Our newest program launch is a vision that has been building since the fall of 2018 and a question that has been asked of us since we started in 2012. It represents not only the next logical and organic step for our organization, but also our response to the ongoing need for relational, relevant, decolonized education for Black youth in St. Louis.
The 2020-2021 school year brings the launch of the Freedom Arts Academy, a free, hybrid, arts-centered microschool available to our currently enrolled 6th-12th graders.
Almost a decade of walking closely with our scholars and their families and collaborating with dozens of schools and organizations has overwhelmed us with evidence that the dignity, safety, and healthy development of Black youth is not widely prioritized in our educational institutions. Systems of oppression continue to threaten Black lives and futures, and these systems are threaded into our school system. Lack of trauma-informed and culturally competent teaching practices, overcrowded schools, under-supported teachers, lack of transportation and quality meals, zero-tolerance discipline policies and in-school policing, curriculum saturated in Eurocentrism and white supremacy, and unjust district zoning laws prevent Black youth from receiving the education and school experience they divinely deserve. Too many youth have unmet intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs, and covid-19 has exposed even more inequities. Freedom Arts Academy addresses these issues for our currently enrolled 6th-12th graders by providing a hybrid microschool based in the arts, faith, and Black culture as a new school choice. Curriculum has been shaped with the youth and rooted in their identity and goals to serve their wholistic mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Free tuition and transportation, fresh meals, and an almost 2:1 student-teacher ratio make Freedom Arts Academy both accessible and relational.
Education leaders Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Marian Wright Edelman have taught us so much about teaching and learning. In particular, we have come to understand the “banking” model of education that the American system uses in which students are seen as “containers” into which educators can simply deposit knowledge that they deem important. We believe this model reinforces a lack of critical thinking, ownership, and engagement for our students. We believe true knowledge and learning is the result of a human, collaborative, creative process which is an important part of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. We also place high value in literacy, the arts, spiritual growth, and a culturally relevant, historically accurate curriculum.
English Language Arts, History, Reading, Music, Poetry, and Visual Arts are prioritized in our curriculum while Math and Science are still given multiple days of attention throughout the week. Through our balanced schedule and rich curriculum rooted in the rich ancestry of Black America and the African Diaspora, our scholars are empowered to build the skills needed to succeed in the 21st Century while allowing them to explore their interests and utilize their creativity without succumbing to intellectual colonization or falling through the cracks of status-quo educational institutions.
Scholars who graduate from Freedom Arts Academy will have developed an outstanding portfolio and received a well above average education. They will fulfill graduation requirements of 24 credits in course instruction and electives, complete and pass the Missouri HiSET, receive their high school diploma, and take part in a celebratory graduation ceremony that will make traditional high school graduations pale in comparison! If the scholars wish to pursue a college degree, we will support them in preparing for and taking their SAT and ACT and applying to colleges. In the past 20 years, colleges, universities, and employers have proven to be highly favorable to students from new and innovative schools like ours.
Due to the current threat of covid-19, Freedom Arts Academy is operating virtually with an appropriately adjusted schedule for at-home learning. All scholars have been provided with the needed technology, groceries are being delivered weekly, and some are taking advantage of safe, on-site support at our spacious, shared facility on Union Blvd.
To support Freedom Arts Academy, please make a donation here and consider becoming a monthly donor. If you have any questions or ideas you’d like to share, please email Beth Gibson, our Director of Education and Operations.