Lehigh Valley

Allentown Freedom School vows to help struggling inner-city students

Freedom School plan

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - One group is blasting Allentown's struggling schools for failing inner-city kids. This weekend, it unveiled a unique alternative that's caught on across the country.

The Children's Defense Fund on Saturday unveiled plans for a "Freedom School" in Allentown. A crowd of parents and students gathered in front of Resurrected Life Community Church at Ninth and Turner for the announcement.

Founded during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Freedom Schools are summer and weekend programs aimed mainly at minority students throughout the country. Organizers here slammed Allentown schools for failing to reach black and Hispanic kids.

"There is a culture that has been created that has allowed these children to fail," said Rev. Gregory Edwards, the pastor at Resurrected and a founder of the new school. "Teachers blaming administrators, administrators blaming the union. Everybody blaming parents, of course."

Allentown has some of the highest dropout rates in Pennsylvania, particularly among minorities. Freedom School leaders accused city school leaders of being tone deaf to the needs of black and Hispanic students. They pointed to the example of Shannon Mayfield, the first black principal of Allen High School. Mayfield quit after less than a year, citing a hostile relationship with Superintendent Russ Mayo, who is white. Mayo has denied that claim.

"Shannon Mayfield did not want to leave, but he felt that he wasn't receiving the support that he needed to really help and change the neighborhood," said Jocelyn Providence with Campaign 4 Change, which is working with the school.

While Allentown's new arena has brought a building boom to Center City Allentown, Freedom School leaders said without good schools, middle-class families will continue avoiding the city.

Allentown School Board president Robert Smith said, in spite of the harsh words, he welcomes any help they can get.

Freedom School leaders hope to reach kids in a way traditional schools can't, by teaching

"They're going to learn about their history," said Edwards. "I think they're going to learn about their heritage."

The Freedom School will start off with a pilot group of 50 students this summer. Classes will run weekdays and begin on July 7. In the fall, it will operate on Saturdays.

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