Sunflower County Freedom Project Paves Road for Student Success
Pupils in middle and high school in the Sunflower County area should look into joining the Sunflower County Freedom Project, a year-round, non-profit organization developing leaders and setting them up for a prosperous future.
The Freedom Project staff begins taking students under wing right after they finish sixth grade. During a five-week summer training program, Freedom Summer, seventh, eighth and ninth grade students gear up for a new grade level with help of college interns trained to teach language arts, math and rhetoric classes.
Founded in 1998 by three men who had taught in Sunflower County under Teach For America and the AmeriCorps service program, The Freedom Project offers opportunities for expression and showcasing knowledge of black history through the arts. Students explore options for postsecondary education by visiting college campuses, and even spend a week at the University of Mississippi.
Just as black historians like Fannie Lou Hamer, who actually lived in Ruleville, boldly advocated for civil rights among blacks despite unfair treatment during the Freedom Summer project in 1964, all participants of the SCFP pledge to be firm believers in living in the freedom that we no longer have to fight for.
To learn more about the standards the youth project aims to keep, head over to www.SunflowerFreedom.org.
Tufts University graduate and Sunflower County Freedom Project Executive Director Kate Gluckman gave more details via email on the project’s achievements. She provided more insight into the work at the program’s LEAD Center in Sunflower, Mississippi.
What are a few successes of recent years?
We are very proud of our 2017 graduating class. All five students graduated from high school, including two valedictorians, and all are pursuing higher education. As a group, they earned over $200,000 in scholarships for their four-year education.
Has this project won any awards for these types of successes?
A couple years ago we were named the Mississippi Non-Profit of the Year by the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.
After viewing the 2015-2016 Annual Report on the website, I found it impressive that a majority who participated until high school graduation went on to attend four-year colleges or universities. What can be credited for giving those students the confidence to reach higher?
We start talking with students about college in seventh grade. It is part of our culture and part of our expectation for students that they will pursue higher education. In 10th grade, our students transition into our LEAD Collegiate fellowship, and we begin the difficult process of college selection, admission and matriculation. This includes college visits, application assistance, summer programs to prepare them for collegiate-level work and the ACT. Additionally, we work with students and families on understanding financial aid and the FAFSA [aid form], as well as on applying for scholarships. Importantly, we work with students and families to make sure that the needs of everyone involved are met and that the student has the support they will need to be successful.
As far as the math, English and rhetoric classes offered in the program, which of these has been most difficult for students?
For each of our students it is different, but we have a very strong focus on literacy, since it impacts the student’s ability to succeed in every subject. Our students are often one to three years below reading level, and so we spend time reading novels and doing individual intervention to be sure that our students can read on grade level and are primed for success in the next academic year.
Of the many arts enrichment activities — including songwriting, acting in plays, going on trips and doing activities that promote healthy living — which ones do the students look forward to most?
Trips are definitely our students’ favorite activity. They are curious about the world and love meeting new people. Our trips are always educational so we visit museums and listen to speakers, but we also insert fun activities and [devote] time to building the community with our students.
What’s in store for the future?
We are continuously reflecting on how our program can grow and improve. This year we are planning more activities around STEM and looking to incorporate even more art into our programming. We are planning trips to Atlanta and Washington D.C. for this year, as well! We have room for more students in our program and are eager to recruit students from all over the county to be involved.
Melody Darneice Dixon is in her early 20s and is a native of Clarksdale,Mississippi. She is a graduate of the University of Mississippi who enjoys singing on the Praise and Worship team and in the choir at her church, St. Matthew Church of God in Christ in Lambert, Mississippi.