The Children’s Defense Fund/ Claflin University GENTSS Freedom Schools is more than a summer program. It’s a movement.
Wednesday afternoon, each of the nearly 50 male scholars stood before his peers to read letters he had written and show pictures he drew to state legislators and President Barack Obama concerning their feelings about gun violence. The scholars were reminded to speak loudly and project their voices. Those listening were told to respect and support the speakers. Each student was praised for his efforts and the feelings expressed were profound.
The activity, which was a part of the Children’s Defense Fund’s 2013 Social Action Day titled “Protect Children, Not Guns,” was more than a lesson about gun violence. It was also about respect, self-esteem, support for one another, leadership and poise.
“One thing about this program is you cannot hide,” said Dr. Valerie E. Harrison, dean of the Claflin University School of Education and executive director of the Claflin University GENTSS Freedom Schools. “It forces them to be out front and builds self-esteem.”
For the second year, males in grades 3-5 are participating in the Claflin University GENTSS Freedom Schools, focusing on literacy, cultural heritage, parent engagement, intergenerational servant leadership and civic engagement. In partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund, Claflin is one of over 150 program sites in 83 cities and 25 states helping children to fall in love with reading, increase their self-esteem and generate more positive attitudes toward learning. Since 1995, over 90,000 K-12 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience and more than 12,300 college students and young adult staff have been trained to deliver this empowering model.
“The Claflin University GENTSS Freedom Schools summer program provides positives for all involved,” Dr. Harrison said. “It allows the young scholars to cultivate their love for reading by engagement in a proven program that builds their self- confidence; education majors who teach the classes strengthen their effectiveness as classroom teachers; and Claflin University, with the support of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The United Methodist Church, The Sunshine Lady Foundation, Inc. and the Children’s Defense Fund, gives service to the community designed to positively impact future generations.”
The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program provides summer and after-school support for children and families through a model curriculum with five essential components: high quality literacy enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational leadership development; and nutrition, health and mental health. The program instills in children, youth and young adults the intrinsic value of reading by helping them build a family library by keeping a book each week, high achievement, community service and social action.
Additionally it promotes a multicultural curriculum, books, daily lesson plans and creative activities that are at the core of the Integrated Reading Curriculum and reinforces non-violent conflict resolution and cooperation. Freedom Schools encourages children to believe they can make a difference in themselves, their family, their community, their country and world.
“The Claflin University GENTSS Freedom Schools is a life transforming program,” said Nathan Chaplin, project director. “This program is designed to instill an undying desire to enjoy reading within our scholars. The desire to read will inspire them to boldly proclaim ‘I can make a difference in myself; I can make a difference in my family; I can make a difference in my community; I can make a difference in my country; I can make a difference in my world and; I can make a difference through hope, education, and action.’
“We are training our children today to be our leaders who will lead us into the next dimension of creative thinking, witty inventions, and intellectual prowess,” he said.
CDF Freedom Schools programs are staffed primarily by college students and recent college graduates who are committed to making life better for children. These “Servant Leader Interns” are expected to establish consistent relationships with the children. Intern Ramona Mackrey said the Freedom Schools program is effective because the students are having fun and learning simultaneously.
“The impact of the Freedom Schools program on its scholars is awesome,” she said. “Scholars are responding critically to text, learning how to work in groups, and are using their creative skills to produce work related to the day's curriculum along with many other positive events. What I love about Freedom Schools is that it is a stress-free environment, meaning scholars are not pressured or critically judged by their interns.”
The program’s impact on students is long-lasting. Servant leader interns and some scholars, all Black males, have moved into the teaching profession and are now teachers, assistant principals or principals. Gregory Scott, site coordinator, former scholar and a certified teacher said Freedom Schools has served as a source of motivation.
“The CDF Freedom Schools program has impacted my life tremendously” Scott said. “I was a scholar in the program, and then I became Servant Leader Intern. Afterwards I became a Site Coordinator and I currently serve as an Ella Baker Trainer. It is through these works that I’ve found my voice, my purpose, and my motivation to change the world!”
The Freedom Schools at Claflin began on June 17 and will run through July 31. Chaplin said they are hoping to expand the programs in the coming years to include males through the eighth grade. As for the letters and drawings depicting the scholars feelings about gun violence for the 2013 Social Action Day, four scrapbooks will be made and mailed to Rep. Tim Scott, Rep. James Clyburn, Sen. Lindsey Graham and President Obama.
“With the experience that I am gaining, I am discovering new avenues to reach and impact the lives of our future,” said Servant Leader Intern Arthia Simmons. “Moreover, I am truly inspired by the Freedom Schools Movement, and all it has to offer for children near and far.”