This summer, we will send some of the nation’s most promising doctoral candidates to teach month-long summer courses of their own design to rising juniors and seniors in the Mississippi Delta. The program is called The Freedom Summer Teaching Fellowship, and is inspired by the Civil Rights Movement’s 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, a campaign that dramatically increased voter registration among black Americans. The project also set up Freedom Schools, a network of voluntary summer schools that offered an alternative to the segregated and underfunded schools that black students were traditionally forced to attend.
Staunchly dedicated to educational equity, The Freedom Summer Teaching Fellowship emerges out of a similar impulse, and also aspires to help the future teachers and leaders of prestigious academic institutions understand that students from these communities are both willing and able to thrive in an authentic, rigorous learning environment. This program also addresses the fact that in low-income communities, students lose up to two months of the academic gains made during the school year over summer vacation, a phenomenon that cumulatively accounts for 2/3rds of the racial and socio-economic achievement gap.
In places where college is a distant opportunity for few and daily test-taking strategies deaden learning, we think it is especially important to introduce opportunities for authentic, passionate learning. We bring the experience of an excellent college seminar to high school students. Our teachers are free to create an exhilarating seminar according to their expertise, a course in which students read and think, debate and analyze, critique and create—a course that offers the very best of what authentic learning can be.
Thinking comes first, but we serve students’ immediate needs, as well, by training teachers to translate that thinking into ACT score increases. The focus is not, however, on skills that boost a few points but those that prepare students to succeed long-term in college and careers. And the most important result is intangible: that students experience a college seminar, that they are inspired to become life-long learners who see education not only as a pathway to success but as a life-changing experience.