New Ark Freedom School
A product of the Civil Rights Movement and 1964 Freedom Summer, Freedom Schools reflected movement values of affirming the culture of students and families and preparing students to be critical thinkers and civically engaged. The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) has developed summer Freedom Schools which preserve those values while adding an award-winning literacy component. Founded in 2014, the New Ark Freedom School serves 3rd – 8th grade students at Thirteenth Avenue Elementary School in Newark. NAFS empowers students through the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School model, engaging families in five essential components: “high quality academic and character-building enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational servant leadership; and nutrition, health and mental health.”
Upholding CDF’s commitment to restorative justice, the NAFS provides a unique learning experience, with a climate and culture built on cooperation, individual responsibility, honesty, integrity, and intergenerational mentorship. NAFS classes develop subcultures that promote patience, integrity, compassion, and accountability. Promoting the CDF mission of providing multigenerational mentorship, program staff develop safe and supportive relationships with all program youth.
Over 150 families have participated in the New Ark Freedom School since 2014. Since its inception, reading growth data shows participating NAFS students gain or maintain an average of nine months in their reading levels (Children Defense Fund, n.d.). Moreover, over 90% of New Ark Freedom School’s parents reported significant changes in student attitude and behavior, specifically in student confidence, improved reading, and ability to solve conflicts (Children Defense Fund, n.d.). With 85% of program parents also reporting positive changes in student belief they could make a difference, and likelihood to engage in community groups (Children Defense Fund, n.d.). These findings are consistent with the national research on Freedom Schools (Philliber Research Associates, 2008; Anderson, forthcoming).
The New Ark Freedom is funded by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Community Affairs for the State of New Jersey and the Office of the Chancellor, Rutgers University Newark.