Byron Nelson golf tournament funds an Oak Cliff school with a remarkable success rate

Momentous Institute pre-k student Victoria Menendez wears a brain hat made of packing peanuts. Every student in the school learns the three main parts of his or her brain before kindergarten. Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Momentous Institute pre-k student Victoria Menendez wears a brain hat made of packing peanuts. Every student in the school learns the three main parts of his or her brain before kindergarten. Photos by Danny Fulgencio

The Byron Nelson Golf Championship draws professional golfers from all over the world for a week of competition in Irving each May.

The Oak Cliff-based Salesmanship Club of Dallas produces that PGA Tour tournament, which has raised $137 million since 1968.

All of the proceeds go to the club’s education nonprofits. The flagship of those is the Momentous Institute, a school for pre-k through fifth-graders near Adamson High School.

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The charter school serves children at risk for poverty and focuses on the social and emotional health of students and families.

Every 3-year-old child at the Momentous Institute can tell you the three main parts of his or her own brain — the cerebellum, the cerebrum and the brain stem — and what their basic functions are.

Every 3-year-old child at the Momentous Institute can tell you the three main parts of his or her own brain — the cerebellum, the cerebrum and the brain stem — and what their basic functions are.

One lesson every Momentous child receives starts with a bouncy ball filled with glitter. A teacher shakes the glitter ball: “This is how your brain looks when you’re upset and irrational.” With calming deep breathing techniques, taught beginning in pre-k, children learn to “settle their glitter” and think as their highest selves.

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The Salesmanship Club of Dallas started in 1920 with a mission to create better education opportunities for impoverished youth. It started with troubled adolescents, and over the decades, members realized they had to serve even younger children for the best results.

On average, children raised in poverty are about 1.5 years behind other children by age 4. Once that learning gap exists, it is difficult to close. Poverty can cause stress and poor interfamily relations, among other ills. The institute found that in order for children to receive a good education, their mental wellbeing must be nurtured.

Students work on projects at the Momentous Institute in Oak Cliff: Photos by Danny Fulgencio
Students work on a project at the Momentous Institute in Oak Cliff: Photos by Danny Fulgencio

Social and emotional health is part of the fabric of the school’s curriculum. A textured wall outside the library invites students to run their hands over it; this stimulates their brains. Fourth-graders are asked to write down something for which they are grateful every day; this trains their thinking toward optimism. At the end of the day, fifth-graders are asked to talk about things that happened and strategies they learned; this teaches them to analyze and learn from their mistakes and successes.

Students are encouraged to experience their environments, talk about themselves and engage in the school community. They’re expected to take initiative, be leaders. The same goes for parents, who must contribute at least 12 volunteer hours each year. Every teacher visits each of his or her student’s home before the school year begins to break the ice between teachers, students and parents.

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“We create enough space around kids so they’re not constrained,” says the school’s executive director, Michelle Kinder. “They develop an internal sense of right and wrong rather than just knowing what the rules are.”

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The Momentous Institute aims to touch the lives of “children we will never meet,” by training educators in its methods of addressing social and emotional health.

The school emphasizes college graduation, and alumni success rates are stellar. About 97 percent graduate from high school, an A plus. The overall graduation rate in Texas is an F, with about 56 percent of those who enroll as high school freshmen completing their senior year. About 86 percent of former Momentous Institute students enroll in college, compared to 59 percent of overall Dallas ISD graduates. Out of the school’s 32 original 3-year-old preschoolers, 25 are current college seniors.

Along with the school, the Byron Nelson tournament and the Salesmanship Club of Dallas also fund a therapeutic preschool in northwest Dallas for children whose behaviors have caused them to be expelled from other preschools.
Beyond that, the Momentous Institute aims to touch the lives of “children we will never meet,” by training educators in its methods of addressing social and emotional health.

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“Teachers are our hungriest audience for this,” Kinder says. “They’re the ones who see these problems first hand, and when we give them the tools for social emotional health, they adopt it very quickly.”

Find more information at scdallas.org

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