Middle Georgia welcomes first Freedom School


Image: Katie Atkinson

A Freedom School student raises his hand to ask a question during morning warm ups. The fifty students who attend Freedom School meet at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church every morning for Harambe, a Swahili word that means “coming together.”

For students facing poverty today, summer break can be one devastating vacation. With no access to educational resources at home, these students risk losing valuable reading skills they’ve gained during the school year.

Freedom Schools across the nation are trying to change that by making sure kids gain skills, not lose them.

The program exists in 29 states, including Georgia. Middle Georgia welcomed its first Freedom School over the summer.

“Children can gain skills during the school year and as they go through the year they get more proficient at those skills,” said Julie Groce, who works at Appleton Episcopal Ministries.

She said that the school year is one thing, but summer break is something completely different.  

Katie Atkinson
Julie Groce, who works with Appleton Episcopal Ministries, pauses in her office during Freedom School. Groce helped bring the first Freedom School to Macon with the hope that it would help struggling kids improve their reading skills.

“Because school is out, there is an aspect called summer slide. That means they just lose those skills because they don’t practice them every day,” Groce said.

Groce helped bring the first Freedom School to Macon to help kids fight back against this summer slide.

She said that reading skills are fundamental for these students.

You can’t study math and you can’t learn science if you can’t read,” Groce said. “It’s something that if you learn early on in your life you can be a lifelong reader [and] a lifelong learner.”

And the students did a lot of reading, with a curriculum based on weekly themes.

“‘I can make a difference in myself’ was week one, ‘I can make a difference in my family [was] week two’,” said Rachel Chabot. “All the work that they did and the books that they read were on those themes.”

Chabot teaches at Stratford Academy during the school year but spent her summer with Freedom School.  

She oversaw the program’s interns, like Quinten Oppong, a Mercer University senior majoring in public health.

Oppong, whose family is from Ghana, led his summer classroom with a village theme. He asked his students to think of themselves as kings and queens to engage them with their reading.

The Freedom School program isn’t just about reading comprehension. It’s about empowerment.”

— Rachel Chabot

“A lot of the books we read were tailored to their culture and to being a minority. They saw other people who look like them and their history. When we [would] read through things we talk[ed] about what they’re going through or if they relate and then helping them to see: how would a king or a queen react to that situation?”

Other interns had students compare themselves to super heroes.  

Chabot said these themes prove a point: the Freedom School program isn’t just about reading comprehension.  It’s about empowerment.

“Yes, we want them to love reading and we want to help them go back to school better equipped but we really also want them to understand that you know the books they are reading matter to them and that they matter to the community,” Chabot said.

Back in the classroom, Oppong said that even though he can’t make an impact on every struggling student, he can help the kids at Freedom School.

“Here, right now, we can make a difference in these kids lives,” Oppong said.