Freedom Schools ignite love of reading, build skills

From Clay Grubb, a founding board member of Freedom School Partners, in response to “Lots of work left for Project LIFT” (March 29):

I am proud of Charlotte’s public and private commitments to educational opportunities for children – including the recent investment in Project LIFT. Helping our children is the best long-term investment we can make as a community. However, I was disappointed in The Observer’s article that portrayed Freedom School as programs that do not “yield results” immediately.

As a businessman who advocates that our community needs to prepare children to succeed both in school and in life, I believe the article overlooks an important point: Freedom Schools have a positive impact on children by igniting a passion for reading and building character skills such as resiliency, self-control and optimism – qualities that are difficult to measure but are just as important as those more easily captured in traditional standardized tests.

First, a little background: Ten years ago, Seigle Avenue Partners, a nonprofit created to serve the kids of the former Piedmont Courts in the Belmont neighborhood, adopted the Freedom Schools model created by the national nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund. The results were magical. The first 100 children started reading better from the intensive Integrated Reading Curriculum. With highly motivated college students as classroom leaders, role models and mentors, our scholars learned “The Freedom School Way,” substituting fighting and bullying with respect for others’ ideas.

From that beginning, Freedom School Partners (as the Charlotte organization is now called) has served 4,000 children who most need and can least afford quality summer opportunities. The organization has created a national model of engaging churches, synagogues, universities and corporations as partners in supporting Freedom Schools with sustainable, long-term commitments. In 2013, Freedom School Partners won the New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning award, a national recognition for quality summer programming. And four years of independent evaluation conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have shown that 90 percent of Freedom School scholars have gained or maintained their reading ability during the summer (compared with most low-income children who lose two to three months of reading ability).

At a time when we’re all focused on greater accountability, the Children’s Defense Fund and Freedom School Partners are working to expand the evaluation system to measure a broader impact on children. But for now our community should celebrate that its investment in Freedom School Partners is instilling the joy of reading and the strengths of character in preparing many children to return to school as more engaged students and to lead fulfilled, productive lives.