The Freedom School program works to improve academic achievement, reduce dropout rates and inspire a love of reading. BELL serves children living in under-resourced, urban communities, helping them achieve academically. Both programs strive to provide summer learning, improve academics and to close achievement gaps.
Eight L.I.F.T. schools — Allenbrook Elementary, Ashley Park PK-8, Bruns Avenue Academy, Druid Hills Academy, Ranson Middle, Statesville Road Elementary, Thomasboro Academy, Walter G. Byers Elementary — offer both programs. West Charlotte High provides the BELL program.
Project L.I.F.T. targeted 1,860 students who could benefit from one of the two programs. Currently, there are 1,139 students enrolled in BELL and approximately 600 students enrolled in Freedom Schools. Classes typically have 10 to 13 students, about half of a standard class size of 25 for most elementary schools.
Dr. Christian Friend, Project L.I.F.T. executive director-strategic planning and evaluation, said students were chosen in a collaborative process with schools.
“The programs are designed to be very specific to individual student needs,” Dr. Friend said. “It is important to have summer learning opportunities. Studies show that when learning is sustained, students do well during the school year.”
At Bruns Avenue Academy, the Freedom School students began their morning with a call-and-response exercise called Harambee, a Swahili word for “let’s pull together.”
“We celebrate ourselves every morning through Harambee,” said Angie Gover, Project L.I.F.T. regional coordinator with Freedom School Partners. “It is important for students to get involved to make a difference in them and in the communities.”
Freedom Schools are free but the parents are required to volunteer at least nine “engagement hours” in meetings or in the classroom.
Bruns Principal Jordy Sparks said that Freedom Schools provide students with a new sense of confidence. The instructors, called servant-leader interns, are college students from across the nation.
“Students are able to gain an appreciation for being engaged in a learning process. They get access to a college student throughout the entire day. The students get to experience what opportunities are out there by building these relationships with college students,” said Sparks.
At West Charlotte, the BELL program is led by teachers from West Charlotte and the surrounding community. Rising ninth-graders spend two hours each on literacy and mathematics and participate in afternoon enrichment such as exercise, science, sewing, swimming or other electives.
“With BELL we are preparing these freshmen to be high school-ready when they come on this campus in August. They will be more prepared than those not attending any program during the summer,” said Michael Felder, West Charlotte assistant principal and campus program director for BELL.
Felder said students often are unprepared for the transition from eighth grade to high school.
“They tend to get lost easily in the change. High school teachers have certain expectations and some students come in ice cold without knowing what to expect,” said Felder. “BELL helps to fill that gap.”
Rising ninth-grader Nathene Stowe said he learned about BELL at Ranson Middle.
“I wanted to be in this summer program. I am kind of a nerd and I wanted to be challenged, to learn something new,” he said. “If it weren’t for BELL, I wouldn’t be doing anything this summer.
“It has been much easier to get around now that I am becoming familiar with the high school.”