By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
Freedom School in Galveston will be in person this summer. “We weren’t sure if we were going to be virtual or not and we are happy to say, we are in person!” exclaimed Sue Johnson, Executive Director of Nia Cultural Center and Freedom School in Galveston.
This year the school will be hosted at Moody Methodist Church. Classes start on June 21 going through July 23. Students in grades 3rd through 12th are being enrolled in the 2021 program.
Freedom School includes an intense immersion in reading skills for students. “We have had students gain 7-10 months in their reading skills from the program,” said Johnson.
Literature selected for use in the summer program focuses on the accomplishments of African Americans. “Through books the scholars develop their reading skills while learning about the culture, history and experiences of African Americans,” said Johnson.
Galveston’s Freedom School has been a tradition since 2007. “Sue Johnson is phenomenal, her work through the years with our students and families has been extraordinary,” said Dr Hernandez, Family & Community Engagement Specialist at G.I.S.D.
Students who are called scholars develop their literacy skills under the leadership of trained young adults who are called interns. The interns normally attend an in person, national training but this year the training was virtual.
“I Can Make a Difference” is the theme that guides Freedom Schools across America. Children are immersed in reading skills for the six-week summer program. Parents are an essential part of the program and are provided workshops on topics that are in the moment issues, such as cyber bullying.
This year’s Galveston Project Director, Makia Golliday, was selected because of her own talent and zeal for making a difference in her community and the lives of children. She is a 2017 Ball High School graduate and graduated from Texas State University December 2020.
Golliday attended the summer program as a young girl. “When I was a kid in Freedom School, it was surreal. It gave me a sense of history and culture that I didn’t learn in school,” said Golliday. She has also served as an intern and taught younger children when she was in high school.
The school day begins with a rousing event called Harambee which means all pull together. All students gather in a circle and staff lead them in cheers, chants, motivational songs with lots and lots of physical movement. “It’s high energy,” said Johnson.
Harambee is also a time when the young scholars are encouraged to share positive recognition to their peers, staff and others who they want to praise. A guest volunteer ends the gathering by reading a book to the scholars.
Scholars then break into groups based on age and reading level. Class size is limited to ten students. Interns begin the lesson with an activity related to the book for that day. Children are invited to take turns reading out loud but are never required.
“One year a mom came in and told us her daughter had trouble reading. It just warmed my heart in the 2nd week when the little girl asked if she could read out loud. She came back the next summer and was reading more and more,” said Golliday.
Afternoons are filled with education in areas such as software coding, web-design, STEM projects, dance, theater, art, poetry, arts and crafts and college and career preparedness.
Fridays are field trip days. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is a traditional field trip along with tours of college campuses in Houston.
Sam Collins III who will be volunteering in Galveston’s Freedom School this summer described the importance of books and education in the fight for freedom, “The United States Colored Troops and other Union soldiers used guns to bring freedom to the enslaved people in 1865. Books and information are our weapons of choice today to free people,” said Collins. Golliday isn’t just concerned about the scholars’ education, she wants the kids to have fun. “I love having a great time with the kids and making it fun for them to learn,” said Golliday. Her passion is music, and she plans to share some of her musical knowledge and skills with this summer’s scholars.