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CDF Freedom Schools help prevent summer slide

By Yasmine Regester / June 28, 2019

Student Leader Intern, Serla Bullen Sata leads her scholars in a reading activity at Providence Baptist Church’s CDF Freedom School. Photo by Yasmine Regester/Carolina Peacemaker

Local churches and youth development organizations are doing their part to help students avoid the dreaded “summer slide” — the two month summer learning loss suffered by children not participating in summer enrichment activities.

United Institutional Baptist Church via Black Child Development Institute (BCDI)and Providence Baptist Church are two local churches hosting literacy camps this summer.

Through the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School national program, children and youth in grades K–12 can participate in a six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program designed to engage and improve student success outcomes.

Rooted in the Mississippi Freedom Summer project of 1964, the first Freedom Schools were developed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The curriculum taught was intended to counter the “sharecropper education” received by so many African Americans and poor Whites at the time through reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and civics classes. It also encouraged minorities to become politically engaged.

Scholars start the day with a self-esteem building song at Black Child Development Institute of Greensboro CDF Freedom School at United Institutional Baptist Church. Photo by Yasmine Regester/Carolina Peacemaker

In 1995, the first official CDF Freedom School sites opened in Bennettsville, S.C. and Kansas City, Mo. The Children’s Defense Fund, a non-profit child advocacy organization, has developed a national model that is followed in each of their 182 program sites across the country.

According to CDF data, in 2018, the program served 1,600 students across the state of North Carolina. The program is staffed primarily by college students and recent college graduates, called Student Leader Interns (SLIs) who lead the Freedom School students in daily activities. Student Leader Interns and Site Leaders spent a week in Tennessee this summer, training on the Integrated Reading Curriculum and how to lead their classrooms of scholars.

Serla Bullen Sata, a Biology major at Bennett College and first-year SLT at Providence’s CDF Freedom School, noted she was excited to begin daily lessons with the students.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know my scholars’ different personalities and building relationships with them to ensure that not only are they learning, but also enjoying themselves,” said Sata.

The CDF Freedom Schools program’s goal is to enhance children’s motivation to read and assure that they feel good about learning. The program also provides parent workshops that connect families to the right resources in their communities.

“This year’s CDF Freedom School theme is “I Can Make a Difference,” and each week a different aspect is added to encourage them to think about how they can make a difference in their family, in their community, and in the world,” said Edith Martin, executive director of Providence Baptist Church’s CDF Freedom School.

The Freedom Schools’ structured curriculum includes a group activity which allows each site to address the annual theme in their own way. This year’s group day of social action will be on July 17 with the theme, “Protect Children, Not Guns,” which focuses on gun awareness and gun violence prevention measures.

Each Freedom School starts their mornings the same, with ‘Harambee,’ which means “all pull together” in Swahili. It is also used in Kenya to promote a spirit of cooperation, unity and mutual responsibility. Morning ‘Harambee’ time is an energetic pep rally to begin the day filled with self-esteem building songs, chants and affirmations.

Community members are invited to join a Freedom School and act as Read-Aloud Guests to the children during the morning’s Harambee time. Students also receive two nutritious meals and a snack daily, as well as a book each week to build their home libraries. The program also includes a weekly field trip to museums, libraries, science centers and more.

Providence Baptist Church on Tuscaloosa Street opened its doors on June 24 to host its first CDF Freedom School this summer. Serving 30 students this year, the free program ends on August 2 and parents are only required to provide transportation to the site.

Providence’s site coordinator, Danielle Leathers, has worked with the CDF Freedom School program since 2012.

“This is a great opportunity for our scholars to see people out there that look like them with all types of occupations. They are also learning how to take on leadership roles in the classroom,” said Leathers, who is also a GCS teacher at Andrews High School in High Point.

Rev. Darryl Aaron, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church noted that the CDF Freedom School program allows the church to uplift the youth in the community.

“As a former teacher I am well aware of the achievement gap between our African American students and other students,” said Aaron. “This program really allows us to lean into our education values and give back to the community.”

The Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) of Greensboro is spearheading the CDF Freedom School program at United Institutional Baptist Church (UIBC) on East Market Street.

Rev. Johnny Freeman, senior pastor at UIBC noted that the church has offered summer enrichment programs in the past, but partnering with BCDI was an opportunity to reach deeper into the community.

While it is a literacy based program, SLTs and volunteers also find ways to engage the students through various activities such as, dance, song, yoga, art, screen printing, vision boarding and STEM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

“It’s not just the literacy piece, it is about engaging kids in a culturally responsible way,” Karen Thompson, BCDI executive director.

The first to host a CDF Freedom School in Greensboro, the BCDI program is now in its 8th year, with 90 students enrolled from grades K-5. The BCDI program also utilizes former Freedom School students, who are typically middle and high school students who have aged out of the program, as volunteers to assist the SLTs in their classrooms.

Guilford County Schools is also operating two CDF Freedom School sites this summer.


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