One hundred girls and boys ages 8 to 12 learned about the difference they can make in all aspects of their lives during the 2014 Claflin University GENTSS and GEMSS Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Summer Program, held June 16-July 25 at Claflin.
“Claflin University’s CDF Freedom Schools is indeed a special program,” said Dr. Valerie Harrison, dean of Claflin’s School of Education and executive director of the University’s Freedom Schools Summer Program. “It involves each participant in hands-on activities that focus on reading enjoyment, building confidence and civic participation. Preparation for successful futures is at the heart of our efforts.
“The structure of this proven national program makes it work for the education majors who serve as teachers and the young scholars who participate in the program.”
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. 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.
Since 1995, more than 100,000 K-12 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience, and more than 13,000 college students and young adult staff have been trained to deliver this empowering model. Claflin is just one of more than 150 program sites in 108 cities and 29 states helping children to generate more positive attitudes toward learning.
This was the first year that girls were invited to attend the previously all-male program at Claflin, Harrison said. And the number of participants was doubled.
“The components of the program remained essentially the same, resources were added and activities were enhanced,” she said. “Collaborative relationships infused expert presenters, loyal volunteers and additional materials. Engaging STEM activities, stimulating drama experiences and healthy lifestyle activities made learning fun.
“I must say that the Claflin Family stepped up, and in addition to expertise, available space was also shared. The results have been positive for everyone.”
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.
Volunteers from across campus and beyond were also invited to participate in the Freedom Schools’ Read Aloud program. Through activities and readings during the six-week program, children were encouraged to believe that they can make a difference in themselves, their family, their community, their country and the world.
“This year, we offered our scholars a multifaceted program that focused mainly on the Freedom School Integrated Reading Curriculum, along with some other initiatives like STEM, dance, healthy lifestyles, public speaking and leadership, and arts and crafts,” said Nathan Chaplin III, project director for Claflin University GENTSS and GEMSS CDF Freedom Schools. “Last year, approximately 72 percent of scholars maintained or gained in instructional reading level and did not experience summer learning loss.”
On Wednesday – during the final week of this year’s Freedom Schools at Claflin – the program hosted a National Day of Social Action. Students, Freedom Schools’ leaders, parents and interested community members joined the students in Ministers’ Hall for a session about voting and to hear each student’s essay on the importance of voting, particularly in support of early childhood education and learning. Voting-age individuals were asked to cast a ballot that included their pledge to vote.
The event coincided with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, in which college students across the country traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and educate their children in Freedom Schools.
Students’ essays during a mock election – titled “Get Out the Vote for Me” – encouraged those in attendance to be conscientious of who and what they are voting for, and voiced the students’ concerns about such quality of life issues as the lack of artistic and physical education programs in schools or nice community playgrounds to the rise of bullying and people using profanity.
“Voting is important because it gives citizens of America a way to voice their opinions,” rising seventh-grader Jaylen Jenkins said. “Many of the rights and privileges that we have today wouldn’t be here without voting. When voting, it is important to consider that the children of today will live under the laws that your statesmen and representatives advocate. So when voting, really understand your representatives’ policies and what they stand for.
“Remember, we are the next generation, so vote for us.”
On Thursday evening, the program wrapped up with a finale featuring two short theatrical productions – “Simi Finds His Destiny” and “The Magic Tree” – presented by the students, as well as student, sponsor and collaborator recognitions and gifts for the participants from the Links.
“We are very proud of you, and you can be anything that you want to be,” Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale said, addressing the students. “We believe in you, and we know that you will become visionary leaders. We know that you will become scholars, researchers, creators and innovators. You will become entrepreneurs. You will become productive citizens of the world.
“If you believe, you can do anything.”
To the parents, student leader interns and other adults who made Freedom Schools possible, Tisdale said, “We are indeed very pleased to work with you in bringing this very special program to our community for our local children. It does take the entire community – all of the collaborators – to make it happen.”
“Let’s keep working together as an Orangeburg community, working for our children – the next generation of visionary leaders,” he said.
This year’s program sponsors included The Sunshine Lady Foundation, Claflin University, the Black College Fund and Edisto Federal Credit Union.
“A special thank you goes to Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale, Dr. Karl Wright and the entire Claflin University Family for supporting the continued existence of CDF Freedom Schools Summer Program,” Harrison said. “We appreciate our collaborators, the members of the Orangeburg Chapter of the Links Inc., for giving their time, talent and resources for parenting and afternoon activities.”
For more information about CDF Freedom Schools, visit http://www.childrensdefense.org/programs-campaigns/freedom-schools/.