|Students in Freedom School last summer|
For LIFT leaders, it's proof of what they said when they launched their school improvement quest: If private donors are going to put up $55 million, educators must be ruthless about spending it on programs that demonstrate an academic payoff.
"It's a quality program," Denise Watts, Project LIFT Zone superintendent, said of Freedom Schools, "but not necessarily the program we need to accelerate student learning. They are great, but just not for the content that we're working on now."
Freedom Schools, a program created by the Children's Defense Fund, offer students a focus on reading, self-confidence and cultural awareness. Classes are taught by college interns.
Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL, also worked with Project LIFT kids last summer. That program, taught by certified teachers, offers sessions in literacy, math and science. At the end of last summer, BELL had produced gains that could be measured on the exams given at the start and end of the session.
This summer four of the eight LIFT elementary and middle schools are bringing their students back in July, using a year-round calendar to reduce academic losses during the long summer break. Project LIFT just announced that the Arts & Science Council has been chosen to provide free enrichment programs (focused on arts and sciences, naturally) during fall, winter, spring and summer breaks for those students. Students from the other schools are getting BELL summer classes again.
For Freedom Schools, the split with Project LIFT is a setback to a planned expansion in the Charlotte area. Last year there were 25 sites and 1,600 students across the county; this year there are 19 sites and 1,200 kids. Executive Director Mary Nell McPherson says the local group is back to building its program the way it always has, working with churches, universities, schools and other groups willing to provide volunteers and financial support. Five new host sites signed on this summer, she said.