The Center for Black Educator Development: Freedom Schools & Freedom Summer – A Way to Address Inequity In Our Schools

All that is good and accomplished in the world takes work. Everything else is jive. -Haki Madhubuti 

We launched the Center for Black Educator Development (CBED) to humbly and courageously address local and national needs: inequity in preparing, recruiting, hiring, retaining, and elevating Black teachers.

We saw a deep need for Black students to have highly effective Black teachers – often Black students are taught by the least experienced and least effective teachers.

There are two types of people, those who say, someone needs to do something about that and others who boldly state, we are going to do something about that.

We also wanted to use our teacher apprentice program, Philly Freedom Schools, (modeled after the Mississippi Freedom Schools, the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools, and the liberation schools of the Black Panther Party and other Black activists) to address the summer slide – the loss of literacy skills that  many youth experience over the summer.

We wanted our youth to have a free, engaging, culturally affirming summer program and access to near peers to serve as their reading coaches while these high school and college student-teachers learned about (and experienced practicing) the artistic science of teaching.

We recruited and trained over 40 Black and Latinx high school and college students to teach our researched-based literacy curriculum (created in partnership with Dr Nell Duke) and we relied heavily on Dr Alfred Tatum for reading material.

And after two weeks of training (and daily during the summer program) these high school and college students began their teacher apprentice program working with first, second, and third grade students in North Philadelphia.

Windows and Mirrors

Our program was literacy-rich. Scholars’ day consisted of literacy in the morning and enrichment classes after lunch. Each of our scholars took home a bag of books by Black authors. We know that our students need exposure to more books where people who look like them are centered. A Black child is more likely to see a talking rabbit when reading a book than a child that looks like them.

And just as Black students are unlikely to see a mirror image of themselves in books, they’re unlikely to see one leading their classroom either. Our Freedom Schools’ teacher apprentice program boasted 25 Black high school students and 15 Black college students. Every morning, 100 Black elementary age scholars received positive affirmation about themselves, their culture, and their intellectualism from teachers who looked like them.

And, even before the publication of recent studies, our communities wholeheartedly knew our children needed far more Black teachers. Black students with a single Black teacher are 39% more likely to graduate high school and if they have two Black teachers, these students are 32% more likely to enroll in college than their peers without Black teachers. Any mother, father, grandparent, or other relative could’ve told us (and they did) about the impact of same race teachers for Black students. 

At the Center for Black Educator Development, we recognize that having a Black teacher is great. Having an effective Black teacher is monumental. 

We recognize highly effective teaching is an extremely complex art and science – a skill that that, when honed and executed well, can play a significant role in addressing the human right consistently denied to Black children – a quality education. Our teachers need to be well prepared and that takes practice, quality professional development, and significant coaching. 

We use the Freedom School model to address the need to engage high school and college students in pre-apprentice/apprenticeships far earlier than many teachers, thus exposing students to the rigors and joys of teaching in a brief but effective manner. We will use this same model for an after school program – a year round Freedom Schools model.

Samaria Bailey from the Philadelphia Tribune captures some aspects of our program in this article in the Tribune

What do you think?

About the author

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

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2 Comments

  • This is a solution worth replication. An essential question that many are grappling with is this: what is the purpose of education? Philly Freedom Summer School answers that question–it is a way to RE-IMAGINE, RE-INVENT, RE-CONNECT with community while you prepare for an uncertain future. Beautiful…simply beautiful.

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