Marion Wright Edelman

By Vivian Shipe

Denise Dean

KNOXVILLE, TN — Five hours. That’s how long it took to get a “yes” vote allowing the Freedom Schools program to get a “yes” vote by the Knox County Board of Education. The ask by the Freedom School Director Denise Dean was to data share the test scores from end of year testing so the school would know how to best help the children, and the children be allowed to ride the buses during the summer months to the three schools where the program was being held. The program, which began in 1995, is a part of the Childrens Defense Fund, founded by Marion Wright Edelman, a lifelong advocate for children and families. Their mission to lift children out of poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect, ensure healthcare access and education while helping to ensure they have a moral and spiritual foundation was questioned by board member Steve Triplett, one of the “no” votes. Triplett felt the Freedom Schools had an “alternative agenda” and that the children were being “indoctrinated,” while another “no” vote came from board member Susan Horn who questioned the curriculum’s reading list, and said she felt the children would be taught a “different type of history.”  While these board members voiced their fears about an educational program that has already been in Knoxville for seven years, they could not speak against the fact that the program has been highly successful.

For seven years the Knoxville Freedom Schools have had a strong literacy program. In a time when Knox County schools are struggling to find teachers to cover their summer program, while knowledge loss over the summer months is continuing to rise, and the third-grade retention law threatens to hold back 69 percent of students, the Freedom Schools, which run a six-week program compared to the four weeks run by the county, have teachers and volunteers from the community who have already been helping the students of Knox County. Ninety percent of the students served are Black and Latina and over eighty percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

The children want to be at Freedom Schools. The goal is to help the children develop a love for reading.

Mornings are spent working on literacy and the afternoons are spent on stem, music, phonics, field trips to raise awareness of other cultures and to learn empathy and acceptance of others. Thier literacy work has been highly successful with the children maintaining an 89 percent retention rate of work learned to combat summer slide. Another high mark of the Freedom School program is their 100 percent parent satisfaction rating over the years.

Director Denise Dean spoke on behalf of the school, bringing data about the success rates. Professors from the University of Tennessee and parents came to testify about the satisfaction of the program and many members of the community also called and wrote board members before the meeting,and the auditorium was filled to capacity the night of the vote.

In the end, the children won as the board voted to focus on what was needed for the children as the country enters one of the most critical times in its educational history.

No indoctrination, no alternative agendas, no “different type of history,’ just education.

Thats what the Freedom Schools do best.