Dallas City of Learning

How Out of School Time Organizations can manage through COVID-19

The following article is provided by Afterschool Alliance

The outbreak of COVID-19 raises questions and concerns for all of us. We’re gathering examples of effective guidance for programs, and issues you might want to consider. Please send any guidance you have received, questions you have, suggestions, best practices, questions you are struggling with and we will share them here.

Follow and share guidance from the CDC on practices such as hand washing, social distancing, and limiting contact. Providers also should review and follow CDC’s guidelines for child-care and youth-serving organizations.

Remind families that if children or parents have symptoms, they should not attend the program.Step up your cleaning and disinfecting, and communicate your actions to families.

Check local guidance. Make sure you know local guidance and processes, such as who to contact if you have a scenario involving quarantines, possible infection among parents, staff, or children. Check with:

Emergency Contact Information: Take time to review and update emergency contact information for each child, and staff member, enrolled in your program(s).

Think ahead: Make sure you and your staff know what to do if a parent, child, or staff member is diagnosed or quarantined, and contingency plans should your program need to close. Keep an open dialogue with staff.

Address anxiety and stress through staying calm and focusing on prevention and preparedness (from the Maryland Out-of-School Time Network):

Remote Learning: As school districts close and students are asked to stay home, there are ways to continue to engage your youth through virtual lessons. The American Federation of Teachers has a wealth of resources to help with learning at home. Want to talk through ideas? They also have an online discussion community where you can share ideas, lesson plans, and resources.

Big ThoughtHow Out of School Time Organizations can manage through COVID-19

Dallas City of Learning 2019 Impact Report

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Today, The City of Dallas, the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), Big Thought and the Center of Research and Evaluation at SMU hosted a ‘State of Summer’ update about the progress of the Dallas City of Learning program.

Dallas City of Learning is a citywide initiative to ensure all students have access to high-quality summer learning programs. In partnership with more than 700 community partners, the program connects students to the city’s most valuable out-of-school time resources.

By sixth grade, each limited resource student has already missed out on 6,000 hours of learning compared to their more affluent peers. The summer months are especially challenging, as students lose two to four months of academic skills in the extended time away from school.

Dallas City of Learning is a public-private partnership that was launched in 2014 and serves an average of 76,500 DISD students each summer, helping to close this gap.

“Continuing to keep our students’ minds sharp over the summer months impacts their school performance and ultimately, their long-term prospects for academic success,” said T.C. Broadnax, city manager of Dallas. “The City of Dallas is grateful for the hundreds of partners that work hard to deliver this important program for our children.”

Dr. Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of DISD stated, “Dallas City of Learning has provided more than 7,300 summer learning programs over the past three years. This program is helping us create more equity for our students who live in areas with little or no enrichment activities. We are stopping the ‘summer slide’ – improving attendance, GPAs and STAAR scores.”

“As someone who was the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college, I know that it takes a village for us to move our children forward,” said Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks. “Dallas City of Learning is providing our children with a village that cares, teaches and enriches. We should all support this program as an investment in our future workforce.”

Byron Sanders, CEO of Big Thought shared, “It is our team’s privilege to work with more than 700 incredible partner organizations to break down barriers in program deserts, improving access to learning resources across the city. Nearly three million hours of programming were provided during the summer of 2019 and our students are responding very positively to their teachers and the curriculum.”

Three program awards were announced at the State of Summer event:

Neighbor’s Award Goes to Frazier Revitalization

The Dallas City of Learning Neighbor’s Award recognizes an outstanding partner whose work in summer learning has been identified as uniquely community-focused and uplifting. The summer 2019 Neighbor’s Award winner is Frazier Revitalization, a place-based nonprofit that serves as a catalyst for the revitalization of the community, where 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. As part of Dallas City of Learning, Frazier Revitalization utilized a social-emotional learning approach to counter the negative and health behavior patterns caused by childhood trauma and provided consistent academic programming after school and in the summer to help close the achievement gap by building math and reading skills.

Superintendent’s Award Goes to Bold Idea

The Dallas City of Learning Superintendent’s Award recognizes an outstanding partner whose work in summer learning has been identified as uniquely innovative. The winner of the Superintendent’s Award for 2019 is Bold Idea, an education non-profit organization that helps north Texas students discover computer science and prepare for careers in technology and engineering.

Partner of the Year Award Goes to the Dallas Public Library

The Dallas City of Learning Partner of the Year Award recognizes an outstanding, multi-year partner whose work in summer learning has demonstrated elevated levels of expertise year over year in how they impact access and dosage to high quality summer programming. The summer 2019 Partner of the Year is the Dallas Public Library, which provided various programs for students and their families.

Dallas City of Learning Summer 2019 Summary

  • More than 700 program partners participated
  • 2,735 programs were offered
  • 95% of programs offered were free for participants
  • Total youths served = 68,303
  • 2,993,300 cumulative hours of programming were provided
  • 30+ days of student participation delivers the greatest impact
  • Multi-year participation is better for student outcomes

Key Outcomes

With every 10 days of Dallas City of learning programming:

  • Elementary school students are 25 percent more likely to pass STAAR math
  • Elementary school students are 35 percent more likely to pass STAAR reading
  • High school students are 40 percent more likely to pass End of Course English 1

The Dallas City of Learning summer program is most effective when partners are offering programming on a long-term and consistent basis. Big Thought, the Dallas City of Learning program manager, is currently looking to extend existing partnerships for next year as well as recruiting new program partners for the summer 2020 program.

For more information about becoming a Dallas City of Learning partner, please visit: https://dallascityoflearning.org/partner.

Dallas City of Learning is supported by a strong network of funding partners. To see the full list, please visit: https://dallascityoflearning.org/about.


Dallas City of Learning (DCoL) was established in 2014 as a collaborative public-private initiative led by Dallas Independent School District, the City of Dallas Mayor’s Office and Big Thought. DCoL is an out of school arts, culture and STEM learning system for grades K-12 that focuses on connecting youth with low- and no-cost learning experiences that cultivate creativity, build social and emotional skills and boost academic achievement. Students choose from an array of digital and in-person activities throughout the city that spark their interests and feed their curiosity.


Driven by our mission to make imagination a part of everyday learning, Big Thought is an impact education nonprofit dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for youth in Dallas and beyond. Throughout our 30+ year history of innovation, Big Thought has become a national model in arts education, out of school time systems, summer learning and juvenile justice intervention. Now we’re one of 6 community partnerships in the U.S. helping scale national best practices in social and emotional learning. For more information about Big Thought, visit: https://www.bigthought.org.


Jacqueline Chen Valencia


[email protected]

Big ThoughtDallas City of Learning 2019 Impact Report

Creating Creators Internationally, part 3

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Sergio, August 25, 2019

Creating Creators is hard work, but it’s work worth doing. The weeks of prep leading up to Festival Ñapita was not without its obstacles. One of the bigger challenges was building a relationship with the young aspiring entrepreneurs that I have come to adore. It turns out that youth are essentially the same regardless of where they live. 

Betzy and her crew from Dandelion Media quickly got to work with our workshops on branding, marketing, and investment. Of course there were levels of interest and disinterest. It was the disinterest that captured my attention, of course. Many liked the idea of coming up with their own brand, logo, and concepts, allowing them to stretch their creative muscles. But, when it came to the communication and investment portions of the workshops, there were a lot of furrowed brows, confused looks, and frustrated tempers.  When I asked why they felt this way, more often than not, it was because they didn’t know how to explain themselves. They didn’t have the words because they had never experienced the opportunity to

  1. create something on their from their own interests
  2. communicate in a way that allowed them to express their ideas
  3. understand the value in explaining themselves to others and how that can benefit them.    

It was like pulling teeth to get them to speak. Most were able to overcome through coaching, and once given the incentive of more cookies, they started to step up to the plate.

As we progressed throughout the week, I realized another factor that contributed to the waxing and waning of interest. Our young entrepreneurs are accustomed to living in the now, as most youth are, but especially our young entrepreneurs whose lives are day by day, moment by moment. 

How can we utilize their “live in the moment” perspective as an asset? How do I take their ephemera, harness it for good, and begin to create creators in this group?

Big ThoughtCreating Creators Internationally, part 3

Creating Creators Internationally, part 2

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Sergio, August 21, 2019

Week one has quickly passed, and the work for Festival Ñapita is in full swing.  And true to Big Thought’s way of working, we hit the ground running with site visits, programming and event planning.  (Ñapita comes from the colloquial use of the word for an exchange of goods/services where one gives a little more in the process.) And of course authentic partnerships were a huge part of the effort. We collaborated closely with Dandelion Media, Aldeas Infintales SOS, Panama, and YLAI to prepare youth from Aldeas Infinatles to host their own entrepreneurial fair. 

Together with our partner organizations, we are empowering youth ages 12-18 to develop their entrepreneurial skills to inspire them to become the creators of their own futures beyond their stay at Aldeas Infintales. Youth are creating products for sale based on their personal interests. Items and products ranged from cookies and cupcakes, to hand crafted decorative items for the home.  Youth will have an opportunity to sell their products at Festival Ñapita and keep their proceeds from their sales.

We are challenging them to think beyond their current situation with the ultimate goal of imparting creative thinking, entrepreneurial and emotional intelligence skills. 

As I begin my work with the young creators of Festival Ñapita, I began to think more about the process of creating creators and barriers that inhibit the creator in myself and in others. What stood out as one of the biggest, but easiest barriers to overcome, is language. When a person knows how to “speak the language” then a true connection can be made to begin the creator’s process.   

Yes, I speak Spanish and understand the language so I’ve been able to easily maneuver my travels here in Panama.  But just because I understand the language, doesn’t mean I can fully connect to a person to be able to engage them, inspire them, and/or motivate them to become a creator.  “What more do I need to know?,” I asked myself. I need to know HOW to talk to them.

Speaking the language means more than understanding the raw words being shared.  It means being able to connect through culture, through identity, and through the understanding of lived experiences. I need to get on their level.

This concept holds true for the youth that I engage with in the States.  I have to be able to speak to youth on their level. When I’m been able to connect with youth on their level, is where I find the “Ahha!” moments in life. For me and for them. 

For Festival Ñapita, the youth at Aldeas Infintales are like any other youth in the States, or even around the world for that matter.  They are eager, they are distracted, they are pushing through their barriers of childhood to adulthood. It was interesting for me to see how youth are no more different in Panama than they are in the States. 

That was the second barrier that I had to overcome. Perception. Why did I think youth here in Panama would be different than in the States? 

I’m still working through that, but, for now, I’m enamored by these young creators. And now, it is my job to break down those barriers of language and perception to inspire the creator inside each of them. I have to overcome my own barriers of fear and inadequacy. I have to connect with them on their level so that they can trust me. I want them to trust me enough to share their interests and experiences, so that I can inspire the creator in them.  Luckily, I brought cookies for them to begin to build that bridge and build that trust.      

Read Sergio’s Week Three Experience 

Big ThoughtCreating Creators Internationally, part 2