BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
For a reading-focused program, there was a lot of singing and dancing. Building enthusiasm helps.
“Come on in. Come on in. Come on in. Come on in,” a two-sided row of principals, college interns and other helpers sang inside the Northview Junior High School entrance doors as Freedom School participants walked into the Brooklyn Park building on Tuesday, July 16, a week before the six-week program would end.
The program has enrolled 84 students at Northview and 75 at Brooklyn Junior High. It is the first year that Osseo Area Schools has participated in the Children’s Defense Fund program that focuses on multicultural curriculum through reading and participation among students, the program staffers and teachers.
Tony Hudson, Osseo Area Schools director of educational equity, said Freedom Schools have proven to help close the “summer reading slide,” when students’ summer vacation and typical lack of reading leads to a decline in reading comprehension and ability. It also enhances learning equity among all students of various backgrounds, he said, in a manner that is not typical during the school year.
Freedom Schools are at 181 sites across the country, Hudson said, including 12 in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The program is tied to curriculum based on independent research that shows the reading stopgap helps students perform better and grow, Hudson said. Technical aspects of the program are tied to themes, he said, allowing participants to realize that they can make a difference in themselves, their families, their communities and the broader world.
“Every single book that they read is aligned with those concepts,” Hudson said.
For the kindergarten through sixth-grade students, a day begins with breakfast, followed by Harambee, which means “let’s get together” in Swahili, said Courtney Gulyard, site coordinator for the Freedom School program at Northview. After a staff member read from a book to the entire group, Harambee allowed students to sing, chant and cheer through a mix of call-and-response and songs. The song routine included the general motivator “Something inside so strong,” by Labi Stiffre and another song that opened with attention-getting, heavy bass included the lyrics, “touch it, read it, learn it, teach it, everybody talk about it,” to promote reading, learning and engagement.
After Harambee, students broke up into classrooms to work on individual reading and curriculum that was intended to keep them engaged. That includes collaborations between grade and age levels, including college students who help facilitate the program.
Sixth-grade twins Calasha Jones and Calaya Jones said the program has been better than trying to find ways to occupy their summertime at home. It was different from any normal summer school program, they said, with the Harambee, reading an intense book and going on a weekly field trip, such as indoor rock climbing that was scheduled for later that week.
“We’re going rock climbing this week,” Calasha Jones said with a smile. “… I think it’s gonna be cool. I just like saying it to everybody.”
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