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Worship Center Church to address ‘summer slide’, brings first Freedom School to Birmingham


By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

The Worship Center Christian Church on Derby Parkway is entering the new year with plans to collaborate with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) to bring Birmingham’s first Freedom School.

Freedom School is a six-week enrichment program in June to address the summer slide in school aged students. Summer slide is the tendency for children, particularly those from low-income families, to lose the achievement gains they made during the previous school year over the summer.

“If you can imagine a low-income child, once the summer starts, if their parents don’t have the means or the time to expose them to anything that will continue the educational process that was started in the school year, then what happens is the summer slide,” said Van Moody, lead pastor at The Worship Center.

The Children’s Defense Fund is a nonprofit organization that focuses on child advocacy and research. It was founded in 1973 by Marian Wright Edelman.

The program is free for families, and the goal is to build “empowered, literate and forward-thinking children who will gain the confidence to make an impact in their families and communities,” Moody said.

Students will reinforce skills learned during the school year with a focus on literacy and reading comprehension during the programs, which is geared toward low-income families, Moody said.

A child can lose half a grade level every summer if affected by the summer slide, Moody said.

He provided another example: “If you take a child from kindergarten through fifth grade, and each summer they lose half a grade level … by the time they get to fifth grade, they’re 2 ½ to 3 years behind their middle-income contemporaries. It gets worse as they continue to grow,” he said.

Literacy is a focus because it’s the foundation of all education, “particularly for kids; everything builds on literacy,” Moody said. “There are a number of summer programs and programs that take the (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) STEM approach, and different disciplines, but one of the things about Freedom Schools, and one of the reasons I think they’ve had the kind of success they’ve had, is the focus on the foundational building blocks. If we can increase the literacy rate of kids, then everything becomes easier for them.”

A Day at a Freedom School

Along with literacy, reading is a component of the first half of the day in Freedom Schools where someone from the community visits. “We’ll invite the mayor, superintendent, business leaders . . . to read to them in a session called Harambe, when we bring all the students together before they break into their individual classes.”

Students can take home the books read during the day to build their personal library.

Charles A. Smith Photography

“The books are specifically picked out and chosen for their specific ages and demographics,” Moody said. “Depending on a normal school year, students may have to read the classics, or books that don’t really connect to their reality . . . the books are profound, but they are intentionally designed for low-income kids.”

The second part of the day is dedicated to different activities and interests, he said.

“Kids will be exposed to things like Chess Club and field trips to the McWane Science Center, and things that are a little bit in the scope of traditional summer programs but it’s a great balance,” he said.

The program is usually for kindergarten through high school, but in its first year, it will be available for first through fifth grade. “We want to build some success with that and build additional grade levels,” Moody said.

The program is funded by The Worship Center in its first year, but Moody said he hopes more community will be involved in the upcoming years.

“Our ultimate design is not to have just one Freedom School in the city, but we want to have multiple Freedom Schools available throughout the city. When you look at the hurdles that are in front of the public school system, we know that 50

kids, which is the max capacity of one Freedom School, are really just a drop in the bucket, compared to the need in the city.”

To get more information about registration, visit www.theworshipcentercc.org/index.php/freedom-school/