For a second year, 60-plus elementary- and middle-school-aged students, all of whom hail from nearby Nathaniel Alexander Elementary school, are staking their claim to summer learning on the UNC Charlotte campus.
The students are enrolled in the UNC Charlotte Freedom School, developed by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) in 1995 to help close the equality gap in the U.S. education system. The free, six-week literacy program is modeled after efforts in Southern states in the 1960s to educate African Americans in sub-par schools.
Organizers designed the curriculum to “help children fall in love with reading, increase their self-esteem and generate more positive attitudes toward learning,” according to the CDF website. In addition, the Freedom Schools emphasize parent/family involvement, civic engagement, physical and mental health, and intergenerational servant leadership.
Last year, more than 10,000 children participated in Freedom Schools at nearly 200 sites around the country. Each site pays for books, food, field trips and stipends for staff.
The schools, typically hosted by churches, have been in the Charlotte region for more than seven years. UNC Charlotte was chosen last year as one of two new Charlotte sites, and became one of few sites in the country housed on a university campus. Following a successful first year, the UNC Charlotte site increased enrollment by 12 participants for summer 2011.
More than Students
Freedom School participants are referred to as “scholars” – not as students. The scholars are selected from schools with high percentages of students receiving free and reduced lunch. On a typical day, they are bused to the University, eat breakfast, begin their day with a 30-minute motivational celebration, and then delve into the proscribed integrated reading curriculum. A presentation by an outside speaker, field trip or other activity takes place in the afternoon, until 3:00 PM when the scholars depart for home.
– Lakisha Howell, Site Coordinator
At a time when test scores show a persistent achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students, proponents say programs such as Freedom Schools can improve outcomes. A 2010 study led by the Center for Adolescent Literacies in the College of Education found that the Freedom Schools model positively impacted children from kindergarten through eighth grade, with 90 percent of the participating scholars either growing or maintaining their ability to read by the end of the program. The results demonstrate that Freedom Schools are helping to successfully battle summer learning loss.
Throughout the program scholars are exposed to a wide range of activities, including trips to cultural venues, yoga, and community services projects. UNC Charlotte faculty from various disciplines host workshops for the scholars, and the scholars interact daily with college student interns, who receive extensive training from CDF to act as instructors and mentors.
The exposure the scholars receive to the University community and to the broader Charlotte community makes a big impression, according to Lakisha Howell, a UNC Charlotte alumna, second grade teacher, and site coordinator for UNC Charlotte’s Freedom School.
“When they interact with community leaders, faculty, staff, the interns…it shows them that more people care about them than just those in their immediate sphere,” she says.
Photo by Wade Bruton.