Tangager Place pilots new after-school program at the Roosevelt Creative Corridor

Students and leaders play foursquare during outdoor activities at a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School run by Tanager Place and held at McKinley STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids in June 2021. The program lasts six weeks and is focuses on aspects of learning, community, mental health, and other areas that can support long-term student growth. (The Gazette)

McKinley STEAM Academy student Keila Ellis, 11, laughs with program mentors during outdoor activities at a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School run by Tanager Place and held at McKinley STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids in June 2021. The program lasts six weeks and focuses on aspects of learning, community, mental health, and other areas that can support students’ long-term growth. (The Gazette)

Okpara Rice, CEO of Tanager Place, at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids in February 2019. (Gazette file photo)

Dr. Kristal Moore Clemons, National Director of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Program (photo courtesy of Kristal Moore Clemons)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Tanager Place pilots Iowa’s first Freedom School after-school program – proven to increase students’ literacy, self-esteem, and love of learning – at Roosevelt Creative Corridor, a middle school of Cedar Rapids.

The program is created by the Children’s Defense Fund and strives to give children the opportunity to enhance their learning through characters who look like them and have had similar experiences. It builds students’ home libraries, increases their confidence, stimulates their interest in social and civic engagement and advocacy, and addresses mental health risk factors.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District will help Tanager Place recruit 20 to 30 students for the program based on their reading scores, said Crystal Hall, director of community and prevention services at Tanager Place.

Tangager Place was chosen as one of three programs nationwide to pilot a Freedom School after-school program.

“I’m really excited for our community and the young people that this can be another resource for the benefit of children in the community,” said Tanager Place CEO Okpara Rice, who works on fundraising for the program.

Tanager Place first partnered in 2021 with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School program to offer a free six-week summer school for students in Cedar Rapids.

Last year, 20 students from the school were tested at the start and end of the program. Rather than showing summertime learning loss, they showed an average one-year, four-month increase in reading literacy levels, according to data from Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools.

“We have this proven track record of getting really good results,” Hall said.

Freedom School was offered again last summer to 60 students, double the number of last year. Data on the 2022 program is not yet available.

There aren’t many academic extracurricular activities for middle schoolers, Hall said. “Having something for middle schoolers that is academically strong and readily available to meet the needs of kids is very exciting for me,” Hall said.

Students will spend Monday through Thursday focusing on academics — and fun, Hall said. On Fridays, students will be able to explore through field trips and guest speakers. Students will receive tutoring, help with homework and learn about literacy, science, technology, engineering and math as well as social and civic engagement.

Two members of AmeriCorps in partnership with the Iowa Afterschool Alliance will deliver the program. They will be joined by students from local colleges and universities. Programming is expected to start by the end of September, Hall said.

Dr. Kristal Moore Clemons, national director of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Program, said she hopes the after-school program will provide a sense of belonging for students and families. The program is also designed to be culturally responsive, which means incorporating students’ cultures and life experiences into learning to help them see themselves and their communities as belonging to academic spaces.

“We want to make sure all scholars feel safe and included in the learning process,” Moore Clemons said. “We try to find stories that center children’s experiences.”

The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School is rooted in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964, which offered a reading and social studies curriculum of English, art, creative writing, math, and science.

Relaunched in 1993 by Marian Wright Edelman, the program has reached more than 150,000 children since 1995. It is offered at 182 locations in the United States.

Tangager Place helps children and families in Eastern Iowa overcome challenges and find mental well-being. It offers treatment, awareness and prevention services and gives children the tools to succeed.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com