Read Lead CDF Freedom Schools scholars build self-esteem while increasing reading achievement levels. (courtesy photos)

Read Lead, an organization focused on literacy and leadership, partners with Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program to run four sites around Los Angeles, serving more than 200 youth between the ages of 6 to 17. The six-week summer program helps keeps the children’s brain active and ready for the challenges of the following school year by increasing their self- esteem, generating more positive attitudes toward learning and creating a love of reading.

The youth who participate in Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools are exposed to more than 60 books featuring heroes and heroines in settings that reflect their own cultural images and history.

“During the six weeks of programing, our scholars have gained up to five reading achievement levels,” said Cassandra Chase, co-founder of Read Lead. “Read Lead CDF Freedom Schools program scholars are going back to school ahead of their peers, ready and eager to learn.”

Scholars read with Jonathan Henderson, Project Coordinator, Black Rose Resource Center, CSUDH (courtesy photos)

According to a 2016 independent assessment of 99 CDF Freedom Schools sites in 26 states, 82.4 percent of children maintained or gained in instructional reading and did not experience summer reading loss.

Summer reading loss is one of the main factors that contributes to the reading achievement gap between lower-income students and their middle- and upper-income peers. In fact, some studies suggest it accounts for as much as 85 percent.

“The CDF Freedom Schools program stops summer learning loss by helping children fall in love with reading and supports them to make a difference in themselves and in their families, schools, communities, country and world,” said Shimica Gaskins, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund- California. “Our CDF Freedom Schools sites are key to empowering children and families to advocate for social justice through multicultural literacy.”

Each day, at every CDF Freedom Schools site, students participate in Harambee, which means “let’s pull together” in Swahili. Harambee has several components including Read-a-loud, where a guest comes to read a book and answer questions by the scholars; the singing of the CDF Freedom Schools program’s motivational song “Something Inside So Strong”; and cheers and chants which reinforce positive messages and infuses energy throughout the room.

“Holman UMC participates in the CDF Freedom Schools movement to prevent learning loss over the summer, and advance academic achievement through literacy, creativity and critical thinking. With social change at its core, the Freedom Schools program is yet another opportunity to disrupt the cradle to prison pipeline by providing a safe, positive and loving space for young people develop their character and leadership skills to serve their family, change their community, and transform the world.” Rev. Kelvin Sauls, senior pastor of Holman United Methodist Church.

“To me Freedom School is so special because at school you have to raise your hand, but here we can just speak up. You get to have fun and do activities.” Jayme Pollard, a first time student at Read Lead CDF’s Holman United Methodist Church site this summer.

“What makes Freedom School so special is the camaraderie between the staff and scholars, the energy and enthusiasm during Harambee, and the quality of literature our scholars receive through the curriculum.” Tatiana McGlorthan, one of Read Lead’s site coordinators.

“The Servant Leader Interns (teachers), they are role models for the scholars and most importantly, the kids are embracing books and learning during the summer.” Britney Winlock, parent.

In partnership with community-based organizations, faith institutions, schools, colleges, universities, and juvenile detention centers, CDF operates 21 sites throughout California, serving more than 1,500 children.