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January 21, 2022

EBDI brings child literacy initiative to Baltimore

By Peter Sicher | February 24, 2010

This summer, the East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI) will co-host the Freedom School Initiative, a new middle school summer literacy program.

The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) will also help run the program, which will take place from July 6 to Aug. 13 at two East Baltimore schools: Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School and the East Baltimore Community School (run by Hopkins' partner EBDI).

Sixty fifth- to eighth-graders will take part in the reading-centered program at the East Baltimore Community School and 70 will take part at Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School. College interns from local colleges, including Hopkins, will work as program mentors.

"[This program] will provide with us a high-quality model for working with middle school students in the community. The quality of training and structure is one we want replicate," said Nicole Johnson, director of the East Baltimore Educational Initiative with EBDI.

The Freedom School initiative promotes appreciation for reading, parental involvement in the educational process, civic engagement in students, intergenerational partnerships through the use of college intern-mentors and improvement in the health and nutrition of students involved in the program.

Wiley Chen, a senior manager with CDF, explained that community- and faith-based organizations initially apply to the Freedom Schools program to earn sponsorship.

"We take the application and look over them, and if they have the right facilities and staff and resources to start a program, we accept them," he said.  

Last summer the Freedom School program served 9,000 children in 27 cities and 79 cities.

"The site in Baltimore was a site that we felt would be a great site to have as part of the program," Chen said.

While neither Chen nor Johnson would comment on the cost of the program to EBDI, Johnson stressed its value.

"The benefit to the students is actually pretty significant given the cost, so we are really excited about being able to give this opportunity to the families in the schools where we work," Johnson said.

"It gives [students] an opportunity to explore themselves, their family, their culture, their community and also make broader connections to community service and service learning. All of that is anchored to reading and the joy of reading."

When looking for college interns to teach and mentor students, CDF tries to recruit students from the area. In this case, EBDI is already trying to recruit students from Hopkins, Morgan State University and the University of Baltimore. Students from those schools will have to apply to take part.     

"CDF has a set of criteria and a position description for the interns. They have to fill out an application to describe their motivation and desire to work with children and their background and experience and what prepares them to be a part of freedom schools," Johnson said.

"These kids can see ‘My mentor came from this neighborhood. Maybe I can go to college as well,'" Chen said.

"Each site decides who to hire but we help them with where to look, which colleges to reach out to, how they can post job announcements in college career centers and local college papers and things like that."

The students taking part in the program are those registered in the two participating elementary/middle schools. They will be accepted on a first come, first serve basis.
Johnson said that EBDI hopes to expand its partnership with CDF and the Freedom School Initiative in the future.

 However, "For now we are just seeing how it works with these two," she said.
"We've been approved for this summer but we'll see what happens. Our hope is to continue the Freedom Schools model and structure into the academic year and hopefully in future summers and possibly expand it to the other schools that Elev8 schools works with," Johnson said.

Johnson is also a director for the Elev8 network, an EBDI partner that seeks to help students transition from eight to ninth grade and provide before- and after-school programs, targeting schools in the East Baltimore area.

So far, CDF directors are enthusiastic about the organization's partnership with EBDI.
"So far I think [EBDI members have] been great and we look forward to working with them for the summer," Chen said.

The principal of Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School, Jael Yon, could not be reached by press time.

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