A successful summer for Philadelphia Freedom School


For Desiree Smith, one of the 56 Philadelphia Freedom School scholars at the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT), it wasn’t hard to memorize the dozen or so songs, chants and dances that the campers performed at the closing ceremony last Friday morning.

As Smith explains, these are all part of harambe – Swahili for “let’s pull together”- and they are part of how the scholars started off everyday of the six week long summer program. Aall of the practicing certainly did pay off. Despite being the first year that the Philadelphia Freedom School ran a program at PCAT, the campers here won the “Scholar Holla” award for their attitude, commitment and most importantly, their spirit.

Children aged 10 to 14 attended the PCAT, located at 2111 Eastburn Avenue in West Oak Lane, every day from 8 am to 3 pm to participate in everything from karate and gymnastics to web and game design. One of the most interesting enrichment classes that the camp offers is called Music Means Business that teaches scholars about what goes on behind the scenes of the music industry.

This is the first year that Philadelphia Freedom School ran a program at this facility – it is one of nine in the Philadelphia area. The program is open to all students, but most of the students at this location are from the West Oak Lane Area. Soledad Alfaro, executive director of expanded learning at PCAT, explains that a benefit of holding the camp at this location is the many resources that the building has to offer. And, now that campers are aware of it, they are welcome to come and use it in the future.

This program is unlike the typical summer camp – although the kids get their fair share of field trips and games, the program is primarily academic based and focuses on bridging the gap between school years. As Alfaro explained, “the main focus of the summer program at PCAT is to improve students math and literacy skills, while also attempting to disprove the stigma of being smart that is so prevalent in the African American community”.

Philadelphia Freedom School and PCAT provide a structured curriculum of diverse activities. Scholars were not just reading novels, which can be an accomplishment to get students to do during summer months, but they were participating in hands on activities related to the books. One age group read a book about Harriet Tubman and then navigated the halls of PCAT as if they were on a journey through the underground railroad.

In addition, students are encouraged to come up with social projects. For one group of 11 and 12 year old students, this meant making tee-shirts, compiling PCAT yellow pages of community resources and planning a reading day party.

The Philadelphia Freedom School chooses motivated high-school and college students to serve as Youth Leaders, role models for the younger students. As Alfaro explained, “It’s much more realistic for students to have role models that are academically minded who are goal oriented, rather than performers and celebrities”.

One of these leaders is Brooke Webster, 18, will be leaving for her freshman year at Virginia Union University in less than a week. She has been working with Philadelphia Freedom Schools since 2008 and was pleased to see that the new site ran so smoothly.

For Webster, the program is all about keeping the campers minds sharp so that they can return to school having not forgotten how to act.  Added Webster, “Hopefully, that attitude will start to effect other students, too.”

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