United Way Supports School Community

United Way Heal Play Learn Initiative Supports School Community
Posted on 06/15/2021
This is the image for the news article titled United Way Heal Play Learn Initiative Supports School Community

DeSoto ISD is helping its school community come back from COVID-19 better and stronger thanks to a United Way program, funded through an $897,000 grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation in partnership with Educate Texas. 

This series of programming focuses on social and emotional wellness, physical activity and arts engagement in DeSoto ISD. 

“School systems have endured so much in order to persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. D’Andre Weaver, superintendent of DeSoto ISD. “The receipt of United Way's Heal, Play, Learn grant is a welcome source of relief for our system that allows us an opportunity to create space for fellowship, to love on one another and express gratitude for making it through a tough year in education, in our community and around the world. In addition, we look forward to the amazing summer professional development experiences that are underway. We are deeply grateful for the support of United Way, the TI Foundation and Educate Texas for what this will mean for DeSoto ISD and our ability to more deeply support our staff.”

The program—called Heal, Play, Learn—is designed to encourage students’ social and emotional wellness, physical activity and engagement with the arts and sciences after more than a year of pandemic-related learning disruption and limited in-person activities. Following the challenges of COVID-19, there is a heightened need to better prepare students to practice self-management, self-efficacy, social awareness and decision-making skills, while also reigniting their critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity. 

The grant from the TI Foundation will meet those needs through Heal, Play, Learn, which will deliver summer academic and enrichment programming and continue into the fall. 

Along with DeSoto ISD leadership, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas collaborated with the TI Foundation and Educate Texas to develop the Heal, Play, Learn program. Social impact firm CoSpero Consulting is supporting project management and program strategy. 

“COVID-19 turned life upside down for North Texas students, especially in southern Dallas County,” said Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “We’re grateful to all involved for recognizing an opportunity to lift up students after an extremely challenging year. Together with our partners, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is working to ensure North Texas students can reach their full potential in school while also leading healthy, fulfilling lives.”

The Heal, Play, Learn initiative aims to help get kids and families excited about the 2021-2022 school year. Dozens of STEM, arts, music, sports and wellness programs will serve students and families in various capacities. 

A variety of local organizations will provide activities and programming. These include:

  • 2 Inspire Peace

  • After-School All-Stars

  • Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico

  • The Artist Outreach, Bishop Arts Theater Center

  • Bridge Lacrosse

  • Challenge Island

  • Dallas Arboretum

  • Dallas Wings

  • Junior Players

  • Litehouse Wellness

  • Malone Connection

  • MerryMakers

  • Rainbow Days

  • Seeds 2 Stem

  • Studio Bella and

  • Visual Expressions Art School.

 “The TI Foundation recently awarded more than $3 million in grants to Educate Texas to develop STEM districts in Cedar Hill and DeSoto ISDs, and we are excited to once again invest in these two districts in a slightly different but equally important way for the long-term academic and life success of its students,” said Andy Smith, executive director of the TI Foundation. 

“While most students have experienced some negative impacts related to the pandemic, economically disadvantaged students and their families are more likely to have experienced prolonged toxic stress, which can greatly impede thinking and learning. We’re excited to work with United Way and Educate Texas to give the students some fun activities to help them re-engage and get excited about returning to school in the fall, as well as show appreciation to teachers and school leaders who’ve also endured much during COVID-19.” 

Watch this video of DeSoto ISD Employee SEL Event: Sizzling Summer Send-Off

One of DeSoto ISD’s first programs supported by the Heel, Play, Learn program was the district’s June 2 end-of-year-staff event that celebrated employees’ perseverance through an unprecedented school year.

“We wanted staff to know how much we appreciate them, that we see and value their hard work and that, after surviving the stress of educating kids during a global health pandemic, that they could have fun, destress and take a deep breath,” said DeSoto ISD Chief of Staff Sonya Cole-Hamilton.

The end-of-year staff celebration centered on teacher appreciation, health and wellness. Following the kick-off celebrations for staff, DeSoto ISD will use the additional support of the grant to focus on students and families starting with the opening of virtual and in-person summer academic and enrichment programming with all Heal, Play, Learn programming beginning immediately after lunch. 

All DeSoto ISD students attending summer school are invited to attend. Heal, Play, Learn summertime programming will wrap up near the end of the summer with back-to-school parties for students, their families and the community-at-large. 

The community social events, which DeSoto ISD is calling “4 Corners,” will feature free food, fun games, prizes and more. 

DeSoto ISD families are invited to attend any of the four events which will take place as follows:

  • 5:30-8 pm, July 24 at DeSoto High School

  • 5:30 to 8 pm on July 8th at West Middle School

  • 5:30 to 8 pm on July 22 at The Meadows Elementary

  • 5:30 to 8 pm on August 5 at Katherine Johnson

Another round of programming will be introduced in the fall.

The pandemic caused a wide variety of challenges, but one of the greatest has been learning loss among students who have been disconnected from and disengaged with school. The Texas Education Agency estimates Texas students experienced nearly six months of instructional loss during COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, more than 150,000 Texas students were completely missing from school in the 2020-2021 school year. As a result, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath believes students in the state will need four to five years to fully recover from the learning loss of the last 14 months. Learning loss is an even greater concern for low-income students of color, as a significant learning gap existed prior to the pandemic for this population. Black and Latinx students are disproportionately born into poverty and are less likely to experience the same kinds of enriched learning—such as pre-kindergarten, summer camp or after-school activities—as their white peers. Southern Dallas County, which is home to a significant Black and Latinx population, was among the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. 

As a result, DeSoto ISD plans to offer individualized student support and tutoring services.

“We know our students will re-engage in the fall with significant learning gaps from the COVID-19 slide that we see in our data currently,” said DeSoto ISD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Mya Asberry. “We must be thoughtful to ensure that we are not substituting rigorous, on grade level content for remediation. Therefore, when students return, we want to make sure they pick up on-level, rigorous, and challenging content. To manage any gaps that students have, we want to be able to offer high-dosage, individualized tutoring that students could access when they are at home to help assist with filling in gaps they may have due to this COVID year. This would augment the work our educators are doing in the classroom working to remediate learning gaps while pushing students to accelerate in on-level, rigorous content.they are at home to help assist with filling in gaps they may have due to this COVID year. This would augment the work our educators are doing in the classroom working to remediate learning gaps while pushing students to accelerate in on-level, rigorous content.”