Five of the territory’s schools are participating in a six-week pilot of a nation-wide "Freedom School" project this summer, thanks in part to Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter. According to Government House, Potter helped bringFreedom Schools to the USVI after meeting 2015 UVI commencement keynote speaker Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund that operates the Freedom Schools program throughout the United States.
Historically, Freedom Schools were temporary, alternative free schools for African Americans mostly in the South, during the Civil Rights era to organize African Americans to help seek equality.
Edelman’s CDF says their Freedom School program caters to students of all races and ethnic background, "seeing to build strong, literate, and empowered children prepared to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation and world today."
It provides summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books. It works in partnership with churches, schools, universities, correctional institutions and community organizations to try to boost student motivation to read, positive attitudes toward learning and self esteem.
According to the CDF website, more than 137,000 students have been to Freedom Schools and 16,000 college students and other young adults have been trained to work in the schools.
Potter toured the sites last week, visiting Freedom Schools at Lockhart Elementary Monday, July 18, Ulla F. Muller Elementary, Tuesday, July 19, Julius E. Sprauve Elementary School on St. John on July 20, St. Croix’s Juanita Gardine Elementary School on July 21 and Claude O. Markoe Elementary School on July 22.
At Lockhart, students greeted Potter with chants, songs and positive affirmations before huddling to listen to him read “How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids.” The popular children’s book presents lessons on the differences between good and bad thoughts and feelings.
Tuesday, students and staff at Muller Elementary greeted Potter with enthusiasm and after a lively welcome chant from students, the lieutenant governor sat down to read “The Never Snowy Christmas” by Zenzi Hodge. The story is a humorous tale set in St. Thomas that encourages Virgin Islands’ children to appreciate the warm climate of their home, particularly during the winter months when other places are experiencing cold temperatures.
After the reading session, which is a primary component of Freedom Schools, the students performed a series of high-spirited musical and dance routines.
Students read five books each week as part of the program and are also given a book to take home. At the end of the program, participants would have each read 30 books and received six as gifts.
“This is what we do every day at Freedom Schools,” Executive Director Lisa Hassell-Forde said in a statement from the Department of Education. She said the atmosphere was influencing students and during a recent lunch break, she overheard a group of boys talking about the books they would read next. “Freedom Schools are changing our students’ lives and thinking,” she said.