Congregation’s Literacy Program Helps Students Succeed in School
Literacy skills, character strengths and a community that believes in success. Those are the three fundamental components behind the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Program, a summer literacy initiative with a focus on children who need but cannot afford summer learning opportunities.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, the local organization Freedom School Partners works with a number of organizations to provide Freedom Schools across the city. C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church is one of nearly 20 churches and organizations participating, and is the only African American Presbyterian church involved in the program.
“This is a six-week literacy-based program targeted for students who attend public schools in Charlotte and have been identified as low-performing and at-risk students in their schools,” said Doris Boyd, ruling elder at C.N. Jenkins. “The church serves a diversified population of 45 to 50 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.”
Each summer, C.N. Jenkins recruits approximately 75 volunteers for Freedom Schools. The teacher/student ratio is 1:10, with five classrooms. College students with a passion and commitment to help children are employed as interns and teachers. Each intern undergoes 90 hours of training on curriculum delivery, classroom management and youth development before stepping into a class.
Parents are also encouraged to be a part of the program through workshops and volunteer opportunities. Boyd said church members support the program through the giving of their time, talent and monetary donations. Members of various organizations also prepare and serve a hot breakfast weekly.
“Students are fed breakfast, lunch and a snack. Also, members volunteer as chaperones for field trips to local museums, pools, theaters and parks,” added Boyd. “Guests from the community come to read aloud to the students daily, and activity leaders share skills such as a hobby or motivational speech. Members also assist with parent meetings by welcoming parents as well as preparing and serving dinner.”
The church, like other Freedom School Partners, also provides transportation for the students to and from the program.
“The six-week Freedom School program prevents students from being a victim of summer learning loss,” said Boyd. “It is magical. It works and is contagious.”
The University of North Carolina–Charlotte conducted research on the Freedom Schools Program and found that a majority of participating students improve their ability to read during the summer, while students who do not participate tend to lose ground.
The program reflects the PC(USA)’s “Educate a Child, Transform the World” campaign, a joint effort of Presbyterian World Mission and Compassion, Peace and Justice. By joining with its partners throughout the United States and the world, the PC(USA) has set a goal of providing high-quality education for 1 million children by the year 2020.
Rick Jones, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
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O Lord, our God! You have called us to be witnesses to your love, grace, and mercy in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Thank you for the Holy Spirit that gives us the courage to do so and the means to accomplish such. Amen.