Center for Africana Studies and Culture/School of Education Freedom School

Students in the program with Dean Eitle.

The CDF Freedom Schools program is a six-week summer literacy enrichment program for K-12 students, called Scholars. The primary goal of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools program is to help prevent summer reading loss. Other program goals include increasing children’s love of reading, self-esteem, and cultural awareness.

To achieve these goals, the CDF Freedom Schools program engages students, schools, families, and communities through an integrated curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components:

  1. High-Quality Academic Enrichment
  2. Social Action and Civic Engagement
  3. Intergenerational Servant Leadership Development
  4. Nutrition, Health, and Mental Health
  5. Parent and Family Involvement

The key features of the CDF Freedom Schools program, making it uniquely different from other summer literacy programs consist of:

  • Harambee! (Let’s Pull Together): a 30-minute activity in which scholars, staff, and guests sing motivational songs, cheers, and chants, read aloud and share a moment of reflection.
  • Integrated Reading Curriculum (IRC): scholars read culturally relevant books that reflect their images and focus on the theme I can Make a Difference.
  • D.E.A. R. (Drop Everything and Read) Time: right before lunch scholars and staff drop everything and read for 15 minutes.
  • Respectful treatment of youth, referred to throughout the program as “scholars.”

Family Engagement.

The days begin with a morning meeting called Harambee (Kiswahili for “let’s pull together”) that energizes both scholars and staff and creates a positive atmosphere.

Another highlight of the morning is the presence of invited guests from the community who come and participate in the Read Aloud, where they read a book to the scholars and engage them in a question-and-answer session.

IUPUI students serve as Servant Leader Interns, who are trained both locally and at a national training in Knoxville, Tennessee. They teach the CDF Freedom School Integrated Reading Curriculum and lead afternoon activities based on art, science, and social justice, the scholars are also provided nutritious meals and snacks during the day.

Students in the program.

Patterned after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Schools that were embedded into the structure of the famed Freedom Summer in 1964. Freedom Schools were an alternative to Mississippi’s institutional neglect of Black school-aged students. The SNCC Freedom Schools pedagogical culture set an example of using education as a force for equity and social justice by using discussion and critical thinking as a way to inform its student’s self-determination.

IUPUI has sponsored a Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School site since 2017. Starting with George Buck Elementary that summer, and moving in the summer of 2018 to Ernie Pyle Elementary (School 90). The site serves 50 kindergarten through fifth-grade children. After the cancellation in 2020 due to the Covid-19 shutdown, the site returned in 2021. The site is co-sponsored by the Center for Africana Studies and Culture (CASC) and the School of Education.

More Info

Contact Les Etienne, CASC Founding Executive Director.