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Pulitzer Prize winner launching literacy program in Waterloo

1619 Freedom School will open in October

Pulitzer Prize winner launching literacy program in Waterloo
Pulitzer Prize winner launching literacy program in Waterloo
Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the 1619 Freedom School, talks this week about the school and literacy program she is opening this year in Waterloo, her hometown. The school and literacy program will have a launch in October before opening the full program in January. (Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register via AP)

WATERLOO — A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist known for her writing on race is joining with educators in Iowa to launch a free after-school literacy program in her hometown.

Nikole Hannah-Jones said the 1619 Freedom School will hold a soft launch in October at the Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence with a small number of students before opening the full program in January at the Masonic Temple in downtown Waterloo, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

The program will serve fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Waterloo Community Schools.

“We will accept any student who has a need, up to our capacity. We don’t discriminate based on students’ race,” Hannah-Jones said, adding that test scores have shown "that the overwhelming need is for Black students.”

Students will remain in the program as long as needed, and additional children will be enrolled each year.

Hannah-Jones rose to fame and won the Pulitzer for her work on the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which reframed U.S. history through a racial equity lens and helped mainstream the idea of critical race theory — a topic that has become a core Republican talking point.

While it carries a similar name, the elementary literacy program “has nothing to do with the 1619 Project at all” and does not teach critical race theory, Hannah-Jones said. The 1619 Freedom School is privately funded.

The curriculum, which teaches literacy through Black history, was designed by educators from Georgetown University’s Program in Education, Inquiry and Justice and the University of Missouri’s Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education. By 2022, the curriculum will be made available for free to anyone in the country.

“The 1619 Freedom School is built on the understanding that for a people for whom it was once illegal to learn to read and write, education is a revolutionary act,” Hannah-Jones said.

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“A quality education has been the key to my success, and I wanted to give back to the community that raised me and to the children whose opportunities may be limited but who have potential that is limitless."

Joy Briscoe, Sheritta Stokes, Lori Dale, Sharina Sallis and Nikole Hannah-Jones, the leadership team of the 1619 Freedom School, pose for a photo in the space where they’re opening a school this fall in Waterloo. (Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register via AP)