The MSNC’s Freedom School
was the brainchild of Gloria Layson, a member of the Braden
United Methodist Church, who approached Rev. Larry Clark,
pastor of Monroe Street United Methodist Church (which
houses the MSNC) with the concept. Then Clara Petty came
into the picture and a partnership was formed with the
church, the MSNC and the Maumee Watershed District – the
region’s 25 Methodist churches.
“A church can’t be a
Freedom School,” said Petty who became the program’s
administrator. “It needs to be a 501c(3) so Pastor Clark
came to us and said we should do it.”
Money needed to be raised,
of course. The Center had to come up with $65,000 to cover
the Freedom School expenses such as training, staffing and
testing. After a failed first attempt last year, the
partnership of the 25 churches in the Maumee Watershed
District, the Monroe Street church and the Center and a
grant from the Toledo Rotary Foundation resulted in a
successful fundraising effort.
“We could not have done
Freedom School without the support of the 25 Methodist
churches of the Maumee Watershed District that poured
financial and spiritual help into the school,” said Petty.
Petty then enlisted the
aid of Pastor Elizabeth Rand, who would be program director,
and retired Toledo Public Schools principal Deborah
Washington, PhD, who would be site coordinator – essentially
serving as the principal of the Freedom School.
Rand coordinated the
activities that are so critical to the success of the
Freedom School concept – bringing in volunteers (especially
from the 25 churches) to oversee breakfast, read to the
children, sit with them in the lunchroom and lead enrichment
activities. Diverse groups such as the Toledo School for the
Arts and Lucas County Courts were brought in as part of the
enrichment activities programs.
Individuals like Mayor
Paula Hicks-Hudson and former University of Toledo men’s
basketball coach Stan Joplin were part of the group of guest
readers who volunteered their time.
Washington set about
mastering the Freedom School curriculum and put in about 250
hours prior to the opening of the summer session – without
pay – researching, organizing and training “because she
really believed in the program,” said Petty. “You have to
have a commitment in order to give away that amount of
Student Leader Interns (SLI)
– teachers – were also brought on board prior to the summer
opening to undergo training to master the Freedom School
concepts and curriculum.
All that preparation
notwithstanding, the summer was not without its challenges.
The SLIs quickly discovered that a number of the
five-year-olds, who are slated to enter kindergarten this
fall, weren’t ready for the Freedom School curriculum. The
SLIs “had to refocus” on the fly, said Petty, and lower
their expectations of the youngsters’ capabilities.
Freedom School was a success,” said Petty. “We did it right,
we implemented a lot of things that children might not be
exposed to.” That said, Petty is ready to do bigger and
better things in the future. She would like to expand the
program into the academic year and she would like to raise
even more money in order to pay the staff better wages.
Petty is now awaiting the
results of the post-session testing that the Freedom Schools
performs as part of the process – the students were
subjected to testing before the summer as well in order to
The Children’s Defense
Fund grew out of the Civil Rights Movement and was founded
by Marian Wright Edelman in 1973. Edelman, the first black
woman admitted to the Bar in Mississippi, had served as the
director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s
office in Jackson, MS. The CDF mission is to ensure that
children, particularly minorities and the poor, are healthy,
educated, safe and given a fair chance to achieve adulthood.
The Freedom Schools began
in 1995 with a focus on literacy, parent involvement,
conflict resolution and social action.