Freedom School fights summer learning loss

Date: January 24, 2014 Author: spfs_admin Categories: News

Jewish community supports needs of area children

A Shalom Park Freedom School scholar enjoyed playing chess. “Chess helps kids think analytically or how to think one step ahead, which is a good life skill,” said Amy Lefkof, Shalom Park Freedom School enrichment coordinator.

Want to help? 
To volunteer donate, or learn more about Shalom Park Freedom School, go to or contact Deidre Grubb, project co-chairwoman, tel:980-253-2088″980-253-2088,

The Shalom Park Freedom School has effects that last far longer than the summer months.
“You see it in the children.”
“My child now picks up a book.”
These were just some of the comments Deidre Grubb heard from parents whose children attended the Shalom Park Freedom School this summer. Grubb, 45, co-chairs the Shalom Park Freedom School with Shirley Rosen.
“The children are more prepared for school,” said Grubb. “Teachers see it in the first semester.”
The Shalom Park Freedom School is the first Freedom School sponsored by a Jewish community. The school for low income students is supported by eight Shalom Park agencies: Temple Beth El, Temple Israel, the Charlotte Jewish Day School, the Levine Jewish Community Center, the Levine-Sklut Judaic Library and Resource Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, and the Foundation of Shalom Park.

The cost to run the free school is approximately $60,000 ($1,200 per child). In its second summer, the Shalom Park Freedom School enrolled 56 scholars for six weeks, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Sterling Elementary and Huntingtowne Farms Elementary along with Freedom School Partners identified the scholars who would benefit from the Shalom Park Freedom School.
“The goal of Freedom School is to fight summer learning loss,” said Grubb. Children with learning losses are at higher risk for failing to graduate from high school.

“The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools have a 90 percent success rate for preventing summer reading loss…” according to the Shalom Park Freedom School literature, so summer intervention is key.

Freedom School sessions began with Harambee, the morning pep rally. “Harambee” is a Swahili word that means “all pull together.”
Guests read to the children during Harambee. Rabbis from Shalom Park, Rita Dawkins, CPCC Dean of Student Success Services, Jon B. Hannan, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fire Chief and Homeland security director for the city of Charlotte, and news anchor Sterlin Benson Webber were among the readers.

“The whole point of guest readers is to provide role models for the children, for them to see important people reading and that reading is the key to success,” said Grubb.

The scholars also participated in various enrichment activities coordinated by Amy Lefkof. Activities included swimming, chess, cooking, dance, ceramics, art collages, sign language, digital photography, and ballet. “Chess and swimming were the favorite all-around activities,” said Lefkof, 51. The Shalom Park Freedom School encouraged scholars to read, learn, and become educated. It also inspired the Charlotte community and beyond.

“Freedom school changes lives and encourages us to build stronger relationship with people of various cultures,” said Joshua Battle, 24, site coordinator for the Shalom Park Freedom School.

“The Shalom Park Freedom School was the inspiration for Stephen S. Wise Temple to develop a Freedom School in Los Angeles,” said Andrea Sonnenberg, Executive Director Stephen S. Wise Freedom School.

“Jewish tradition has always taught that we have an obligation to help others, both Jewish and non-Jewish,” said Sonnenberg. “By opening its doors to a Freedom School, Shalom Park embodied that ideal and set an example to us.”

The Shalom Park Freedom School was a trailblazer in several other ways as well. Nationally, it was the first site with a teen board.
Its donors have financially seeded Freedom Schools at Providence Day School and Eastover.

Its on-site enrichment coordinator, Lefkof, was instrumental in bringing chess to three other summer Freedom School sites, as well as to after-school programs at Sterling Elementary with the assistance of Temple Beth El’s SPICE group (a senior group) and the social action arm.

The Shalom Park site also now has support from Necole Watts of the Freedom School Partners as it develops future year-round Shalom Park Freedom School efforts.

David Cohen, 50, who along with Rabbi Judy Schindler had the idea to form a Freedom School at Shalom Park, was complimentary of the volunteers and staff. “Through the Freedom School, the Jewish community is contributing to the wider Charlotte Community especially to children in need…educating young Jews in the mitzvah (good deed) of helping others, and providing a model for Jewish communities in other cities,” said Cohen.

Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at

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