The need to minister to children did not stop when COVID-19 closed church doors in the West Ohio Annual Conference. Freedom Schools, a ministry partner of West Ohio and a program of the Children’s Defense Fund, is a case in point. The six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program encourages children in learning.
In Toledo, Clara Petty works with the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center. She wasn’t comfortable with cancelling the program this year. Neither was she confident about offering a virtual program. After researching other virtual Freedom Schools and discussing and planning with her team, Petty was encouraged to move forward.
Under the leadership of Lavada Griswold Smith, the team adjusted the program to half-day weekly sessions over five weeks. Breaks and exercise time were built into the schedule, resulting in personal engagement between students and instructors.
With donations from local churches like Monroe Street United Methodist and the Maumee Watershed District, packages of books, activities and cereal were provided to support the program. “If the children were with us physically,” Petty said, “they would eat, so we included cereal and a snack for each day.” Each week, parents picked up the packages for the students to use for the week’s program.
Every weekday at 8:30 a.m., students logged on to their Zoom virtual platform. “We know it’s tough to make sure children are in place,” Petty said. “Parents do their part to make sure it happens.” To encourage students and parents, the school held a drawing at the end of the week for a chance to win a gift card.
Not limited to local volunteers, the virtual experience made it possible to have readers outside of Ohio. Parents were invited to be guest readers, surprising their children. “Some showed pride when seeing their mother or father reading in their group,” Petty said.
One guest reader caught the attention of her Facebook friend who happened to be an author of a book on the reading list. Zetta Elliot, author of, “Dragons in the Bag,” saw her Facebook friend participating in Freedom Schools in an online video. That led Elliot to donate 27 of her books to the school.
The staff received many thank-you notes from parents. One parent wrote a note sharing her son’s dislike for reading before attending Freedom School. “Now all he is asking for are books,” the note said. That note boosted the teacher’s confidence as well.
Click here to learn more about the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center Freedom School.