As part of a partnership with the national Children’s Defense Fund, the annual UNC Charlotte Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program attracts students from a number of area schools to the University City campus to take part in a multi-faceted enrichment program that focuses on enhancing reading skills, self-esteem and positive self-expression in a lively, engaging environment.
This year, nearly 100 students are participating in the program. Ranging in age from elementary to high school, the students represent a number of local schools, including Nathaniel Alexander Elementary, James Martin Middle and Vance High School.
Recently, the new Dean of the College of Education, Ellen McIntyre, served as the guest reader at the program’s signature Harambee ceremony. Harambee, which means "pull together," is a morning ritual where the student scholars are led in songs and chants to motivate and prepare them for the day’s activities. "This was such a nice opportunity to share my love of reading and show the students just how much fun you can have with a book,” said Dean McIntyre. "The students were polite, engaged and filled with lots of wonderful energy and I was delighted to see the commitment of the children and teachers to the program’s mission.”
Dean McIntyre expressed how important community engagement programs like Freedom Schools are to the University and the College of Education. "This experience reaffirmed my belief that what we do here in our classes has a huge impact on our entire community."
The Freedom Schools program was created by the national Children’s Defense Fund in 1992. The UNC Charlotte program is part of an organization called Freedom School Partners, which currently operates 19 sites in the Charlotte area, partnering with public schools, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and colleges and universities. Participation in the program is free for the student scholars who spend their summers engaged in learning activities that match their developmental needs and interests.
After the reading, Dean McIntyre and other College of Education faculty and staff were able to take part in the singing and chanting as well as offer a few words of encouragement to the students. "Programs like the Freedom Schools help us weave a greater sense of community among those we serve while exposing the next generation of leaders to educational opportunities," said Dean McIntyre. "I am truly committed to the College’s outreach and engagement efforts. For me it is one of the most important ingredients for helping those of us in the College of Education become even more effective in our work, which is an investment in our community, our children and our future."