A summer sabbatical studying local and statewide trends in urban literacy sparked a new goal for Dr. Lakia Scott. As an assistant professor in the Baylor School of Education, Scott set out to examine program models that could benefit Texas elementary students who struggle in reading achievement.
“In addition to conducting research on various school districts, types of schooling, and other programs in the nation, I found that the Freedom Schools Program, sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), were widely known in some areas, but less popular in others,” she said. “So I dedicated my field research to learning from program directors, site coordinators, teachers and students from various sites in Texas.”
CDF Freedom Schools are summer and after-school literacy programs for children who might not otherwise have access to books or other educational resources outside of school. The summer programs are designed to help curb summer learning loss by using an integrated reading curriculum that is developmentally appropriate and culturally relevant. CDF partners with local schools, universities, congregations, charities, community organizations and — in some cases — juvenile justice centers, to put on the programs.
After visiting six Freedom Schools in the state, Scott believes that Waco could benefit from such a program and hopes to encourage Baylor to be a partner site with CDF. In addition to the service to area students, she said, the program could provide training for pre-service teachers in Baylor School of Education’s teacher-preparation programs.
“SOE students would stand to benefit greatly from a Freedom School experience,” Scott said. “In addition to the dynamic curriculum features, students are privy to learning chants and celebratory movements from the Harambee festivities — all of which could be directly implemented in classroom routines and instruction.”
Scott visited schools in Houston, Beaumont, Fort Worth, Plano and Austin. In Fort Worth’s CDF Freedom School at Community Missionary Baptist Church (the only one of its kind for having an all-male student population), Scott served as “guest reader” for the day. “Each day, a guest reader brings a book to read, and afterward the students ask questions about it,” she said. “The book I chose to bring was Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson. The book is a lesser-known text, but has an inspirational lesson that students definitely resonated with.”
The Baylor School of Education also played a role in Scott’s visit to Community Missionary Baptist Church. She brought gifts of lanyards, ear buds, pencils and pens from the SOE. The SOE’s iEngage program donated Baylor T-shirts, and the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society in education donated spiral notebooks for the students.
Scott set out to answer questions to better understand how to increase literacy achievement among African-American students, what culturally affirming strategies are most effective with African-American students, and how to guide pre-service educators who aspire to work with urban learners. She found that Freedom Schools were a most effective model for all, but give students so much more in terms of cultural capital, sense of belonging, and a love and enjoyment for reading.
“The Freedom School movement is important because it provides minoritized youth with educational enrichment opportunities over the summer weeks that focus on building literacy skills in a culturally relevant, engaging and highly motivational setting,” she said.
In addition to her dreams of bringing a Freedom School to Baylor, Scott also plans to write about her summer research studying urban literacy programs by crafting a book on what works for urban students. A major part of the text will elaborate on her experiences with CDF Freedom Schools.
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