By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
Think back when you were an elementary school graduate about to discover the big kid educational wonderland that is middle school. It was daunting, it was exhilarating, and it was downright scary.
The recent Dade Bridge Camp at Billy Earl Dade Middle School made it a little easier for burgeoning 6th graders to navigate the halls and classes of their future alma mater. The mission behind the two-day camp, which ran from 9 am to 3 pm Aug. 2-3, was to provide a safe haven for students on the threshold of this scholastic stepping-stone.
A total of 120 students attended the camp where they met teachers, counselors, Dade’s principal, and each other. The important event, yet another way to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects low-income youth, featured the diligent work of Dallas ISD, Dade Middle School, Big Thought and Frazier Revitalization.
“This prepares them from being 5th graders into 6th graders and into middle school,” says Kristina Dove, Big Thought’s Program Manager, Partner Relations. “We are hosting 5th graders from various feeder schools in their transition into middle school. My hope is that they find something new, something they didn’t know they loved. I want them to find that spark, that newfound passion for something that could lead them to a successful career path.”
Big Thought teaching artists provided the afternoon activities focused on arts, drumming, poetry, theater, and dance. The day also included a session on Dallas City of Learning laptops so students could register for the summer learning initiative.
Dante Turner, whose 11-year-old daughter Ja’Nyia is about to be a 6th grader at Dade, spent most of the morning shadowing the kids. He wants this transition to be smooth for his child and for all children.
“I like to see how they interact with each other,” says Turner. “I learn something about what they are doing and try to keep that energy alive at home. That’s what today is about. It keeps me connected and I feel a part of this. I can ask her what she learned. We are in this together.”
Dade is such a welcoming place. Look at the new school building, which was christened in 2013. As soon as you walk in, the word OPPORTUNITY is painted in bold black letters across the floor. There’s a bulletin board in the cafeteria that reads, “Character does count.” Glance a little farther and you see a poster emblazoned with “Trust, Imagine, Create, Enjoyment, Honesty, Play, Succeed, Spontaneous, Optimism, Respectful.”
So it was inspiring to witness the morning’s activity – a problems and solutions team exercise to combat bullying. Four color-coded groups (pink, orange, red and green) with about 10 kids each worked on poster boards detailing the problems and the ideas that get positive results. When they were done each team presented their problems and solutions.
“Bullying is real,” says Ellyn Favors, Community Liaison at Dade. “But you know what? A solution is real, too. We want to do things that will work. We want them to feel safe because it happens everyday.”
Favors led the kids in an empowering chant of the four steps to reporting bullying:
1. Tell the nearest adult
2. Tell a counselor
3. Tell your parents
4. Don’t stop until it’s fixed
“We want them to feel like family,” says Favors. “Yes, this is a learning environment, but it is more than that. This is family. We want their expectation of school to be excitement. This Bridge Camp has broken the ice, opened their minds.”
Ja’Nyia Turner thinks so, too. Her dad Dante will be so proud: “They make it seem like it’s easy to come here,” she says. “I feel more comfortable. I like meeting teachers, but I don’t know who my teachers will be. At least I have met some of them. I’m excited about coming to school here.”
New Dade Middle School theater teacher Zander Anderson was part of the hosting committee that made students like Ja’Nyia feel at home.
“Knowing the school better really helps,” says Anderson. “It’s also good for them to know that they have teachers all around them that will protect them and fight for them. Kids go through a lot when they walk these halls. It’s a new experience for them. Being in that 11-13 age range is really awkward, so trust between the students and the teachers is very important. “
But the bottom line: Learning should be fun. So when the DCoL laptops commandeered the cafeteria space, the kids dove in with wide-eyed enthusiasm. They signed up for DCoL, explored the internet, and got a taste of technological opportunities.
“When we pull these computer tablets out the kids usually all say ‘ah’ together as if it’s the coolest thing in the world,” says Jonathan Tyler, Special Projects Representative, Dallas City of Learning. “This makes it that much easier to explain what we are doing with DCoL and get the kids excited to give it a try and see how much fun it is to learn using technology.”
Ah, the marvels of a big kid educational wonderland.
Big Thought thanks Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas ISD, and Frazier Revitalization for their dedicated work on the Dade Bridge Camp. We also express gratitude to all of our Dallas City of Learning donors. For a full list of donors, visit bigthought.org/dallascityoflearning.