Freedom Schools looking for help

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?

Couple things from Unit 4

Stephanie Stuart has posted a few things in the past few days.

Choice Forums

Because the first two forums got smothered by weather, Unit 4 has opted to hold “Choice Chats”, where you drop by the Family Information Center “and speak with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Susan Zola about the process and receive further information.”

  • Wednesday, March 5, 2014 – 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 6, 2014 – 5-6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 2014 – 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.

Stratton’s new focus: the Arts

The magnet program at Stratton (MicroSociety) seems to be evolving. It is not clear to me exactly how this will look or what the new focus will bring to the school, but it certainly has a prestigious sounding name: Stratton Academy of the Arts. Even comes with a new mission statement: “Stratton Elementary is dedicated to empowering students to become lifelong learners in pursuit of their dreams.” Now I know some are going to have strong opinions (one way or the other), but before you cast your stones I only ask that you do some homework. I for one would like to talk to Principal Stephanie Eckels and learn where this came from and where they are going with it.

Twitter #AskUnit4 tomorrow

In the past, Carly McCrory of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation (CHCEDC) and Stephanie Stuart have co-hosted a couple twitter chats, allowing the online community to tweet questions and receive answers from Unit 4 officials. I see that the NG is even promoting this event, most likely because of the “new high school” topic. The advertised time is from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm on Tuesday, Feb 11th.

That’s about it for now. I have not yet watched the board meeting, but I saw that it was about 1 hour and 43 minutes; I hope to watch it soon.

Something to check out

I am utterly remiss in not mentioning the awesome Tech Night at BTW this past Wednesday! Grr…. If anyone went to it, I would love to hear more.


So that I do not overlook another really cool event, I want to mention the “official Independence Day”. What the heck is that you ask? Who cares about “microsociety”? If you are asking those kinds of questions, perhaps you should go at 1:pm to Stratton and find out. =)


Unit 4 Facebook announcement:

Stratton Weebly site:

Meg Dickinson’s NG article:

Stratton’s “Constitutional Convention” blog (temporary home, I believe):

New website for Magnet schools

Fresh from Unit 4’s Facebook:


Not too shabby; decent layout, nice javascript buttons, 6 nav buttons, each with one or two pages behind it. Simple, gets the job done. Kinda strange that it does not link to any other external pages – not even Unit 4’s own pages.


And just in time for tonight’s forum.

What's wrong with this picture?

As a child (and even as an adult, truth be told), I rather enjoyed the “What’s wrong with this picture?” on the back of Highlights magazines. There is a picture with several humorous “impossibilities” or “extremely unlikely” nuances, for instance, a fish walking a dog. Or a car with a doughnut wheel. Or a fire hydrant spitting out grape juice.

When looking at the school district, there are several things that just seem wrong. Unfortunately, they are far more serious. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting involved: Stratton

A was honored to hear about an after school pilot program at Stratton, Summit:



When I read this, I was really inspired. I like it a lot! I think what I like about it is twofold:

  1. It identifies and isolates an issue that needs attention, and finds a possible solution that is extremely practical and helpful
  2. The originators clearly need help and cannot do this alone so they have called in for help, and help they have received; I see this as a great way to practice community engagement


I will be keeping my ears and eyes open to see how this unfolds. More than that, I want to copy it and bring it to my school! 🙂 In fact, one of the reasons why this is presented as a “press release” is because they want to broadcast and pollinate concepts. “We would be thrilled to talk to others who want to do similar programs. We have a wealth of talent and feel no need to hoard the ideas.”