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NEPC Talks Education: Discussing Freedom Schools

BOULDER, CO (April 14, 2022) – In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks Education, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Kristal Moore Clemons, the national director of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools program; Kendall Deas, a post-doctoral fellow in the African American Studies program at the University of South Carolina; and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign professor Jon Hale about Freedom Schools.

Hale explains that the first Freedom School emerged during the summer of 1964 in Mississippi when, in the face of persistent de jure segregation and the exclusion of African American children from access to high-quality schooling, Southern civil rights activists created a Freedom School to offer African American children high-quality opportunities to learn. Clemons explains that the Freedom Schools curriculum was designed to be an antidote to the watered-down learning materials available to African American children in their public schools.  Often the school curriculum offered to these children did not, for example, offer lessons in language arts or Black history, culture, and art.

Clemons and Hale explain that the 1964 Freedom School eventually evolved into the Freedom Schools program supported by the Children’s Defense Fund and offered through K-12 public schools. Since the creation of the Freedom Schools program, Clemons notes that scholars have found it offers teachers high-quality professional development and provides students high-quality and effective reading programs and social emotional learning opportunities.

Deas notes that today Freedom Schools are embodied in a program that models the original Freedom School goal of providing high-quality educational opportunities to students who enroll. Using culturally sustaining and relevant pedagogy, the Marian Wright Edelman Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program offers students access to high-quality summer and after-school programs across the country. Currently, the Children’s Defense Fund supports 12,000 students in 130 Freedom School programs across 24 states. Given the success of Freedom Schools in supporting historically marginalized and racially minoritized students, Clemons, Deas, and Hale encourage educational stakeholders to familiarize themselves with the Freedom Schools model and consider whether it might be beneficial for their own schools and communities.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: