Programs and Campaigns

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About the Program

The CDF Freedom Schools program provides summer and after-school enrichment through a model curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components:

  1. High quality academic enrichment
  2. Parent and family involvement
  3. Social action and civic engagement
  4. Intergenerational servant leadership development
  5. Nutrition, health and mental health

In partnership with faith institutions, schools, colleges and universities, and community based organizations, the CDF Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities.

The CDF Freedom Schools model incorporates the totality of the Children's Defense Fund's mission by fostering environments that support children and young adults to excel and believe in their ability to make a difference in themselves and in their families, schools, communities, nation, and world.  College age young adults are trained as servant leader interns to deliver the integrated reading curriculum (IRC) and adults are trained as site coordinators and project directors to provide supervision and administrative oversight.

CDF Freedom Schools program sites are safe and restorative learning spaces where:

  • children are surrounded by caring adults and college age young adults from their community (at a classroom ratio of 1:10) who share their enthusiasm for learning and reading, and commit to serving them as authentic mentors;
  • children read high quality books and are engaged in learning activities that are appropriate to their developmental needs and interests;
  • each day begins with "Harambee!," a 30-minute activity to celebrate and affirm the value of each participant and prepare for work and learning ahead
  • children receive two nutritious meals and a healthy snack each day in the summer model and nutritious snacks during the after-school program;
  • parents are engaged as site volunteers and participate in weekly workshops on children’s developmental needs, civic responsibility, and other topics of interest;
  • children are encouraged and supported to dream, set goals for themselves, and cultivate positive attitudes and high expectations;
  • young people whose lives have been interrupted and impacted by crises receive consistent, daily service to better understand themselves, their situations, each other, and their potential; and
  • families have access to free and high quality childcare

Since 1995, more than 100,000 K-12 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience and more than 13,000 college students and young adult staff have been trained to deliver this empowering model.

1. High Quality Academic Enrichment

At CDF Freedom Schools programs, children are engaged in activities that nurture their minds, bodies, and spirits.  In the classrooms, they read books that celebrate a wide variety of cultures and experiences,  Children, parents, and staff are introduced to a superb collection of books that reflect their own images and focus on the theme I Can Make a Difference.  This collection of books is part of an integrated reading curriculum (IRC) in which books, activities, field trips, and games all relate to and reinforce each other.  Servant leader interns use the IRC to teach children conflict resolution and critical thinking skills, engage children in community service and social action projects, encourage children to participate in art and athletic activities, and help children to develop a program finale in which every child is given the chance to shine.

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2. Parent and Family Involvement

Parents and family members are the most important partners in their children’s education.  The CDF Freedom Schools program offers parents and family members the support and skills they need to help their children succeed.  Caregivers are required to demonstrate their commitment to the program and to their children’s education and development by becoming actively involved in the daily CDF Freedom Schools program activities.  Parents, family members and community members are invited to serve as read aloud guests during Harambee; assist in the classroom, on the playground and during meals; plan and chaperone field trips; and support the children's social action and community service projects.  Family members also participate in weekly workshops where they learn about the educational and social development of children and gain the necessary skills to empower themselves and their families to succeed.

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3. Social Action and Civic Engagement

Children learn to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they become more responsible members of their communities.  Servant leader interns encourage the children not only to explore the problems facing their communities, but also to become active in working toward solutions.

Each year, thousands of children and teens from CDF Freedom Schools sites nationwide participate in CDF Freedom Schools National Day of Social Action.  The social action and civic engagement component of the CDF Freedom Schools model teaches youth to engage in community service and social justice advocacy.  Participants take part in a variety of actions including visiting and writing letters to elected officials, joining together for marches and rallies and leading awareness activities.

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4. Intergenerational Servant Leadership Development

CDF Freedom Schools programs are staffed primarily by college age young adults who are committed to making life better for children.  Training coordinated by the CDF Freedom Schools national office prepares these young adults to provide an enriching experience for the children they serve, and to be part of a future generation of servant leaders. The Ella Baker Child Policy Training Institute promotes principles of servant leadership by fostering an understanding of connection between effective programs and public policy, and the importance of community development, political advocacy, and coalition building.  The strong ethic of service is evident across generations, as community leaders support these servant leaders while they teach and mentor the younger children.

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5. Nutrition, Health and Mental Health

All local CDF Freedom Schools programs are required to provide two nutritious meals and a snack each day the program is in operation.  These meals must meet USDA nutrition standards.  CDF Freedom Schools programs serving distressed children and families are encouraged to incorporate therapeutic interventions and health and mental health services.  The Ella Baker Child Policy and Training Institute promote principles of personal responsibility when developing healthy lifestyle choices to empower self, peers, and children. 

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