After six days of training in Maryland, one month of “freedomizing” lesson plans, and three days of Trading Spaces-esque classroom setup, I donned my uniform t-shirt and boarded the 10 Trolley West. With two other interns I got off at 54th St., skipped past the corner store that would soon provide lunch for $1 a day, past the water ice stand that would cool us down when the Philly heat became unbearable and through the doors of Shaw Middle School. For the rest of the summer, this would be home. Philadelphia Freedom Schools (PFS) is more than a summer school. It is a movement that tries to motivate the youth of Philadelphia to make meaningful changes in themselves, their communities and society at large. Using books that reflect the life experiences of a child growing up in Philadelphia and lessons on the African American struggle, the curriculum helps PFS scholars build intellectual, cultural and civic capacity. As an intern, I had the privilege of working with 12 of these soon-to-be empowered scholars. Seion, an incoming sixth grader, was the first one I met. “I’m Sister Charlotte and you’re in my class!” I said. “Yo, your smile is corny,” he said. “Excuse me?” “Let’s get this straight: I don’t want to talk to you because I don’t like you.” Lesson #1: “teacher” is the exact opposite of “cool.” This proved particularly true when I failed to master dance moves like the Wu-Tang and the D-Mack, despite repeated viewings of a YouTube video called “Ten Steps to the Perfect Wu-Tang.” It was a summer full of lessons. I learned that scholars would do almost any activity if I promised to play Lil’ Wayne upon it’s completion. When Salimatou, a seventh grader, wrote “Sux that ur homeless!” on a care-package for a local shelter, I learned the importance of guidelines. On a tubing trip down the Delaware River, I learned the best way to pull 10 kids upstream to rescue a sneaker. I learned that fabric paint does not come out of clothes, even if you didn’t mean to paint them. I learned about 12 kids who were up against difficult odds and watched them learn that they could be great; that people believed in them.
You can also make a difference. To learn more about becoming a Freedom School intern visit www.upenn.edu/ccp. Applications are due tomorrow.