The NCAA and the North Texas Local Organizing Committee are about to throw a new coat of paint on a SLANT program already dripping rich in history.
Students from the Charles Rice Learning Center of Dallas ISD handled the program's opening tip-off on Wednesday by breaking out the paint, arts and crafts, flowers and much more on the school's Garden Courtyard, just behind the main building.
It's the NCAA's way of giving back to the community for hosting next spring's Men's Final Four tournament at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. Also present was Charlotte Jones Anderson, chair of the North Texas Local Organizing Committee, and, Gigi Antoni and several of her Big Thought colleagues.
Many had been members of the North Texas Host Committee for Super Bowl XLV, the first Super Bowl staged in North Texas in 2011. SLANT 45 was born at that time, thanks in large part to Big Thought, one of the nation's leading nonprofits focused on innovative public education. The initiative remains alive and well, now known simply as SLANT (Service Learning Adventures in North Texas). And even several of the students starting this new effort at Charles Rice Learning Center had participated in SLANT 45.
"When I had a chance to meet with the Local Organizing Committee down here, we were looking to start a new program based on service learning that would be in conjunction with the basketball tournament," said Victor Hill, the NCAA's Associate Director for Corporate Alliances who flew in from Indianapolis for the event. "Tony and Kit said, 'Have we got a program for you.' We've been able to work with Big Thought's team, and it's been a match made in heaven."
Antoni said teaming up with the NCAA may be even more fitting for Big Thought than the Super Bowl marriage.
"This one is a little closer mission with Big Thought because of the NCAA's connection to higher education," she said. "The NCAA's network has a lot of the same connections to our network."
Although the focus will be in Dallas and Tarrant counties, Antoni said, "Anyone can participate. It's web-based, and this version of SLANT will feature a mobile app for the SLANT coaches to use, making it easily accessible. The program had been updated and re-designed."
The program is primarily for students in grades 3 through 8 but can also include boys and girls youth groups and other community organizations. A SLANT.org website will go online from December until the NCAA tournament in early April.
"Our goal is to get 7,000 kids involved," Antoni said. "But we hope to blow that out of the water. Keep in mind that our goal for SLANT 45 during the Super Bowl was 20,000 and we got 45,000."
Hannah Wesley, a 9-year-old third grader with a smile bigger than Texas, was minutes from painting a bookshelf when she said, "This is a very fun activity, and we're helping out the community. We're making stepping stones that are going to be at Madison and Lincoln (high schools) and Billy Earl Dade (middle school). And when we are old enough to go to one of those schools, we'll see the stepping stones we made and will remember when we were at Charles Rice elementary. The stepping stones represent stepping up to a newer grade."
Like Hannah, 9-year-old Jamyria Woods participated in the early SLANT program when she was much younger.
"I think it's a good way to give back to our community," Jamyria said. "It shows we care and really want to help out. My parents are proud of me."
Jamyria says if she doesn't play in the women's pro basketball league when she grows up, she plans on being a doctor. These SLANT programs have a way of opening up the creative minds of creative kids.
"Everybody thought this would be a great chance to give SLANT another blast of relevancy," Fay said. "It's on the kids to come up with the projects and types of initiatives, and every idea is different. We think it's a great way to take something that was already outstanding and keep it in the public eye."
And so it begins. Again.