Hearts and Cookies Fueled Carver’s Valentine’s Day Dance

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The sweet scent wafted through the cafeteria. It was that heady aroma of frosted cookies, Hawaiian Punch and childhood adrenalin. The backdrop: Red, lots of red, and a sea of hearts.

The third annual Valentine’s Day Dance at George Washington Carver Learning Center cranked into drive Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. The dance, part of Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program at Carver, attracted 315 attendees, including kids from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, parents, teachers, volunteers and the thumping beats of DJ Flip.

For two hours, late afternoon to early evening, kids got to shed their uniforms and don their Sunday best. Dresses, hair bows, bow ties, vests, lacquered shoes, stockings and pin-striped slacks gave the children a new look, a new attitude and a chance to let loose with classmates.

“It builds up their social skills, their self-esteem,” says Maria Elena Ochoa, Community Liaison at George Washington Carver Learning Center. “They came in their party dress. They feel special, like a Cinderella story. The parents are proud of their children. This is where they get to show their best. When they come in, it’s magical.”

This being a Valentine’s Day Dance meant you needed a Royal Court. There was a duke and duchess for 3rd grade, a prince and princess for 4th grade, and a king and queen for 5th grade. Teachers nominated one male and one female student each based on attendance (5 absences or less), good character, grades (C average or higher in all classes), and positive behavior.

Each nominated student was then asked to write down three reasons why fellow students should vote for him or her at the dance. Teachers manned the voting booth, a colorful candy hearts themed station that drew a steady stream of kids casting ballots. The votes were tallied and it was time for the winners.

All members of the George Washington Carver Learning Center’s Carver’s Royal Family received certificates of distinction.  The winners were: Duke Jordan Smith and Duchess Kyndall Carroll; Prince Kenyon Valentine and Princess Hailey Lewis; King Stephen Lampkins and Queen Tanija Jones.

The crowd roared during the crowning. There was major excitement in the room especially since the dance contests had just stirred all of the kids into a dancing frenzy.

Nothing gets kids going like dancing, agrees Brooke Scott. Her children, Kayla Scott, 7, and Travis Ridge, 10, were at the dance. They are Thriving Minds kids who have been active for three years. Kayla takes dance classes while Travis goes for basketball. Scott says that both teach valuable teamwork.

But about the dance, Scott had nothing but praise: “The dance is pretty cool,” she says. “All the kids like coming. Kids like to dance, so they love it.”

Big Thought and Thriving Minds thanks local sponsors Mercy Street, Serve West Dallas, ARK, Readers 2 Leaders, Park Cities Presbyterian Church, Southern Methodist University, Capital Bank, Girls Scouts of North Texas, Jargon Group, Boys Scouts of America, Junior Players, Watermark Church, Lakewest Family YMCA, and West Dallas Community Centers for their generous support.


Big ThoughtHearts and Cookies Fueled Carver’s Valentine’s Day Dance

Federal Reserve Bank Forum Provides Pathway for Prosperity

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The numbers speak volumes: By 2020, 64 percent of jobs in the United States will require education beyond high school, and 35 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet in Dallas, only 13 percent of high school students graduate with the readiness to triumph in a post-secondary educational environment.

And as 80 percent of K-12 students in Texas stay within their local communities after they graduate high school, these educational barriers are affecting not only the students and their families, but also the entire neighborhoods they call home.

The time is right for a call to action. Business, community and civic leaders are invited to attend “Educational Attainment: A Pathway to Prosperity,” a breakfast forum hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to be held Feb. 23, 2016 from 7:15 to 9:45 am at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 2200 N. Pearl Street.

Speakers for the event include Alfreda B. Norman, Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Rob Kaplan, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Florence Shapiro, Board of Trustees, Communities Foundation of Texas; Ann Stern, President, Houston Endowment; Gigi Antoni, President and CEO, Big Thought; Todd Williams, Executive Director, Commit! Partnership; and Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO, Year Up.

Topics include “Student Success and Leadership,” “Out of School Time: Access to Quality Learning Opportunities Outside the Classroom,” “Collective Impact: Aligning for Success,” and “Introducing Year Up!”

There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. To register, please click here. We hope to see you on the morning of February 23, 2016.

Big ThoughtFederal Reserve Bank Forum Provides Pathway for Prosperity

Angels Provide Christmas Gifts for Village Oaks Kids

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

There are angels among us. This time every year we get a chance to straighten and polish our crooked, tarnished halos simply by picking a child’s name off a Christmas tree.

That angelic paper cutout is then transformed into a gift that brings real joy to a kid with not enough during the holidays.

The Angel Tree is a nationally recognized symbol of Christmas charity. For more than four decades, the Angel Tree has been a signpost to illustrate the genuine spirit of giving inherent in that beloved day.

Here at Big Thought we put up our first Angel Tree earlier this month and immediately embraced the beauty of benevolence. The tree was dotted with 47 angels, each angel representing a child in our Thriving Minds After-School program at Village Oaks.

The idea for the Angel Tree to benefit the children of Village Oaks came from James Adams, Big Thought’s Programs Manager, who had participated in the Angel Tree tradition before.

“The desire was to have a tree with angels on it,” says Adams. “Every time you take an angel, a present appeared under the tree. It’s the magic of Christmas. I wanted these kids to experience that magic.”

So on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, the Village Oaks kids enjoyed their angels. The Village Oaks Community Center was abuzz with kids ages 5-14, with adult volunteers, and with members of the Big Thought team.

Volunteers Allison and DeWitt Corrigan, principals in Big Thought’s Young Professionals chapter, gave of their time and money to man the Christmas stockings table. They had a captive bunch busily glittering the stockings and then stuffing them with candy. Glitter was everywhere – on the table, on the floor, on hands and even faces. Clean up was, well, not a breeze.

But it’s worth it, because the children had a spectacular time. They also decorated Christmas cookies, and then sat down one by one to open presents. Nine-year-old Eimani, 5-year-old Josiah, 8-year-old Michael, 10-year-old De’Nyrion, 9-year-old Elijah, 6-year-old Sandel, 4-year-old Mariah and 14-year-old Corey, to name a few, ripped through colorful wrapping paper to reveal headphones, toy cars, coloring books, puzzles, an origami kit and even a Holy Bible.

We took pictures. We laughed. We hugged. We tried to keep order among the festive chaos. But mostly we relished the opportunity to be angels for angels. Take a look around; angels are everywhere.

We appreciate the continued support of the Rees-Jones Foundation and the Hillcrest Foundation, as well as our collaborating partnership with Behind Every Door.

Big ThoughtAngels Provide Christmas Gifts for Village Oaks Kids

Dallas ISD, City of Dallas and Big Thought Unite for Summer Learning

By Gigi Antoni, President and CEO

Summer is our huge opportunity to do something really important for every child in Dallas. It is the time of year to provide children with rich learning experiences outside of the classroom. We have the resources right here in our city. We have the power to transform young lives.

Research has shown since the ‘70s that summer is a time for learning loss, a time when children go hungry, a time when children are the victims of crime, and a time when there is significant erosion of social-emotional learning. This is particularly true in Dallas because one out of three children live in poverty. The impact on the achievement gap is that children not engaged in summer learning fall behind as much as two months each summer, and that loss is cumulative. Without intervention, a student could lag behind as much as two grade levels by the time they reach the sixth grade.

But Dallas has a track record of coming together as a community. Our city has diligently rallied to improve early childhood education, combat homelessness, raise the quality of public school education and provide rich arts learning. As we come together to prioritize supports and interventions that keep our children on a path for success, we can’t afford to ignore the importance of summer learning.

Dallas ISD and the City of Dallas, including the mayor’s office, have made a commitment to addressing this critical need in summer. The district has long been working on summer learning through their 7-year relationship with the Wallace Foundation as a partner for Big Thought’s Thriving Minds Summer Camp program – one of five initiatives selected as a national demonstration site for summer learning. The district brought together the philanthropic community, the business community, and the nonprofit community as allies in the need for summer learning.

Two years ago, Mayor Mike Rawlings started an effort in Dallas to combat the summer slide and give students a tangible pathway to a career. What started out as a small pilot and one of five national vanguard cities as part of the Cities of Learning endeavor (now LRNG) supported by the MacArthur Foundation, has now grown into a citywide initiative engaging more than 34,000 youth and projected to increase to 100,000 youth in three years – Dallas City of Learning.

Dallas City of Learning is a public-private citywide commitment to ensure all students have access to summer learning opportunities as we collectively combat summer learning loss and the growing opportunity gap that disproportionally affects low-income youth. Thanks to a new digital platform powered by LRNG, we can connect youth to in-person and online educational experiences provided by hundreds of partners both nationally and locally, while deploying technology and programs to our most underserved neighborhoods and raising the quality of instruction in summer.

Dallas City of Learning, which is managed by Big Thought, will be a system with shared benefits, fueled by school-based summer learning led by Dallas ISD and community-based summer learning led by the city of Dallas and hundreds of community partners. It will be scalable, featuring integrated and blended learning, with a powerful shared online searchable database. The target is K-12, giving children in all grade levels a combination of high-quality summer programs merging academics and enrichment as well as providing programs and events designed for students to discover their talents, connect with their peers, and prepare for jobs.

The community will have access to data that helps us understand what neighborhoods are being served and where the gaps are. When you combine all of our resources, not to mention our enthusiastic motivation, it’s clear that all of these factors are coming together and leveraging each other so that we can serve more students.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa unveiled their plan to a room full of friends and supporters Dec. 14 during a private luncheon hosted by long-time supporter, Deedie Rose. The event introduced their strong relationships with the city, the school district, the business and nonprofit communities. The luncheon gave us all a forum to discuss the benefits and challenges of making sure Dallas students keep learning during summer.

Summer is important. We are ready to double-down on summer as a community. We are prepared to give every child in Dallas the opportunity to blossom educationally and socially.

Big ThoughtDallas ISD, City of Dallas and Big Thought Unite for Summer Learning

Annual Fund Campaign Brings New Hopes for Children

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

New year, new hopes: At Big Thought we relish the chance to provide high-quality learning opportunities for children living in neighborhoods with low-performing schools, crime and poverty. We enthusiastically fill the opportunity gap by bringing in-school, after-school and summer programs to more than 140,000 Dallas children all year long.

We do this with the generous support of donors, people just like you that care about shaping Big Thought’s future and the families with whom we interact. As we launch our annual fund campaign with 2016 around the corner, we thank you for your gifts.

Your gifts enrich the lives of so many young people in Dallas, young people like Emma. Emma is 9, a 4th grader at Anson Jones Elementary. Emma participated in the recent Go IT Lego Robotics class at Anson Jones, a partnership between Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School along with 4H Tech-Wizards, Tata Consultancy Services and Southern Methodist University.

Emma was all smiles, laughter and excited participation at the Go IT class. Emma has come a long way. Hampered by a speech impediment, Emma was timid and shy. She didn’t speak a word of English. Her mom and dad came from Mexico and spoke strictly Spanish at home.

School has been a struggle for Emma; she was retained in 3rd grade due to her lack of reading skills. But after three years in Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program, Emma is now reading English and Spanish. She’s blossoming – participating in many class activities, acting in school plays, and dancing onstage during talent shows.

Thanks to Big Thought, Emma found her inner confidence for learning, for growing. And thanks to you Big Thought can continue to serve Emma and many more children. Join us in making 2016 a new year filled with hope for Dallas children.

Big ThoughtAnnual Fund Campaign Brings New Hopes for Children

Thank You During Thanksgiving, Year-Round

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

For us at Big Thought, the Thanksgiving spirit is year-round. So we thank you for being a BIG life changer!

Your involvement with Big Thought as a volunteer or donor is closing the opportunity gap for thousands of students across Dallas. You helped us make a big impact in 2105:

— 143,944 students served
— 95% of after-school participants showed better classroom behavior
— Summer CAMP participants started school with a meaningful advantage in reading and math

Because of you, Big Thought continues to meet the needs of more children and families every year.

We wish you a safe, warm and joyful Thanksgiving holiday. We thank you during the season, and every day of the year!

Big ThoughtThank You During Thanksgiving, Year-Round