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Freedom Schools: Reclaiming our Children

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.’” (Luke 17:1-2, NIV)

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer is encouraging congregations within the West Ohio Conference to take care not to cause any child to stumble and fall by something we’ve done or by something we have failed to do.

"Be just as concerned about the sins of omission. We are called to make a difference in the lives of children. It’s a sin in my judgment for children to live in abject poverty. It’s a sin that those who are building prisons for profit to already know by checking the 3rd grade reading scores how many beds they will need. It’s a sin not to lift our voices about this."

-Gregory V. Palmer, Resident Bishop, Ohio West Area

Offering a challenge to congregations in West Ohio, Bishop Palmer asks that churches stand in the gap and offer the redemptive hope of Jesus Christ to the ‘little ones’ among us. Specifically, he has challenged us to double the number of Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools to 26 by 2016.

West Ohio Freedom Schools provide a six-week summer experience that helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem, and generates positive attitudes toward learning. The program was developed for at-risk kids and has been primarily used in urban centers where large populations of children of color live in abject poverty with little or no optimism about the future. The students are called “scholars,” and the program helps them develop positive energy about who they are and the community and culture from which they come.

There is urgency in engaging children in our communities, because the current reality they face is sobering…

  • Nearly one-quarter of Ohio’s children live in poverty.
  • Over 230,000 children in Ohio have no health insurance (8% of children).
  • Almost 41% of Ohio’s children are eligible for free or reduced school lunches.
  • 63% of Ohio eighth graders cannot read at grade level.
  • The State of Ohio spends 2.2 times as much to house a prisoner as to educate a student.
*Statistics from the Children’s Defense Fund’s Children in Ohio Factsheet 2013

“A country that does not stand for its children does not stand for anything and will not stand strong, but a church that doesn’t stand for its children – the church of Jesus Christ – is not going to stand for anything when we are called before the throne of God.”

-Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund Founder & President

The church is poised to be an agent of transformation and hope, because we are resurrection people!  Bishop Palmer is asking us to join him in making children in our communities a priority.

In early February, Bishop Palmer invited a diverse group of West Ohio leaders to come together with church and community leaders to hear firsthand from Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, as well as the inspirational success stories of CDF Freedom Schools in West Ohio, and to challenge us to engage fully with Freedom Schools as a faith-based movement in churches across our conference.

In the West Ohio Conference in 2013, our United Methodist churches partnered with each other and with the community to provide 13 Freedom Schools reaching 570 scholars, investing an average of $1000 per scholar. Pre- and post-testing of scholars in 2013 indicated that over 90% of scholars across the country either maintained or increased their instructional reading level, with NO summer loss!  And the scholars at Dayton’s Grace United Methodist Church showed the highest reading level increase nationally over the 6 weeks with an average increase of just over 2.7 years in instructional reading level.

So, how can your congregation get involved in protecting the most vulnerable among us? You can…

  • SUPPORT Freedom Schools financially - $1,000 sponsors one scholar!
  • PRAY for Freedom Schools and the children, leaders, and congregations who invest in them.
  • START a Freedom School at your church! Contact dstickley [at] wocumc.org (Dee Stickley-Miner) for more details.

Visit our web page for more information about West Ohio Freedom Schools.