This is University District Freedom School Sunday 2016, where some of the kids and their teachers and staff sang “Something Inside So Strong,” by Labi Siffre, to folks at Summit on 16th UMC.

Now imagine that you are hearing and watching 120 kids and assorted adults (teachers, volunteers, staff, family folks) doing the song, and you will have an idea of how high-energy and motivational every day at Freedom School starts.

The morning all-school assembly is called Harambee, which means “Let’s pull together.”  My friend and fellow volunteer Juhi Banerjee got some pictures of Harambee on July 22, 2016, when Harambee was held outside for the first time this year.

Lots of cheers and chants go on during Harambee and of course we sing “Something Inside So Strong.”  We were a little bit afraid someone in the neighborhood would call the cops about the noise, but since this is in a campus neighborhood, maybe they are used to a lot of noise.

After Harambee the kids (“scholars”) and their teachers (“SLI’s”) go to their classes.  Juhi and I were D.E.A.R. volunteers in Ms. Nicole and Mr.Abou’s Level One Downstairs classroom, which has almost the youngest kids in the program (which is grades K-12), mostly the older six-year-olds. Last year I volunteered in the Level One Upstairs class, with the very youngest kids, so this year I had several of the same scholars from last year.  It’s great to see how they grow in maturity and skills.

But to back up, what IS Freedom School?

Freedom School developed out of Freedom Summer in 1964, a great civil rights event with its main purpose being to register voters in the South, specifically in Mississippi.   Article about Freedom Summer

The first Freedom Schools grew out of Freedom Summer there in Mississippi in 1964, and then they spread to other parts of the country.  Now Freedom Schools are administered by the Children’s Defense Fund.  Website of Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools    Freedom Schools aim to increase literacy, personal development and awareness of and involvement in social justice issues in the children enrolled in the Schools and also in their families.

In 2016, the University District Freedom School was located at 82 E. 16th Ave. in Columbus, Ohio, in the same building as Summit on 16th United Methodist Church; however, Freedom School is not a religious school in any way.  The School was an eight week free program of activities Monday through Friday 8 AM to 3 PM for kids grades K – 12, with free and nutritional vegetarian snacks, breakfast and lunch each day.  In addition there is an after-School daycare program for working parents for a sliding scale fee. Freedom School programming also seeks to involve the families of the kids and community volunteers.

On our way down to our classroom, Juhi and I snapped pictures of some of the staff members in their offices and in the kitchen:

So, let’s get back to what’s going on in Level One Downstairs on August 9th, 2016 when Juhi and I showed up for D.E.A.R. time armed with a camera.  Oh, and by the way, D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything And Read.  It is a half hour devoted to, you guessed it, reading.  The kids read by themselves or with each other or with a volunteer.  Before D.E.A.R. time officially began that day, we got some pictures in, first of Mr. Abou and Ms. Nicole:

And here are some of “our” kids, finishing their projects or chilling before reading time begins:

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Then it was time to read! The kids choose the books they want to read from the room’s library and then settle in on the couches, chairs, pillows, or floor to read. We didn’t take lots of photos during D.E.A.R. time, at Ms. Nicole’s request, so that the focus would be on reading and not on having pictures taken:

Right after D.E.A.R. time, it’s time to put the books away and line up for lunch.  This is an exciting and chaotic time:

Finally, time to dig into quesadillas for Taco Tuesday!  Juhi and I eat with the kids.  Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of this year’s magnificent chef, Ms. Ruby.  Juhi and I were there on Tuesdays and Thursdays which were Taco Tuesdays and Soul Food Thursdays.  Great menus!

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After lunch there are a variety of fun-filled activities, both on- and off-site, limited only by the imagination and planning of our unsung hero, Sile Singleton, who can barely be seen in the very first photo, singing and dancing to “Something Inside So Strong.”  She is on the very far-right edge of the photo, looking as pumped-up and enthusiastic as she always is!

Before I close, I simply must add this video of Steven, Kaylee and Jordyn practicing their routine to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jordan for the Freedom School Finale held the evening of August 11th:

Freedom School is over at the University District site for 2016.  I miss it!  Can’t wait for next summer’s Freedom School! 🙂