Thriving Minds

Thriving Technology With Go IT Program at Anson Jones Elementary

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Remember back when you were a kid and you got a remote control car for Christmas? Remember the excitement to build it and make it move with that little hand gadget sporting a few buttons and an antenna?

Welcome to the 21st century.

During three consecutive Fridays in November, 16 children at Anson Jones Elementary in Dallas relished the opportunity to construct a futuristic robotic vehicle using the Lego Mindstorms EV3 curriculum. The after-school classes, dubbed the Go IT program, featured four teams of 4th and 5th graders engaged in hands-on experiences tailored to boost their interest in and knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Thanks to Big Thought Thriving Minds After School’s partnership with 4H Tech-Wizards, Tata Consultancy Services and Southern Methodist University, these TMAS students were treated to the use of robotics, laptops and track mats. Eleven volunteers and Tech Wizards, both TCS and TMAS mentors, were on board to increase technology awareness and foster innovation, both of utmost importance and vitality to the youth in our urban counties.

“The Go IT Lego Robotics class was a great opportunity to expose the students to the IT world and give them the chance to interact with IT professionals on robotic activities that were interesting and fun for them,” says Jose Sosa, Big Thought Program Manager at Anson Jones Elementary. “The students had a blast working with the Lego-robots and they were very engaged learning about coding using the computers to make the robots move.”

That’s right, there were no mere buttons and antennas here. The notebook-styled laptops were essentially the remote controls. Coding needed to be plugged in to make the robot move.

But first the kids needed to build the robots. Ah, that was a sight to see. How incredibly gratifying to watch kids pour over an instruction manual and figure out amongst themselves who will do what in the construction. Such liberation builds character, fortifies social-emotional learning, and leads to a greater understanding of more than just building a robotic vehicle.

“Once they worked out all the kinks, with our help of course, they began to create together, sharing ideas, and seeing their work transform before them,” says Ashley Brooks, a Big Thought Teaching Artist who was part of the Go IT team. “Some groups moved at a fast pace while other groups chose to take their time, being careful not to make any mistakes. I expressed to them that this was okay. When you’re creating you must take your time to make sure you’re doing the best that you can do.”

Watching one team of four girls finish the robot and then make it move was particularly enthralling. They were eternally thrilled, beaming with a sense of accomplishment as the robot cruised atop a long table. That same spirit filled the classroom on the final day when all of the students received certificates for completing the Go IT program.

“The students had the opportunity to not only learn from each other while completing a difficult task, but they also learned some new things about themselves,” says Brooks. “Each day they met to work on the robot was better than the time before. Once completed, they marveled at what they had done and were extremely proud.”

Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program is grateful for the generous support of ACE; City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs; The David M. Crowley Foundation; Dallas lSD; Lockheed Martin; Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee; Target; Texas Instruments Foundation; The Pollock Foundation; Wallace Foundation; and United Way.

Big ThoughtThriving Technology With Go IT Program at Anson Jones Elementary

Summer Programs Report Highlights Learning, Enrichment

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

We are proud to present our Big Thought Summer Programs 2015 report, a comprehensive overview of the people, activities and places that made this past sunny season one kids won’t soon forget.

More than 35,000 Dallas ISD students enjoyed learning and enrichment via programming supported or delivered at 83 locations. This includes Thriving Minds Summer Camp, Dallas City of Learning, Creative Solutions, Library Live! and I Love to Read! Venues included the African American Museum, the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Latino Cultural Center, St. Philip’s School & Community Center, South Dallas Cultural Center, Heart of Oak Cliff at Village Oaks and so many more.

We’re getting ready for another summer of learning fun, which will be even bigger and better. The kids deserve it.

Big ThoughtSummer Programs Report Highlights Learning, Enrichment

Thriving Minds Student Matthew Ramirez Has Spider-Man Hearing

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Matthew Ramirez wears Spider-Man hearing aids. They cradle his ears in a relaxed twirl of red, black and light blue. When asked why he chose Spider-Man out of all the super heroes, Matthew doesn’t miss a beat: “He has Spidey hearing sense.”

At 10-years-old Matthew has been forced to face the realities of hearing loss with the learned resilience of an adult. There were days when Matthew holed up in his room, refusing to put the hearing aids on. His mom Stevie Arrellano had to threaten punishment so he’d pop them in. She has “mom” sense. She knows what’s good for her super hero son.

Ten is a difficult age, no longer a toddler but not yet a teen. To endure it with a handicap can be daunting. Matthew is soft-spoken, somewhat shy. Yet he’s attentive, sweet and not afraid to speak when he has something to say. His eyes glow; they are at once expressive and determined.

Matthew is a fourth grader at Casa View Elementary. We recently sat together and chatted in the school’s cafeteria. He’s been in Big Thought’s Thriving Minds program for three years. He attended the 2015 Thriving Minds Summer Camp at Highland Meadows Elementary and has fond memories of being at “the big school.” His strength, his innate fortitude to walk against the wind that is hearing aids, special audio loops so he can hear teachers in class, and the scrutinizing eyes of fellow students is directly connected to the program. Thriving Minds promotes social and emotional development outside of the traditional classroom. The program supports the Matthews of the world.

Matthew loves soccer, a weekly part of his Thriving Minds After School experience. He can quickly tell you about his position on the team (defense/starter) and his favorite player (Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, also known as CR7). When he takes to the soccer field he usually keeps the hearing aids in, even though the perspiration moisture can damage them.

I know nothing about soccer. I’m also five times Matthew’s age. But we are kindred spirits. I wore hearing aids for about seven years before graduating to cochlear implants. I am a bilateral, which means both of my ears are implanted. Everything that Matthew feels – the fear, the shame, the concern, the uncertainty – I’ve lived. We are kindred spirits.

The first sign of significant hearing loss in my right ear manifested itself in 2002. I was taking a walk, headphones on, listening to one of my favorite R&B albums. Except that I couldn’t hear it on my right side. I thought my headphones were malfunctioning, or that my audio player needed batteries. But in the back of my mind I knew it was me. The hearing loss journey had begun.

At the time I was a music critic at The Dallas Morning News. Music was a huge part of my life, not to mention crucial to my livelihood. The thought of never being able to hear music again was terrifying, permanently life altering. The hearing aids were welcomed, until I had to cover my first concert with them on. I became a 10-year-old boy again. I remember looking around just to see if anybody recognized me. Or worse, if anybody who recognized me realized I wore hearing aids.

That feeling amplified exponentially when I went through cochlear implant surgery, first in 2009 and the second one in 2013. I was downright paranoid at concerts during my initial year as a CI user. CIs are much more visible than hearing aids. They look like bionic contraptions resting on your outer ears and then magically hooked onto your scalp.

Nobody figured it out, or at least very few people did. But I made myself a promise in 2011: No more worrying, no more wallowing, no more fear. If you ask, I tell. If you notice, I confirm. I have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I’m proud of myself. I endured two surgeries and countless months of learning to hear with prosthetic ears so that I can continue to enjoy music, hear my loved ones clearly, and hold my head up high.

So can Matthew. So will Matthew. During the moments when I had Matthew’s undivided attention, and there were many, I made sure to tell him that hearing aids won’t prevent him from doing anything. That’s something I had to tell myself repeatedly. They won’t stop his life. They will make him stronger. He will continue to do well in school. He will continue to love and fight and live with his brother and two sisters (and one more brother on the way). He will continue to be a “sweetheart,” as Judy Danielson, Thriving Minds Program Manager at Casa View Elementary, calls him.

Cochlear implants are likely in Matthew’s future. Hearing loss is a degenerative disease, a steady downward spiral. But his mom says he’s already met a little boy, a neighborhood friend, who has a cochlear implant. And now he’s met me. I am living proof that hearing aids and cochlear implants are tools for improvement, not crutches for deterioration.

Matthew is my new super hero, a kid with so much inner wherewithal that I’m awed to be in his presence. When we talked about what he likes to do, he quickly mentioned reading. His favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Matthew, who has already experienced his share of teasing about his hearing aids, found refuge in the story of misfits trying to find acceptance in school. We talked about teasing and being teased, a central theme of the book. Matthew, who could certainly lash out at the kids that have ridiculed him, chooses instead to remain quiet. Teasing, he says, “gets you in trouble.”

What this pensive boy has already figured out is that putting somebody down doesn’t bring you up. He would rather rise to the occasion by tapping into his super hero powers, his hearing sense. Spider-Man would be proud. I know I am.

Big ThoughtThriving Minds Student Matthew Ramirez Has Spider-Man Hearing

La Rondalla Unites Students and Community Through Music

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Tuesday afternoon, rush hour traffic is roaring, and there’s a neighborly din outside the Bishop Arts Theater in Oak Cliff. But inside guitars are strumming. If you walk up to the theater’s second floor, you’ll hear the whip-bang-boom of a drum kit.

La Rondalla workshops fill the Tyler Street venue with music. In the auditorium teacher Michael King has the largest class, 15 children learning the rudiments of beginners’ acoustic guitar. The tween-aged kids, about evenly divided between male and female, finger the fret, strum, then repeat. King counts down the rhythm as he gingerly surveys his students.

“They are very tender so we want them to learn the finger patterns, the rhythms, the chords,” says King, who also teaches 6th grade language arts at Alex W. Spence Talented/Gifted Academy. “They are learning motor skills, show and do, cooperative learning. They communicate in their own way. When I instruct them, that exposure gives them trust and confidence. It establishes relationships.”

La Rondalla, now in its sixth year, has never been just about learning to play guitar, bass and drums. Conceptualized by Big Thought and multi-instrumentalist Dennis Gonzalez, himself a veteran of recording, performing and teaching, La Rondalla aims to nurture social, emotional and psychological growth in children through the power of music.

“These kids realize what a mystery music is,” says Gonzalez. “It helps them emotionally, psychologically. They communicate with each other without speaking.

The free program, which is under Big Thought’s Thriving Minds umbrella, has been immensely successful from its 2010 onset. It was housed at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center through June 2015, when it was obvious Rondalla was in desperate need of more space. About 81 students are enrolled through the end of 2015, 96 percent of which are Hispanic.

“That was not by design,” says Gonzalez about the high Hispanic involvement, “but we are in this neighborhood.”

At the core of La Rondalla is the faculty. In addition to patient talent such as King, Rondalla benefits from two of Gonzalez’s sons, Aaron teaching acoustic bass and Stefan leading the drum kit instruction, as well as Kenny Withrow, a founding member of Oak Cliff’s own Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, on advanced and intermediate guitar, and Gregg Prickett on intermediate guitar.

“I set the direction with Aaron’s help, and then we moved and grew and tried this and that, always succeeding at every turn,” says Gonzalez. “The choice of faculty was key.”

It also helps to have passionate support. Local businessman and Havana, Cuba native Jorge Baldor, who founded the Latino Center for Leadership Development, is an ardent benefactor of La Rondalla.

“La Rondalla changes lives,” says Baldor, a graduate of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University. “It goes well beyond being a great after school music program. They bring students together from a number of schools to form a close bond with them and among them. Their lessons are life lessons, not just musical. Each student’s individual confidence is bolstered as they learn life skills and social skills among each other and while performing for the community.”

Kids come in from more than just Oak Cliff. Rondalla students make the trek from as far as Balch Springs, DeSoto and Mesquite. Community performances are plentiful, most recently La Rondalla opened the Oak Cliff Coalition for the Arts festivities at Oak Cliff’s Cedar Crest House. Past performances include the 2012 Conference for Community Arts Education at the Fairmont Dallas, TEDxSMU 2012 at the City Performance Hall, the 2013 Linz Award at the Hilton Anatole, and the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors, to name a few.

Professional showcases cap the communal spirit of playing together during the daily two-hour workshops. Karina Fuentes, 16, keeps soaking up that positive energy. Fuentes, who attends Mesquite’s Poteet High School and is a four-year La Rondalla student, studies drums and guitar. She also plays piano and marvels as the musical diversity that defines her Rondalla experience.

“The teachers put a lot of effort into trying to teach kids music and build up their creativity,” says Fuentes, who plans to be a nurse practitioner. “I like the teaching style because they are like jazz players and there are a lot of musical styles in it. To be able to play a song you have to practice, so it’s like staying in school.”

Jose Christopher Torres, 18 and a student at Oak Cliff Faith Family Academy, also studies drums and guitar at Rondalla. In his spare time he composes classical pieces on the piano. Torres feels the connection that music creates; he revels in the communal learning atmosphere he shares with his Rondalla classmates.

“It’s helpful for me and for others because I learn something that they didn’t pick up and I can teach it to them later instead of interrupting the class,” says Torres, who is interested in entomology and astrophysics. “It is a community so we all learn together as one. It’s a feeling of one. Our feelings are united toward music.”

Big ThoughtLa Rondalla Unites Students and Community Through Music

Latino Cultural Center Summer Camp Paints Free-Form Graffiti

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By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The colorful, free form fascination of graffiti enlightened the Big Thought 2015 Thriving Minds Summer Camp at the Latino Cultural Center. During the four-week program, 25 students reveled in theater, dance, visual art, cinematography and photography guided by the center’s two-pronged summer exhibit, “Maestro Filiberto Chapa: Artist and Teacher, 1980-2006 and the Sour Grapes: Celebrating Fifteen Years of the Collective.”

Big ThoughtLatino Cultural Center Summer Camp Paints Free-Form Graffiti

Oak Cliff Cultural Center Summer Camp Promotes Growth, Teamwork

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By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

A newly planted oak tree grows symbolically in front of the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. The young tree, donated by Home Depot, became an emblem of growth for the 2015 installment of Cara Mía Theatre Co.’s The School of YES!, the Big Thought Thriving Minds Summer Camp at Oak Cliff Cultural Center.

Big ThoughtOak Cliff Cultural Center Summer Camp Promotes Growth, Teamwork