For six weeks this summer, interns from IUPUI will serve as instructors and organizers to host a Freedom School, a free literacy-based summer program to immerse children in the enjoyment of reading and learning, in/for the Indianapolis community. This high-energy, interactive academic and mentoring program is designed to nurture the development of positive Black and Brown identities in students while enhancing children’s reading skills and strengthening their academic performance.
The IUPUI Freedom School and will serve 50 Indianapolis-area students and is sponsored by the Center for Africana Studies and Culture in the IU School of Liberal Arts and the IU School of Education as part of a national initiative developed by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)
“We are excited to expand our reach into the community again this year, it will be IUPUI’s fifth and we are very proud of the achievement,” said Dr. Les Etienne, founding director of the IU School of Liberal Arts Center for Africana Studies and Culture and director of the Africana Studies Program. “We are also proud that IUPUI students, serving as interns who will lead the structured reading program aimed at empowering literacy in our community.”
For graduate student and IUPUI Freedom School Site Coordinator Khrisma McMurray, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing the look on a child’s face when they read a book. McMurray is pursuing a master’s in Library and Information Science and has been working with the IUPUI Freedom Schools since 2018, when she was just an 18 year-old freshman.
“I participate in Freedom Schools because I am passionate about battling illiteracy in marginalized communities. I believe one of the leading causes of Black and Brown scholars having low literacy rates and not finding enjoyment in reading stems from the lack of books they receive that mirror their skin color and experiences,” said McMurray.
McMurray will be working alongside project director Montayha Adams, who is a double IUPUI graduate in education (M.S.) and Africana Studies (B.A.), and six “Servant Leader Interns” (SLIs). The Service Leader Interns guide the scholars through the reading curriculum and STEM- or art-related activities, as well as discussion and education about social justice issues.
“My favorite part of a Freedom School day is that the young scholars take home a book to build their at-home library at the end of the week,” McMurray said. “To put it plainly, a typical day for a scholar is educational, energizing, and empowering.”
Educational, energizing, and empowering
Each day the scholars begin by gathering for “Harambee,” Kiswahili for “let’s pull together” — an opening forum featuring motivational songs, inspirational cheers, and chants. Harambee combines community, music, mindfulness, and spelling to energize and prepare scholars for the day ahead.
Scholars then move into a classroom setting for their Integrated Reading Curriculum (IRC). The SLIs guide them with a focus on social advocacy, self-esteem, and dreams. Afternoons consist of various activities designed around the unique interests and skills of the SLIs. These are rare opportunities for hands-on experiences ranging from art to STEM to social action to nutrition — very different from their academic activities during the regular school year.
“One thing that I hope scholars take away from their time in Freedom Schools is the knowledge that they can make a difference and be all they aspire to become,” beamed McMurray.
Etienne adds, “the most rewarding feeling is knowing that after attending IUPUI Freedom School, students return to school in the fall with a new excitement about reading, a more positive self-esteem, and newfound skills for daily positive social interaction in their everyday living and learning.”
Be a Servant Leader
SLIs teach the Freedom School’s Integrated Reading Curriculum, highlighting multicultural stories that hit on one of our six weekly themes: Making a Difference in My Self, Family, Community, Country, World, and With Hope, Education & Action.
“For IUPUI students who are going to be working in public service or as educators, teaching in the Freedom School offers a first-hand opportunity to experience what it is like to do anti-racist, social justice, and critical pedagogical work with the scholars,” says Etienne.
If you are an IUPUI student and would like to become involved with the IUPUI Freedom School or serve as a Servant Leader Intern next year (2024), please contact Dr. Etienne.
The IUPUI Freedom School is made possible through funding from a $200,000 Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Initiative grant award from the National Urban League.