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The Voice of the Black Community

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Summer program allows freedom to learn
Freedom Schools helps at-risk kids academically
 
Published Thursday, July 16, 2009 10:34 am
by Michaela L. Duckett, For The Charlotte Post

It’s early Tuesday morning. While many kids are spending the summer sleeping in, over 50 children are up on their feet in Johnson C. Smith University’s band room dancing, clapping and raising their voices in praise. “Harambee,” they shout. “Allelujah,” they sing. It’s all part of their morning chorus.

PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III
Children from the Billingsville Elementary School district get in the spirit of the Freedom School Jubilee at Johnson C. Smith University.


It’s a great way to start the day and is part of the morning routine for the 600 students who attend one of the nine Freedom Schools in Charlotte. Following the Allelujah Chorus, the participants enjoy a “read aloud.” Today’s guest speaker at JCSU is Harvey Gantt, who has been involved with the program in years past.


“I think it’s a great program,” said Gantt. He said the singing and dancing is a wonderful way for the children to release their energy. “I think it is a great way for the kids to spend their summer.”


In addition to having fun, the sing-a-longs help the children learn. According to Tracy Montross of Seigle Avenue Partners, the rhythm helps children improve their reading skills.


SAP, which sponsors nine Freedom Schools in Charlotte, is committed to eliminating summer learning loss for at-risk students, who otherwise would not have access to affordable out-of-school-time care.


Education experts believe students who are not regularly engaged in reading can lose up to three months of academic progress over the summer. Freedom Schools work to stem the tide by engaging parents and recruiting teachers and volunteers to meet the challenges.


One of the biggest challenges is cost. Freedom Schools are free. Monique Johnson was overjoyed that her 10-year-old daughter, Quinaeja, is able to attend. “This is a great opportunity, one that I had never received. Before I always had to pay for afterschool and summer care,” she said. “I am so glad she got to come. I wish more kids could attend. A lot of kids want more opportunities to learn.”


SAP has been providing after school programs and parent education for nearly a decade. They work in collaboration with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to serve students at area elementary and middle schools with high percentages of at-risk students as determined by family income.
The Children’s Defense Fund of Washington, D.C., selected SAP in 2004 to host a CDF summer Freedom Schools. Freedom School is a literacy-rich program integrating reading, conflict resolution and social action in an activity-based curriculum that promotes social, cultural, and historical awareness.


“(SAP’s) grassroots effort and the public-private partnership is a model of community support for education for all our children,” said CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman. “Not only is Freedom School important to the students, helping them stay safe, engaged and focused on literacy during the summer, it is also important o our community at large.”


After school programs and summer learning opportunities have been shown to improve grades and academic achievement, increase school attendance and reduce drop out rates.


After participation in Freedom School, students begin the school year more excited about reading, self-confident and ready to learn, and participants score higher on reading achievement tests.


Executive Director Mary Nell McPherson, said she believes Freedom School has been successful at reaching African American students because the curriculum is so much more culturally diverse than what students may typically study in school. “Many of the books are about African American experiences and role models and written by black authors,” she said. “Children will be more engaged around stories from their own culture and experience.”


At the annual Day of Jubilee, over 1,000 students marched and carried banners to bring awareness to access to affordable healthcare for all children.


“Social involvement helps children stay in school because it helps create a healthier sense of self,” said McPherson. “Children who believe they can make a difference, and work at contributing to their community, come to believe in themselves and that what they do is important.”


The motivational song at Freedom School, “Something Inside So Strong,” includes a call and response, “I know I can, be what I want to be, if I work hard at it, I’ll be were I want to be.


“After six weeks of singing this every morning, it becomes part of the children, and they believe they have ‘something so strong inside,’” McPherson said.


Freedom Schools are always seeking volunteers and mentors to read with the children and share information about different career paths.
“We are especially looking for more African American men to get involved,” said Montross.
 To volunteer call (704) 371-4922 or email info@freedomschoolpartners.org. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box  37363, Charlotte, NC 28237.

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