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Start a CDF Freedom Schools® Program

How to Bring a CDF Freedom Schools Program to Your Community

  1. Share the vision for creating a learning environment that provides structure in children's lives, brings communities and families together and uses the best practices of teaching to engage children in learning
  2. Identify a sponsor organization. Sponsor organizations can be community organizations, churches or faith-based programs, schools, or colleges and universities that will assume overall responsibility for local program planning and management, fundraising and fiscal management, and overall quality control. Proper planning and securing financial funding is imperative to a high quality program.
  3. Complete the CDF Freedom Schools application for program participation. CDF Freedom Schools program participation is based on each applicant's readiness to subscribe to the basic requirements outlined in the operating principles. Applications to operate a CDF Freedom Schools program in the summer of 2015 are now available and are due by October 17, 2014. For more information, please contact Ali Merfeld at (202) 662-3589 or

In partnership with local churches, schools, colleges and universities, and community organizations, the Children's Defense Fund, through the CDF Freedom Schools program, connects the complex needs of children and families to rich community resources. 

Establishing and operating a CDF Freedom Schools program is a challenging but very important undertaking.  CDF believes that the following elements are needed to ensure a high quality summer CDF Freedom Schools program.  Please review each section carefully, as applications will be approved based on the degree to which the program operating principles are addressed.

Standards of Program Administration

The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools summer program will operate a minimum of seven hours each day (suggested hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.); five days per week (Monday through Friday); for six consecutive weeks. Sites must be safe and make children feel welcomed and valued. The facility must be able to accommodate the activities which take place in the CDF Freedom Schools program, including sufficient classrooms to provide private space for every 10 students, a large space for Harambee, meals, performances and other large group activities; office space and a telephone; and safe outdoor areas where children can play. Each CDF Freedom Schools program should be operated in a facility that is dedicated to the operation of the program for six continuous weeks.

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Integrated Reading Curriculum (IRC)

The CDF Freedom Schools program affirms that reading is an important key to unlock the door to children’s dreams and unlimited potential. The books on which the Integrated Reading Curriculum is based represent the work of the country’s best writers and illustrators. The book list is comprised of approximately 80 titles, all of which have been reviewed and found to be appropriate for children ages 5 to 18. Six weeks of lesson plans are developed for approximately half of the books to help staff and children reflect on the themes I Can Make a Difference in: My Self, My Family, My Community, My Country, and My World with Hope, Education and Action. The remaining titles make up the collection of on-site library books. These books provide a rich resource for recreational reading, read-alouds, and research on history and community service projects. Whatever monetary restraints a program may face, the book budget must be a priority and must always be fully funded. The CDF Freedom Schools national office orders all books and coordinates book delivery to our partner organizations.

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Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools partner organizations must provide adequate staff to operate the program. Each partner organization requires an executive director, project director, site coordinator(s) and servant leader interns to operate a site. CDF Freedom Schools programs serve a minimum of 50 children, and the ratio of children to interns must not exceed 10:1. Hiring one or two extra servant leader interns is highly recommended.

Please note: in preparation to operate a CDF Freedom Schools summer program, all key staff will be required to attend meetings scheduled throughout the months prior to summer operation.

Intergenerational leadership is a key element of the Leave No Child Behind® Movement. All staff is expected to train and work together as a team and to share in the decision-making process. Creating a climate of open communication, cooperation, and mutual respect among the staff will help to create that same type of environment for children.

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Afternoon Activities

During summers at local program sites, afternoons consist of fun, educational activities that enhance the IRC and the CDF Freedom Schools model of cultural enrichment, family engagement, intergenerational servant leadership, community involvement, conflict resolution, and social action. Activities may include arts and crafts, dance, music, field trips, sports, rehearsal for finale, and social action and community service projects.

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Community Outreach and Social Action

In choosing sponsors, CDF seeks organizations that have a demonstrated record of responding to the needs of children and families in their communities. The CDF Freedom Schools program stresses civic engagement through social action projects designed to help children, parents, staff, and community partners realize that they can make a difference. In addition to guiding children through the lessons of the Integrated Reading Curriculum, servant leader interns are responsible for engaging the entire community in local and national social action projects that include, but are not limited to: rallies, town hall meetings, letter writing, phone and email campaigns to local and national legislators, voter registration drives, health and immunization projects, etc. Participants will be encouraged and empowered to continue service, advocacy and leadership as a part of CDF’s Leave No Child Behind Movement after the summer CDF Freedom Schools program has ended.

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Parent Engagement

Parents and other family members are important partners in their children’s education and must be offered the support and skills they need to help their children succeed. Parents are required to demonstrate their daily commitment to the program and to their children’s education and development by becoming actively involved in the CDF Freedom Schools program. Parents and other family members are invited to serve as read aloud guests during Harambee; to assist in the classroom and with Afternoon Activities, on the playground, and at mealtime; to plan and chaperone field trips; and to support their children’s social action and community service projects. Parents, or a representative of the household, also are required to participate in weekly workshops focused on the educational and social development of children, parenting, CDF initiatives, and other activities that build parent empowerment and family success.

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Nutritious Meals

If children are to have a Healthy Start in life, they must eat nutritious meals and snacks and develop healthy eating habits. CDF Freedom Schools programs must provide two nutritious meals (e.g., meals that meet or exceed USDA Daily Requirements for children) and a snack each day the program is in operation. Programs can satisfy this requirement in a variety of ways, such as collaborating with local school districts, using the USDA Summer Food Service Program, or contracting with private or community providers of meals.

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CDF Freedom Schools sites and sponsors are expected to participate in various assessment and evaluation activities, such as site visits, surveys, debriefings and research studies conducted by or on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund. The information and analyses obtained through these activities help us to improve and expand programs, provide guidance and support for sites, raise funds to sustain and enhance the program, document the impact of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools model, and provide information for sponsor organizations to assist in fundraising. Sponsor organizations also are expected to monitor their local programs to assess overall effectiveness in meeting stated goals for children, parents and servant leader interns. Project Directors are responsible for submitting servant leader intern and child assessments, mid program reports, end of program reports, and other relevant data to the CDF Freedom Schools national office.

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Communication Protocols

The sponsor organization’s executive director (or his/her designee) is expected to inform the national staff of any changes in personnel or programming (e.g. staffing, number of children served, date of operation, etc.). Failure to do so in a timely manner will jeopardize the partnership between CDF and the sponsor organization. In turn, the national office maintains regular communication with CDF Freedom Schools sponsors through the CDF Freedom Schools website and email. Postal mail is utilized for large mailings only. Site staff is encouraged to check email regularly for updates from the national office.

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Financial Commitment

Financial resources are essential to a high quality program. CDF Freedom Schools programs must be able to operate at no charge to families and should serve no fewer than 50 children. In 2015, the estimated cost for fees payable to the Children's Defense Fund for a site serving 50 children (6 staff) is $11,750. These fees offset the cost for national training, the IRC Guide, IRC books, Site Library books and books for children’s personal libraries. Other operational costs include salaries, supplies and equipment, meals, field trips, travel, administrative fees and local training. The total financial commitment differs at each site. The estimated total cost for sites serving 50 children is approximately $61,000. For questions, please contact Ali Merfeld, Senior Manager for Program Operations at 202-662-3589 or email at

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CDF Freedom Schools Application Materials for Summer 2015

CDF Freedom Schools program participation is based on each applicant's readiness to subscribe to the basic requirements outlined in the operating principles. Applications to operate a CDF Freedom Schools program in the summer of 2015 are now available and are due by October 17, 2015. For more information, please contact Ali Merfeld at (202) 662-3589 or

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