A new nonprofit initiative to help students in Meridian, Miss. held a launch ceremony last week for a year-round, after-school program that organizers hope will lead to greater leadership skills and college graduation for its participants.
Organizers of the Meridian Freedom Project held a ceremony on Oct. 7 in the city, which has about 41,000 residents. The project, which will start in June 2014, will offer rigorous academic support, educational travel and health and fitness programs to public school students. The pupils are not necessarily in the top of their class but they are motivated and apply to the program.
“This program seeks to build a corps of academically-capable, socially-conscious and mentally-disciplined young leaders,” organizers said in a statement.
The Meridian Freedom Project is modeled after the Sunflower County Freedom Project, which started in 1998 to assist students in Sunflower County, Miss. Teach for America alumni Chris Myers-Asch, Shawn Raymond and Gregg Costa, who started the effort in Sunflower County, wanted to create “more pathways” for young people to attend college, organizers said in a statement.
Program instructors have participated in Teach for America and have returned to their home states, especially in Mississippi, to help young people.
Representatives from Parents for Public Schools, an education support group, traveled to Sunflower County last year to learn about the Sunflower County Freedom Project. After that trip, the participants worked on bringing the program to Meridian.
Students who participate in the initiative learn about four principles – love, education, action and discipline – and spend hours after school in the program, as well as three Saturdays a month and eight weeks during the summer, to hone their leadership skills.
In many communities throughout the country, young people, parents and civic leaders have talked about the importance of providing after-school programs to build stronger neighborhoods.
Organizers of the Meridian Freedom Project report there is a community need for the program. Citing Census data, they note that about 20 percent of the city’s families live below poverty. About a third of the city’s children, they added, are experiencing poverty.
Supporters and organizers say their goal is to work with public school teachers and administrators to help young people stay focused and make civic contributions.
Parents for Public Schools, based in Jackson, Miss., encourages mothers and fathers to become active in education, solve problems, raise standards and advocate for neighborhoods. This story was revised on Oct. 17 to clarify details about the program.