United Way Announces New Heal, Play, Learn Program | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Helping North Texas Families Bounce Back from the Pandemic

New Heal, Play, Learn program will encourage social and emotional wellness, physical activity and arts engagement in Cedar Hill and DeSoto ISDs.

COVID-19 has caused a wide variety of challenges in our community, but one of the greatest has been learning loss among students who have become 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.

That’s why United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has partnered with the Texas Instruments (TI) Foundation and Educate Texas to help families in two Southern Dallas school districts bounce back from the pandemic and rediscover a love of learning.


A Chance to Heal Together

The new program—called Heal, Play, Learn—is designed to encourage Cedar Hill and DeSoto ISD 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.

Heal, Play, Learn is funded through a $897,000 grant from the TI Foundation and is in partnership with Educate Texas. Social impact firm CoSpero Consulting is supporting project management and program strategy.

Following the challenges of COVID-19, our community needs 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 programming this summer and continue into the fall.

“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 the TI Foundation, Educate Texas, and Cedar Hill and DeSoto ISD for recognizing an opportunity to lift up students in these areas 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.”


Fun, Engaging Programming

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 reengage 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.”

The Heal, Play, Learn program will kick off with two end-of-year celebrations—one in Cedar Hill ISD and one in DeSoto ISD—that center on teacher appreciation, health and wellness.

After the kick-off celebrations, Cedar Hill events will be held on Wednesday evenings and are open to all Cedar Hill students and their families. You can register for the Cedar Hill program here. DeSoto events will be grade-specific and part of the school district’s regular summer school schedule, 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. Another round of programming will be introduced in the fall.

The superintendents of both school districts feel confident the new program will help their students rebound from the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

“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 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.”

“Thanks to the generosity of United Way, Cedar Hill ISD is developing outstanding events to allow our Longhorns to heal, engage, learn and play,” said Dr. Gerald Hudson, superintendent of Cedar Hill ISD. “The pandemic has left lasting emotional and social scars in our community; it is time to safely connect with our community and provide academic reinforcement and emotional support to our scholars and families. We anticipate hundreds of families to participate in the weekly events starting in June, and the lessons learned each week will have an impact on the scholars well into next school year.”

This article was published on: Jun 7, 2021