Big Thought, Dallas ISD team up to teach social, emotional skills

Big Thought and the Dallas Independent School District have won a four-year grant from the Wallace Foundation to pilot a program that teaches social and emotional skills to elementary school students.

Dallas and Boston are two of six cities participating in the foundation’s new Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative. It’s expected to serve 15,000 children nationwide in kindergarten through fifth grade, including about 4,000 in up to seven DISD schools.

The curriculum builds skills such as knowing and controlling emotions, empathy, working with others, resiliency and making positive choices.

“Social and emotional learning makes a great impact on students’ academic achievement,” DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said.

“We think this is a huge opportunity to really be transformative in Dallas,” said Ed Meier, Big Thought’s interim executive director.

Wallace Foundation hasn’t set the funding yet, but the first-year budget is expected to be about $1.5 million, he said.

The initiative is highly collaborative. Big Thought, DISD and numerous community organizations developed the strategic plan that was funded by a separate Wallace Foundation grant last fall. They included Dallas Afterschool and Momentus Institute, which has 20 years of experience with this type of education.

“It’s a citywide initiative, a large system we are creating here in Dallas with many different partners,” said Big Thought senior director of programs Greg MacPherson. “The grant allows us to show how this approach to learning can impact youth when it’s happening from the moment they get on the bus in the morning all the way through after-school programs.”

“We have been pleased with the collaboration and thoughtfulness that Dallas ISD and Big Thought have shown during the planning phase, as well as with the city’s overall commitment to social and emotional learning,” said Wallace Foundation president Will Miller.

Implementation begins with teacher and staff training throughout the network before school starts.

There are no seats left for the initiative’s first public event, which is scheduled for 8 a.m. Thursday at Cafe Momentum. Educator and Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver will speak on a panel including representatives of DISD, Momentous Institute, Fluor Foundation and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

The six cities will share information, and Rand Corp. will research and evaluate results, best practices and barriers.

“We’ll be receiving formative information — feedback we can use not only to improve our practice at these seven campuses but also validate what tools and resources we can leverage in other programs,” MacPherson said.

The goal is to expand the curriculum districtwide.

“Our planning showed us that there are a lot of places where pieces of social and emotional learning are being implemented, but very few — and Momentus is one of them — where it’s happening in a comprehensive way,” MacPherson said.

Big Thought provides creative programming to at-risk students outside of school. In February, former CEO Gigi Antoni joined the Wallace Foundation as director of learning and enrichment.

The Wallace Foundation focuses on improving education and arts for disadvantaged children, fostering overall arts vitality and nurturing diverse audiences. The New York organization is named for Reader’s Digest founders Lila and DeWitt Wallace.

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View the original article by The Dallas Morning News.