L.A. Dodger Shares Story of Jackie Robinson with Students

Lynwood, Calif. – Dodgers all-star catcher Yasmani Grandal took a break from the pennant chase on Friday, July 31 to share an inspiring story of success with more than 100 students at Lynwood Unified’s Helen Keller Elementary.

Grandal, who came to the school as part of the Read Lead Summer Literacy Program’s finale, read a story about Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The book titled Stealing Home gave students an insight into Robinson’s historic home plate steal, which earned the Brooklyn Dodgers a win in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees.

The trip and the story provided Grandal, who was born in Cuba, with the opportunity to encourage students to never give up.

“I want to tell the children to always work hard so they can reach their dreams,” Grandal said. “In coming here, you never know whose life you can change. A little encouragement can really make a big impact on a child.”

During the six-week Read Lead program, students, ages 5-13, read culturally relevant books as a way to boost self-esteem, instill a love of reading and generate a positive attitude toward learning. The free program was designed as a way to stem summer learning loss, which researchers have identified as a primary factor in widening the achievement gap between student groups.

Students with perfect attendance received four tickets to an upcoming Dodger game, courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers Foundation helped fund the program.

“In education, the foundation focuses on college access and success, but another major component is literacy,” said Foundation Executive Director Nichol Whiteman. “So when we heard about the Read Lead Program and that it was a part of the Freedom Schools Initiative and that it was working with schools in Lynwood, we became very interested in the program.”

Whiteman hopes to continue working with the District to introduce programs that boost student achievement.

“The children were thrilled to spend time with a professional baseball player, who really took the time to inspire them to go after their dreams,” said Lynwood Unified Superintendent Paul Gothold. “I want to thank the leaders at Read Lead, who are instrumental in running the literacy program, and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation for its support in helping us prepare our children for success.”

More than 300 students throughout the Los Angeles area this summer participated in the Read Lead Program, which provides leadership opportunities for youth and young adults in Los Angeles County. Founded in 2011, Read Lead is led by young professionals and educators who have an innovative approach to service delivery that leverages community resources and expertise to improve the educational landscape.

“The Read Lead program has been a tremendous success in Lynwood Unified because it helps us to provide additional motivation and support for our students as they approach the new school year,” said Maria Lopez, Lynwood Unified School District Board of Education President. “I want to congratulate all of our student participants for their dedication to their education.”

This story was originally appeared on: patch.com

Love at First Chant

Maria Estrada remembers having to argue with her two daughters when it came to reading. They would complain and get attitudes when she or their father would try to get them to pick up a book.

So when Maria heard about the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools®, a summer enrichment program aimed at getting kids to enjoy reading, she thought it was perfect for her girls. In the summer of 2013, she drove down to Hellen Keller Elementary School in Lynwood – one of the 33 sites across the state hosting CDF Freedom Schools – and signed them up.

The thought of going to a reading program did not sound like fun to Christina, who was 12, and the then 7-year-old Iliana. In fact, like many others, they were reluctant and felt the activities they did first thing every morning were a bit corny. These morning activities are done during Harambee, which means “let’s pull together” in Swahili.” Harambee is like a pep rally and involves lots of singing, dancing, and chanting to celebrate and affirm every CDF Freedom School participant.

“At first you can see the kids looking around embarrassed, trying to see whose watching them,” said Juan Carlo Lugo, the coordinator at the Helen Keller Elementary site. “But then they get into it and have fun.”

It only took a couple of days for Iliana and Christina to fall in love with the program. In fact, both girls say Harambee is their favorite part. As for reading, that took a while longer; and for Christina, the love is still developing. But, she admits, the program has helped her tremendously.

Christina said she always struggled with reading and hated when she had to read in front of others. In CDF Freedom Schools, students are in a classroom with about 10 other scholars and a teacher. Every day, students sit in a circle and take turns reading a book together. This process helped Christina overcome her fear of reading aloud and improved her reading skills.

Now in high school, Christina did not participate this year but she did volunteer. On one recent afternoon, she assisted a teacher in a first grade class.

“I had to read to them,” she said. “And it actually felt good. Now I know I can read to other people.”

Over the past three years, a more radical change has happened with Iliana. Maria says Iliana is a much better reader than her sister was at her age, and she now enjoys reading.

Crystal Leon, who has been Iliana’s teacher in the program for two summers, said the scholar’s attitude toward reading has changed completely. “During the first year she would complain every time we would have them read. Now, when we finish a book as a group, she will go and pick up the same book and read it again on her own.”

CDF Freedom Schools program provides an integrated reading curriculum which includes carefully chosen developmentally appropriate and culturally relevant books. The books are about people who look like them and with similar backgrounds.

When asked what she loves about reading, Iliana responds simply: the books.

“I like that we learn about our history and stuff,” she added.

This story originally appeared on: www.cdfca.org

Paying it Forward


Many parents and students look up to Juan Carlos Lugo – well, actually, few people don’t. At 6’10, Lugo towers over most crowds. But it is not his height that people are drawn to; it is his unique ability to connect with the individuals who surround him.

As coordinator for one of the 33 sites across the state hosting the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program, Lugo’s passion for children and education is apparent in all he does.

“JC is why I am here,” said 15-year-old Zerrick Davis. “JC made a big difference in my life.”

Zerrick was 13 when he started coming to the CDF Freedom Schools at Hellen Keller Elementary in Lynwood. It was JC’s first year participating in the summer enrichment program as well. The purpose of the CDF Freedom Schools program is to boost students’ motivation to read and increase their self-esteem. Zerrick, a reluctant young man who often kept to himself, could use a little more confidence. He admitted that he hated reading aloud, especially in class, and he often kept his head down.

He credits JC, who was then a first year CDF Freedom Schools servant leader intern, with helping him overcome his fears and “pumping me up to do things that I didn’t want to do.” Now two years later, when Zerrick could be at home playing video games, at a park, or watching TV, he chooses to donate his time as a helper at the Lynwood site to make an impact on someone’s life like JC did on his.

Being a mentor to kids, particularly at a summer camp focused on reading, is not what JC ever expected for himself. Growing up in Bell Gardens in Southeast Los Angeles, JC described himself as a quiet, reserved student whose best subjects were math and science. He fondly recalls and often tells kids about winning his 8th grade science fair.

As for English, he said, he hated the subject. In fact, JC ditched his sophomore English class so often that he had to retake it. “It was just something I struggled with,” he said.

This insecurity with English started at an early age. With both of his parents from Mexico, JC’s first language was Spanish. It wasn’t until years later when he realized his ability to communicate in both languages was not something to be ashamed of; it was an asset.

After graduating from high school, JC began working at Rowdy Ridge summer camp in Lake Arrowhead for kids who came from homes with domestic violence and substance abuse.

“I had to put aside all my insecurities and self-doubt,” he said. “Being there made me realize whatever I had going on, I had to set it aside because these kids needed me.” It was during his four summers at the Rowdy Ridge camp when he realized his unique gift.

“I found that people, kids particularly, really like to talk to me,” he said. “They don’t feel like they are talking to an adult or a teacher.”

It’s not only the kids who love JC, parents also easily become attached. At one of the weekly parent meetings at the CDF Freedom Schools Lynwood site, it was announced that JC would be temporarily moved to another site. Parents erupted.

“No, you can’t take JC!” one parent yelled. “Find somebody else!”

“How long will he be gone?” another asked.

JC has come a long way from that timid, insecure kid who didn’t know his worth and hated English. He received his bachelor’s degree in English literature in 2013 and his experience with the CDF Freedom Schools program has solidified his plans to become a high school English teacher and later, an administrator.

This story originally appeared on: www.cdfca.org

CDF Freedom Schools: A Paradigm Shift

In a classroom adorned in bright colors, ten young scholars sit in a circle. One by one, they take turns reading aloud. At various points, the facilitator asks for examples of how their lives reflect those of the characters in the book or to share what they think will happen next in the story. It’s a powerful experience as students of color, primarily African-American and Latino, engage in culturally competent instruction through an extraordinary six-week summer enrichment program known as the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools® program. The CDF Freedom Schools program seeks to build strong, literate, and confidant children prepared to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation and the world. The program is free to student scholars and families, and endeavors to help close a persistent achievement gap and reduce summer learning loss.

Freedom Schools were first started during the Civil Rights Movement. They were temporary, alternative free schools for African Americans mostly in the South with a purpose of achieving social, political and economic equality in the United States. With African American and Latino youth still laden with separate and unequal school systems across the country, contributing to achievement gaps, and high expulsion and dropout rates, Freedom Schools were reborn in 1995 under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman with a transformative vision of high-quality education for all students. And similar to the Freedom Schools of the civil rights era, CDF Freedom Schools are taught by college students, providing them with a unique and invaluable teaching experience but also building a pipeline for more college students of color to enter the teaching profession.

Crystal Leon is one of those college students. She says she has seen how the CDF Freedom Schools program curriculum and its teaching methods have helped improve students’ reading and comprehension as well as foster a love for reading. Students like Iliana Estrada, who three years ago, was terrified to read a book aloud and actually hated reading. After two summers in the program, the now 8-year-old scholar is a confident reader and is often seen with a book in her hand.

Since 1995, more than 137,000 kindergarten through high school-age children have been impacted by the CDF Freedom Schools program experience and over 16,000 college students and graduates have been trained to deliver this powerful model. This summer, the Children’s Defense Fund-California will support 27 CDF Freedom School program sites, including four at juvenile detention camps, while serving approximately 1,700 children.

How do we accomplish this? The CDF Freedom Schools program is implemented through partnerships with local community-based organizations, faith-based groups, local governments, juvenile justice facilities, and universities. The Children’s Defense Fund develops the program curriculum, delivers intensive staff training, and provides program oversight and engages in evaluation. This is not your typical summer camp. In fact, it’s not summer camp at all – its CDF Freedom School! Each morning begins with harambee, meaning “to pull together” in Swahili. During harambee, CDF Freedom School program scholars participate in storytelling, reading aloud, motivational cheers, songs and chants. At the core of the CDF Freedom Schools experience is the culturally relevant curriculum that affirms the strength and value of scholars’ culture through literature – leading many to realize that they have more commonalities than differences. This is particularly exemplified in juvenile probation camps where there can often be racial and gang tension. In Los Angeles County, CDF Freedom Schools have thrived since first being implemented in 2013 thanks to a partnership with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LAOCE), the Los Angeles County Probation Department and significant support from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the California Endowment. This program is not only changing the narrative around education in juvenile justice facilities, it is promoting systemic and cultural change within the juvenile justice system overall.

“Normally, we would want a controlled situation, to have the youth separated and their movement limited,” said LeMar Ruffin, a Los Angeles County probation officer, who helps run the program at Camp Afflerbaugh. “But, here, to be able to have the scholars in one room, engaging and having fun together … it’s an anomaly.”

Ruffin said he has seen firsthand a transformation in many of the young men who participate in the program. In fact, evaluation reports indicate participants’ behavior and interaction with their peers, teachers and probation officers improved throughout the program; there were significant decreases in suspensions and referrals at camps; and participants felt more empowered to give back to their communities. The success of the program in Los Angeles County led to the establishment of a CDF Freedom Schools at Camp Sweeney in partnership with Lincoln Child Center, Alameda County Probation Department and the Alameda County Office of Education.

Through the social action and civic engagement component of the CDF Freedom Schools program model, children and youth learn about community service and social justice advocacy. Participants take part in a variety of actions including visiting and writing letters to elected officials, joining together for marches and rallies and public education activities. And if you’re still not convinced about the value and uniqueness of the CDF Freedom Schools program, here are some other reasons to believe in this model:

Children’s reading abilities benefit directly from participation: One of the most exciting findings reported is the positive gain that scholars make in reading ability by participating in the CDF Freedom Schools program. The gains are also widespread, occurring among scholars in each age group.

Reading scores among students in the comparison group were also higher at the end of the summer than at the beginning, but they were not significantly higher. Comparison students enrolled in other academic programs improved their reading more than students who were not enrolled in academic programs, but neither group improved as much as CDF Freedom Schools program children improved.

Children demonstrated positive character development from participation: Parents of CDF Freedom Schools program scholars see more positive changes than parents of comparison students see among their children in attitudes toward learning, community involvement, conflict resolution skills, and acceptance of responsibility and social adjustment.

CDF Freedom Schools programs increase the effectiveness of parental involvement in their children’s education: CDF Freedom Schools programs help parents do a better job supporting their children’s academic development by exposing them to fun, high-energy teaching methodologies and imparting a greater understanding of children’s development and learning styles.

CDF Freedom Schools program facilitators, called servant leader interns, are chosen because they will be positive role models for children: Many servant leader interns are involved in their communities and campuses as leaders before joining CDF Freedom Schools program sites. They bring their assets to CDF Freedom Schools programs, and learn new skills there.

The CDF Freedom Schools program is life changing. And, it is a key part of Children Defense Fund – California’s work to ensure a level playing field for all children. I invite you to learn more about the CDF Freedom Schools program on our website or to contact us if you are interested in hosting a CDF Freedom Schools program, volunteering at a location, or providing financial support to ensure that each summer young people have an opportunity to learn and grow.

This story originally appeared on: www.huffingtonpost.com

Summer’s End Celebration


Freedom Schools Finale – Ladera Park

Eight-year-old, Laci Martin of Compton enjoyed attending her summer literacy enrichment program, so much last year she couldn’t wait to return to Read Lead’s Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in Lynwood this year.

“Last year I wasn’t a good reader, but now I can read 141 words a minute,” Laci said enthusiastically. “I’ve read so many books this summer, I can’t count how many books I’ve read.”

Laci was one of more than 450 Freedom Schools scholars, ages 5 to 18 celebrating the end of their summer Freedom School program, a six week long program created by the Children’s Defense Fund to prevent the effects of summer learning loss. Throughout the summer, six Freedom Schools sites throughout the Second District, provided these young scholars with a curriculum that was both challenging and entertaining, with activities that included reading, art, dance, music, field trips, athletics and community service.

The model is based on an idea born 50 years ago this summer, during the crucible of the civil rights movement. In 1964, in what came to be called the Mississippi Freedom Summer, when college students from around the nation descended on the state to help African-Americans register to vote and to teach black children as an alternative to Mississippi’s underfunded and segregated school system. For many pupils, the Freedom Schools provided their first introduction to literature by and about black people, encouraging them to both read about and write their own stories.


Freedom Schools Finale – Ladera Park

Fast-forward to 2014, and students in today’s Freedom Schools received similar encouragement. As it did 50 years ago, a love of reading blossomed in these young ones too. That’s crucial, because studies have shown that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds suffer a significant learning gap during the 11 weeks of summer vacation.

For the nearly 500 children of the Second District Freedom Schools, however, much of that gap was filled with mentoring, lessons and field trips. At the program’s end, children and their teachers gathered at Ladera Park in Los Angeles recently for a special culmination party. In addition to singing, chanting and celebrating their newfound love of reading, they were treated to a reading from Donzaleigh Abernathy, actress, author and daughter of the legendary civil rights leader Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

She read from her book, Partners to History and told the children how during slavery, reading was not an option for many and in fact, slave owners punished blacks who tried to learn to read.


Freedom Schools Finale – Ladera Park

“I wanted to share that history and that’s why I decided to read the book today,” Abernathy, who knew Martin Luther King, Jr. so well he was like an uncle, said. “ I wrote the book because I love my dad and I love Uncle Martin and they made it possible for me to be free in the world.”

In addition, the students were treated to a special baseball clinic by the Los Angeles Dodgers. They learned about earthquake safety, climbed aboard a fire engine and stopped by the Los Angeles County Public Library’s Urban Outreach Bookmobile.


Freedom Schools Finale – Ladera Park

“All children are entitled to a strong learning environment,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has sponsored 16 sites over the past five years. “Freedom Schools instill an unstoppable love of learning and reading that positively affects every child. It is always an honor to see the desire to learn passed down to generations.”

As part of the program, college students serve as “Servant Leader Interns” who are trained to work as reading tutors and role models, motivating children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and their abilities. For first-time Freedom Schools Community Coalition Servant Leader Intern, Yvette Aragon, 23 of Los Angeles, the finale was bittersweet.

“I’m happy to be here with my scholars but to see the program end makes me sad,” Aragon said. “I’m so proud of them, not just my scholars but all the scholars here. They are dynamic and I know they are going to be future leaders.”

Hellen Keller Read Lead Servant Leader Intern Crystal Leon, 26 agreed with Aragon: “It’s a lot of hard work, dedication and long hours but at the end of the day when you make a difference in someone’s life, it’s all worth it.”

This story originally appeared on: ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov

Parent Engagement Institute: The Launch

Engaged Parents. Stronger Students.

Last month we launched our newest program, the Parent Engagement Institute. In partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund of California the program provides parents with the skills and knowledge to better support their children’s academic development, build stronger communication and engagement, and increase their effectiveness as advocates. The goal is for parents to create a mindset, environment, and expectation that higher education is a viable goal for their children. The curriculum articulates a pathway for children of lower-income families to become college graduates with a strong emphasis on language and literacy. We know, engaged parents build stronger students.

Learn more about the program and a recap of the first session here

30 Million Word Gap

It’s hard to wrap your mind around the concept of 30 million anything. Can you believe it’s also the gap between the number of words a ‘well-to-do child’ hears by the end of age 3, versus any one of their peers. Thirty million words. And that gap has a persistent impact on learning, literacy, and education.

Learn about how you can close the gap with more info here

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