116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Tanager Place is bringing - for the first time in Iowa - a summer program with its roots in the 1960s civil rights movement designed to increase literacy, self-esteem, socio-emotional skills and a love of learning for children.
Tanager Place is working with the Cedar Rapids Community School District to identify 30 students who would most benefit from CDF Freedom Schools program, particularly students who are racial minorities or come from low-income households. The six-week program from the Children's Defense Fund is free to students and will be held at either the McKinley or Johnson STEAM Academy.
CDF Freedom Schools is rooted in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, which provided a reading and humanities curriculum of English, art, creative writing, math and science. It was relaunched in 1993 by Marian Wright Edelman, and has served more than 150,000 children since 1995. There are 182 program sites across the United States.
In addition to learning, students will get to go on field trips to college campuses, museums, the library, baseball games and Camp Tanager, where they can swim, do archery and engage in other camp activities.
'If it's not fun, the kids aren't going to want to do it,” said Tanager Place Chief Executive Officer Okpara Rice.
The program strives to give children the opportunity to enhance learning through literacy characters who look like them and have had similar experiences. It can help students avoid summer learning loss, build their home library, increase confidence, boost interest in social and civic engagement, advocacy and address mental health risk factors.
Each week, students will get a book they get to keep and staff will have weekly meetings with participating students' parents or guardians.
Students will learn how to advocate for themselves and their community, said Maggie Hartzler, the CDF Freedom Schools program administrator at Tanager.
'If a kid is a beautiful artist, they can be in charge of decorating some signs we can take to a protest or march,” Hartzler said. 'You're great at writing? We'll have a social justice day and you can write a speech to give to your peers.”
For this first year, Tanager is offering CDF Freedom School for students going into sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Organizers hope to expand the program this fall to include after-school programs and summer school for more grade levels next year.
Five interns will be hired to deliver the program. Tanager Place has reached out to area colleges and universities to find students interested in applying, specifically students in the schools' Black Student Unions, Hartzler said.
'So much of this program is rooted in civil rights and striving for equity and inclusion,” Hartzler said.
The positions are paid, including two weeks of training. 'They really want you to hire college-age students, so young people can see other young people who are successful in college, who have furthered their education and be inspired,” Rice said.
The program will be in-person, and Tanager Place will be following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer, including possibly requiring masks and social distancing.
Rice said he has been interested in bringing CDF Freedom Schools to Tanager since he became the CEO in 2015.
'We don't take on programs we don't believe we can execute successfully,” Rice said.
To bring the program to Tanager Place, Rice and Hartzler applied and were interviewed.
The feedback from the interview with CDF Freedom School was that Tanager Place had one of the most comprehensive and well-written applications the program had ever seen, Rice said.
The cost is being funded by donations, Rice said. It costs $285 per student, plus the cost of personnel and food. The program will run June 14 to July 23.
As a white woman administering the program through Tanager Place, Hartzler said she is doing the work to understand her own privilege and listening to voices of color.
Tanager Place helps children and families in Eastern Iowa overcome challenges and find mental wellness. It offers treatment and outreach, prevention and gives children tools to be successful. Families interested in CDF Freedom School or other Tanager Place resources can reach Tanager Place at (319) 365-9164.
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