CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Freedom School Partners are proud of their summer program. About 1,200 students attend 16 sites for six weeks, learning about science, technology, engineering, and math as well as other fun stuff. The main focus, though, is reading.
"If they haven't been reading over the summer and actively engaged with books, then they may have lost two to three months - and that makes it hard for teachers in the classroom to get children moving along," Freedom School Director of Development Nikki Keith said.
Keith says they track their students and report about 90 percent of them improve or maintain their reading ability. Ninety percent of students attend the program every day, and 87 percent of the parents fulfill three or more hours of participating and engaging with the program.
"Freedom School still has the magic secret sauce to make that happen," Keith said.
Students say they like coming to Freedom School. Some say they wish their regular school was like it. Each day starts off on a high note with Harambee.
"It means 'let's come together,'" Keith said. "And I think that is so important. It helps children to focus."
During Harambee students sing, say chants, and get excited about their studies for the summer.
"It's a good way to start the morning," Freedom School scholar Anthony Houston said. "Sometimes when I come here I am tired. It really wakes me up."
Houston has been with the program since he was in the 4th grade. He is now going to the 9th grade. He says the program has helped him.
"I read differently. I chose to do things differently. I make good choices," he said.
The scholar says five years ago he wouldn't be reading a book in the summer, but now he does.
Keith says the way she gets students to read during the summer is to have books they like.
"Very deliberate and intentional to make sure our books that children can relate with and want to read," she said.
On Friday, students got to pick out $40 worth of books. American Airlines and an anonymous donor made the financial donation so students can have books to read at home.
"It takes an army to make it work," Keith said. "Our name is Freedom School Partners - it's very deliberate. We don't do this work by ourselves."
Freedom School is making a difference. Students say it's because of the program that they will be ready on the first day of school.
"It makes me feel good," Houston said. "Makes me feel like I am ahead of everybody else. I am prepared for what the school year has to bring me."
The summer program cost $1,500 per scholar. To operate Freedom School all year takes $2.5 million.