Big Thought and Dallas Afterschool partner to receive better together planning grant

Dallas educational organizations, in collaboration with SMU, tap big data and shared expertise to create expanded learning information system.

school classroom

DALLAS – Dallas-based education nonprofits Big Thought and Dallas Afterschool have been awarded a $60,000 planning grant from the Better Together Fund to work with SMU’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) to assess the real impact and potential for collaboration among out-of-school-time programs ranging from tutoring to summer camps.

The partners will build and implement an innovative, comprehensive system to analyze student-level and programmatic data through what they are calling the Expanded Learning Information System (ELIS), which will support out-of-school time (OST) service providers in Dallas.

“Making ELIS work for the benefit of our K-12 students requires computing and data analytics skills that SMU is proud to be able to offer the community,” said Stephanie L. Knight, dean of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “This strategic partnership will allow Dallas educators to tap SMU computing resources to process large amounts of data. And our researchers in CORE will know how to make the data meaningful for our community and move this important research forward.”

The Better Together Fund was launched in 2017 as a pilot program to drive large-scale social change. The fund supports North Texas non-profits to explore and implement formal collaborations, for a common purpose, to maximize impact. Sponsorship and oversight are provided by the founding steering committee – The Dallas Foundation, Lyda Hill, The Meadows Foundation and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.  “This project exemplifies the goal of the Better Together Fund – to support groups willing to explore working together to transform their organizations for the betterment of our communities,” said Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Foundation.

Big Thought, Dallas Afterschool, and SMU CORE will work together to develop the infrastructure to help deliver what OST providers need to support continuous program improvements for their learning projects. The power of SMU computing will allow the partners to study multiple variables at the same time and use the information to benefit Dallas’ OST system at large. In simple terms, it expands the ability to study program impact beyond basic correlation. 

“Together, we create an opportunity for expanded learning. Through our coalition with Dallas Afterschool, we’ll create innovative new systems that out-of-school-time providers can use to easily share data and receive regular reporting,” said Byron Sanders, CEO, Big Thought. “With this data, organizations should be able to improve programming quality, guide professional development, plan targeted interventions, produce more impactful funding applications, drive advocacy efforts, and advance student outcomes.”

“For five years, Dallas Afterschool has conducted a research and evaluation project on student outcomes, analyzing the impact of out-of-school-time quality and participation on student academic success,” said Christina K. Hanger, CEO, Dallas Afterschool. “We use these results to drive program improvements and scale best practices on a systems level. ELIS will enable us to incorporate even more programs into this project, receive more comprehensive data on what is working for children, and provide OST programs the support they need to truly move the needle on student outcomes in OST and in-school environments. This collaboration will spark improvements in how we identify at-risk students and leverage community resources to ensure we meet the needs of both students and staff in afterschool and summer programs. ”


About Big Thought

Big Thought is an impact education nonprofit that closes the opportunity gap by preparing youth from under-resourced communities to power their creativity and foster healthy social and emotional well-being through in-school, out-of-school and community partnership programs. For 30 years, Big Thought has worked with partners to provide students with access to personalized, high-quality, creative learning experiences that form the foundation for the crucial job and college readiness skills necessary for the future. Learn more at

About Dallas Afterschool

Dallas Afterschool works to improve the quality and availability of out-of-school-time programs for all children, regardless of family income or neighborhood. Dallas Afterschool provides safety and quality assessments, training and coaching for staff, and curriculum resources to 180 afterschool and summer programs that serve over 14,000 children in Dallas County. Each year, Dallas Afterschool conducts research to determine how quality improves student outcomes in academics and social emotional learning. Those results drive our efforts to make afterschool better, because we know that just three hours a day make a lifetime of difference.

About SMU’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE)

Housed within SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, The Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) provides a variety of research, evaluation, and consultation services. CORE staff have a wide range of skills, including evaluation planning, grant writing, community-based and multi-site interventions, quantitative and qualitative analysis, data collection and management of large and multi-year datasets. CORE values highly collaborative evaluation work with innovative programs and leverages multiple strategic partnerships. CORE brings rigorous evaluation science to study design that allows us to go beyond describing trends to testing the relationship between program participation and eventual outcomes.

Media Contact for Big Thought:

Amy Power
The Power Group