Then and now: Dallas teachers reflect on own first-day-of-school memories

The first bell has already rung, and students and teachers are finding their groove in the classroom.

While they settle into their new routines, some instructors can’t help but notice how different the classrooms that they lead are from the ones they sat in as students.

Lunches, recess, teaching styles — all of it has changed.

Teachers from Dan D. Rogers Elementary shared memories from their own school days as they worked to prepare their northeast Dallas campus ahead of Monday’s start.

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Planning To Move To Dallas Soon?

Planning To Move To Dallas Soon?

If you’re wanting to move to Dallas, you’ve come to the right place! Here, you’ll get some tips on what you can do to get to this area and find a home there that you love. All it takes is a little bit of research, so read on for more.

You need to look at listings on a regular basis when you are looking for a home in any area. You want to know what the latest listings are so you can contact the people that posted them to ask about whether they are still selling the home or not. You can also find rental properties in listings, so don’t be afraid to look at what’s out there each day. Make a list of what might work for you and then contact each person that put up the listings so you can ask them any questions you may have.

Before you move to this area, try to look into what there is to do for you and your family. Are there good schools for your kids? Can you get to work without having to travel too far? It doesn’t make sense to move somewhere that has you traveling all around when you really shouldn’t be having to because that adds up in the way of gas costs. Not only that, but you have to pay to keep up with your vehicle. Do your research on what’s in the area and then find a home near where you’re likely to go regularly.

There are a lot of people that live in Dallas and love tot call it home. You can be one of those people, too, if you use our tips. Just make sure you’re careful about where you choose to stay and you should do just fine.

What next for struggling Dallas schools after trustees reject tax revenue plans?

What next for struggling Dallas schools after trustees reject tax revenue plans?

At the end of a fractious board meeting, where Dallas ISD trustees couldn’t agree on any of three tax measures that could have provided the district with millions more in funding, board president Dan Micciche waxed philosophical.

He said the school district would have to do exactly what students are told at graduation ceremonies: Be resilient. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward,” Micciche said.

The state’s second-largest school district does just that on Monday, opening its doors for the 2017-18 school year.

Yet, the district’s tax rate is the same as a year ago. In fact, the rate hasn’t risen since 2011. Dallas ISD has the third-lowest tax rate among districts in North Texas.

The most recent Texas Legislature made no progress in fixing the state’s funding system for schools. And DISD also has the highest childhood poverty rate for any urban district in Texas.

So where does the district — and the city — go from here?

It depends on who you ask.

Tanya Hernandez, left, rallied for a tax ratification election with her daughter, Stephanie Hernandez, center, before a recent public hearing and board meeting of the Dallas Independent School District trustees. (Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer)

One initial thought, expressed by those who opposed a 6-cent or 13-cent tax increase — Lew Blackburn, Joyce Foreman, Bernadette Nutall and Audrey Pinkerton — is that the district can find more cuts in its $1.419 billion operating budget.

In the spending plans that DISD administration drew up for the three failed tax measures, the district had allocated anywhere from $42 million to $123 million to nine programs, addressing items ranging from extracurricular activities to compensation.

Some of those items can still be funded, if matching cuts can be made.

Such expectations don’t come without precedent.

When a 13-cent tax hike failed to get board approval in August 2016, DISD made close to $60 million in cuts to fund three key initiatives: early college high schools, early childhood learning and merit pay for teachers. The cuts weren’t painless, as DISD shuttered a division at Central Office, tinkered with class sizes, and eliminated librarian and nurse positions.

Pump the brakes, said DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

Before any moves are made to finesse the budget, the district needs to have a more concrete understanding of how much money it’s getting, he said.

Hinojosa says he plans to stick it out as superintendent for a few more years despite the board’s failure to get behind a tax plan. He says he’s now focused on next week’s enrollment numbers, since DISD’s funding is dependent on the size of its student body.

“By next Friday, we’re going to have a pretty good idea if we are going to get to 156,400 students or not,” Hinojosa said. “If we’ll hit our enrollment target, at least we won’t be having to cut current expenditures.”

Last year, the district commissioned an up-to-date demographics study, and Hinojosa is confident in the district’s projected enrollment figures.

But just to make sure those projections held up, the district held, for the first time, a district-wide door-knocking campaign, with teachers and administrators canvassing their attendance zones on Aug. 21 to remind students that school starts Monday.

Even so, Hinojosa admitted he’s still worried, in part due to anecdotes about charter school growth in neighborhoods with struggling DISD campuses.

“What’s helped me survive in 23 years as a superintendent: you prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

If enrollment comes in as projected, then DISD can start the discussion about looking for hard cuts to afford the new initiatives.

Most pressing, Hinojosa said, is the need to address the district’s outdated dyslexia program and jump-start a new district-wide reading initiative.

DISD had planned to spend from $10.3 million to $13 million on those programs if more money came in, spurred by deficiencies that new chief academic officer Ivonne Durant had identified.

“By the time she got here, we were so far done with the budget that we couldn’t do anything with it,” Hinojosa said. “That’s my biggest worry. Next year, it’ll be in the base budget, but that’s another year away.”

Hinojosa said the district will also try to come up with more funds for its 14 “Improvement Required” campuses, particularly four schools threatened for closure by the state if assessment scores don’t rise.

Pinkerton said Thursday that she hoped that the district could find a way to provide the two-percent raise to non-teachers that was contingent on the tax vote, a measure that would have cost $12.2 million.

“Perhaps we can we carve something out of our administrative budget,” she said.

According to her analysis, non-campus spending in DISD rose to 31 percent in 2016-17, up 11 percentage points over the past five years. Even with the $60 million in cuts, DISD’s current budget has 27 percent in non-campus spending, she said, while fellow districts across North Texas hover near 20 percent.

“We used to do it on 20 cents on the dollar, but we aren’t doing that anymore,” Pinkerton said.

While the district will take a wait-and-see approach until the attendance numbers are in, external forces interested in Dallas’ educational ecosystem are making plans.

One of the key players in pushing for a tax increase, the Strong Schools Strong Dallas coalition, met Thursday. Its members — which range from teachers organizations to the NAACP — convened to set out some long-term strategies, even with the next hope for a tax ratification election far on the horizon.

“Everyone is 100 percent in favor of continuing this fight,” said coalition member Rob Shearer, the director of communications and marketing at education non-profit Commit.

Shearer said that the coalition will continue hosting community meetings, engaging with trustees and advocating on “the behalf of racial equity in the district.”

“We absolutely think that getting parents and students involved in the conversation is critical,” he added, stating that often there’s a disconnect between what goes on at the boardroom and what happens at campuses.

The coalition also might try to quantify the needs of 41 campuses that the district has identified as fragile, and “be part of a larger community effort to help raise some gap funds,” Shearer said.

And while the coalition hasn’t decided whether it will make political endorsements under its umbrella — several of its member organizations already do — Shearer said that the group would like to see a much larger turnout for the next round of trustee elections.

“We would love to see a whole lot more people educated on the issues and come out and vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, there are already efforts to change the makeup of the board itself.

Bernadette Nutall is up for re-election next year along with two other Dallas ISD trustees.

Three trustees — Micciche, Nutall and Edwin Flores — will come up for re-election in May 2018, and Nutall, who voted against the 6-cent and 13-cent tax measures last week, already has a challenger.

Attorney and education advocate Justin Henry launched his campaign at an event on Saturday.

Henry, 35, has worked with Nutall and DISD for the past eight years in several roles, serving on several commissions and committees as her appointee.

Nutall hasn’t publicly announced her intentions to run for a fourth term; she began her stint on the board by winning a runoff for Ron Price’s seat in 2009, and most recently beat Damarcus Offord in 2015 by 290 votes, winning nearly 54 percent of the vote in District 9.

Henry said he was supportive of the tax increase, with the district’s plans to include funding targeted toward racial equity “a very important step.”

“I think we’re all disappointed that they weren’t able to come together to secure funds that are sorely needed,” Henry said.

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In the shadow of a Confederate statue, a Dallas sanctuary becomes a symbol of troubled times

In the shadow of a Confederate statue, a Dallas sanctuary becomes a symbol of troubled times

Most days, Lee Park is just a park, a quiet preserve of 15 acres in Oak Lawn shaded by mature live oaks scattered around a broad hill of deep-green grass with wide paths and blooming gardens just away from the noise and bustle of the city beyond.

These aren’t most days. These are times of turmoil about the country’s past, its present and its future. And the park anchored by a massive statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee finds itself in the glare of Dallas’ attempt to come to grips with the days of change.

And so now, people who use the park every day, who’ve grown up near it and consider it part of their personal lives, must see it as something other than a park. It is no sanctuary from the outside world, from the anger and outrage whipsawing the country. It is today a heavy symbol of the trouble.

As she does every morning, Libby Barnes recently took a walk with her black and white 8-year-old shih tzu, Spike, along the paths of Lee Park. She has lived in Dallas all of her 70 years and today lives just across the street from the park.

“I walk here every day, three times a day,” she said, beaming and bright in a floral-pattern blouse on a steamy, overcast morning. “It’s very pretty, and it’s close to my apartment. I love the park.”

So does Dorothy Pullen, 63, who was walking her dog, Jersey. When she first moved here four years ago, Pullen quickly made friends with a group of people who would meet up most mornings, drink coffee and walk their dogs. “I felt welcome and right at home.”

As if on cue, she smiled at a familiar dog coming down the path. “Look, Jersey,” she said. “It’s Maggie.”

Matthew Chavez, 2, walks by as his mother, Miranda Taddei (in floral headwear), is readied before starting her marriage ceremony to Matthew Chavez near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Robert E. Lee Park in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.

Dorothy and Libby are among the regulars at Lee Park, located along Turtle Creek Boulevard. They come for a stroll or to take a break from work in one of the nearby high-rises.

Few come specifically to visit Lee’s statue, but some do, and it has its admirers. But events of the last week have changed the sense of the statue’s place in the park.

A week ago, clashes broke out in Charlottesville, Va. after white nationalists held a rally opposing the removal of a statue of Lee. The event simmered with violence but turned deadly when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The alleged driver, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, was charged with second-degree murder.

Injured people receive first aid after a car ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. A vehicle plowed into a crowd of people Saturday at a Virginia rally where violence erupted between white supremacist demonstrators and counterprotesters, witnesses said. One person was killed.

Dallas has not seen such violence around its Confederate memorials. Mayor Mike Rawlings, as well as other elected officials, have said the time has come for Dallas’ statues to go.

It’s a call that raises mixed feelings at Lee Park.

Pausing on her walk, Barnes said she doesn’t think the statue should come down. “It’s part of history,’ she said, an opinion shared by several regulars interviewed in Lee Park. “It’s a celebration,” she added, then paused as if searching for a better word, “a remembrance.”

But others feel conflicted. They’ve come to see the park and statue as one piece.

“From an artistic and historical perspective, I think it should stay,” said Keith Head, a 61-year-old Oak Lawn resident, who was walking Maggie. “It also commemorates those who died,” said Head, who counts among his ancestors both Confederate and Union soldiers.

But he also understood the reasons of those who want the statues removed: “that it represents racism and a time when people were treated very badly,” he said. “I just think it would be sad to see the statue go because it’s just beautiful.”

For Pullen, standing with Jersey under an oak’s shade, having to confront tough questions about an old neighbor — in this case, the statue — is not easy.

“Does it celebrate a time that shouldn’t be celebrated? Probably,” she said. “But there’s a difference between celebrating and memorializing, right?”

“Maybe it celebrates, and maybe it should go,” she said.

The Lee statue

Lee’s statue in Dallas is an 18-foot bronze affair with the general perched astride his cantering horse, Traveller, his boots in the stirrups, his hat in his right hand, a sword dangling from his left hip. Next to Lee is a young soldier, also on horseback, who represents all the young men inspired to fight under the general’s command.

It faces outward at the front of the park. Lee is frozen in motion as if he and Traveller are about to step into the intersection of Turtle Creek Boulevard and North Hall Street.

A view of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Robert E. Lee Park in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas on Wednesday. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings called for a task force to study the issue of whether or not to remove the city’s Confederate monuments in Lee Park and Pioneer Plaza. The task force has 90 days to report their findings. The statue was unveiled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 12, 1936.

Crafted by the artist A. Phimister Proctor in the midst of the Depression at a cost of some $40,000, the sculpture sits atop a thick granite base. It is approached by a flight of steps. A granite bench wraps around the back.

The statue’s dedication on June 12, 1936, attracted no less than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, already here for the state centennial.

In brief remarks that day, Roosevelt hailed Lee as one of the greatest figures in the nation’s history, a recounting of history that has come under scrutiny in the ensuing years.

“All over the United States, we regard him as a great leader of men and a great general,” Roosevelt said. He also described Lee as “one of the greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen,” according to the account in The Dallas Morning News.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (back seat, left), with Texas Gov. James Allred and other state officials, parades down Exposition Street in Dallas. He visited the Texas Centennial Exposition at Fair Park on June 12, 1936, and spoke to a huge crowd in the Cotton Bowl. Texas, he told his audience, was "100 years young." He also dedicated the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Park that day. (Photo from The Collections of the Dallas Historical Society)

Jesse H. Jones, a Texas financier and Roosevelt appointee, explained Lee’s appeal to those gathered, repeating an old and questioned legend about the rebel general that was told for generations after the Civil War. Though Lee could have led the Union forces for the North, “he would not draw the sword against his native Virginia,” Jones said. “He had no other course.”

Up the hill from Lee’s statue sits Arlington Hall, built in the late 1930s as a replica of his pre-Civil War, Greek Revival home in Virginia.

Over the years, Lee Park has played a central role in shaping the identity of Oak Lawn. Along with annual events like Easter in the Park and the Pooch Parade, it’s also become a desired location for weddings, engagements and graduation photos. The grounds are looked after by the nonprofit Lee Park & Arlington Hall Conservancy.

But the park is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago, the word “SHAME” was spray-painted in white capital letters across the base of the statue.

The vandalism occurred two weeks after a small group of protesters held an “un-dedication” at the park and a month after nine people were killed in a racially motivated attack at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Deep Texas roots

Daniel Shipman lives near Lee Park and comes at least once a week to sit and talk to people. He describes himself as a full-blooded, sixth-generation Texan, from Dumas, near Amarillo. And the 44-year-old computer programmer dresses the part. Today, he’s wearing a cowboy hat, Western shirt, pressed jeans and a pair of polished black boots.

He believes the statue should remain but completely rejects the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who protested in Charlottesville.

“Oh, God, no!” he said. “White supremacists are an evil scourge.”

“I’m not African-American and it would be presumptive of me to say what they’re thinking,” he said. “But I hope they recognize that this country has been in a long transition to rightfully bring people of all different backgrounds completely into the promise of America. And they’ve been left out for a long time.”

But you can’t erase history by removing the statues, he said.

A conversation about history

Around noon, Shipman walked over to the front of the statue and started talking to two African-American women who had stopped by during a break at work.

There were no Tiki torches, shouted slogans or scrawled protest signs. Just three people sitting on the steps of the statue and talking.

From left: Daniel Shipman, Adria Green and Crystal Sentell, all of Dallas, have a conversation about race, racism and Civil War history near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Lee Park in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas on Wednesday.

Adria Green said she came to the park with an open mind. “I can’t tell you honestly why I came and sat on the steps. But Daniel came around and said, ‘I just want to ask you how you feel about this statue,’ ” she said.

Green told him, “It’s history and you can’t erase history.” But she said it was also unfair for the statue’s supporters to ignore that slavery was a pivotal part of the cause Lee fought for.

So Green and her friend Crystal listened to Shipman as he explained why he thought the statue should remain. They agreed on one thing. They worried about violence if rallies for or against the statue are held in Dallas.

“I just really wanted to have a conversation and just listen to what they think and how they feel, instead of just drawing my own conclusions based on what I’m seeing in the media,” Green said.

As they stood up to leave, the three of them hugged. “I appreciate this, Mr. Shipman,” Green said, smiling. “We appreciate you.”

Shipman suggested they stay away from protests scheduled on Saturday in Pioneer Plaza. “For real,” he said. “I’m staying away.”

Similar conversations took place later in the day, including one between two men, one white and one black, arguing over whether the Lee statue served a historical purpose.

“Do we put up statues of other people’s leaders after we defeat them?” asked Darrius Gates, a 29-year-old African American who works in Dallas and goes home to Houston on the weekends. “How can we glorify him? It doesn’t make sense.”

As he debated with Gates, Charles Foy, 47, of Plano, lamented how the country had become so polarized over this and other issues. “I don’t think there’s common ground for reconciliation.”

But Gates and Foy shook hands and said there should be more such conversations. “We’re having a dialogue and trying to understand each other’s perspective,” Gates said. “Instead of violence, we have two people talking to each other.”

A different vibe

In the evening, the park’s vibe picked up as people came to exercise. The dog walkers shared the paths with joggers and bicycle riders. Two different “boot camp” workout groups showed up at the park.

At one end, near Turtle Creek Boulevard, Camp Gladiator included about two dozen people of different ages and races, a microcosm of the current Dallas population. As they started doing squats and other warm-up exercises, their trainer, Colin Felch, was asked for his thoughts about the Lee statue.

“Honestly,” Felch says, glancing over at the figure of Lee a few yards away, “I never really gave it a second thought.”

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Cowboys can survive without Ezekiel Elliott, a star RB the NFL suspended for all the right reasons

Cowboys can survive without Ezekiel Elliott, a star RB the NFL suspended for all the right reasons

This Story is About…
Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is pictured during Cowboys NFL football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, January 15, 2017. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

LOS ANGELES–The NFL has found itself in the middle of another domestic violence mess, and, once again, outrage is spreading across the land. Only this time, it is a different, unsettling kind of outrage.

Ezekiel Elliott, the marquee running back for football’s marquee Dallas Cowboys, has been suspended for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy amid allegations of domestic violence.

There was never an arrest or criminal prosecution, but there were photos of alleged abusive incidents with a former girlfriend in July 2016. There was never any video, but there were reams of testimony supported by medical experts.

There was no legal proof of anything, but the league’s investigative team compiled more than 100 exhibits in a report that exceeded 160 pages and came to the conclusion that Elliott had clearly violated the league’s broad personal conduct policy.

"There is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that (Elliott) engaged in physical violence," it said in a letter that the league sent to Elliott.

Shame on Elliott, right? Nope. The narrative across the sports landscape Friday afternoon was, shame on the NFL. The majority of talk was not about NFL players’ continued pattern of violence toward women, but about how the NFL drastically reshaped the season for those poor Dallas Cowboys.

How could they suspend a player when he wasn’t even charged with a crime? How can they suspend Giants kicker Josh Brown for one game for admittedly hitting his wife or suspend Greg Hardy four games after he was found guilty of assaulting a female, and yet dock Zeke six games for being convicted of nothing?

How could the NFL simply believe the word of former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson instead of Elliott? How could he miss more than one-third of the season — and some say potentially hurt the Cowboys’ title chances — simply because he loses a battle of "he said, she said?"

All of these questions, while pertinent to the values of the American justice system, are not relevant to the NFL. The NFL is not a public courtroom, it is a private business. The NFL makes decisions based not on any judge’s gavel, but in the best interests of its business.

Roger Goodell, the much-criticized NFL commissioner, made the right call here. Working from behind a battered NFL shield, he made a bold move to strengthen it.

Goodell saw billows of smoke and correctly determined fire. He didn’t need formal charges to show him Thompson’s cellphone photos of the alleged abuse. He didn’t need a subpoena to hear medical experts validate the nature of Thompson’s photos and testimony. And he certainly didn’t need some law to tell him of the absolute ridiculousness of Elliott’s defense.

His representatives said Thompson might have fallen down some stairs or, better yet, bumped into table while she was working as a restaurant server. Seriously? Are we still allowing our beloved athletes to skate on such excuses?

"There is a eyewitness here. The eyewitness is Tiffany Thompson herself. She is a victim and a survivor," said Peter Harvey, the former attorney general for New Jersey who helped work the league’s year-long investigation.

It isn’t like Goodell made the easy call here. This decision is like a jab to the league’s midsection. No team drives the TV ratings like the Cowboys. No owner has been more responsible for the league’s billion-dollar success than Cowboy owner Jerry Jones, who is surely steaming mad. And few players have captured the league’s imagination like Elliott, who led the league in rushing last season with 1,631 yards and scoring 15 rushing touchdowns.

For years, the NFL was accused of covering up or ignoring off-field violence — witness the Ray Rice debacle. This same league should now be applauded by risking serious dollars to bring these issues to light.

There is precedent for suspension without legal support. Remember back in 2010 when Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended four games just for being a bad guy? Heck, remember last fall when New England quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games because Goodell thought he had cheated.

Goodell spent the season feeling the backlash of the Brady suspension, culminating when he awkwardly handed the Patriots the Lombardi Trophy after their stirring Super Bowl comeback victory.

He will feel the same heat here. Fans who despise domestic violence will rip him for benching their favorite player simply because that domestic violence is only in photos and not in a verdict. Fans who would never attempt to solve a problem with anger will criticize him for penalizing an alleged pattern of solving problems with anger.

Everybody needs to just chill. Elliott will be temporarily gone, but the Cowboys aren’t going anywhere. Their offensive line is so powerful, you could run behind it for six games. Dak Prescott is still the quarterback? And this is still a quarterback league? If the Patriots can lose Brady for a month and win a Super Bowl, the Cowboys can lose Elliott for six weeks and be just fine.

Relax. Your fantasy league will survive, while the real league just got stronger.

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Art by juveniles locked up in Dallas County on display at Love Field Airport

Art by juveniles locked up in Dallas County on display at Love Field Airport

The girl sat sullen-faced in the art room at Dallas County’s juvenile detention. She crossed her arms on the table and lay her head down.

You should take advantage of this one time you’ll get free art supplies, the teacher, local artist Dawn Waters Baker, told her. The girl picked up a paintbrush.

"She ended up being the most incredible student I had," Baker said Friday night, as she looked at one of the girl’s oil paintings of a sunset over a lake, streaked in shades of orange and purple.

The painting hangs in Dallas Love Field Airport’s art gallery, part of an exhibit of pieces created by youths locked up in Dallas County in recent years. Through October, travelers in the secure area of the terminal can peruse the juveniles’ paintings and drawings in the airport’s gallery, which is located beside Dunkin’ Donuts.

At Love Field Airport, hangs an oil painting of a sunset done by a girl at Dallas County Juvenile Detention who started off skeptical about art. It’s part of an exhibit that runs through October at the airport.

In the three months the exhibit is up, the airport will see about 3.5 million travelers pass through, said Guy Bruggeman, art coordinator at the city’s aviation department. The exhibit came about after Bruggeman and Terry Smith, the juvenile detention director, met last year and she suggested the kids’ art be shown if the gallery had an opening.

"Their lives have disruption and chaos but when they draw it’s the beauty that shows," Smith said at a reception at the airport Friday. "Their sense of accomplishment and all the kudos they get — it’s like a light’s been turned on in their head."

The art program started in 2009 and has since taken off, said program director Cynthia Wallace. The three local artists who teach — Janet Reynolds, Danielle Kent and Baker — are all volunteers. The program gets supplies through grants and donations by jurors of their $6 daily stipend.

Many of the youths have never painted before, Baker said. She’s seen lots of benefits the juveniles get from art, since they often leave happier and more relaxed. When they like a piece they created, it builds confidence too, she said.

And it’s therapeutic, said County Judge Clay Jenkins.

"A lot of the kids who act out have a lot of difficult things going on at home and they don’t have a healthy outlet to get those emotions out," Jenkins said. "These kids may not become professional artists, but it’s a really good thing when kids can learn a constructive way to express themselves."

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Friday looks at paintings done by juveniles at Dallas County lockups hanging at Love Field Airport.

Lawrence Luby, a volunteer who teaches a 10-week course for kids with drug issues on life skills and spirituality, said the most common problem he sees among the kids is that their fathers aren’t involved in their lives. He said about 90 percent of the boys that go through his course don’t have any relationship with their fathers.

"Their mothers who are trying their best to raise the kids and work," Luby said. "But they lack a positive male influence."

Though the kids’ work hangs in the airport, many of them have likely never ridden on an airplane, said Terry Lynn Crenshaw, a chef who teaches girls, in lockup culinary skills. Many of the girls have been involved with prostitution, she said. Besides cooking, Crenshaw said she tries to hammer on the importance of two goals for the girls: going to college and traveling.

"I tell them all they need to get a passport," Crenshaw said. "It melts my heart when the girls say ‘This is my first time making cookies.’ They’ve been on the run so much they haven’t had a chance."

At the reception Friday night, Baker smiled as she recalled the girl who did the sunset oil painting, and her reaction after she completed it.

"Miss, I can’t believe I did that," Baker recalled the girl saying. "When I get out, I’m going to use my money to buy art supplies."

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Dallas Cowboys: Undrafted rookie reminding some of Maliek Collins

Dallas Cowboys: Undrafted rookie reminding some of Maliek Collins

Could this young defensive end prospect be the Dallas Cowboys next great undrafted rookie free agent find and earn himself a place on the active roster?

Lost in the spotlighted play of Dallas Cowboys rookies like quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott last season was the performance turned in by their 2016 third round selection, Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins.

Despite missing a majority of offseason training during his rookie campaign due to a broken foot, Collins was still arguably the Cowboys most consistent defender in the trenches last season. The now 22-year old recorded 23 tackles in 2016 and was second on the team in sacks with 5.0.

More importantly, according to Next Gen Stats, Collins lead the league in fastest average time from snap to sack among rookie interior defensive linemen. He averaged a blazing 4.28 seconds as a defensive tackle, which placed him fifth among all interior pass rushers in the NFL.

The point being, Collins was one of the fastest players along the defensive line last season. And according to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, there is an undrafted rookie free agent currently in camp that has the same kind of quickness.

“[Neal’s] got some of that Maliek suddenness,” Marinelli told the Dallas Morning News. “That’s what we kind of liked about him. He’ll fill out and get bigger as he goes. I don’t worry about that.”

The old ball coach is referring to former LSU standout Lewis Neal. Undersized as a defensive end, the 6-foot-2, 272 pound prospect actually led the Tigers in sacks his junior year posting 8.0. And he was known for coming up big in big games.

Although Neal investigated the possibility of leaving for the NFL early, he ultimately decided to go back to LSU for his senior season. But a switch to the 3-4 defense didn’t help his professional cause, as he recorded 60 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2016.

Lewis signed with the Cowboys following April’s NFL Draft, which appears to be fortunate for the undrafted free agent. Dallas has suffered a slew of suspensions at defensive end, with pass rushers Randy Gregory, David Irving and Damontre Moore all serving multiple game bans.

This opens the door for a player like Lewis Neal to be able to earn an active roster spot and prove he belongs on this Dallas Cowboys team. So far, it appears the 22-year old undrafted free agent is making the most of his opportunity.

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