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CDF Freedom Schools—Leveling the playing field

Simone Johnson | 6/3/2016, 1:03 p.m.
From correcting low self-esteem issues to learning fractions, the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools program knows no bounds.
CDF Freedom Schools Contributed

From correcting low self-esteem issues to learning fractions, the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools program knows no bounds. The CDF Freedom Schools program trains children to believe in themselves and make a difference not only in their own communities but also for the world. Part of CDF Freedom School’s mission is to level the educational playing field for all students through summer programs and progressive learning. Patti Hassler, vice president of communications and outreach for the program said that it has a “huge impact.”

“It helps children fall in love with reading and makes learning fun,” said Hassler, “We are talking about children, particularly poor children with limited resources. We want to expand their world through books and all sorts of other opportunities that we provide through Freedom Schools.”

The CDF Freedom Schools program was inspired by the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in 1964. The mission of that program was to encourage the community to work together to protect the rights of Mississippi’s Black residents. As a result, a spark of social and political activism was stirred around the country, as well as within many Latino New York youth. Today the legacy is continued through CDF Freedom Schools where more than 390 students are served in New York at five sites.

In a Times and Democrat article, 9-year-old Hailey Gibson, a student at Whittaker Elementary School said, “I had a chance to meet new friends, but I enjoyed learning about my history by reading the book ‘Separate but Not Equal.’”

Janay Graham an instructor for the program showed her love through Twitter and wrote,

“Words cannot describe how amazing my summer was at #CDFFreedomSchool ... Or maybe they can. #IWantTheSummerBack”

The Rev. Martha Overall of St. Ann’s Church of Morrisania in the Bronx explained how meaningful the program was to both parents and children. “With slots for 100 students, and a waiting list of an additional 50, parents start calling for the following summer as soon as fall rolls around,” said Overall.

This summer, Riverside Church will be accepting donations to support the new Freedom School

Program that will serve 50 students in Harlem. The Rev. Kevin Vandiver, an instructor at the new site said, “We recognize the need here at the Riverside Church as it is a strong vein in the community. We consider it to be the word of the gospel and social activism that will help us through literacy eliminated the cradle to prison pipeline that incarcerates Black and brown bodies.”

The school is still recruiting kindergarten to eighth-grade students, especially sixth to eight graders. The program provides students with two meals a day, as well as trips to enriching sites such as the Metropolitan Museum, all for free.

The appreciation and need for the program runs deep, not only in the communities but also within those that work at the sites. Samantha Levine, the communications director for CDF-NY stated, “Executive director, Naomi Post, and her family have personally been involved in the program for years. Her son was a servant leader and her church sponsors a Freedom School, for which she and her husband fundraise.”