Busta’s Organization of the Week: Teaching scholars the love of reading

Busta’s Organization of the Week: Teaching scholars the love of reading
July 19
18:51 2022

By Busta Brown

For The Chronicle


If you’re looking for something fun and exciting for youth this summer, Freedom School is exactly that. When kids tap into their imagination, they open up a whole new world, where all of their hopes and dreams come true. Freedom School is a six-week literacy program that provides a research-based and multicultural model that fosters a love for reading in scholars in grades K-12.  

“What we do stemmed from the civil rights movement, from the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964. When they were fighting for voter registration rights for Black people. College students from around the country came to Mississippi to provide Freedom Schools to students in an effort to keep Black youth safe and giving them rich educational experiences that were not offered to them in public schools,” shared Rashawn Meekins, lead coordinator of Winston-Salem Freedom Schools and project director of Kimberley Park Elementary Freedom School. 

Rashawn added that the program also exposed Black and brown children to different subjects and literature they would not otherwise get exposed to during that time. Freedom School is not your traditional school. All of the literature that is read by scholars during the summer program deals with people who look like them. 

“The literature also deals with situations Black and brown children may deal with in their community. We have books that may talk about how to overcome homelessness and other topics they face daily,” said Meekins. 

The program aligns with the Common Core standards, along with social and emotional strategies. What I love most about the Freedom School Summer Program is that scholars do not “sit and get.” They are using their imagination, which allows them to take control and be creative. 

The students learn about the power of communicating as well. Rashawn said, “They have conversations about situations that they normally would not get to have within a normal classroom. It allows them to be more open and vocal about what matters to them, and it’s all fostered around a book.”

Another positive about the Freedom School Summer Program is, if your child isn’t on grade level reading, it’s OK. “In our classrooms, we read as a group. When you come into our classrooms, scholars are sitting in a circle. This fosters a sense of community within the space. The scholars do not sit at desks and chairs until it is time for them to collaborate during cooperative group activities where they produce projects and different products that help them to work together with conflict resolution activities.” 

The lesson plans are written out and focused around the theme “I can make a difference.” 

“Each week there’s a different theme. Week one is, I can make a difference in myself. Week 2, I can make a difference in my family. Week 3, I can make a difference in my community. Week 4, I can make a difference in my country. Week 5, I can make a difference in my world. And Week 6, I can make a difference with hope, education and action,” said Rashawn. 

The program has a research-based curriculum created by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). The students also receive a pre and post assessment as well. “In the first five days, the scholars are assessed using The Basic Reading Inventory, and then they do a post assessment at the end. Those results are forwarded to CDF to analyze and they provide us with the results and data on how scholars performed as it relates to summer learning loss and/or gain over those six weeks,” she said. Included in this data are the results from surveys administered to parents, scholars and the servant leader interns on their experience with the Freedom School program. 

When I visited the Freedom School, I noticed how much fun and creative the students were while doing their lessons. Some took a scene from one of their books and acted it out or recreated it. Others would take a portion of a poem from one of the books and come up with a rap. Then a rap battle would jump off. It’s amazing to see how much fun they have with reading.  

The Freedom School programs begin each morning with breakfast, transitioning into a morning celebration called “Harambee,” which is a Kiswahili word that means “let’s pull together.” During this time, the scholars and interns listen to various read-aloud guests and participate in various cheers and chants to prepare the scholars for their day of learning. After Harambee, scholars then engage in a two-and-a-half hour Integrated Reading Curriculum, “which is the meat and potatoes of the Freedom School program,” shared Rashawn Meekins. 

At the Kimberly Park Elementary location, during the afternoon, Rashawn invites people from the Winston-Salem community to come share their talents and expertise in things such as bucket drumming, STEAM activities, acting, Lego robotics and dancing. The activities may differ at each site. “At the end of the six weeks, each site will have its finale. This is when the scholars get to showcase all of the things that they have learned during Freedom School,” said Meekins.

Carrie Woods is the executive director of T.U.R.N. (Through Unity Reformation is N-evitable) Freedom School. She shared how she became involved with the Freedom School program. “I heard about it back in 2020 from Dr. Amber Baker, former principal of Kimberley Park Elementary. I was so excited about it because it was a smooth transition from what T.U.R.N. was already doing.”

T.U.R.N. is a grassroots nonprofit organization that provides tutoring and enrichment services to “at-opportunity” youth during the academic year and Freedom School during the summer. This year T.U.R.N. became its own sponsor for the Freedom School program. Carrie would like to acknowledge one of their major funders, Woody Clinard, who has been very supportive over the years. He truly believes in Freedom Schools. 

“I would also like to acknowledge the United Way of Forsyth County Place Matters Initiative for its partnership since 2015.” 

How are students selected? “It’s different per site. At the school sites, scholars are selected on a first-come first-serve basis. When we get so many signed up, then we open it up to other scholars in that school’s community,” said Rashawn.  

Carrie Woods’ site is open to all students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools. “At the T.U.R.N. site we also accept charter school students, and students come from out of state every year as well. They start calling at the beginning of the year. Not all schools have a CDF Freedom School program, so the good thing about the community organizations, scholars are accepted from WSFCS, charter schools, or homeschooling.” 

Rashawn said some scholars come into the program hating to read, “but by the end of the six weeks, you can’t get them to put books down.” Some of the younger scholars ask their parents to read the books that they receive from Freedom School. Meekins shared that when the students leave the program, the love and passion they develop for reading makes the staff and parents proud. 

“At the end of the day when the parents are picking up scholars, if they come early, a lot of times you’ll see them crying, ‘My mama picked me up too early,’” Carrie Woods shared with great pride and a big beautiful smile.  

The different CDF Freedom School sites are: T.U.R.N. Freedom School, Lit City Freedom School, Ashley Academy Freedom School, Old Town Community CDF Freedom School, Forest Park Elementary Freedom School, Konnoak Community Freedom School, Wake Forest Freedom School, Kimberley Park Elementary Freedom School and Sunnyside Freedom School. The CDF Freedom School programs began on June 20 and extend through August 4, depending on the particular Freedom School site. The hours of the programs are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. for community sites and Monday through Thursday for school-based sites. 

For more information, visit the CDF Freedom Schools national website at:

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