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Students find care and attention at Peacemakers’ Freedom School

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At most schools, students may start their mornings in homeroom, but at the Freedom School at Peacemakers of Rocky Mount, it starts with a session of Harambee. It is a time to wake up students and get them excited to take on the day through singing and dancing.

The word Harambee originates from Kenya. The term itself means ‘all pull together’ in Kiswahili, the national language of Kenya. At the Freedom School, counselors use Harambee time to pump students up with kid-friendly versions of trending rap songs in effort to connect with them. It’s the small things like this that make Freedom School an exciting environment for students. 

Shauna Lewis gets the students ready for class after a session of Harambee on July 1, 2021. Chase Cofield/EducationNC

According to the school’s website, “Freedom School is a seven-week full-time summer enrichment program that helps young scholars fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem and generates more positive attitudes toward learning.”

The Rocky Mount Freedom School is part of a network of 181 Freedom Schools in 97 cities all over the U.S. These schools promote educating youth, getting them engaged with reading, and encouraging a love of learning.

The Freedom School’s roots can be traced back to the 1964 Freedom Summer project in Mississippi. As part of that effort, civil rights activists established Freedom Schools to teach young Black students traditional courses like math and reading as well as Black history and leadership skills. Since then, these programs have been a pillar in the community by giving students educational opportunities that might otherwise be limited to them. 

The Peacemakers Information Board pictured inside the Freedom School on July 15, 2021. Chase Cofield/EducationNC

In the classroom, kindergarten through fifth grade students get to read books from authors that reflect the demographics of the students themselves. One day, students read “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop” by Margaree Mitchell; another day, they read “Lin-Manuel Miranda Ready to Read Level 3” by Laurie Calkhoven.

Counselor Bijaya Lamichhane reads ““Lin-Manuel Miranda Ready to Read Level 3” by Laurie Calkhoven to her class on July 15, 2021. Chase Cofield/EducationNC

The school recently hired a tutor dedicated to spending one-on-one time with the students. Antoine Hart encourages students to increase their reading comprehension by staying positive and making them feel good about themselves. 

Students make KWL (Know, Want to Know, Want to Learn) charts in preparation for reading. Chase Cofield/EducationNC

Hart places words written on notecards and has students pick these cards so they can learn new vocabulary. He makes sure to sound these words out with the students. In the short amount of time Hart spends with each student, they leave the room with smiles on their faces ready to continue with the rest of their day. 

After teaching a student a new word, Hart reaches in for a handshake to congratulate her. Chase Cofield/EducationNC

These positive interactions with teachers and seeing themselves in the books they read help students foster a love of learning and make them want to come to school.

Chase Cofield

Chase Cofield was a 2021 summer fellow at EducationNC.