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Freedom Schools Literacy Academy is a five-week summer literacy program for elementary school students that offers a culturally-responsive curriculum steeped in Black culture, history and pedagogy.
“This partnership is emblematic of the types of thoughtful partnerships and investments that embolden our youth to serve as solutions to the issues they have witnessed and experienced,” Sharif El-Mekki, Chief Executive Officer at the Center for Black Educator Development, said in a statement. “The lack of teacher diversity is a challenge that consortia of committed people can face and address. Mary Church Terrell, a Hall of Fame educator, once remarked that ‘we are lifting as we climb.'”
“The high school and college students participating in our FSLA programming are doing just that — lifting as they climb. We should all emulate their commitment and commit to doing so as well. Students who participate in this program will be eligible to apply for the Center’s Future Black Educators of Excellence Fellowship, which includes last dollar scholarships for college students majoring in education, as well as retention bonuses for those candidates who enter the teaching profession,” El-Mekki said.
The FSLA at Mastery Schools of Camden will be staffed by undergraduate teaching candidates from Rowan University, as well as Mastery High School students who are interested in pursuing a career in education.
“The College of Education is excited to work with P-12 stakeholders and external partners to support the educational needs of students in Camden,” Dr. Gaëtane Jean-Marie, Dean of the Rowan University College of Education, said. “We are committed to creating opportunities for our teacher candidates to work with students from diverse settings. Our work with our P-12 stakeholders and external partners seeks to advance the college’s vision as a leading force in preparing and supporting reflective practitioners who will use education to transform our global society.”
FSLA is designed to provide early elementary students with academic enrichment, while also developing a pipeline of Black educators. Camden Education Fund provided a grant of $132,000 to fund the program.
“Our mission to sustain the progress in Camden’s public schools is dependent on having teachers with the pedagogical skills and cultural sensitivity to inspire and motivate students,” Jonathan Garr, Director of School Investments at Camden Education Fund, said. “Programs like FSLA are planting the seed to build a generation of Camden educators who remain in their communities to teach students who look like them and share their background. Our investment in talent yields exponential returns because the support we provide high school students today increases the likelihood that students will continue their journey towards becoming a teacher and devote their careers to changing the lives of young people.”
The college and high school students will work together to provide a rigorous early-literacy curriculum that deepens the positive racial identity of students. As part of the experience, the high school students will also learn the fundamentals of working with children, develop presentation skills, and become familiar with using a curriculum, under the guidance of teaching candidates and CBED staff. Each participating high school student will receive a stipend of $2,160; college students will earn $3,700.
“At Mastery High School of Camden, we want every student to graduate empowered with more than just a high school diploma,” Dr. William Hayes, Principal at Mastery High School, said. “We believe that education is a pathway to liberation. Giving our high school students the chance to earn college credit and obtain hands-on experience working with students at the Freedom School Literacy Academy — It’s just an amazing opportunity to add to our mission of providing students with a world class comprehensive education.
“It’s absolutely vital to develop a more robust pipeline of excellent Black and Brown teachers and leaders. I am so proud that our students and alumni will be part of this movement and I hope to see some of them return as teachers to our school in the coming years,” Hayes added.
The announcement comes as schools are increasingly focused on addressing student “learning loss” that has resulted from the pandemic. A growing body of evidence suggests that students across the country have had their learning interrupted. An analysis of 400,000 students across 1,400 schools who used assessments from Amplify concluded that twenty percent fewer kindergarteners are on track to learn how to read compared to their peers last year. Leaders across New Jersey are sounding the alarm that students will continue to fall behind unless schools create more opportunities for learning, such as academic summer programs.
Data from prior FSLA programs demonstrates strong efficacy of the program: participants jumped an average of 3.23 word-reading levels and read 20.55 more words per minute, a 240% increase over the average rate gain for 1st and 2nd graders over a one-month period.
FSLA is one component of a broader partnership between the Center for Black Educator Development, Camden Education Fund, and Rowan University to develop a cohort of homegrown teachers in Camden. The effort seeks to recruit high school students with an interest in education, provide them with the exposure and support to pursue a teaching degree and certification, then aid them in returning home to teach in Camden.
This fall, a cohort of students at Mastery High School of Camden will have the opportunity to participate in this pipeline. As juniors and seniors, they will enroll in a Rowan University education course and will receive dual credit — high school and college credit — for the course. They will then have the opportunity to participate in an upcoming Freedom Schools Literacy Academy to get hands-on experience working with students. Ultimately, the aim is for students to earn 9 credits toward a teaching degree, and have 1-2 summers of experience before going to college.
Once in college, students will be able to participate in the Camden Teacher Pipeline, which provides an opportunity for aspiring educators to complete their student teaching in Camden schools — district, charter, and renaissance — and build a career in Camden.
Already, a cohort of high school students at Mastery High School of Camden has been preparing for this opportunity by participating virtually in the Center for Black Educator Development’s Liberation Academy. The program is designed to cultivate future teachers who are committed to social change, civic awareness, and consciousness of their role as servant leaders. This summer, many will serve as Servant Leaders at Freedom Schools Literacy Academy.
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