By Art Garcia
With the schools starting across Fort Worth ISD, a number of students returned to the classroom after a summer spent reading and engaging their minds in programs such as the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.
The CDF Freedom School is sponsored by the AB Christian Learning Center, one of eight partner agencies that participated in the 2018 Summer Scholars Cohort. The AB Christian Learning Center is a non-profit faith-based organization which provides tools to help students have an equal opportunity to achieve a quality education and become a contributing member of society.
The six-week CDF Freedom School supported children with high-quality reading and enrichment activities. The program, which ran from mid-June through the end of July, reached 120 disadvantaged youth in the Stop Six community from pre-K through fifth grade.
The full-day program, which included free breakfast and lunch, was built around an integrated-reading curriculum that encouraged full involvement from the students, which AB Christian Learning Center founder and executive director Loretta Burns refers to as “scholars.”
Curbing “summer slide” and getting scholars back to school ready to learn is the objective.
“If you don’t use the brain, then you’re going to lose knowledge,” Burns said. “Our scholars finish school in May and if they sit all summer and do nothing academically, then the schools will spend time re-teaching them information they had in the spring. If they’re engaged in academic summer activities that will prevent that knowledge loss.”
Discussions, writing assignments and other activities were tied into the reading curriculum. Guests from the community were brought to read to the scholars every morning before the curriculum started. Afternoons were devoted to culturally-enriching activities, such as field trips to museums, community service projects and visits to petting zoos.
Every scholar took a book home at the end of each week. The high-quality books, purchased by the Children’s Defense Fund, were carefully selected to be culturally relevant and engage the scholars in reading, writing and language acquisition.
“Our goal is to encourage scholars to love reading and to do that they need books at home as well,” Burns said.
Parents/guardians were required to meet with the program administrators once per week. Outside organizations also gave presentations, such as Fort Worth ISD stressing the importance of attendance and the UNT Health Science Center’s health fair emphasizing the value of healthy living.
Burns took great pride in the independent evaluation component of the program done by FWISD that allowed for a pre-examination of the scholars to determine reading grade level at the start of the six weeks and a post examination to asses progress.
“Schools are teaching our students how to read up until the third grade and then after third grade they’re reading to learn,” Burns said. “If a student has not learned how to read by third grade, then they’re going to be playing catchup the rest of their academic years. That’s why we lose so many students in dropping out of school.
“To get that child reading on grade level by third grade so they can be prepared to learn is the most important thing a parent can do.”