There’s No School Like Freedom School

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Samantha Behar

Staff Writer

 

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“There’s no school like Freedom School. Reading books is really cool,” were the first words I heard being sung out as I walked into Freedom School on my first day. Freedom School is a literacy summer program for underprivileged children in Los Angeles. It acts as a combination of camp and school to give kids a fun and educational summer experience. Looking around at a room of strangers on my first day of volunteering at the Stephen Wise campus, I had no idea what an impact these children would make on my life.

In 2012, Stephen S. Wise Temple opened its first Freedom School, transporting students from Stanley Moss Elementary to the camp site. A second campus opened at Milken’s David Saperstein Middle School for students from Fullbright Elementary in the summer of 2014. This upcoming summer, a third campus will open at the American Jewish University.

Immediately upon joining Freedom School, I knew I had come across something extremely special and inspirational. The environment of Freedom School is unique because it is a place where children are encouraged to be themselves, where their confidence is built up, and where they are truly allowed to be free.

During my time volunteering as a teacher’s assistant, I became close to a fourth grade girl named Genesis. While she wasn’t the strongest reader in her class, she did one thing better than anyone: Genesis had a beautiful voice. At the end of the summer, a talent agency came to Freedom School to read to the campers and cook with them. Genesis, being her friendly self, started talking to a man from the agency and ended up singing for everyone. The agency told her that she has real potential and to continue practicing. The confidence Genesis radiated that day genuinely represents the principles of Freedom School.

Freedom School is not like a regular school. It is a place that allows kids to feel special and worthy. Children like Genesis are recognized for their talents and encouraged to be who they are.

Freedom School has broadened my world view. For most of my life I have been surrounded by Jewish people of the same socioeconomic class as myself. Freedom School has allowed me to form relationships with children I would not have met otherwise. The scholars are so positive and happy with the little things in life. Throughout my time working with them, I have become more grateful and learned to connect with people from different backgrounds. These children have taught me as much as I teach them.

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Me with Stephanie, a scholar, at Stephen Wise’s Mitzvah Morning

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Here I am posing at a photo booth with Teen Board Members, two scholars, and their younger sister at the Freedom School Board Holiday Party