek gets her hands dirty with a summer learner at West Dallas SOARS.

Trustee Blackburn makes his mark with West Dallas SOARS!

Aaron Glover, Executive Director at the Writer’s Garret, visits students at mural unveiling.

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!

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Pencils in Hand: Students discover the power of words

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By Elysse Alvarado

Dallas City of Learning is a citywide initiative dedicated to ensuring that all students have access to high-quality summer learning programs. In addition to providing fun learning opportunities, DCOL commits to connect students to their community in deep and engaging ways.  

Students at West Dallas SOARS flexed their writing skills this summer with  The Writer’s Garret, a literary arts center that connects young readers to literature and writing.  Their mission is to “foster the education and development of readers, writers, and audiences, by putting them in touch with quality literature, each other, and the communities in which they live and write.”

Throughout the SOARS summer learning camp, students learned about writing styles and how to develop their own voice. From poetry to short stories, learners express their creativity everyday through storytelling.

Student with Writer's Garret talks to a local about their life.

West Dallas SOARS is housed at the West Dallas Community Center which provides daily programs to seniors and is the perfect place for budding authors to interview individuals from around their neighborhood. The Writer’s Garret challenged their young writers to interview a senior citizen about their life and ask for advice for someone their age.

A young learner focused on her subject
A list of questions prepared by a young student.
Learning how to tell a story with writer's garret.

One young writer admits she was a little intimidated by her interviewee. “ I was nervous at first, but then we began talking and she had so many great stories.” Stories about young love, favorite foods to cook and how much Dallas has changed.  Interviewees were ecstatic to share their memories and also to connect with students. “I think young people and us seniors need each other. Kids and older people can’t help themselves. We both depend on each other so I enjoyed talking with them about life.” Plenty of stories and laughs were exchanged as well as some recipe suggestions. Advice for students ranged from “think positively” to “be a leader and not a follower,” but one of the most common pieces of advice was to simply “be kind.” 

Students enjoying their day interviewing local senior citizens wit the Writer's Garret

Experiential learning is a core part of Dallas City of Learning’s curriculum. At West Dallas SOARS students have endless opportunities to grow. While working with senior citizens to showcase their life stories students were able to bloom as writers while learning about their own community in a special and memorable way.

 

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Summer Learning Tips from KERA Learn!

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By Elysse Alvarado

Dallas City of Learning has partnered with KERA Learn! to show students that summer learning can be fun and full of adventure. We sat down with Denita Malvern, KERA’s community engagement manager, to get to know more about her work, summer programming at DCOL, and tips for parents on how they can prevent summer learning loss at home.

What is your goal for students throughout your programming?
Our goal is to prevent summer learning loss through interactive summer programming across DFW.

What is your favorite part of working with students at summer learning programs?
Just watching them learn and seeing the a-ha moments that they have while learning new things.  I also love showing them that learning is fun. To see the smiles and sense of wonder while they are learning is amazing.

What do you hope kids learn?
We hope to show them that learning can be fun and engaging. Also, to connect them to PBS broadcasting as well as give them an introduction to STEM. This shows them what kind of careers are available to them and explore careers through summer learning.

3 TIPS FOR PREVENTING THE “SUMMER SLIDE”

  1. Parent’s should remember that they are their child’s first teacher. Whether it be while cooking and measuring out ingredients or counting tiles while in the bathtub, make everyday an opportunity for learning. There is no user guide to parenting and most parents think that they might not be qualified to educate their kids. But don’t forget that you know your child better than anyone else so you how they learn best!
  2. If you are looking for a way to connect and spend time with your family while learning join the Summer Learning Challenge which is filled with exciting books recommendations, DIY projects and other fun activities.
  3. Participate in the KERA Summer Learning Challenge! Here is a list of books to check out from your local library and read with your little ones.

Need even more ideas to make learning fun this summer? Head over to Dallas City of Learning to discover events, movie screening and upcoming summer camps!

 

 

 

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2018 Adelante Awards

By Christian Morales, Youth Development Correspondent

The spanish word ‘adelante’ means ahead, as in exceeding expectations and being above average. Which is exactly what the Latino Center for Leadership Development (LCLD) strives to do for the community. Through the organization’s constant efforts and determination, the LCLD has been making exponential progress in creating a truly inclusive legal profession.

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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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