Thriving Minds

Big Thought Intern Jesus Cantú is MIT Bound

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The news is spectacular: Jesus Cantú, a former Thriving Minds student and three-time summer intern at Big Thought, has been accepted into the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He starts classes during the Fall 2017 semester.

Jesus, 17, is a glowing example of the prospering power of exposing kids to creative learning environments. Cantú was born in Laredo and raised in Mexico until his fourth birthday when he came to Dallas. The Oak Cliff resident remembers his involvement in Big Thought’s Thriving Minds program when he was in elementary school, and later summer camps at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and the Latino Cultural Center. It set the stage for his educational trajectory. Come May 2017 he will graduate from Dallas’ magnet campus School of Science and Engineering.

As a Big Thought summer intern in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Jesus was an instrumental force on the ground during the many community events surrounding the Dallas City of Learning initiative. In fact, he was the go-to guy for translations. A huge part of his role was translating English to Spanish – and vice versa – to keep parents and kids abreast of DCoL.

“I felt really good helping out,” says the upcoming Nuclear Science & Engineering MIT freshman. “I saw a lot of kids that were like me when I was their age. My mom didn’t know English that well so it was hard for her to find programs for me. I saw similar kids in similar situations where parents spoke no English.”

That’s a huge soft skill right there. Jesus learned true empathy and resilience. He saw himself in those childhood mirrors. When it came time to craft his MIT admissions package, Jesus was one-up on the game.

“Writing about being a low-income kid able to take courses and attend different camps because of Big Thought,” he said, “and then later being able to help other students get those same educational opportunities was honestly such a huge part of my application.”

During his last two summers with Big Thought, Jesus was part of the Dallas Mayor’s Intern Fellows Program. Nattily attired in a professional suit, Jesus attended the Dallas Mayor’s Intern Fellows Program Luncheon, held Aug. 1, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Dallas.

“I want to thank everyone at Big Thought, because without all of the internships you all offered me these past years I couldn’t have made it this far,” he said. “I am grateful for everything throughout these years of growing up in Dallas. Big Thought made this possible for me. I didn’t let any of your efforts go to waste.”

MIT is lucky to have you, Jesus. Big Thought wishes you continued success.

Pictured: Jesus Cantú with Erin Offord, Big Thought Senior Director, Program Implementation. Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought.


Big ThoughtBig Thought Intern Jesus Cantú is MIT Bound

Vivacious Thriving Minds Student Is a Bundle of Sunshine

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

That vivacious smile and boundless energy belong to 5-year-old Asiyale Thomas. She’s in kindergarten at Highland Meadows Elementary School. She’s also a Big Thought Thriving Minds After School student, having spent the last month in the program.

Asiyale, a bright, friendly bundle of sunshine, couldn’t wait to answer questions about her time in Thriving Minds where she enjoys outside recess. The swings, the slides, that memorable togetherness with friends fuels her already perky personality. Plus, Asiyale never felt shy or timid when she walked into Thriving Minds.

“I wasn’t afraid,” she says. “I’m brave.”

Mom April Owens knows that the Thriving Minds environment elevates Asiyale’s desire to learn, play and share.

“Anytime she’s around other kids she is really outgoing and confident,” says Owens. “She likes to go home and try to read. She enjoys learning and being a student.”

Big Thought’s 2016-2017 Thriving Minds After School program is in nine DeSoto ISD campuses, four Dallas ISD campuses and three community centers. TMAS provides academic and recreational enrichment for children beyond the normal school day.

For Asiyale, it makes her so elated to try new things. “I’m good at math,” she exclaims. “I’m good at writing words. I can’t wait to go to the first grade.”

Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program thanks The Pollock Foundation; Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust; City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs; Pizza Hut/YUM! Brands; The David M. Crowley Foundation; The Wallace Foundation; Target Corporation; Sid W. Richardson Foundation; Best Buy; AT&T Aspire Mentoring Academy; Sammons Corporation; Theodore and Beulah Beasley Foundation; Rees-Jones Foundation; and The Hillcrest Foundation for their generous support.

Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought



Big ThoughtVivacious Thriving Minds Student Is a Bundle of Sunshine

A World of Free Flowing Imagination In a Box

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Remember the days of free play, when the recess bell rang and you and your pals would storm the schoolyard for a game of Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Tag, Hopscotch, and Double Dutch? You were independent. You were ingenious. You learned to be a leader – or a follower – all while using your imagination to achieve a common goal.

Those days are back, even in this hyper-technological age of iPads, cell phones and laptops. Introducing Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School Themed Boxes. These hard plastic trunks are fully stocked, portable exploration centers.

Each trunk is thematic. There is always a book to encourage reading, a set of instructions, and a bag of clothespins. Kids write their names on a clothespin and then “own” the activity they are working on. As they move from activity to activity, the clothespin moves along with them.

The boxes are in four Dallas ISD schools for kids in pre-kindergarten to 5th grade. Over at DeSoto ISD, six schools have boxes for kids in kindergarten and 1st grade.

“These are trunks full of themed activities that encourage self-guided exploration,” says Big Thought’s Lisa Schmidt, Director, Center of Excellence. “These are not teacher taught lessons. They promote imagination and creative thinking. They teach kids that they can create their own entertainment, that they can problem solve. This is scenario play.”

For kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade, there is Exploring Food and Farms and Exploring Transportation. For the older kids, there is a design trunk, as well as a shapes and connectors trunk. A dozen trunks are currently out at schools. After two weeks, schools trade trunks.

To give kids that sense of freedom, of this being an opportunity for freethinking creativity instead of a regimented class assignment, a teacher’s aide supervises and motivates the kids to dig deeper in the activities. Kids are challenged to go a step further even when they think they are done.

The idea for the trunks, or exploration centers, comes from the Montessori method of education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. Montessori encouraged “multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity,” according to the American Montessori Society website.

Also, research points to enriched play as being a huge part of child development. When children participate in enriched playtime, they use executive function. Penn State University’s Extension publication describes executive function as “specialized cognitive skills, primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain which work together to regulate, recall, and plan a person’s actions. These skills help a child remember and follow multiple-step instructions; avoid distractions and impulsive responses; adjust when rules or instructions change; keep trying after an initial failure; organize and manage projects and long-term assignments.”

For kids in lower income households, these boxes are keys to unlock their inner potential, their leadership skills, their ability to work with others, and their free flowing imaginations. That’s the best way we can think of to close the opportunity gap.

We aren’t surprised that the thematic boxes, which were conceived and culled by Schmidt, Big Thought’s Maria Marwill-Magee and kinder experts from the New World Kids program, are a resounding hit.

“Right now there has been a hugely positive response in DeSoto,” says Schmidt. “The kids don’t want to leave them. They are shocked they can just play with them. This is how kids learn. It is all self-directed imagination.”

Thriving Minds After School is supported in part by City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs; Pizza Hut; The David M. Crowley Foundation; Sid W. Richardson Foundation; Sammons Corporation; and Theodore and Beulah Beasley Foundation.




Big ThoughtA World of Free Flowing Imagination In a Box

The Concilio Connects Parents to Their Children’s Education

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations and Marketing Manager

Idania Fuentes sits inside the Casa View Elementary School cafeteria. Her three children hover around mom fueled by the ideal balance of poise and precociousness.

There’s 10-year-old Erick, who aims to be an engineer when he grows up. Then we have 8-year-old Eduardo, who proudly announces he’ll be a soccer star. Finally, 6-year-old Marycarmen exclaims her plans to be a teacher. Erick, Eduardo and Marycarmen participated in Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After-School program during the 2014-2015 year.

But this story isn’t about the kids. This time the focus is on the parents. Fuentes and her husband Isidro Campuzano are two-time graduates of The Concilio program. Established in 1981, The Concilio is a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to bridging the gap between parents and the educational system. The Concilio does focus on the growing Hispanic population, but classes are available for parents of all backgrounds.

What are mom and pop studying? Education and health are top of mind. Parents learn valuable lessons on preventing childhood obesity, which is prevalent in Hispanic families, by motivating their kids to eat healthy, balanced meals and exercise regularly. The education classes help parents navigate the rigors of homework, high school and college readiness, and the sometimes complicated process of choosing the right courses for their children.

A decade ago The Concilio partnered with Big Thought to provide parental classes at the Thriving Minds campuses, including Marsh Preparatory Academy, Medrano Middle School (whose April 14 Concilio ceremonies featured 46 parent graduates), Anson Jones Elementary School, Lorenzo De Zavala Elementary School, G.W. Carver Learning Center, Harold Wendell Lang, Sr. Middle School, Jerry R. Junkins Elementary School, and Casa View Elementary School.

Fuentes and Campuzano graduated from the 2014-2015 program titled Parents Advocating for Student Excellence (PASE), which was conceived by The Concilio, and the 2015-2016 companion Padres Comprometidos (PC) program, created by the National Council of La Raza. PASE specifically focuses on giving parents of all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds the tools they need to swim through the school system, tackle academic challenges, foster a home learning environment, and visualize higher education. PC is all about getting parents to play a leading role in preparing their children for college. The graduation ceremony, where parents walk the stage and receive a certificate, was held at Casa View.

“I now understand better the classes they need, the classes they want to learn toward a career,” said Fuentes. “I was so lost with the school system in general and after the program I really understand and know how important it is for them to have good grades, how important it is to complete homework. They feel more included in the process, in the educational process, in their careers. It’s really opened my mind and put my thoughts in order.”

The Concilio stretched into nine weeks with 90 minutes of classes each week at Casa View. While mom and dad are in class, the kiddos are supervised as they complete their homework.

The goal of The Concilio program is simple yet paramount – keep the parents actively engaged in their children’s schooling to provide a positive impact in the classroom and at home. According to the National PTA, as reported by Edutopia in 2000, “when parents are involved, students achieve more…they exhibit more positive attitudes and behavior…regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or the parents’ education level.”

Oscar Aponte, Principal at Casa View Elementary School, is proud of his campus’ five-year involvement with The Concilio. “We are always working on getting more parent involvement; that is key,” he said. “The Concilio has a very good rapport with families. They give them a lot of tools to be able to support their kids at home. We cannot do it alone. We are doing a good job of teaching the kids in school, but we need the parents to engage their kids at home. There is where we really see the success.”

For Fuentes, The Concilio has made a huge difference not only in her own knowledge and engagement with her kids’ schooling, but it has also improved her husband’s connection with his children’s scholastic journey.

“At first he wanted only me to be involved, but little by little he has been more present and involved,” said Fuentes. “He now knows where he needs to be. Even with his work schedule he knows he needs to be interested and knowledgeable. He now knows it’s not just the mother’s role. He knows everything they are doing at school.”

Clearly the bonding has been significant. Fuentes quickly mentions The Concilio’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families program as a saving grace. Turns out she had all the ingredients for healthy eating, but needed a viable recipe.

“I have always wanted my kids to eat vegetables, but it was sometimes hard to get them to eat vegetables,” she said. “After The Concilio program, they wanted to go out and walk and exercise. Then they wanted to eat vegetables and salads. The program helped me reach the goal I wanted for them. The program has helped me convince them to eat healthier.”

That means Erick, Eduardo and Marycarmen will excel in school, effectively turning their poise and precociousness into fruitful academic careers.

Big Thought’s Thriving Minds appreciates the generous supports of ACE, City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, The David M. Crowley Foundation, Dallas ISD, Lockheed Martin, Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust, Target, Texas Instruments Foundation, The Pollock Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, Sid W. Richardson Foundation, United Way, Rees-Jones Foundation, and The Hillcrest Foundation.

Big ThoughtThe Concilio Connects Parents to Their Children’s Education

Anson Jones 5th Grader Scores Life-Changing Trip to New York

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

It was Daisy Gamboa’s first time in New York City. In fact, it was the Anson Jones Elementary 5th grader’s first time on a plane. Yet there she was potently delivering her poem titled “Bullying” at the National Poetry SLAM! in the Big Apple.

Daisy was chosen to represent Dallas by America SCORES. She was one of only 14 young poets that took the stage April 11. (In the photo above, she’s the last one on the left.) Daisy traveled to New York with Donna Carey, her poetry coach at Anson Jones. The pair spent three nights in the city that never sleeps. This is the third time that a student from Anson Jones Elementary gets chosen by America SCORES to represent Dallas in the National Poetry SLAM!

“Daisy has a very special place in our hearts here at America SCORES,” says Crystal Schober, Executive Director for America SCORES Dallas. “She has been through some very tough times, but yet always has a smile on her face. Her ‘Bullying’ poem was a very strong poem about being the bully and being bullied and how it impacted her. She did an exceptional job and we are very proud of her.”

So is Carey, who watched Daisy blossom through her poetry. Daisy is a student of Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program, and through her exposure to poetry, soccer and service, all hallmarks of the America SCORES mission to nurture active minds, active bodies and active community members, she has learned valuable social-emotional lessons.

“She was a very shy kid when she started in poetry and this really helped her come out of her shell,” says Carey. “She’s the only girl in her family of all boys. She’s really tough, but is a softhearted person.”

It was a fundraiser for America SCORES at the Dallas Farmers Market earlier this year that introduced Daisy to the world of spoken word reading. Carey says it was the first time that Daisy ever spoke in public.

“She really took to it,” says Carey. “I wasn’t surprised. I know what potential a child has. Once I pull it out of you, you have it. She knew her poem completely by heart. Her hard work was appreciated and we got a free trip to New York to meet other people from other schools and to represent Dallas in a poetry convention. She won it, and she deserved it.”

For Daisy the New York trip was an eye-opening journey. It was her grown-up adventure, an experience that helped close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects under-resourced children and youth in Dallas County schools. She basked in a different surrounding, an exciting new city, and met kids from other schools and other states.

New York also gave Daisy a real-world course in poetry.

“It was helpful for her to know the different types of poetry – some of them were hardcore rap poems, some were pretty deep,” says Carey. “But it’s a matter of taste. Some people don’t want to hear poems so hard. She had a very serious subject, but she gave it to you in a softer manner.”

Still, perhaps for Daisy this trip was all about the firsts. Her first time in New York City, and most importantly her first time on a plane: “Before we left I was so nervous,” says Daisy, “but once we were in the air I forgot we were on a plane.”

We thank all of our generous Thriving Minds supporters. For a full list of Thriving Minds donors, please click here.





Big ThoughtAnson Jones 5th Grader Scores Life-Changing Trip to New York

Opportunity Shines a Light on Village Oaks Kids at The Crow

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The light of opportunity keeps shining. That light beamed in the eyes of 10 kids from Village Oaks Apartments as they showcased their talents before an appreciative audience April 23 at the Grand Gallery inside The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.

Flanked by stunning marble pieces and with a breathtaking architectural wall behind them, the kids offered songs, choreographed dance routines, spoken word pieces and original artwork. The entire program featured an Asian exploration theme to match the ambiance and artistic purpose of the Crow.

The Crow Collection, Big Thought, Behind Every Door and Sway Enterprises, along with the help of non-profit organization Music Is Our Weapon, worked together to conceptualize a 10-week after school program where kids would work toward a culminating performance at The Crow.

That means the event was a milestone for these children: Karla Tapia, 2nd grade; Loryol’ti Webb-Creeks, kindergarten; Eimani Kelly, 4th grade; Detra’kaye Tyler, 4th grade; Briyannah Wilson, 5th grade; Shatavia Burus, 7th grade; Jeremy Miller, 6th grade; Jaqualian Burus, 8th grade; Kennon Murray, 5th grade; and Jakobe Davis, 7th grade.

Score one for these kids. Here we have living proof that the opportunity gap disproportionately affecting under-resourced youth in the most poverty stricken areas of Dallas can be narrowed. 

“This is the day for us to see their shine,” says Erin Offord, Big Thought’s Senior Director of Programs, who was on hand at The Crow performance. “It takes a village to make things happen. This is our community. This is a snapshot of the hard work that we do. These kids will continue to shine 10-20 years from now.”

The shine of opportunity glows in a child. Opportunity is a catalyst, a key that unlocks a portal of possibilities that once seemed out of reach.

The Village Oaks kids, all part of Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After-School program, began their journey to The Crow in February by attending the museum’s Chinese New Year celebration. The Crow then provided weekly visual art programming, participated in check-in meetings to bring staff from each participating organization together to tout successes and assess needed adjustments. In preparation for the big showcase, The Crow also created formal invitations and an event program, as well as staged the student artwork display and provided food and drinks.

“As an educator, I was very impressed with the student’s final performances and what they were able to accomplish during a short, 10-week program,” says Anne Kindseth, School Programs Manager for The Crow.  “The performances exemplified each student’s commitment to using their time after school in a positive and productive way.  Behind each dance movement, lyric spoken, and work of art showcased at the museum were hours and hours of time that each Village Oaks student dedicated to accomplishing something positive afterschool.”

That light of opportunity is exactly what guides Behind Every Door to spend the last five-and-a-half years working with the Village Oaks kids. Will Dowell, executive director of Behind Every Door, was on hand at The Crow showcase to share in the joy of accomplishment shared by the kids onstage.

It’s hard to hold people accountable when they don’t have good options,” says Dowell. “Providing opportunities for these kids that they wouldn’t otherwise have provides the context and groundwork for their future. It makes all sorts of opportunities you didn’t know you could have come alive.”

And the light of opportunity keeps shining.




Big ThoughtOpportunity Shines a Light on Village Oaks Kids at The Crow