Davidson College organizations encourage young scholars
by Staff Writer
With technology edging out traditional books, Davidson College organizations are working to keep a love of learning and reading alive in students here and abroad.
From summers at Freedom Schools to fundraising efforts for schools in Ghana, the Davidson community is promoting learning across ages and continents.
The first time Kaneisha Gaston attended Freedom Schools, it wasn’t by choice. Her mother enrolled her and her sisters, and she was hooked.
“We anticipated the next Freedom Schools summer as soon as the current summer session ended,” Gaston said.
When she was admitted to Davidson College, Gaston contacted Ashley Sherrill, Davidson College Director of Freedom Schools, to work for the program.
The Davidson College Foundation funds the six-week summer camp, serving kindergarten through eighth-grade students from Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, Mooresville and Charlotte. The camp costs $15.
The Children’s Defense Fund leads the national Freedom Schools program.
“The CDF Freedom Schools program provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem, and generates more positive attitudes toward learning,” according to the fund’s website.
The program’s 50 students are 90 percent black, eight percent Latino and two percent Caucasian. Sherrill said she spends a lot of time fighting the perception that Freedom Schools is meant for minorities, poor kids or bad kids. Freedom Schools does not consider socioeconomic status when accepting students.
Families apply between January and March. Returning students and their siblings get priority, Sherrill said. Freedom Schools also takes recommendations from The Ada Jenkins Center’s Learning Works after-school program.
Every day starts with breakfast and Harambe, a Swahili word for “let’s pull together,” consisting of cheers and chants to celebrate.
“We’re grateful that every child comes,” Sherrill said. “We try to celebrate the fact that we’re all together.”
Then students go into classes of 10, divided by age-group.
One Davidson College student, like Gaston, runs each of the five classes.
“I wanted to become a Servant-Leader Intern because Freedom Schools affirmed my identity and kept me excited about reading,” Gaston said. “I wanted, and still want, to be able to provide that experience for other youth from my community.”
Interns chose books that reflect their students. Sherrill says minority students don’t see themselves in books they read during the academic year.
“Whatever kinds of issues might not be reflected in mainstream literature, we make sure those are reflected,” Sherrill said.
Only Davidson College students can apply to teach at Freedom Schools, but Sherrill said they are always looking for volunteers to read at Harambe, help serve meals and teach afternoon activities. Last year, students learned to cook in the afternoons and older children took financial literacy classes with the Davidson Housing Coalition.
Sherrill and her staff are always looking for ways to improve Freedom Schools, but she said her goal is to create a welcoming environment.
“Best case, my grandest, grandest hope, would be that by the end of the six weeks, our scholars have had an experience that makes them reflect on how they treat people and how they want to be treated,” Sherrill said.
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Literacy for Life
Across campus, another Davidson student is working with her peers to promote education and literacy much farther from home.
Nicole Giaccone founded Literacy for Life after her summer 2010 Davidson in Ghana trip. Her experience volunteering at Sankofa Children’s Home and School in Ghana inspired her to raise money for the school that operates with nothing.
Sankofa is made of bamboo, with no concrete structure. In the rainy season, classes are cancelled. Teachers make less than a dollar a day, but they keep showing up to teach eager students.
“People were just happy to have notebooks for that day. There were a few chalkboards in each of the classrooms, scattered wooden benches, but really, they had nothing,” Giaccone said.
Literacy for Life raises awareness and funds for Sankofa. Once they reach their fundraising goals, close to $200,000 to build a structure, Giaccone says they will expand to help other schools throughout Ghana. Literacy for Life’s first textbook drive last year raised $3,000, which allowed Sankofa to start building a foundation.
The next textbook drive will begin this month.
The organization is planning to collaborate with local elementary schools to educate students about the limited resources in other parts of the world and connect them with their Ghanaian peers. Giaccone wants to start a pen-pal program, connecting an elementary school class in Davidson with Sankofa students.
“Hopefully … by giving an actual face to the problems over there, it would help increase awareness,” Giaccone said.
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