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Stony Brook to offer summer program for low-income children

The main campus of Stony Brook University (Jan.

The main campus of Stony Brook University (Jan. 6, 2011) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Stony Brook University's president, inspired by the work of longtime children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman, announced the university was establishing on campus this summer a "Freedom School" -- an enrichment program founded by the Children's Defense Fund for "underserved youth."

"It is a bit of a departure for us," university president Samuel L. Stanley said of the program's focus on third-graders. He said he hopes the pilot program will continue in future years.

"This is such an exciting program, one that has a very strong track record," Stanley added.

The announcement comes on the eve of Edelman's scheduled appearance Tuesday at the university, as the speaker at this year's Presidential Lecture Series.

Stanley said he was inspired to reach out to Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, after hearing last year's Lecture Series speakers, the scholar and activist Cornel West and talk-show host and author Tavis Smiley, who have toured the nation together talking about poverty issues.

"When I asked them what can we do to get more engaged, they talked about Mrs. Edelman's programs."

Stanley enlisted the university's vice provost for undergraduate education, Charles L. Robbins, to investigate. Robbins, also the dean of the undergraduate colleges, said he learned about the Freedom Schools at a Defense Fund conference last year in Cincinnati.

"They had some really impressive results," Robbins said of the Freedom Schools, established by the organization in 1992 and modeled after the Mississippi Freedom Schools of the 1960s. The Defense Fund has partnered with a variety of institutions to serve more than 11,500 children in 83 cities and 25 states.

Stony Brook's Freedom School for children who will be third-graders in the fall begins July 8 and will run for six weeks. The curriculum will focus on reading skills, though there will be some exposure to science and computers, Robbins said. Fifty students will be selected -- 25 each -- from the Wyandanch and Longwood school districts. Under Defense Fund rules, 90 percent of the participating students must meet poverty-level guidelines, Robbins said.

The program is free to participants, with all costs being absorbed by the university, he said. Stony Brook undergraduate and graduate students will act as mentors and role models.

Parents will be required to attend a parents' session for at least one hour a week, Robbins said, noting, "all the literature suggests that parents have to be engaged in their children's education. This is a way to help parents understand what we're doing and hopefully encourage them to be more engaged [with their children's education] throughout the school year."

Wyandanch Superintendent Pless Dickerson called the parent component "critical," and the overall program a "win-win" for all concerned. "It's going to prepare them as they move forward."

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