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Joy Harrington
1619 Freedom School

The 1619 Freedom School is Helping Improve Reading Scores for Waterloo's 4th and 5th Graders


Waterloo, IA--Iowa Public Radio reporter Grant Leo Winterer visited the 1619 Freedom School and spoke with our co-director, Sheritta Stokes, teacher Gary Crawford, parent Cam Turner, and Waterloo Community School District's elementary education director Jennifer Hartman about the program's impact of the Freedom School's scholars and district students across Waterloo.

Cam Turner, whose son Cace was a member of last year’s 1619 class, said the program opened his eyes to his community’s history.

“After he went to the Freedom School, he became way more curious about Black history and the lived experience of African Americans versus the lived experiences of other Americans," she said.

The year with the school also boosted Cace’s reading skills. Last year, his state literacy scores were second across all 4th graders citywide.

Jennifer Hartman added with a focus on implementing some of the Freedom School’s teaching ideas at the elementary level, literacy scores have risen nearly seven percentage points across the district’s 4th and 5th grades.“By continuing this really concerted effort where we’re all working on the same skills, we’re really pulling in the science of reading and how to help kids decode, all sorts of resources that we haven’t used in the past, we’re seeing some great dividends pay off," Hartman said.

You can listen to or read the Iowa Public Radio feature here:

About the 1619 Freedom School

The 1619 Freedom School is a free, community-based, after-school literacy program where students improve literacy skills and develop a love for reading through liberating instruction centered on 400 years of Black American history. The 1619 Freedom School combines intensive, fun, and uplifting literacy instruction through a custom-designed curriculum built by expert educators from Georgetown University's Program in Education, Inquiry, and Justice and the University of Buffalo.

The 1619 Freedom School was founded by Waterloo native and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. It launched in 2021 to serve fourth and fifth-grade students in the Waterloo Community School District where Black students–who account for 26 percent of the student population–are more than two grades behind their white peers in academic performance. Formal literacy instruction typically ends in the third grade despite this fact. Hannah-Jones and a team of Black women leaders in Waterloo launched the program to address this glaring disparity. The school provides children the furthest behind in reading with affirming literacy instruction to improve this foundational academic skill.

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