|Not your ordinary summer camp|
Nationally, Freedom Schools serves upwards of 12,600 children in 108 cities and 29 states, according to its website. Locally, the six-week program is designed to reduce the “summer slide” phenomenon that many students experience during their three months off, as well as improve reading skills.
Staff also works to increase awareness of social/community advocacy responsibilities and empowerment, develop leadership skills, and introducing students to healthier lifestyle choices, including nutrition.
There’s another, little discussed but vitally important benefit of the program but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Students participating in the program, referred to as scholars, range in age from five to 15. I traveled with the scholars to Covert, Mich., to visit Barbara Norman, a feisty blueberry farmer who owns more than 50 acres. The field trip agenda included a presentation by Norman, lunch, a round of blueberry picking and a short stop at nearby Lake Michigan.
|Farm owner Barbara Norman 'planting seeds'|
It was cool and cloudy when the two buses headed out that morning. Since it was July, everyone fully expected a hot and balmy day with temperatures in the 70s or higher, so there were lots of t-shirts and shorts. But it end up remaining in the upper 50s most of the day. The skies were gray but the attitude of the scholars was nothing but sunshine.
Above chattering teeth, Ms. Norman conducted her brief presentation, which included her proud history as a third generation African American farmer in the region. A former national Small Farmer of the Year (U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service), she held the scholars’ attention with a mixture of charismatic charm and uplifting frankness.
Youth being youth, there was some degree of cutting up going on by a very few, on the bus and while picking blueberries. However, observing the staff managing the more energetic kids was a thing of beauty. Each employed a nurturing discipline rooted in the art of ‘teachable moments’. The result: sassing scholars quickly came to terms with their unacceptable behavior and quickly fell back line.
Turns out Freedom Schools is about much more than reading. An equally important component of the program is its ability to help instill resilience among its scholars. That is, the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after experiencing misfortune. It is a personal characteristic social scientists are examining with greater appreciation these days, particularly as it relates to at-risk youth where it can be lacking.
|Can I pick 'em or can't I?|
These days we’re so consumed with testing students on reading, writing and arithmetic that we forget about other equally important aspects to education and learning. As such, what we refer to as “soft skills” are actually quite hard to acquire attributes. This is especially true if students come from a place where such qualities are not effectively modeled by parents or other adult caretakers, such as teachers.
Freedom Schools completed its 2014 program in July. Its closing celebration ceremony was filled with fun, music and song. If you weren't there, you missed something very special.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.