Each morning the Montview Elementary Gymnasium is filled with an energy that is palpable. Led by college intern students in the daily Harambee, scholars are singing and chanting about rocking the Freedom School. Harambee is Swahili for “Let’s Pull Together” which is exactly what the 110 Village of Promise (VoP) scholars did this summer.
I visited Freedom School several times this summer and with each visit I became more impressed with the children and the program. The six-week curriculum focuses on preventing summer learning loss, enrichment and so much more. Gloria Batts, Executive Director of Village of Promise-CDF Freedom School, explains, “Freedom School was a natural progression for VoP. Our focus at VoP exposes children to holistic learning. Encompassed is the whole of the Freedom School model. Students deal with aspects in their culture, conflict resolution, focus on social action, and participate in the Social Action Day movement that takes place across the country.” Freedom School isn’t a program where kids come just to be occupied during summer vacation. Freedom School is designed to engage and encourage students from pre-k through eighth grade. The Freedom School program is an opportunity for a child to appreciate and develop a love of reading, to attend Bible class, learn about Robotics and dream of being an engineer. Scholars get to swim with their friends and also learn the importance of conflict resolution. Community engagement is emphasized and all students participate in the Social Action Day focusing on ending childhood poverty. Scholars learn that they are powerful and have the ability to make a difference.
Freedom School has a long history. Two Civil Right’s organizations started the Freedom School Project in 1964 in Alabama. The Children’s Defense Fund used the idea to start the Freedom School program in 1995. There are now Freedom Schools across the nation and Village of Promise is one of the largest groups to date.
Kenya Epps, Site Coordinator, was first introduced to Freedom School as a parent. In the beginning, her first thought was just a summer program but quickly realized the impact the program had on her son Kendall. Kenya said that Kendall would wake up singing and chanting and his energy was contagious. Her youngest child, Cayden, was ready to go to Freedom School too, he wanted to be apart of the fun. Cayden and Kenya received a pleasant surprise this year, Village of Promise Infant University Program decided to pilot the Pre-K Freedom School. Cayden got his chance to join in the fun and learning with Kendall. Kendall spent time with a reading specialist throughout the Freedom School program and in just six weeks he advanced from a 1.9 reading level to a 3.2. Kenya states, “Typically this is a down time and children slide backwards during the summertime. Kendall advanced unlike most of his peers that spent the summertime at a camp that wasn’t focused on reading.”
Kenya shared that she felt fortunate to be on the inner workings of the program; it is here that she realized the importance of the Freedom School program. Kenya states, “Kids need the enrichment to help them excel at reading and not lapse during the summertime. This program enables the children to enter a more relaxed environment beyond academics encouraging relationships and community development.”