Students at the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at Oak Springs Elementary in East Austin begin each morning with Harambee!–best described as a fun and super motivational pep rally for the students attending the summer enrichment program.
This week DDCE staff members had the pleasure of visiting the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at Oak Springs Elementary in East Austin. The school is operated with the help of Welcome Table Inc., one of the DDCE’s community partners. The Freedom Schools program provides summer and after-school enrichment through a research-based and multicultural curriculum that supports children and families around five components: academic enrichment, parent and family involvement, civic engagement and social action, inter-generational leadership development and nutrition, health and mental health. Students from Rice University, Huston-Tillotson University and The University of Texas at Austin lead the students at Oak Springs through the activities and welcome community members to read and work with students as well. The college student leaders receive training each year, facilitated by national Children’s Defense Fund staff in Tennessee.
Shardé Chapman, who is working on her doctorate in Religious Studies at Rice University, is leading the Austin Freedom School this summer. A five-year veteran of Freedom School, Chapman said that she sees changes in the children who participate. “I see increased confidence, love of reading, better understanding of history, and even increased hope in their futures,” she said. She believes the “high quality academic engagement through literature that minority students can connect with” is one of the most valuable aspects of the program.
DDCE community partner Welcome Table Inc. has been raising money for the effort and hope to open another Freedom School next summer. The 501(c)3 is affiliated with St. James Episcopal Church. The church became interested in Freedom School when parishioners Fred and Kathy Miller attended a conference at The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. They became inspired by the program and the next year St. James sent another member, Gina Houston to the program the next year. Houston is now Freedom School director. Donors to this year’s program include KDK Harman Foundation, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, First Baptist Church, St. James’ Episcopal Church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, St. Christopher Episcopal Church, UT DDCE and several private individuals.