Imagine an afterschool program that provides help with homework, nurtures a strong family-like safe environment, staffed by educators who are specialize in the reduction of risky behavior, engage in service projects with plenty of room for fun and recreation. Sounds great, right? There is even an official program out of the Illinois Department of Human Services that you can read about:
All that got erased on April 3rd. Freedom School administrators received a curt email saying that no more bills would be accepted through the Teen REACH program. The $109,000 yearly grant that drove a bulk of the program was abruptly and unexpectedly cut off in a moment.
At the April 13th regular board meeting, Unit 4 heard from many personal accounts of how Freedom Schools, Teen REACH and “Sankofa” had positively impacted their lives. They heard from a mother/grandmother, children, students, volunteers and staff. You can watch it all for yourself within the first 18 minutes of the board meeting video:
I was moved after I watched it, so I immediately contacted the Unit 4 board and administration to learn more. I learned that Gov. Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget totally slashed a large number of social programs, including Teen REACH. What totally puzzles me is why funding was so rudely halted even though the budget has not even been approved by the Senate and the House?!? Where is that money going now?
After a few exchanges with board members, I was put into contact with Ms. Sara Sanders (principal at Franklin) and Ms. Regina Parnell (from the Regional Office of Education); both gave witness at the board meeting, and both have been very invovled in Freedom Schools. Ms. Parnell graciously agreed to meet with me, and even show me around one of the “Freedom Schools”.
To put things in perspective, the program is limping by with a $24,000 grant from United Way (props to United Way!) and pulling some strings. Ms. Parnell point out one staff person who started off volunteering, then officially joined the program, and after learning that funding had vaporized, continued to come back purely as a volunteer. Why? Because the staff truly love the kids, and the kids love the staff. There is no other way to put it. In their own words, they are family. And that is what I really love about this program.
The kidos start out with homework time in a portion of the cafeteria, in a partition right next to Kids Plus. When I was there, I saw about 30 kids of all different elementary grades; I also learned that while most were from Stratton, some come from Dr. Howard as well. The staff have a high standard for behavior, from walking (not running), to how others are treated with respect (even between brothers – now that was a tall order! *grin*). After homework time, where peer tutoring is encouraged, the children are allowed to pursue another project. The day I was there, they filed off to the gym for some recreation.
The whole time I was able to ask questions and learn so much more about this effort (most of the answers are embedded above). Ms. Parnell strikes me as an amazing person who truly has a heart to see these families (not just the students) grow stronger. At one point one of the stories she shared so much reminded me of Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children”, and the critical need to get to know the child and family – else how can you truly guide and help someone?
I also learned that “sankofa” is an Akan word from Ghana meaning (loosely) “to reach back”; the way it is used in Freedom Schools is that the program not only strives to positively impact the students, but to also reach back to the parents (and even grandparents) and positively impact them as well.
When we worked out the numbers, Ms. Parnell came up with $100/month per child. I can do $100/month for this awesome program. Can I find 90 other kind souls?
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And lastly, I have not heard from any legislators or those in contact with the governor about reviving the Teen REACH grant. I am really pissed that the funds were cut off even though there is no good reason for it, yet.
I ask for 90 people to help Freedom Schools. Who is willing and able to help?