Children in rural communities can have a difficult time keeping up their academic skills in the summer. And for many children without the support of a school breakfast and lunch the summer can mean hunger as well.
Marian Wright Edelman, an activist and advocate for children’s rights, established the first Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools program in 1995 to address these issues. Licking County is home to the first non-urban Freedom Schools in Ohio. These are held in Johnstown, Newark, and Northridge school districts, and they serve more than 150 young scholars.
Since 2015, Denison education majors and minors have worked with the program, including Allie Flower ‘15, Lourdes De La Rosa ‘16, Sibel Alpakin ‘17, Alex Brady ‘17, Jenn Fajardo Ruiz ‘18, and Emily Marlatt ‘18. Assistant Professor of Education Emily Nemeth serves on the board of the CDF Freedom Schools program of Licking County.
“I thoroughly enjoy my work with the program, especially contributing to the preparation and ongoing training of summer staff, including many Denison students,” said Nemeth. “Through the generous support of the Sherman Fairchild endowment and the Knowlton Center, we will be able to continue these internships well into the future.“
“When I feel like things are going against me, my kids are always reminding me of why I'm here with a smile or a hug or a reassuring comment.”
Alex Brady served with the program for two consecutive summers. He admires the program’s commitment to “making sure kids are given equal opportunities to succeed in diversified environments.” As a servant leader intern (teacher), Brady prepared a daily lesson that engages his scholars in a range of topics including “equality, diversity, empathy, as well as inclusivity.”
“I love being able to not only give back to different communities throughout Ohio, but also to teach children the importance of reading and how it can be fun. Throughout the summer the scholars have gone swimming, learned about agriculture, built a city out of cardboard boxes, and even visited Velvet’s Ye Olde Mill to learn about ice-cream production. It's awesome to be able to offer such an exciting summer plan for kids in rural communities.”
Emily Marlatt is considering working as a classroom teacher someday. She gained experience planning and implementing lessons, managing classroom behaviors, and balancing a range of summer emotions: “Every day at Freedom School is a roller coaster of grumpiness, excitement, tears and laughter.”
Marlatt watched how children contribute to and support one another’s learning. “We built box forts and my group was not cooperating well. I pulled them into the classroom to have a talk about teamwork. One of my students stood up and said—pointing to replicas of the Empire State Building made from index cards— ‘I wasn't here on the day that you built the Empire State Buildings, but you guys worked together to build these.’”
“It was the perfect thing to say and I was so impressed by her awareness. When I feel like things are going against me, my kids are always reminding me of why I'm here with a smile or a hug or a reassuring comment.”