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Culver City Freedom School finales

Juliana D. Norwood | 8/11/2010, 5 p.m.

The Culver City Freedom School recently held a celebration to commemorate its last day of the summer literacy program, which teaches children the love of reading by using creative storytelling, social action, and high parental involvement.

The program also stresses the importance of civic engagement, and teaches children aspects of their history that, most do not receive as a part of their regular curriculum.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has been very involved with the freedom schools, and is in support of their diligent efforts to improve the lives of youth in the community.

"I have been thrilled to visit each of the Freedom School programs in the county this summer. I have watched kids become excited and inspired through reading and interactions with one another in a structure that was created by famed educator Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). People who believe inner city children are not capable of reading and comprehending material at or above their grade level need to see the success of the Freedom School program right here in our community," said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The Culver City school is one of 14 such facilities operating in Southern California this summer.

The Empowered Life Development Center CDF Freedom School program is another, and is holding its finale program tonight at Ward AME Church at 5:30 p.m.

In addition to the fun activities, the finale provides an opportunity for parents, students, and the community to learn more about this six-week summer program that strives to empower parents through various workshops and gives children a positive attitude towards learning.

"If children are not exposed to these types of programs over the summer they lose reading skills, and they are often left behind. Especially with the Black and Latino crisis situation, there seems to be a correlation between fourth grade reading scores and incarceration rates of these young men," said Project Director Marion Hinton.

The finale will give each class an opportunity to show what freedom school has meant to them.

They will put on skits with music, singing, and dancing reflecting what they have learned. The finale will also serve as an opportunity to thank the community for their contribution to the program.

Hinton identified the difference in freedom schools and regular summer school as the concentration on children from Black and Latino backgrounds. "Much of the reading material is Black and Latino-based and the program itself is very activity-based. The children are learning to discuss and create based on what they are reading. The activities make the program more fun and the children are more engaged. The teachers are more engaged as well because we have one teacher for every 10 students. Public schools simply cannot afford to do that. If you ask the children the difference, they will simply tell you, 'it's more fun.'"

Freedom Schools originally were temporary, alternative, free schools for African Americans, mostly in the South. They were part of a nationwide effort during the Civil Rights Movement to organize African Americans to achieve social, political and economic equality in the United States.

The most prominent example of Freedom Schools was in Mississippi in August 1964 during the Freedom Summer Civil Rights Project which was an effort that focused on voter registration drives and educating Mississippi students for social change.