Thriving Minds

Marsh Leadership Cadet Ladies Visit Prom Closet

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Prom night rules as the annual rite of passage for teens. It’s an evening for corsages, tuxedos, gowns and slow dancing. Girls morph into young ladies, and boys become gentlemen.

For the blossoming students of the TC Marsh Leadership Cadet Corps (LCC) at Marsh Preparatory Academy, prom night is the LCC Military Ball, which takes place May 6 at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church. This is their coveted event, their moment of social-emotional maturation. The ball includes dinner, an awards presentation, a change of command ceremony, a special guest speaker, two photo slideshows, and a dance.

So naturally these ladies need dresses, accessories and make-up. After all, this is their night to shine. The LCC members, forming part of Big Thought’s Thriving Mind After School program, spent March 4 at St. Andrew Prom Closet 2016 in Plano, an event of St. Andrew United Methodist Church now in its eighth year. Thirteen young ladies got the royal treatment from the Prom Closet volunteers. They chose gowns, shoes, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Beauty products rounded out the bag of ball goodies.

“Sometimes the girls will ask if they have to wear a dress, or even worse 
they tell me they can’t attend,” says Corporal Miriam Gaytan, LCC Instructor, underscoring the financial hardship that comes with buying attire for a formal event. “Most of the girls who attend will wear a skirt or simple summer dress, but this year they will have gorgeous gowns. As a matter of fact, the girls each talked about wearing their gowns at multiple events this year. They were so excited and couldn’t wait to show their parents.”

Bernice Davis, mother of 14-year-old Cyniece Davis, an 8th grader who’s in her third year with LCC, couldn’t be happier for her daughter. She has nothing but praise for the Prom Closet experience.

“She chose a very beautiful dress,” says Davis. “It is a sleeveless dress, gold at the top and black at the bottom. It is a very elegant dress. It totally fits her personality. Going to the Prom Closet was like going to the mall for Cyniece. The staff was wonderful! I feel so honored and blessed.”

The Prom Closet experience is yet another way that Big Thought’s Thriving Minds program continues to close gaps and build bridges. The LCC ladies work hard all year with service projects, from food and clothing drives to Wreaths Across America, and their rigorous leadership classes. They planted the seeds, and now spring brings the blooms. The Military Ball is their much-deserved bouquet.

“For us, the Military Ball is a celebration of our accomplishments throughout the school year, an acknowledgement of our past student leaders, and the presentation of our new student leaders for next year,” says Corporal Gaytan. “We laugh, we cry, and we strengthen our resolve to continue to make our leadership cadet program the best it can be.”

Corporal Gaytan is particularly elated because she looks at the generous work of the Prom Closet volunteers as a reciprocal thank you for the LCC’s service-focused endeavors.

“My heart is full of joy and gratitude,” she says. “Our motto is ‘Do what you can with what you have right now.’ Thus, the cadets organize several community projects
throughout the school year.  It is wonderful to see the community pay it forward to them.”

Dresses, shoes, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and makeup. The LCC ladies are ready. Their Military Ball promises to be better than prom night.

Big ThoughtMarsh Leadership Cadet Ladies Visit Prom Closet

Camp M&M Becomes Blueprint for Perfect Spring Break

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Camp M&M Reloaded – no, that’s not the name of a teen movie sequel. That’s the recently completed spring break extravaganza between Marsh Preparatory Academy and Medrano Middle School.

The two schools got together to enjoy a four-day Metroplex excursion that took 60 students, all part of Big Thought’s Thriving Minds program, to a variety of destinations that provided a perfect combo of learning and fun. The camp included four parent volunteers as well as our own Shianne Patrick, Thriving Minds Program Manager at Marsh Preparatory Academy.

Social media was always part of the plan – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and there was journal writing and even a reading challenge. Thirty-five students finished The Red Pencil, the story of one girl’s triumphant journey inspired by true tales of life in Sudan.

Camp M&M began with a trip to The Dallas World Aquarium for an ascending glimpse at a tropical rainforest. Talk about an up close look at nature and all its living wonders. Then the kids got knighted before a castle-rocking visit to Medieval Times. Now there’s an adventure in dining.

“Our students had the time of their lives,” said Patrick, “and it’s truly a joy to expose them to everything Dallas has to offer.”

But there’s more. Day 2 was all about food, food and more food. The kids learned about ingredients, their procurement, and the science behind cooking them.

Perhaps the highlight of the entire camp was Young Chefs Academy in Frisco. Because, well, who doesn’t like pizza? The kids made their own pizza from scratch. They mastered dough kneading and rolling techniques, the art of topping, and the knack for making food look as good as it tastes. Of course they got to eat their creations. Yum.

Next up: Dallas Farmers Market in downtown Dallas. They toured the entire market, including the stunning Ruibal’s Nursery where they learned everything that goes into procurement at restaurants. To top it off they got a tour of the kitchen at Rex’s Fresh Seafood, a restaurant in the heart of the market.

Thriving Minds teaching artist, Chef Briston Scott, helped set up the restaurant and was instrumental in building the menu still used by the restaurant today.

Day 3 was packed with activities at Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Louis Tussaud’s Palace of Wax, both in Grand Prairie. There they learned cool (and odd, no doubt) trivia, facts, factoids and world records. The kids participated in a hashtag challenge dubbed #believeitornahh. At the wax museum they immediately realized that the creation of life size figures is definitely a work of art.

The day culminated at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas where they blew off steam on the soccer fields, hung out with other students also on spring break, and shared their thoughts and experiences stemming from reading The Red Pencil.

And still, this travelogue has one more day. The final Camp M&M field trip took the students to The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Scientific innovation, past and future, gave the kids new realms of hands-on experience. They also dug the Dino Dig, Critter Museum, Aerodynamics and Physics areas, the Planetarium, and an engulfing 3D IMAX movie, Coral Reef Adventure.

“That screen was so big,” said Marsh 8th grader Bryanna Gonzales, “I feel bad that we ever used flat screens.”

On that note, Camp M&M Reloaded wrapped. Shianne Patrick is anxious to preserve this camp for upcoming generations. She wants future Marsh and Medrano students to see the blueprint for a perfect spring break.

“We will be building a time capsule full of pictures, journal entries, quotes, a copy of The Red Pencil, messages from our students, schedules, and paraphernalia from everywhere we went during this camp,” she said. “We had an amazing spring break.”

We thank our many Thriving Minds supporters for their generosity. For a complete list of donors, please click here.


Big ThoughtCamp M&M Becomes Blueprint for Perfect Spring Break

It Takes a Community to Draw a Robot

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Let’s draw a robot.

But wait, you’re only going to draw the top part of the robot. Then you’re going to swap papers with your neighbor for the middle part of the robot. But you won’t see the top part that was already drawn. Don’t get too comfortable, though, because you’re going to swap papers again with another neighbor and then draw the bottom part of the robot. Like the last time, you won’t be able to see what was previously completed.

What have you done? You’ve drawn a robot as a collaborative effort. You’ve had to put your best foot forward for the good of the collaboration.

“You have to be comfortable in passing the work onto someone else and let them take it to the next step,” says James Adams, Big Thought’s Programs Manager.

Adams, along with Erin Offord, Big Thought’s Senior Director of Programs, presented “Forging Community Collaborations While Building Partner Capacity,” a 75-minute workshop presented March 11, 2016 as part of the recent Beyond School Hours XIX National Education Conference at the Sheraton Hotel Dallas.

That robot activity, a great icebreaker, had the room of 30 workshop participants buzzing. They reached for the colored markers, they anxiously kept the paper folded into three sections so as to not see the previous work, and they gamely traded papers, all the while putting their blind trust in what was already accomplished.

Inside the Dallas A1 banquet room, Beyond School Hours attendees provided a smorgasbord of viewpoints. We had representatives from Arkansas, Mississippi, Washington DC, Oklahoma, Georgia, Puerto Rico and Dallas. The engagement was contagious as Adams and Offord ran through a most informative power point presentation.

The workshop, another in Big Thought’s Sharing Our World and Thought Leadership series, talked about community assets such as key players, spaces and places, and programs; influencers such as the school board, arts commissions, parents and corporations; implementers such as the school district administration; and instructors such as fine arts specialists. It highlighted the guiding principles of community engagement – partnership, purpose, program and product. It also explained Big Thought’s Thriving Minds program, a prime example of community collaborations, via an engaging video and summer guide report.

The way to be innovative is always to listen, respond and learn. If there’s an underlying theme permeating the workshop it was that building powerful partnerships is not only paramount, but also it can be simple and seamless. Grocery stores, parents, and mom-and-pop businesses can be potent community partners. They are right in your back yard.

“You have to be open to what you are going to learn in those conversations with potential community partners,” says Offord. “No one person owns the design. Be successful for the community work ethic.”

And never be afraid to pass the work on. If you’ve built your community partnerships organically and strategically, that robot will practically draw itself.








Big ThoughtIt Takes a Community to Draw a Robot

Marsh Theater Students Are No Longer Outsiders

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The bright, mid afternoon sunshine slices through thick black curtains. The warm light bathes a group of 30 teens sitting on the floor, each with a script in hand. There is fidgeting and giggling as concentration ebbs and flows like an unpredictable wind that intermittently picks up steam.

It’s Tuesday at Marsh Preparatory Academy and Wendy Powell’s advanced drama class is taking first stabs at reading The Outsiders. The roles are just mapped and the classic play, still relevant and controversial decades after its debut, is fresh for these budding actors.

The advanced drama class, consisting of seasoned Big Thought Thriving Minds After School students that have been in the program two to three years, is also known as the award-winning Marsh Matador Players. On one corner of the working theater room there’s a white cabinet that proudly displays a series of trophies, including four Best Play honors. They’ll be vying for a fifth title, against 32 other middle schools, on April 20, 2016 at Medrano High School during the Pre-UIL One Act Play competition.

For Powell, a teaching artist for five years who has worked with Big Thought since its start on the Marsh campus in August 2010, choosing The Outsiders has everything to do with its cultural importance.

“It speaks to what is happening in the world today and with our kids in urban schools,” says Powell. “I feel that the kids are really getting a lot out of reading the novel, the script, researching the time period and events, and finally performing this classic. They all seem to be able to see how it still is relevant today and how the dehumanization of a person can destroy an entire community.“

Yet there’s more. As passionate as Powell is for the material, and for the dramatic arts in general, she’s most impressed with the gains that can’t be measured with scholastic letter grades.

“My students are always continually shocking me with their ability to grow with the challenging material I present them,” she says. “They really are much more emotionally aware then we give them credit for sometimes.”

Social-emotional learning, the much-heralded soft skills, is paramount to professional and personal development. According to research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center, 85 percent of job success comes from having well-developed soft people skills.

Teen after teen talked about overcoming shyness, embracing confidence and finding their inner strength since starting Powell’s class.

“There is an energy involved in doing this,” says Sam Hurley, a 13-year-old 8th grader who’s been in drama and Thriving Minds for three years. “I used to be scared to do drama. But now I have the opposite of stage fright. I can’t wait to get out there.”

Melanie Escalante, another 13-year-old 8th grader with three years of drama and Thriving Minds, recently auditioned for Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

“We have to throw ourselves out there,” she says. “I’m not as scared of taking risks anymore. I just can’t wait to do it.”

Self-expression and self-awareness form the foundation for new adventures, for reaching inside and turning the personal into something universal. Which leads us to Monologue Madness, a showcase of 50 original works held Feb. 5 at Marsh Preparatory Academy. Parents were invited to experience dramatic readings from their own kids.

Major Moore was there. The 14-year-old 8th grader, also a three-year veteran of drama and Thriving Minds, wrote about losing his father. He talked about being more reliant on you, instead of your parents.

“It’s thinking outside the box,” he says. “It’s personal stories, because nobody else can feel the same way. It helps you put yourself out there so others see you.”

For some, drama is the door that unlocks an inner quest. Haleana Valadez, 13 and in 7th grade, used to keep to herself before joining drama class and Thriving Minds two years ago. Then came the wherewithal to make more friends, and the emotional heft to examine the person she sees in the mirror.

“I’m exploring other sides of me through characters,” she says. “It’s a good way for me to get to know all of me. It makes me feel comfortable with me.”

Comfort leads to an open imagination. Drama promotes that free-flowing creativity. Carlos Marquez, 14 and in 8th grade, used his three years in drama and Thriving Minds to conquer his introversion.

“When I first walked in here I kept to myself, didn’t want to ask any questions,” he says. “Now I do my own thing, express who I am, show who I am.”

Chloe Quesada embraced a bigger picture. She’s found her two-year immersion in drama and Thriving Minds has given her the power to speak in all her classes.

“Drama has given me a way to express myself more,” says the 13-year-old 7th grader. “I used to be so shy when people asked questions. I didn’t want to answer. Now I have no problem answering.”

These kids are coming into their own, finding their way, connecting with their world. They no longer feel like outsiders.

Thriving Minds thanks its many donors for their generous support. For a list of donor, please visit the Thriving Minds page.

Big ThoughtMarsh Theater Students Are No Longer Outsiders

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

New Year, New Hopes for Our Dallas Children

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

A new year always brings fresh hope. It’s an opportunity to take a blank canvas and paint a dream.

For Dallas children, a new year ushers in a new semester at school, a chance to show off new clothes Santa delivered, and a possibility of looking at the gift of learning with rejuvenated eyes.

Here at Big Thought we also have hopes, goals and wishes for the children that we serve every day of every year. So with that in mind we’d like to offer a little bit of inspiration. A handful of our Big Thought visionaries, as well as our partners at Dallas ISD, reveal their hopes, goals and wishes for the children.

Here’s what they have to say:

“This year is filled with such promise for every child in Dallas.  We want to make summer a huge opportunity for kids to explore and learn in new and exciting ways.  That’s why we’ve partnered with Dallas ISD, the city of Dallas and hundreds of other partners to provide amazing hands-on and online DIY experiences to give all youth equal opportunity to learn. Summer is a time for kids to have fun, try things they’ve never done before and dream big. With the city as a classroom, who knows where their interests will take them!”

Gigi Antoni
President & CEO, Big Thought

“My hope for my Creative Solutions kids this year continues to be that they all feel important – valued, heard, worthy of happiness and success, because they are! I want to focus on helping my kids realize and claim their personal power because I know that once they do, they have the potential to make huge changes in the world.”

Allison Caldwell
Program Specialist, Creative Solutions Director

“I want our students to make something.  Whatever it is they listen to or read or wear or watch, I want them to try creating it themselves.”

Evan Cleveland
Creative Learning Specialist

“My hope for our students in this new year is for them to have tons of meaningful experiences, learn something new and feel successful in at least one thing each and every day. The students of Dallas should be able to not only see what they can do, but also who and what they can be.”

Kristina Dove
Program Manager, Partner Relations

“Our hope is to widen the opportunity of summer programming where students can participate in camps that are fun and relevant.”

Jaime Sandoval
Executive Director, Student Services, Dallas ISD

“I hope our students find opportunities to continue receiving quality programming during after-school and summer at locations where funding is expiring. My goals are to use this year to apply my attention towards developing pilot program models that are cheaper and more sustainable without a quality drop off. I wish more people understood how huge an asset creativity is, and that it is a skillset that can be taught.”

Sam Williamson
Senior Instructional Specialist



Big ThoughtNew Year, New Hopes for Our Dallas Children