Black Child Development Institute

by Tonya Dixon | July 15th, 2015

HG1_4138From 8:30am to 9:00am kindergarten through eighth grade students of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School Summer Program can be heard raising their voices during Harambee. The term is Swahili for “let’s come together”. Harambee promotes unity, inspiration and uplifting. Starting with the Hallelujah Chorus, students gear up and get motivated for the day through various cheers, chants and call and response. It’s what Freedom School is all about. It’s an opportunity for kids to learn, be encouraged and empowered at the same time.

For five years Black Child Development Institute of Greensboro (BCDI) has worked in conjunction with Children’s Defense Fund to establish Greensboro’s first CDF Freedom School. Freedom School is a nationally certified summer literacy program that helps children avoid the “summer slide”, develop a love and enjoyment of reading, build self-esteem, promote positive attitudes toward learning and ultimately become scholars.
The program is primarily for minority students, but just like BCDI-G, it is available to any child. “Research conducted by Children’s Defense Fund shows that we, minorities, particularly African Americans, operate better as a community,” says BCDI-G Executive Director, Karen Thompson. “For the summer we don’t want the kids just to see it as another classroom; we want them to see it as something fun. Some of our kids come from difficult backgrounds. Our goal is to remind the children that regardless of where they are or where they come from they can be somewhere higher. The message through the program is that there is something inside of them that is stronger.”

Students start their structured day at nine o’clock. Each classroom has a daily agenda, including an integrated reading curriculum of books that are specifically selected by a group of African American facilitators from across the country, who assign books that are culturally relevant. Basically everything throughout the day is tied in some fashion to the book for that week. Activities range from D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) to dance, Karate, chess or drama. The children are inundated with activities and instruction that resonate with aspects of their culture and current realities.
According to Thompson, Freedom School is especially effective because it is able to capture the attention of students through identification. For example, she says one of the curriculum books dealt with a child that was in the foster care system about to be separated from siblings about to be adopted. It may not be every child’s story, but it’s certainly the reality of some children. Through relevancy, the children become interested and comprehension ensues.

The first two years of the program were so successful that it garnered the attention of Guilford County Schools (GCS). GCS recognized the vast improvement of certain students after they attended the summer initiative and immediately followed suit with Greensboro’s second CDF Freedom School.

Freedom School does not receive any government funding, which makes it a fairly expensive program to run. Enough books must be purchased for each child (because at the end of each week, every child takes the selected book home); breakfast, lunch and a snack is provided; and certain activities require funds (students do not pay). Amazingly and through various foundations and grants the local Freedom School team and BCDI-G are able to raise the appropriate funds to make it happen. Students are only required to pay a $35 enrollment fee prior to the start of the program.

Nevertheless, Freedom School is only a snapshot of the impact of BCDI-G. Since 1978, the institute has been advocating for, improving and protecting the quality of life of children, youth and families in the Greater Greensboro Community. By recruiting, screening and training a network of volunteers, the community, especially disadvantaged communities, become uplifted.

Despite the name, BCDI-G happily serves all kids and families regardless of race or socioeconomic status, yet the majority of services are tailored to African American children and their families. For several years the institute has focused on literacy because overall test scores and comprehension levels have not been acceptable.

Additional programs (many of which are free or drastically reduced) offered through BCDI-G include CDF Freedom School After School Program and the multi-site Spirit of Excellence Tutorial Program. Additionally there is a yearly school supply giveaway and a Black History quiz bowl.
Fundraising is ongoing for BCDI-G. Programs must be directed, coordinated and facilitated. Business owners, leaders, boards, professionals, organizations and individual community members can help lighten the financial burden by recognizing the importance of BCDI-G and donating or volunteering. When budgets and personnel requirements are not met, programs will suffer and invariably become in danger of dissolution.

Black Child Development Institute of Greensboro offers several ways to show support. Visit the institute’s website at for ways to give.

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