This summer, Stony Brook University students will travel to Wyandanch, Long Island with the hopes of helping children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods to increase their interest in learning.
The initiative, called the Freedom School program, is part of SBU’s continuing two-year partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund. According to the program’s website, it “boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities.”
The six-week experience will mirror last year’s summer program, where SBU students served as Servant Leader interns and tutored 50 third grade students from the Longwood and Wyandanch School Districts. Ninety percent of those third graders were below the poverty line, and all are invited by Stony Brook to participate again this year.
The debut of the program is considered a success by Stony Brook staff, and program co-director Cheryl Hamilton believes it was mainly because of the student volunteers.
“I’m not sure [the servant leaders] even realize the impact of their efforts, but it is clear that they have inspired this group of third-graders to become Stony Brook University scholars,” Hamilton said in a press release.
SBU became involved in the Freedom School program when President Samuel L. Stanley reached out to Marian Wright Edelman, founder of CDF, to establish a Stony Brook chapter of the Freedom School.
Edelman helped to bring the Freedom School program to 91 cities nationally since it was founded in 1992. Since then, 11 colleges, including SBU, have participated.
The student participants from Stony Brook did not know what to expect from the program but joined to give back to the community.
“I never really worked with children, so I was apprehensive,” junior political science major Angelique Lucien said. “But I felt as if the cause and the meaning behind it was so vital. Young people are tomorrow’s leaders and it is very important that we invest in them.”
She measures the success of the program by the changes seen in the young students.
“In the beginning, some scholars had a hard time adjusting to the fact that this was not a camp but an actual school,” Lucien said. “By the end of the program, many scholars developed a love of reading and learning.”
This is a sentiment the program’s success echos.
According to the CDF’s website, “after participation in the CDF Freedom Schools program, over 80 percent of the children reported having a ‘good time’ and three-quarters felt happy or ‘like something good is going to happen,’ despite great loss and trauma.”