The Mount Airy Board of Education work session Tuesday was dedicated to presenting a summer school educational option for at-risk kindergarten through fifth-grade students known as Freedom School.
Project Coordinator Jesse Hiatt and Site Coordinator Lee Hunter told the board about the project’s components and goals.
“We are very excited about this,” said Hiatt. “We want to give our student scholars a head start, a healthy start, a safe start and a moral start to their educational journey.”
The two said 50 students, 20 from kindergarten and 30 from grades first through fifth, had been identified for the pilot program scheduled for June 17 through July 27 with students off on July 4 and 5. It is funded by a grant from the Children’s Defense Fund. Hiatt explained that five hours of the Freedom School’s daily agenda will be spent on activities making reading fun for the participants.
Other components of the program include family engagement, a social activity day, nutritional and mental health, and leadership development. Meals are provided for the students. A group of six college students majoring in education have been interviewed and trained as leadership interns for the Freedom School and will teach classes of 10 students. Guest readers from a variety of professions are being sought to help students as well.
“They will show our student scholars that reading is an important part to their profession,” said Hiatt, who said he has also contacted Sen. Richard Burr’s office to see if he could Skype the Freedom School students as a guest reader. Typically, a Freedom School’s morning begins with what is called Harambee, which is a sharing and motivational singing activity. A moment of silence and morning announcements will follow Harambee and then students will go to their classrooms.
Hunter characterized the school as a multicultural program that teaches children they can make a difference. She said it includes an Integrated Reading Curriculum (IRC) which emphasizes the connections between life, literature and citizenship.
“IRC books, which are chosen by the Defense Fund, feature characters that make a difference in others lives and their community,” said Hunter. “It expands children’s capacity to dream. They can actually believe. This is not so much about the mechanics of reading, it’s to help non-readers fall in love with reading. This is potentially a game changer for students, families, educators and their community.”
Hunter said the program chose a modest beginning of 50 students at the Jones Intermediate School location to allow the program’s debut to make a greater impact. Servant scholar leaders were trained in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee.
“We want to empower children who are trying but just missing one little piece of the puzzle,” added Hunter.
She explained that the Freedom School day will conclude at 3 p.m. and will end with enrichment activities. Two days a week off-campus enrichment activities such as swimming, soccer, a downtown scavenger hunt or horseback riding will be held with two days of on-site enrichment activities being held at Jones. On-site activities could include art, chess, composting, baking or sign language.
“If a scholar says can we? Our response is yes we can,” added Hiatt. He told the board the program will rely heavily on the talent of the scholar leaders. Every Friday, the school will hold a presentation day to show their accomplishments to families. He said another important part of the project is every Friday student will receive a book which they take home.
School Superintendent Dr. Gregory Little said nationally two-thirds of the reading gap in students occurs because of summer reading loss. He said this knowledge creates a moral obligation in the school district to provide opportunities for its students.
The meeting began with board member Kate Appler saying the Mount Airy Rotary Club’s annual reading program at Tharrington Primary School held four reading sessions with 75 students at each session. She said the group would be contributing $1,200 to the school in addition to books bought by Rotarians to help the school.
“We were pleased to interact and support literacy,” said Appler. She said high school student and adult volunteers both helped in the effort with was for students in kindergarten and first grade.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.