CDF Freedom Schools: Serving Summer Literacy

July 11, 2023 | Texas

By Iliana Flores-Dumond

The right to read has been at the forefront of our mind for months with the nationwide surge in book banning, but the summer months mean that we’re celebrating the 16,000 scholars across the country joining CDF Freedom Schools® to build their love of reading and their ability to make a difference in their communities.  

CDF Freedom Schools is rooted in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964, which sought to keep Black children and youth safe and give them rich educational experiences that were not offered in Mississippi’s segregated public schools. Today, Freedom Schools serve a similar purpose in Texas, providing children with culturally responsive summer programming focused on literacy, while meeting basic needs like meals, social-emotional learning, and mental health supports. Each student receives a new book every week featuring characters of color and Black history, encouraging them to continue to read well beyond the end of the program. 

Freedom Schools help students build their personal libraries at a time when book banners — including some politicians — are targeting books with characters of color, characters in the LGBTQ+ community, or books that address trauma and grief. Freedom Schools make sure that students have access to books they can relate to, especially as their access dwindles during school time. These books create a lifelong love of learning and counteract the threats to literacy growing across the nation. 

Threats to literacy extend beyond the school year and into the summer as students may have little or no access to books out of school time. Over the summer, children are at risk of losing an average of 2.5 months of reading progress made during the prior school year. The pandemic worsened these gaps, with the Texas Education Agency estimating that all students lost an additional 3.2 months of academic progress in 2020 alone. Virtual schooling helped protect students, teachers, and communities alike during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, but thousands of Texas students still lost caretakers, particularly students of color. This kind of traumatic loss inevitably impacts every part of a child’s life, including their academics. Stories that help students navigate grief and loss are a vital support to help students heal from the trauma of the pandemic.   

Here in Texas, over 20% of public school children are bilingual and 60.2% of enrolled students are economically disadvantaged , meaning that Texas students may be more susceptible to summer learning loss and setbacks in reading. Reading is a foundational skill that is necessary to grasp other subjects, be it math, history, or science, which makes literacy crucial to educational outcomes in the future. Learning loss can be detrimental to the trajectory of children’s education, sometimes causing a persistent gap in a child’s ability to read at grade level and impacting their ability to thrive in school. It’s essential that students learn to read – and love to read – so they can read to learn.  

Taking books off the shelves in schools and in public libraries exacerbates reading setbacks, limiting students’ ability to read while in school as well as over the summer. Texas must do more to support our students in and outside of the classroom and throughout the entire year. All students deserve access to the supports and resources they need to continue to thrive once school is out for the summer. Until then, Freedom Schools continue to help 84% of participants avoid summer reading loss, as well as helping students feel more academically engaged and confident in themselves.  

Freedom Schools also increase the likelihood that students and their parents participate in civic engagement in their community. Freedom Schools’ annual National Day of Social Action (NDSA) teaches students about advocacy, self-empowerment, and navigating government institutions. This year’s NDSA, held on July 19th, will highlight how gun violence affects young people in our country and how we must remedy this issue to provide the future America’s youth deserve. These are the kinds of supports that Texas students need to succeed in the classroom and as citizens.  

Now, as some lawmakers enact more barriers to equitable and inclusive education, students need  programs like Freedom Schools that value their stories, inspire their curiosity, and encourage their civic participation.

Freedom Schools are proof that accessible summer programming can instill a lifelong love for learning. Now, as some lawmakers enact more barriers to equitable and inclusive education, students need  programs like Freedom Schools that value their stories, inspire their curiosity, and encourage their civic participation. To find a Freedom School near you or learn more about Freedom School programs, see our webpage.  

In addition to Freedom Schools, you can find resources on how to support the freedom to read here.


Iliana Flores-Dumond

Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern, Children’s Defense Fund – Texas