How do our grantees advance racial equity and or youth engagement in their programs?

Toward the end of 2018, the Youthprise Research and Evaluation Team conducted grantee interviews to investigate that question. We were purposeful about making the interview process more interactive and comfortable for our grantees, and intentional about selecting grantees that we had not typically highlighted. The Research and Evaluation Team designed an interview template that followed our theory of change, and the themes throughout the interviews were racial equity and youth engagement. 

One goal of the interviews was to strengthen our relationships with our grantees and to elevate and share their stories of impact. In 2019, the Team compiled the data and wrote the stories, which will now be highlighted on our website and social media. 


Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom School

The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools (CDF) program provides comprehensive, culturally-relevant summer and after-school enrichment to children in high-poverty areas. The program helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem, generates more positive attitudes toward learning and connects their families with needed resources in the community. The CDF Freedom Schools program is proven to curb summer learning loss and help close the opportunity gap.

Nicole Hernandez, Sarah Davis, Cynthia, Mariah, and Karen

From the left, meet Youth Development Director Nicole Hernandez, participants Cynthia and Mariah, Middle School Director Sarah Davis, and Americorp VISTA Karen.


Karen shared with us about the impact of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom School. 

Cynthia and Mariah share that this program is successful because they explore deep topics that mean something to them and these topics lead to good conversations. Mariah shared “at school I rush to get to Freedom School and I want to stay at Freedom School after it ends.”

Culturally relevant content and caring adults are required aspects of summer and afterschool programs that increase achievement. 

To advance racial equity, the participants believe that they need Freedom Schools in all afterschool and summer programs, especially in Native American Communities. Also, young leaders need more resources to address issues that impact them. Cynthia believes that youth “deserve to know what is going on and have input in it. A lot of kids don’t know what is going on in their world today and they should!” Cynthia and Mariah express that they would like to see more mental health advocates who can authentically connect to youth. They feel that “Adults misjudge us, saying that we are just going through phases or we are just too young to be going through [mental health] issues.”

“Adults misjudge us, saying that we are just going through phases or that we're just too young to be going through [mental health] issues.”

-Cynthia and Mariah, Freedom School participants

Nicole emphasizes that a big part of their approach is ensuring youth have a voice in their work. Youth are surveyed, asking them for their own thoughts on their academic outcomes, quality teams, youth, parents, and staff all evaluate programs. Nicole explains, “We have youth gatherings so youth can share with us what they liked and disliked; it’s a very genuine experience.” Youth review the curriculum and books that the program uses to inform future sessions.

Interested in CDF Freedom Schools?


Check out the program here or follow the Childrens Defense Fund on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to show support!

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