Freedom Readers is an after school and summer literacy program that was designed and implemented to support families in low-income areas as they assisted their children in achieving their academic goals in reading. In the beginning, twenty students in grades kindergarten through fifth were enrolled on a first come-first served basis. The year the organization was founded, there were two Freedom Readers sites offering services to twenty children. In 10 years of operation, we’ve expanded to 20 sites in three counties. Each of these sites offers three sessions each year: spring, summer, and fall, each lasting approximately 8-10 weeks. As many as twenty adults work one-to-one with scholars as literacy tutors at each site.

Literacy volunteers or tutors are trained by professionals such as university literacy professors and doctoral students on topics such as finding the appropriate book, keeping the scholar focused and engaged, ways to teach reading. It’s important to note that our mission is to improve reading skills, not usurp the role of the classroom teacher whose job it is to teach the child to read. We provide a space where children can practice their developing literacy skills. In this sense, we see ourselves as the classroom teacher’s power booster. Most schools ask parents to read with their children for 20 minutes each evening because we get better at what we practice. Schools understand what a recent analysis of 174,000 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores revealed. The study showed that “a student’s level of reading engagement was more highly correlated with their reading achievement than their socioeconomic status, gender, family structure, or time spent on homework. In fact, students with the lowest socioeconomic background but high reading engagement scored better than students with the highest socioeconomic background but low reading engagement.” It is also true that many families living in low-income communities may not have the luxury of reading with their children for 15-20 minutes each day for a variety of reasons. The Freedom Readers program stands in the gap for these families one afternoon each week and sends children home with books to build their home libraries. We intend to make the discovery and exploration of these high-interest books so appealing that students will be drawn to spend time reading every day that they eat.

Young Scholars who have been involved in our program consistently for at least one year will exhibit the following characteristics of good readers:

  • Read regularly, voluntarily and voraciously
  • Read a wide variety of material with confidence and enjoyment
  • Read for many purposes—
  • To become informed
  • To improve their lives
  • To escape to other worlds
  • To learn about themselves
  • To revel in adventure
  • To understand others who are distant in time, space and culture
  • Collect books, talk about books, and recommend books to their friends
  • Have favorite books and favorite authors
  • Know their tastes and preferences, but are willing to try something new
  • Remember what they read, reflect on the ideas and experiences they’ve gained from books, and make connections between and among books
  • Read actively, bringing their imaginations and past experiences to bear on their reading
  • Read critically, evaluating what they read for objectivity, completeness, authenticity and quality.

Freedom Readers was born of the following beliefs:

  • People and businesses are willing to support the efforts of others who are making strides toward self-improvement.
  • People who have underperformed academically in the past can reach their full potential when supported by the community.
  • By connecting people and providing resources, we can establish mutually beneficial relationships that improve society as a whole.
  • The eradication of illiteracy will alleviate a host of social ills and problems.

Freedom Readers promotes:

  • Empowerment: Freedom Readers meets individuals where they are in their development and encourages people to outgrow themselves.
  • Dignity: Freedom Readers celebrates the best in every participant.
  • Leadership: Freedom Readers develops talents, strengths, and interests for the sake of raising ethical, intelligent, and inspiring leaders who will positively impact others.