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Fain Winner: Freedom School

Freedom School

Mar. 29, 2013

Freedom School provides an Integrated Reading Curriculum, focusing on theme-based reading and hands on activities in classrooms of 10 students per 1 teacher.


Community Contact Information:

Stephen S. Wise Temple

Los Angeles, CA




  • Provide a six-week literacy & enrichment program for low-income, at-risk students to prevent learning loss during the summer.
  • Support parents by providing weekly workshops on relevant topics including parenting skills, financial literacy, etc.
  • Encourages children to become engaged in their communities through service and social action.
  • Engage temple community intergenerationally.



Freedom School provides an Integrated Reading Curriculum, focusing on theme-based reading and hands on activities in classrooms of 10 students per 1 teacher. The day begins with a nutritious breakfast and a high-energy motivational activity. The afternoon includes a healthy lunch and enrichment programs including exercises in conflict resolution and critical thinking, social action projects, art, science, sports and field trips, etc. Temple members act as mentors and program facilitators.



The state of public schools in California led our congregation to mobilize our membership in projects that both provide meaningful short term fixes and long term structural change to our public education policy. The CDF Freedom School program offers both these opportunities. Temple members responded enthusiastically to our fundraising efforts as did several outside foundations and non-temple member funders. Staff was hired by reaching out through local colleges and universities. In addition, many of our donor families wanted their High School students to work in the program thus we created a Junior Servant Leader program and placed 25 students in our 5 classrooms during the course of the six weeks. Most of these students are continuing their Freedom School connection as part of a year-round program of ongoing training and education by becoming members of our Freedom School Teen Board. In addition, we have coordinated various follow up activities for donors including observation and participation opportunities at the school during the summer, an evening with Marian Wright Edelman (founder of the CDF), as well as periodic email updates.


Project Implementation:

The Stephen S. Wise Temple CDF Freedom School was held at the Stephen S. Wise Temple campus for six weeks between June and August of 2012. Over 50 public school children from an under-served Los Angeles community were recruited to participate in our inaugural CDF Freedom School summer. The children were bused to and from our campus 5 days a week, where each day they participated in literacy based program in the morning and camp-like activities in the afternoon. Each morning a member of the community took time to spend with the kids to show them that there is another person out there in this world that cares about them, wants to read a book to them, as well as inspire them to believe that can be anything they want to be. We invited a variety of community members - from Rabbis to Policemen, Actors and Artists, and more - to fill this role to showcase various careers that the children can aspire to. Reading, being the core of the program, became an exciting activity for the children when the teacher introduced creative writing, visual arts, group discussions, and role playing as ways for the children to express what they learned and as a result they became active participants. Many days of the week you could find Temple Member volunteering in the classrooms during reading time helping the children with their reading and creative projects. At least once a week the children had science and nutrition as enrichment courses, taught with a fun and participatory twist by Temple members who were former teachers.

Each week of Freedom School also included an evening scheduled parent workshop, again, taught by Temple members volunteering their time to help educate the students' parents on a variety of topics. Subjects taught included helping your child with study habits, financial literacy and budgeting, and nutrition and healthy eating habits on low budgets.

55 young strangers came to our Temple on June 25, 2012 - most of them shy, unsure of their abilities, not really sure what Freedom School was all about, and feeling frustrated and unsupported in their daily lives. Six weeks later, on August 3, 2012, these children left Freedom School shining brighter, with confidence to head back into a new school year equipped with more tools to help them succeed, and knowing that just across town there is a community that cares about them and believes in their futures.



We envision our Freedom School to be a yearly experience for the students of our partner school and we hope that our experience will inspire others to create their own schools as well. While six weeks was a short period of time, it made a marked difference in the children that we served. According to their Principal, the children maintained, if not increased their reading levels, are more confident and engaged learners, and are sharing their new found excitement for reading with others. These six weeks also had an enduring effect on our adult and adolescent volunteers. Lastly, our publicity and social media engagement (Facebook, Twitter, web) have generated a tremendous buzz throughout the Temple community. As members learn about this latest project of their Temple, they consistently reply that they are proud to be part of a congregation working for such meaningful change in our own city. Through these efforts, Stephen S. Wise Temple has established itself as a congregation that seeks to become ever more engaged in the welfare of our city and has the capacity to leverage our resources for good. As the first Freedom School sponsored by a Jewish institution in Los Angeles we see ourselves as an incubator for future Freedom Schools that other synagogues may offer. We are a community sorely in need of this incredibly effective program. We see our long term goal and mission as the establishment of Freedom Schools in faith communities and with other organizations throughout the city.