UWF in the Community

‘Freedom School’ empowers young students through literacy and cultural education

Some local children are spending their summer gaining reading skills and cultural knowledge at Central Gulf Coast’s Freedom Schools. Thirty children in grades kindergarten through five are benefiting from the six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program. In just its second year, the program received over 100 applicants this year, more than three times the applicants from last year.

UWF faculty and several alumni assist with teaching and reading to children at the Children's Defense Fund Freedom School of the Central Gulf Coast on June 24, 2021 at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Pensacola, Florida.

This year the Central Gulf Coast Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School provides funding for 30 students to participate in the program which is being held at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Pensacola. The mission of Central Gulf Coast CDF Freedom Schools is to provide a free literacy and cultural enrichment program which empowers children from low-income families to excel and believe in their ability to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, country and world with hope, education and action.

Dr. Karen Evans, a faculty member in the Department of Teacher Education and Educational Leadership in the College of Education and Professional Studies serves as the project director. Evans assists with project management and planning.

“This program is designed to empower and support underserved students,” Evans said. “All of the students were at or below reading level and need extra support so they can catch up or go ahead of their grade level. It’s wonderful to be able to see them grow academically. The curriculum emphasizes empowerment and is designed to put role models in front of them, show them to set high goals and achieve their dreams.”

The curriculum focuses heavily on reading but includes other elements. Mornings are filled with a reading curriculum and in the afternoon, field trips, guest visits or STEM or athletics activities are planned for students.

“I get to read a lot of books, we read one book each day, and on Fridays we get to bring one home,” said seven-year-old Brenda Kimeli. “On Fridays, I love to go on field trips.”

Participants are taught by servant leader interns. Servant leader interns are college students or recent graduates. The school has two site coordinators, both teachers in area public schools, and one, Briana McCreary, is a graduate of the UWF M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program and was selected as the 2022 Escambia County Teacher of the Year. McCreary helps servant leader interns prepare for lessons, provides support in the classrooms and organizes the activities.

My favorite part is Harambee!, the time that we come together to start the new day,” McCreary said. “Harambee includes read aloud guests from within the community as well as positive and energetic activities to empower the scholars.”

The CDF is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure every child a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, safe start and a moral start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. A program of the Children’s Defense Fund, the Freedom Schools project has 181 sites in 28 different states. The program is currently in its fifth week. The camp will end July 23.

For more information about the Children’s Defense Fund, visit https://www.childrensdefense.org/programs/cdf-freedom-schools/.