A look inside Iowa’s first civil rights-era CDF Freedom Schools

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 5:32 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -More than 30 middle schoolers from Cedar Rapids and surrounding cities are taking part in a summer program with ties to Civil Rights Movement in the 1960′s.

This is the first time Iowa has had the ‘Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Program’. The goal is to prevent summer reading loss, especially in Black and Brown communities. The non-profit Tanager Place is running the month-long program at McKinley Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

Isaiah Miller wants his reading skills to be sharp when he starts sixth grade this fall.

“A lot of people don’t like learning through the summer,” he said. “It can be fun sometimes and boring sometimes, but I still like to learn so I can have a good mindset.”

He likes reading about inspirational characters, and people who look like him.

Tanager Place has the kids reading about a diverse group of characters for the program. Miller says he really wants a good education.

“It’ll help a lot in the future for you to get like scholarships,” he said. “And a lot of good stuff in college, good colleges to go to.”

An average day this summer at McKinley includes breakfast, some chanting and cheering, reading, lunch, recess, and some type of social activity or field trip. Kids are split up by reading levels. They talk about the assigned book they are reading with an instructor. The program runs Monday-Friday 8:00am-3:00pm.

“I think it’s gonna help them realize that this is something they can do and make them more confident in their reading,” said instructor Jada Grubbs. “Because a lot of the kids we had here weren’t confident in the reading. They didn’t want to do popcorn reading, they didn’t want to do read aloud, they wanted us to read to them.”

Grubbs is reading the book Chess Rumble with her students. She’s using experiences from the book to talk about important issues.

“Talk about like Black communities and households with mental health and stuff like that,” she said. “A lot of our kids already know about stuff like that. They talk us about social activism, Black Lives Matter movement, and stuff like that.”

The program runs until July 23rd.

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