At Freedom School, young scholars find inspiration and improved literacy skills

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Osseo Area Schools offers the six-week Freedom School program to help kids learn to love reading.


Melanie Hill, a U student, joined students during a morning program at North View Junior High in Brooklyn Park.


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Unlike a lot of summer school programs that kick off with a daily announcement over the intercom, Freedom School is ushered in each day with the rich, steady beat of drums.

“Scholars,” as they’re known here, motivate each other through dance and chants, an integral part of “Harambee.”

Swahili for “Let’s pull together,” Harambee sets the tone at Freedom School, a six-week summer literacy program being offered by Osseo Area Schools for the first time.

The program was created by the National Children’s Defense Fund in 1992 as a way to stop the summer reading slide. It was inspired in part by the 1964 Summer Freedom Project, a political action movement designed to engage black residents in Mississippi.

“It’s taking the spirit of that and transfusing that into our scholars so they can make a difference in themselves, they can make a difference in their community, so they can make a difference in the world,” said Tony Hudson, the school district’s equity director.

The free program is offered about 200 sites around the country, including a few in the Twin Cities.

Hudson said Osseo Area Schools decided to begin offering Freedom School because it was good fit with the district’s equity plan, which aims to boost achievement across a racially diverse student population.

‘It’s going to help’

In the Osseo district, the program, which runs through July 25, is being offered at North View Junior High and Brooklyn Junior High, two schools that serve large populations of students living in poverty. About 150 students are participating.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to help,” Hudson said. “You look at some of the research that [the National Children’s Defense Fund] has done, and children that were involved in Freedom School for more than one year, they not only eliminate the summer reading slide, they begin to experience the academic gains as well.”

Every day opens with Harambee. During that time, a community member comes to read to Freedom School students. So far this year, the Osseo program has hosted educators, a local artist and a Twins manager.

After that, students are broken into groups by age. Then they participate in a reading program led by college students, known as servant leader interns, who have been trained by the Children’s Defense Fund in Tennessee.

Many of those college students are interested in becoming teachers, or have a strong connection to the community that Freedom School serves.

Funmi Arogbokun, is a student at Butler University in Indianapolis who has a double major of chemistry and biomedical engineering. A Gates Millennium scholar who graduated from Osseo High School, Arogbokun said she decided to participate in Freedom School as a way of giving back to the community that inspired her.

She described the intern training in Tennessee as intense, but rewarding.

“It was exciting to be around that many people who want to change the world,” she said. “It was a passionate place.”

Hooking kids on books

Equally rewarding, Arogbokun said, is the daily interaction with Freedom School students.

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