Out of School Time Keeps Learning All in the Family

Step onto a Thriving Minds After School (TMAS)* campus and one would think that a celebrity was in the house. “Mr. Kendall, Mr. Kendall,” a crowd of elementary school students roar in unison running to greet the former Site Manager.

Quiet and confident, Kendall Pidgeon now helps lead the Out of School Time (OST) team by example in his newest role at Big Thought as Programs Manager. Less than a year into his new role, like most of everything that the OST team practices, was upended with the onset of the pandemic. Typically Thriving Minds After School serves more than 1,600 students exceeding 237,530 learning hours annually. How would the OST team continue to meet the needs of the Thriving Minds After School youth and their families during quarantine and social distancing?

Known for being flexible and nimble, the OST team found themselves in a position where they needed to pivot in a number of ways. Youth would still need academic support along with quality creative interaction, as well as family engagement. And, historically, vast majorities of youth in marginalized communities find their academic skills fall due to a lack of engagement oppose to their peers, known as the “summer slide,”  what would summer programming look like?

With invisible capes OST expanded their superhero talents to collaborate with Dallas Independent School District and Child Care group to set up and staff a three-week childcare facility for medical first responders at Onesimo Hernandez Elementary School, while simultaneously strategizing on ways to keep after school engagement in place. To support the need for youth having hands on learning opportunities as much of their education shifted to online, the team developed Creative Kits. These kits provided self-guided and family engagement activities, along with  selected books designed to promote literacy. Additionally, the Creative Kits included curated social and emotional activities to support asynchronous learning environments that further supported at home learning.  The team also developed a number of online experiences with subject matter expert teaching artists that included yoga, science experiments and other interactive activities that allowed youth and their entire family to participate.

“Kendall is a hidden vault of capacity. Just when he has reached his limit, he digs deep into his reserve and levels up — always, that is a leader.

As summer approached OST programs shifted to virtual STEM camps for rising eighth grade girls with CITI®, as well as self-guided online activities and continuation of the now popular Creative Kits. OST also facilitated socially distanced camps held at the African American Museum. These two-week camps allowed youth the opportunity to do what they know and love — connect with their peers while providing them a sense of familiarity and infusing SEL to adapt to new norms. In the after school space, Thriving Minds currently offers virtual and in-person learning at select campuses to assist with academic support.

Kendall shared that although learning has most likely been changed to meet the growing needs of students as a result of the pandemic, the focus of OST is steadfast. With student safety being primary, followed by academic support and the integration of SEL. OST is intentional with SEL practices to ensure students are psychologically, emotionally and mentally prepared and equipped to be contributors to society. “We’re reaching out to our families, just to see how we can help. Families are now operating in a space with no preparation, learning on their own. We ask, how are you feeling? We offer support — consistently,” Kendall shared. “It’s not only what we are, who we are.”

Kendall has an innate passion for Thriving Minds, and emphatically believes that the moment a student is enrolled in TMAS, the entire family joins the program as well. Parents and caregivers are highly encouraged to stop in and visit to make them fully aware of their student’s participation and get an in-depth understanding of how the child is learning, their interest and engagement. Kendall stated that, “when a child goes home, they naturally share with their siblings and they’re often asked, “what did you do, what did you make, show me!” Thriving Minds builds on those regular family conversations by inviting family members into the program with regular family engagement activities. TMAS stands on the foundation that reinforces an open space where parents fully experience their child’s involvement long after the school bell which helps to break through the daily monotony, ultimately building connectivity with parents and their students.

James Adams, Big Thought Director of OST, profoundly shared sentiments of Kendall’s growth. “Kendall is a hidden vault of capacity. Just when he has reached his limit, he digs deep into his reserve and levels up — always, that is a leader. His ability to understand the needs of TMAS families is innate, he comes from family, Texas bred and is simply responding to what he knows. African American men are responding to family.” #ThisIsBigThought


* Thriving Minds is a nationally recognized after school program that focuses on social and emotional learning, creative exploration and expression, and an inclusive learning environment, all tied to academic outcomes.