Defining the Academic Culture Before College: Philadelphia Freedom Schools

Posted by on December 14, 2012

By Bunmi Samuel, Director- Philadelphia Freedom Schools

The Philadelphia Freedom School’s mission and vision is to create an excellent mentally, physically and emotionally safe learning environment where children and adults integrate a love for reading and math with the need for cultural democracy, intergenerational leadership and family alliances. PFS as provided in-school and after-school programming and a six-week summer camp to 7,200 elementary and high school students and 600 college students over the past six years.

Our goal is to develop programs and curriculum for Servant Leaders Kindergarten to College that focuses on academic scholarship and community building as a transition into leadership. Through our organization of support and a family environment, our young people grow and therefore motivate others to excel. In our program young people see an intergenerational collective that ranges from the six year old scholar to the seasoned elder.  This is composition known as the “Ladder of Leadership”…

More Specifically, Philadelphia Freedom Schools goes to great length to communicate an expectation of college attendance, but more than attending college, we show them how to maximize their academic and social experiences.  Junior Servant Leaders (JSLs), our high school cadre, are mentored early on by our College Servant Leaders through small group relationships known as the Servant Leader Circle. They participate in college exchange visits with a Freedom School atmosphere that gives our Junior Servant Leaders a first hand awareness of what the collegiate expectation will be. Conversations between our College Servant Leaders and Junior Servant Leaders happen in real time and are programmatically facilitated both formally and informally.

Through year round and summer specific projects that begin with our kindergarten students, our servant leaders read, learn, and teach back continuously.  Through a classroom and academy model, students are trained to teach curriculum- which consist of preparing lessons, discussing ideas, pedagogy, and are encouraged to engage in deep thought with each other, educators, community organizers, and professors of diverse expertise. Before entering the college setting, a Philadelphia Freedom School young person focuses on the importance of scholarship through literacy as a pathway to comprehension. This academic standard is implemented through the Mbongi- which the traditional translation is a “Classroom without Walls”.  This environment is organized to properly prepare our young people to believe in a culture of rigor, research, and a practice. This expectation of academic practice is interwoven into every activity and conversation. In general the essential prompts a young person may be asked by an adult are: “How do we know what we know? How can we be sure? Is their historical precedence for your argument?” and “How can we prove through evidence and/or research whether what we believe is true?”

This approach to program facilitation sets a foundation for high-level thinking and a curiosity that is compatible to what they will see in a college setting. Young people engage academicians and scholars at weekly sessions, which makes their engagement of professors less daunting when attending college. Entering college with and academic confidence and awareness makes their transition doable.  Additionally throughout our program time adult staff and volunteers provide feedback and round the clock supports for all students. We pride ourselves on being available to any participating student. PFS graduates 100% of high school students into a post secondary opportunity. Overall our high school students embrace academic study, inquiry, and fact finding as a life long pursuit.   Philadelphia Freedom Schools is appreciative of those that set the foundation for its mission.

If you are interested in joining the Philadelphia Freedom Schools Movement, please contact Bunmi Samuel at 215-989-9809 or We host weekly Mbongi Sessions, academic prep sessions, and Junior Servant Leader Chapters at participating high schools and colleges.

Philadelphia Freedom Schools is located at 2000 Hamilton Street, Suite 201 at Communities In Schools of Philadelphia, which serves as its lead agency

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