The usual sounds of children being dropped off at Altadena Elementary School, the sight of crossing guards halting traffic with neon vests, and the slow morning drag many students battle with during the school year, has been replaced this summer with thunderous cheers and chants heard from blocks away, thanks to a crowd of college students lining the steps of the school's entrance and the 150 elementary and middle schoolers who have signed up for the second year of the Children's Defense Fund's Freedom Schools® in Pasadena.
"As soon as I found out what Freedom Schools® was, I had to incorporate it into the LEARNs program immediately," Denise Collier, Ed.D, District Program Coordinator said. "With the support of the school site administrators, community members, and the district we were able to make that happen."
CDF's Freedom Schools® have been a staple to under represented communities since the civil rights movement all across the country. It is rich with key elements similar to the good morning cheer, in a continued, carefully crafted attempt to institute alternative learning styles for underserved youth.
Last year was Pasadena LEARNs first Freedom Schools® held at Altadena Elementary, as a part of Pasadena Unified School District. The site was one of only two in southern California, totaling three across the entire state. This year, there are ten across the state and seven in the Los Angeles area.
The visual of Freedom Schools® is offsetting to most at first. But once one musters the courage to trek across the street and up those stairs, it is clear that this is no usual summer program and these students aren't cheering Muir and Pasadena high school football crowd pleasers. They have managed to create several versions, remixes and spontaneous free styles to one of the simplest, but most mood altering phrases to start the children's day- "Good Morning."
Altadena LEARNs site coordinator, and this year's Freedom Schools® Project Director Nicole Ganther loves what the program brings to current Pasadena LEARNs summer programs.
Jason Brown, former Washington MS LEARNs Site Coordinator, works along side Ganther as the Project Director for the middle school level, contributing long time experience to acclimate the middle school into a program they need just as much as the rest of the district.
The administrative team is rounded out by Jumana Abdul-Malik, a former Freedom Schools ® intern of three years, serving her first year as Site Coordinator.
The literacy program lasts from five to six weeks for most participating sites and consists of a day full of reading, discussing, and fully conceptualizing culturally relevant books with characters that speak, act, and deal with the same things these children deal with. The texts tackle the issues of respect, community, and social action, and lessons don't shy away from the issues that plague minority communities- violence, drugs, racism, and self-esteem.
All 16 interns are not only current and former college students, but almost all are current Pasadena residents and former students of the District including Pasadena High School, Muir High School and Blair High School. They've experienced the same neighborhoods and the same environments that their students come from.
For more information on the Freedom School log on to www.Cdfca.org. or www.childrensdefense.org. or call 213 -355-8787.