UNC and Duke Team Up for Freedom

A team for SUNFLOWER COUNTY FREEDOM PROJECT

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"UNC and Duke Team Up for Freedom" a team to help the undefined...

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Rebecca Yuan

Jinghua kuang

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Joanna Kuang

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This summer, the three of us- Joanna Kuang, Jacob Rosenberg, and Mehul Mehta- spent nine weeks living in the Mississippi Delta, with three other Robertsons. We worked as unpaid interns at the Sunflower County Freedom Project (SCFP), an amazing non-profit dedicated to helping students, beginning from seventh grade, reach college. During the school year, the organization runs an after-school and Saturday program, with enrichment activities, such as homework help, art, gardening, music, SAT and ACT prep, college application help, and a place for like-minded students to gather and socialize. During the summer, SCFP has a full summer, with a five-week Freedom School, a trip to Ole Miss, and two one-week civil rights camping trips. At Freedom School, students learn math, reading, and writing, as well as an art of their choice, study session, fitness, and morning and afternoon meetings.

This summer, we taught and led activities at the SCFP. Joanna taught seventh grade math, Mehul eighth grade math, and Jacob seventh grade writing. This meant writing and executing one-hour lesson plans each day. Writing lesson plans included how we would time the class, guide students to achieving the day’s objective on their own, think about explaining the same concept in numerous ways, and creating worksheets and exit tickets to track progress. We also led our own fitness group daily- running a half-mile every day and playing various sports games. When we went home, we brainstormed ways to invest students in their education, practiced behavior management through explicit direction giving, and worked on tools to be better mentors.

Throughout the summer, the skeptical and often judgmental middle schoolers began to open up to us and our material. We each developed special bonds with certain students- students we would talk to about more than solely math or writing. We played chess, danced in the back dojang room, and in many ways, relived some of the best and worst parts of middle school with these students. We also saw the students improve more than twice their original diagnostic levels.

The program was everything teaching is- rewarding, challenging, eye-opening. But the summer was more than just the satisfactions and frustrations of teaching. Sunflower County is one of the poorest counties in the poorest and most undereducated state of Mississippi in the United States. It also has a rich culture only explicable if you have lived down there [read “The Senator and the Sharecropper by Chris Myers Ash to learn more]. We noticed a number of identified concerns- poverty, racism, obesity- the SCFP addressed. We knew we could not simply come and remedy the area in three months, but instead the LEAD Center, where the SCFP is housed, creates a space to engage with, think about, and begin improving on these issues. The LEAD principles- love, education, action, and discipline- create a framework for students themselves to be actively involved in thinking about their area.

In allowing students to take ownership of their education, the program runs under an opt-in philosophy. Students must opt-in themselves, often with the strong urging of a parent. This allows for an atmosphere where students are pushed to think of the world outside the guidelines the Delta’s provided, guidelines that still include a distinct white and black side of town. Students are also charged a small fee to attend the program, to demonstrate a commitment to and investment in their education. At times, students told us how they would not be able to come back the next summer because their families could not afford this fee. This is one of the many reasons we realized that, though the program is amazing, the SCFP still has many needs and possible improvements.

We each had different ways this summer was special for us, but we can all agree that our time at the Sunflower County Freedom Project was not just a two-month stint; we see it being a part of our future. We still talk to students and some of us have promised to return when they graduate high school. We look forward to helping in any way we can. We would love to talk more about the Delta and the Sunflower County Freedom Project with anyone- feel free to ask!

With your help, we have plans to establish funds for various parts of the SCFP experience. These include funding: for students to eat the foods of new areas to where the program travels [they currently eat peanut butter jelly sandwiches]; for new sports equipment; for scholarships for students who have shined and would otherwise not be able to return; for increased transportation methods [there are currently three old vans driven by the staff members]; and for renovations on the building [the floors and ceilings have a number of wholes].

You have not met these students, but you have met us. Please join us in supporting the future of students in the Mississippi Delta and the Sunflower County Freedom Project!

Learn more at http://www.sunflowerfreedom.org

Team Captain

Joanna Kuang Joanna Kuang