Pine Bluff School District students enrolled in the Freedom Schools Initiative increased their reading abilities at a greater rate than their peers did on a national level, the Pine Bluff educator who oversees the program said.

The Pine Bluff School District began a pilot program in summer 2017 that enrolled 120 at-risk students and proved successful with students improving their reading comprehension. The district expanded the Freedom Schools Initiative in October in response to students achieving success in the program during the summer of 2017. This initiative’s mission is to prevent students from forgetting instruction during the summer and to close the achievement gap.

Zach Lewis is the instructional technology and innovation specialist in the Pine Bluff School District. He shared this news based on testing data for the summer 2017 Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom School’s Initiative in the Pine Bluff School District.

“Scholars were pre-and post-tested in their instructional reading abilities and various attitudes toward learning, self, and civic engagement; parents were also surveyed,” Lewis said via email. “The academic data was impressive and parents, interns, and scholars alike grew and proved that the program made an impact on Pine Bluff’s youth.”

Lewis highlighted data that shows the greatest growth occurred among the middle school and upper elementary scholars. Those scholars increased by one year and by two months in their instructional reading levels during the six-week programs.

Lewis said that most Pine Bluff School District parents believed their children were more confident and better readers as a result of taking part in Freedom Schools. He said that 43 Pine Bluff parents completed surveys regarding their children’s enrollment with Freedom Schools and that most of these parents perceived positive changes in their children’s social skills and academic competencies.

The Children’s Defense Fund re-certified and approved the program in summer 2018 and scholars are being served daily in the after-school program, Lewis said via email. Educators believe that at-risk students who receive mentoring and one-on-one guidance and tutoring have a much greater chance at being productive members of society later in their lives than those who receive no attention.

The Freedom Schools movement originated in the 1960s with American college students from the North assisting Americans from the South in helping black Americans register to vote. Many of the people who took part in the movement belonged to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.