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Freedom Summer Schools Spur Student Growth

Marian Wright Edelman | 6/7/2012, 2:16 p.m.

When Kyla was in the third grade, she failed the state-required end-of-grade tests at her Charlotte, N.C. elementary school. Her grandmother was worried that summer school wouldn't be fun, but then she heard about the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools program, and she knew Kyla would love the program and learn at the same time. Kyla's principal agreed that she could participate in the CDF Freedom Schools program on the condition that Kyla retake her tests in the middle of the summer. When she did, she passed with the highest possible score. Kyla gave her CDF Freedom Schools experience the credit, especially the way the program is designed to foster a love of reading: "The stories we read in Freedom School, I could relate to, and we got to keep our books at the end of each week so I could read them again at home."

Kyla wasn't alone--an evaluation of Freedom Schools run by Freedom School Partners in Charlotte found summer learning loss staunched for 90 percent of the children served and 65 percent of the children showed gains in reading, sometimes by one or even two grade levels. And Kyla's success didn't stop. She returned year after year to the Freedom Schools summer program, and when she "graduated" at the end of eighth grade began training for a Junior Servant Leader Intern position that allows high school student volunteers to spend their summers with Freedom Schools serving as classroom helpers. Kyla will return as a second year Junior Servant Leader Intern this summer.

Francisco had his own transformation: when he began the Freedom Schools summer program he was a very shy fifth grader who wouldn't read aloud, was reluctant to talk, and would barely raise his eyes to speak his name. But the Freedom Schools instilled a new sense of confidence in him along with a love for books, and by the end of the summer he was volunteering to read aloud. Pauline, one of the adult volunteers at a church-sponsored Freedom Schools site, was Francisco's school lunch buddy during the year and was thrilled by the difference the program was making for her young friend. Francisco and his mother began attending the church and Pauline and other congregation members who had seen him blossom over the summer were able to continue supporting Francisco after the summer ended. By Christmas, something wonderful happened that would hardly have seemed possible just a few months earlier: Francisco was chosen to play Joseph at the church's Christmas Eve pageant. He proudly delivered his lines over a wireless microphone at the service in both English and Spanish for the whole congregation to hear and applaud.

Kyla and Francisco are just two of the thousands of children for whom Freedom Schools has made an enormous difference. The program provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem, and generates more positive attitudes toward learning. Children are taught using a model integrated curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components: high quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational leadership development; and nutrition, health, and mental health. More than 90,000 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience since 1995. Now almost 12,000 children are about to have their own Freedom Schools summer at 177 sites across the country.