Across the country, one in four kids grows up not knowing how to read at a basic level. The statistics are worse for children who come for under-resourced neighborhoods. One local program is helping to instill a love of reading in children while also continuing to boost their confidence to read on their own.
Freedom School is a six week summer program that focuses on intensive literary experiences as designed by the Children’s Defense Fund. This enrichment program is designed to increase literacy, social emotional skills, self esteem, cultural awareness and a love for learning for scholars who have completed kindergarten through 8th grade. Freedom School focuses on African‑American and other minority children in Springfield who need literacy support, as determined by their reading scores on standardized tests and by teacher recommendation.
The Springfield Urban League has been a host site for the past 15 years. Traditionally, they serve 120-130 students annually.
In 2019, 86% of participants achieved growth in reading skills through the more than 162 additional academic instruction hours they received.
How does this program boost student confidence and love for reading? Through access to books featuring people of color, so they can see themselves in the stories, and through their well-trained servant leader intern teachers.
Freedom School Everyday Heroes
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020’s program was facilitated 100% virtually. Freedom School was faced with the challenge of keeping programming engaging and fun. Student’s just finished the school year remotely and many no longer wanted to be engaged through a screen. With the help of a couple of their everyday heroes, Freedom School was able to adapt.
Servant Leader Interns, Blessing and Ahmaad, knew it was important to engage local scholars with a platform they were familiar with and felt comfortable.
“Both rose above the challenges to not only make sure that their scholars are provided with an impactful experience, they challenged one another to make it exceptional,” said Ashley Moore, the Director of Education & School Age Youth Programs at the Springfield Urban League. “It’s no surprise to receive a late-night or weekend text from Ahmaad and/or Blessing about their ideas for a program, sharing success they’ve had themselves, or news they’re sharing about their scholars’ successes.”
Both Blessing and Ahmaad developed an idea of creating weekly TikTok challenges to get students not only up and moving, but interested in important current events and topics of equality and social justice.
As level 3 servant Leaders, both put forth many hours behind the scene of training, planning and brainstorming for a virtual facilitation. Along with the rest of the Freedom School Team, Blessing and Ahmaad created commercials and advertisements encouraging scholars and parents to enroll in Freedom School.
“Both of these young people are driven to empower,” said Moore. “I can’t name too many young adults who are so compassionate about giving back to the younger generation.”
Overall, the virtual program showed great success and the scholars were excited to log in every day and were very engaged.
“This program gave me irreplaceable people in my life as well as memories that I’ll never forget,'' said Blessing, Servant Leader Intern at Freedom School. “Plus on top of all that I’ve been given grants and scholarships to help with college which only makes me want to succeed even more to help make their donations into my life meaningful.”
One of the reasons Freedom School has such a positive impact on children is how it creates nurturing environments that promote children’s strengths and abilities. The goal is for each scholar to reach academic milestones on time and successfully transition to middle school.
Not only does the program have an impact on the participants, but it also has an impact on the leaders.
“The real question is: what kind of impact hasn’t this program had on me,” said Blessing. “It not only helped me learn about my history and develop great skills growing up, but it gave me a safe place to turn to every summer despite challenges I faced. Once I was old enough to work, they provided me with income as well as a chance to give back and help mentor young people just as I was mentored throughout my life.”
Fuel a Love of Literacy
United Way of Central Illinois calls on local everyday heroes to create change in our community.
“Blessing and Ahmaad, both are the true definition of everyday heroes,” said Ashley Moore, the Director of Education & School Age Youth Programs at the Springfield Urban League. “Both are completely selfless and compassionate about giving back to the Springfield community. Even while juggling dorm life amidst the pandemic, both make time to continue to serve the Springfield community virtually!”
Too many children enter school without even the basic skills they need to learn to read and that can lead to a lifetime of gaps if not addressed each year. Reading is the foundation for all learning. Learning math, science, technology, history – mastering all of these subjects requires kids to have strong reading skills.
United Way of Central Illinois is proud to partner with the Springfield Urban League. To continue to offer this program to the children who need it most, we need you.
“Thank you so much to United Way donors,” said Ahmaad, Servant Leader Intern at Freedom School. “With your support it allows people to have hope and to keep pushing for success. With your help, we can continue a legacy of shaping well-rounded leaders within our community.”
Be an everyday hero and help fuel a love of literacy among Sangamon County kids. Give today.