RezWest members now on a Columbus, Ohio, Serve Trip visited Freedom School on Tuesday, an inner-city summer program sponsored by the United Methodist Church for All People. While there they experienced a day in the life of the children of this emerging city neighborhood. They participated in the school and classroom activities, many of them reading to and interacting with the 6-14-year-old students. The experience went something like this:
Just over 60 beaming faces filed into an urban school gymnasium as speakers began blaring loud music. The chanting and singing began. Each positive verse ended with the phrase “I am strong” and the widely varied group raised arms high and flexed their muscles as they sang. The group included several teachers who had the title Servant Leader Interns, or SLIs. Most have worked with the Church program for several years and many work at schools in the area as teachers and librarians.
One SLI begins a new chant: “We are Loud and Proud. We are Loud and Proud.”
A few of the more introverted students hang back, but most join in with enthusiasm. Many move to the center of the circle of humanity and face each other, often joining into an impromptu dance.
The chant changes. “We show,” an SLI shouts. “Reee-spect,” the students answer. Again, “We show,” Answered by “Reee-spect.”
After several minutes of this, hearts are pounding with excitement. Everyone sits on the floor and a guest reader begins a story about the 19th Century women’s rights activist and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Each student group has its own song, and when their respective song is played each class group files out together to move to their classrooms. An SLI named Mr. Jordan took over one classroom, giving the students several assignments of graduating complexity, calming them down after their exciting opening ceremonies.
Mr. Jordan began a reading circle, passing around a book about a young woman who becomes a sushi chef in Japan and opens her own restaurant. Students pass the book around, most reading a page to the class. When a student would finish a particularly good reading assignment the SLI would begin a chant, “Good job, good job.” The students joined in. The chant got longer. “You know you did a good job. Now say you did a good job.”
Church for All People sees Freedom School as one of their key programs to reach their community. It has gradually become one of the highest rated programs in the city, retaining a 10 student to each SLI ratio, and now has a long waiting list of parents who want their children to take part.
Katelin, a Church for All People staffer, who was key in starting the Freedom School program, said, “The school has been one of the most important parts of the change that has happened in this community, It is really where the change is created.”