Third year of Freedom Schools ends with jubilant celebration

Chants and cheers, music and laughter rang throughout the Lower Olympic Forest at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Los Angeles recently, as children from Second District Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools, a summer literacy program begun in 1992 by CDF founder Marian Wright Edelman, gathered to celebrate the end of this year’s program.


For six weeks throughout the summer, seven CDF Freedom School sites in the district provided free high quality academic instruction to more than 500 Freedom School scholars. Their days were both challenging and entertaining, with activities that included reading, art, dance, music, field trips, athletics, and community service. Students began each morning with Harambee, a Swahili term that means “all pull together,” during which time the student scholars and their teachers chanted motivational songs, listened to guest readers, and closed with a moment of silence.

The CDF Freedom Schools Program is rooted in the work of the Civil Rights movement. During the summer of 1964, college-age youths operated Freedom Schools that provided an alternative to Mississippi’s underfunded and segregated school system. Modern Freedom Schools apply that same intergenerational approach to teaching and learning. College and graduate students are trained as “Servant Leader Interns,” who teach and motivate the children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and their abilities.

At the park on Friday, August 10, they stayed true to form, chanting their support for presenters who took the stage, including Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. Osby read aloud Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren, a story about a boy who turns to books for advice on helping his family’s garden flourish.

Throughout the afternoon, the Freedom School scholars tried on fire-fighting gear, climbed aboard a fire engine, learned earthquake safety and stopped by the Los Angeles County Public Library’s Urban Outreach Bookmobile. They also got their faces painted, created masks and kites, played the drums and listened to bluegrass, country, and Zydeco tunes played by the Music Center’s Goin’ South Band.

“We are here today to celebrate each of you,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We are affirming that every child should have a healthy start, head start, fair start, safe start and moral start.”

Three years ago, the Supervisor, in collaboration with the Children’s Defense Fund, brought Freedom Schools to the Second District, beginning with five sites and approximately 200 scholars in 2010 and expanding to over 500 scholars this year.

Not only does the program offer children a unique summer experience, but the interns say they too are inspired by the experience.

“This was an opportunity to teach and be a positive role model,” said Servant Leader Intern Gerald Menendez, who worked at the Freedom School site hosted by Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and Bethel A.M.E. “I’ve developed close relationships with the scholars, and we’ve had great discussions about morals and different views of life.”

When asked what he would say to prospective interns, the second year intern offered these words, “If you have passion for children’s futures and the well-being of society, then Freedom School is the place for you.”

Returning Community Coalition CDF Freedom School scholar, Javier Rodriguez, 12, shared Menendez’s sentiment.

“This is my second year and I came back to the program for the fun and the reading,” said Rodriguez. “I love to read.”

Apraham Gomez, a rising sophomore at U.C. Berkeley who worked at the Read Lead site, said that the internship experience has made him more disciplined.

“I woke up early, set up my classroom, prepared lessons everyday, and made sure the scholars in my class were prepared for the day’s instruction,” stated Gomez. “I have watched the scholars increase their reading and their leadership skill set.”

“This program is nothing short of phenomenal,” said Gomez. “This is a one of a kind experience.”

“We must make an investment in our young people so that they can make a difference in their families, in their individual lives, in their communities and in the world,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am optimistic that our future is bright if we continue to build Freedom Schools across the county and throughout the nation.”

The seven sites in the Second district hosting CDF Freedom Schools this summer were: First New Christian Fellowship Church, First Church of God, Agape International Spiritual Center, California State University Dominguez Hills and Helen Keller Elementary School (both sponsored by Read Lead), Foshay Learning Center (sponsored by Community Coalition), and Bethel A.M.E. Church (sponsored by a collaboration between Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and Bethel A.M.E.)


Freedom Schools, an exciting six-week literacy and enrichment program created by the Children’s Defense Fund, returns to Los Angeles County for the third consecutive summer. The program hosts over 500 students ranging from ages five to 17 at seven locations throughout in the Second District.

Established in 1992 by Children’s Defense Fund founder and children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman, Freedom Schools provide academically rigorous, quality summer and after school instruction to children. The program is guided by the belief that all children are capable of achieving high standards, and is modeled on the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, in which college students tutored at centers that served as an alternative to Mississippi’s underfunded and segregated school system.

[pullquote_right] “I have never seen an academic program engage and inspire young people to learn the way the Freedom Schools program does,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. [/pullquote_right]The Freedom Schools program includes some summer camp staples such as arts and crafts, field trips and recreational sports, but it also distinguishes itself by a heavy focus on reading instruction and colorful sessions of music and dance. For example, students begin the morning with Harambee, a Swahili term that means “all pull together”, during which time they read aloud, sing songs, recite motivational cheers, and then observe a moment of silence.

Throughout the afternoon, students read from a selection of books chosen by a national committee based on the literary work of the country’s best writers and illustrators.

[faq title=”More About Freedom Schools”]

“I have never seen an academic program engage and inspire young people to learn the way the Freedom Schools program does,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “By summers’ end they’ve not only read countless books, they’re set to return to school confident that reading is something at which they excel.”

To date, the Freedom School program has served over 90,000 children in 27 states. In 2010, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas collaborated with Edelman and a group of dedicated child and education advocates to launch the program in the Second District.

Research confirms that Freedom Schools makes a difference in the life of the children who go through the program. According to an evaluation conducted by Philliber Research Associates for the Kansas City Freedom School program, students not only improve their reading skills but gain a love for learning. Similarly, an annual survey conducted by Vital Research based on evaluations from parents whose children have participated in Second District CDF Freedom Schools noted children increased their interest in reading and enhanced their reading comprehension skills.

Los Angeles sites hosting Freedom Schools this summer are: First New Christian Fellowship, First Church of God, Agape International Spiritual Center, Read Lead at California State University Dominguez Hills, Community Coalition at Foshay Learning Center, Read Lead at Helen Keller Elementary School in Lynwood, a collaboration between Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and Bethel A.M.E. at Bethel, as well as a Freedom School at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air.

General Press Release

First Church of God Freedom School (Photo Slideshow)

Bethel AME Church Freedom School (Photo Slideshow)

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Foshay Learning Center

3751 S. Harvard Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90018

Scholars: 100

Age range: 8 to 17

Teaching staff: 10

Number of years Freedom School has been operated: 2 (including this summer)

Site description: The Community Coalition Freedom School includes the standard Freedom School features such as “Harambee” and a rigorous reading curriculum, but it also incorporates art activities, political education and sports.

Site Contact Information: Aaron Burleson, Project Director, 323-750-9087 ext. 246;



9550 Crenshaw Blvd.

Inglewood, CA 90303

Scholars: 101

Age range: ages 5-14; k-8 grades

Teaching staff: 13

Years Freedom School has been operated: 2

Site description: First CDC HOPE Freedom School seeks to foster critical thinking and skills in a variety of subjects including math, science, foreign languages, and the arts. We encourage healthy living through exercise & nutritional cooking.

Site Contact Information: Arna Fulcher, Executive Director; Myah Stanford, Project Director; Taylor Flowers, Site Coordinator, 323-600-1223



1555 W. 108th Street

Los Angeles, CA. 90047

Scholars: 98

Age range: 4 to 15

Teaching staff: 7

Years Freedom School has been operated: 3

Site description: First New Christian Fellowship Community Development Corporation Freedom School features 23 junior scholars (ages 4-6), a summer food service program promotes healthy eating habits, exercise, physical activities and an emphasis on music.

Site Contact Information: Norman S. Johnson Sr., Executive Director, 323-756-4521




7900 S. Western Ave.

Los Angeles, 90047

Scholars: 50

Age range: 5 to 13

Teaching staff: 6

Years Freedom School has been operated: 2

Site description: Bethel A.M.E. Church is a pillar of the surrounding community. For over 50 years, it has promoted social justice, health, wellness, and youth empowerment. Bethel A.M.E. (Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches) Freedom School focuses on career guidance and youth leadership development. This mentorship is not limited just to Freedom Schools, but is also available to the surrounding community.

Site Contact Information: Derrick Harris, Site Coordinator; Dr. Moses McCutcheon, Project Director, 323-751-9140


Helen Keller Elementary School

3521 Palm Ave.

Lynwood, CA 90262

Scholars: 51

Age range: 5 to 14

Teaching staff: 5

Number of years Freedom School has been operated: 1

Site description: Helen Keller Elementary School is a school within the Lynwood Unified School district.

Weekly afternoon activities include:

• Arts

• Sports

• Digital Literacy

Site contact information: Cassandra Chase, 310-893-0899 or Joy Masha 310-704-9362


California State University Dominguez Hills

1000 East Victoria Street

Carson, CA 90747

Scholars: 52

Age range: 5 to 17

Teaching staff: 5

Years Freedom School has been operated: 1

Site description: California State University, Dominguez Hills, founded in 1960, is home to the Read Lead Freedom School.  Read Lead’s program includes a Youth Leadership Institute for high school scholars, and intensive academic instruction is provided to elementary and middle school scholars focusing on science, engineering, math, arts, sports, and digital literacy.

Site contact information: Cassandra Chase, 310-893-0899 or Joy Masha 310-704-9362



5700 Buckingham Parkway

Culver City, CA 90230

Number of scholars: 60

Age range: 6 to 13

Teaching staff: 6

Years Freedom School has been operated: 2

Site description: The Agape International Spiritual Center began 25 years ago in the living room of Rev. Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, whose vision of a spiritual community has crossed racial, cultural, ethnic, and even religious boundaries. Agape International Spiritual Center Freedom School emphasizes creativity, community, and peaceful co-existence in “a world that works for everyone.”

Site Contact Information: Catherine Hammons, Project Director, 310-348-1250×1302,


This year the seven Freedom School sites in the Second District were encouraged to upload photographs of their daily activity. Below are scenes from this summer’s sessions. The gallery is frequently updated, so check back for the most current photographs.



Freedom Schools start the day with a read aloud session. During this time, parents, family, and community members are invited to read a book and engage scholars in conversation. Both readers and scholars find the experience to be rich and rewarding. If you would like to volunteer, please complete the registration form below:

Read Aloud "Guest Reader" Registration
Title: Name*:
Cell number*:

Email address*:

Organization: Full address:

Agape International Spiritual CenterBethel A.M.E./Los Angeles Metropolitan ChurchesCommunity Coalition (Foshay Learning Center)First CDC HOPEFirst New Christian FellowshipRead Lead (CSUDH)Read Lead (Lynwood)No preference


July 16 - July 20, 2012July 23 - July 27, 2012July 30 - August 3, 2012August 6 - August 10, 2012  

Thank you for completing your registration form. We look forward to having you as a Read Aloud guest. Feel free to invite your network as Read Aloud guest readers. We appreciate your support!

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Each Freedom School site asked its scholars to draw a design for a medal, and then out of dozens submitted, chose one to be showcased on the Second District website. A big thank you to all the Freedom School scholars for their submissions. For seven days the public was invited to select one favorite, and 306 voters weighed in.  Now the votes have been tallied.

And the winning entry, with 153 votes, is from 8th grade Agape Scholar, Maajida Muhammad.  Along with her medal design Muhammad wrote: “I think Freedom Schools rock the house because it is a fun and peaceful, but energetic place to read and connect with new friends.”  Congratulations to her and to Agape.  Maajida’s winning design will be the model used to create medals that will be awarded to all Second District Freedom School graduates on August 10.

[faq title=”View medal competition guidelines and framework”]

Stage 1:

Each site will host an internal design contest amongst its scholars, where any number of scholars may submit a design to be voted on by site staff and scholars. Depending on the number of entries, site staff may exercise discretion in the voting system used (i.e. Executive Director, Project Director, Site Coordinator, and SLIs make final selections; one design per level is chosen by staff, while scholars vote on the top three or four designs; other unbiased selection system). One design is to be selected from each site to submit to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office for public voting (for a total of seven designs).


Stage 2:

Once site design winners are selected, they will be posted on the Second District website for public voting. Constituents and site visitors will be asked to select their favorite design through a polling system. Sites are encouraged to promote the design contest voting on their Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and organizational website, as well as at parent meetings. Standings will be kept confidential, in order to maintain an element of surprise when the medal is unveiled at the finale celebration in August.


Stage 3:

Once a winner is selected from the Second District website voting process, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office will order medals for all 2012 Second District CDF Freedom Schools® scholars and the top three vote-getters will receive special recognition at the finale celebration.


Design Guidelines:

All submitted designs must be the original artwork of a currently enrolled 2012 Second District CDF Freedom Schools program scholar. All designs should incorporate at least one of the five essential components of the program: high quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational leadership development; and nutrition, health and mental health. Each site’s winning design should be submitted on the entry form below to the Exposition Park District Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on Friday, July 20.


Which is your favorite medal design?

  • Entry 6 (50%, 153 Votes)
  • Entry 7 (27%, 82 Votes)
  • Entry 2 (11%, 35 Votes)
  • Entry 3 (7%, 20 Votes)
  • Entry 5 (3%, 9 Votes)
  • Entry 1 (1%, 4 Votes)
  • Entry 4 (1%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 306

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