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The 1619 Freedom School Liberation Through Literacy Curriculum Introduction

by Dr. Sabrina Wesley-Nero with Dr. LaGarrett King

The 1619 Freedom School Liberation Through Literacy Curriculum (LtLC) is built upon four critical pillars that support the educational and personal success of Black students in the U.S. 

  1. Immerse our youth in an identity-affirming learning community.

  2. Engage our youth in identity-affirming literature.

  3. Develop our youth’s literacy skills via research-supported literacy instruction.

  4. Teach our youth the Black experience throughout U.S. history.

Identity-affirming learning community

Our youth are geniuses. We do not question their intellect, creativity, and commitment to growing into the best version of themselves. The LtLC is intended to be used in learning environments that agree with this vision of our youth and intentionally foster asset-based relationships with and among youth in support of this vision. 

The LtLC aims to positively impact our youth’s academic identity and self-efficacy. We value high expectations coupled with high levels of support, autonomy within a structured framework, and inclusive and restorative approaches to nurturing a sense of community. The success of the LtLC is contingent upon the relationships with and among the adults as well as the relationships with and among the youth using the curriculum. Working with our youth begins with who you believe our youth are and who you believe they are capable of becoming. 


Central to this philosophy is the belief in our youth's inherent worth and capacity for growth. We reject punitive, exclusionary, and deficit-focused methods and environments for our youth.  These views are antithetical to the ethos of the LtLC. Our approach to affirming our students is embedded in the curriculum’s structure. For example, the curriculum includes a Gathering Time. During the Gathering Time, the community comes together for affirmation and a collaborative engagement with key texts. The Gathering Time also is when rituals, songs, chants, etc. serve as a warm welcome that envelops each scholar and ushers her or him into the learning community.


Identity-affirming literature

The power to reimagine the future is strongly dependent upon your understanding of yourself and your history. The LtLC utilizes books that enlarge learners’ understanding of the Black experience throughout U.S. history. Students read about people who look like them and like people they know from their communities. In addition, the books allow youth to learn about the diversity of experiences of Black people in America. The curriculum does not erase or ignore times of struggle and oppression. The curriculum unearths previously hidden stories about resilience, brilliance, innovation, and triumph.


Research-supported literacy instruction

Literacy that leads to liberation is a rich tapestry of interwoven strands and experiences. It is multi-modal and multi-faceted, both communal and autonomous. Youth must develop knowledge of letters, sounds, words, and syntax. They require background knowledge and experiences to contextualize and integrate new information. Youth need to decode and comprehend. They need explicit instruction in the mechanics of reading as well as immersive experiences in compelling stories and mind-blowing informational texts. Through the LtLC, our youth learn to read proficiently. Our youth also write texts that others will read. Woven throughout the tapestry are connecting strands that set a foundation for the joy of reading and the transformative power of the written word. The LtLC is designed as one tool in a comprehensive literacy instructional program that should include developing learners’: 

  • Phonological knowledge 

  • Vocabulary 

  • Fluency with written text 

  • Comprehension of written and oral text 

  • Composition of written text

  • Love of reading and writing

The Black experience in U.S. history

The experiences of Black Americans in U.S. history traditionally taught in schools is a narrow, flat story of slavery, freedom, and the civil rights icons. Our curriculum expands learning beyond those concepts. To do that, our curriculum is based on the Black Historical Consciousness framework, which explores the humanity of Black people by focusing on their lived experiences. The framework includes historical content and themes that are related to:

  • Power, oppression, and anti-blackness

  • Agency, resistance, and justice

  • Africa and African Diaspora

  • Black emotions, including joy, happiness, fear, and rage

  • Black identities including children

  • Black contention or difference

  • Community, local, and social histories

  • Black futurism 

Within our Black history curriculum, we designed eight units that focus on reading, writing, and historical literacy/thinking skills. We specifically focus on units that are connected with the student’s identities and lives such as studying the history of Black children, the student’s families and themselves, and the local Black history of Waterloo and Iowa. We also have units that challenge critical thinking skills as well as give them experiences with researching through oral history, which includes interviewing, listening, taking notes, and presenting findings. Most importantly, our curriculum not only teaches students history, the study of the past, but uses that historical knowledge for those students to dream and strategize about the future. Our history is dynamic, interactive, and pushes the boundaries of learning, something that is often missing in traditional school settings.

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