Freedom Leadership Academy program helps students apply education

Maranda Shrewsberry

Five Kent State students are helping develop a new educational enrichment program that aims to teach students how to apply knowledge to real-world situations.

Freedom Leadership Academy began at Cuyahoga Community College in December. The program is for Cleveland students, grades 8 to 12, to learn academic and leadership skills that apply to the real world, according to

The students, or “scholars,” in the program learn better language and mathematics through lesson plans designed by program assistants. They meet one Saturday a month for five hours and keep in touch through e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.

Devin Butler, a senior applied communications major, is a program assistant and head of the marketing department at FLA. He said the program helps scholars prepare for college and become more professional.

“Our overall goal is to connect the dots between high school and real life,” Butler said.

Scholars also use blogs as a means of communication with program assistants and to share what they learn. Butler said he edits blog posts before approving them to go online. He said the blogs are one area in which he has seen improvement.

“In the recent weeks, there has been a lot less editing I have to do grammatically,” Butler said.

Butler said it is not only the students who learn.

“It’s an intergenerational learning process,” he said. “It’s helped me become a better educator, and it has helped my communication skills.”

Funded by The Cleveland Foundation, FLA is an extension of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, a national summer program, Rachel Wilson, director of FLA said.

FLA lasts longer than the summer program,and it added mathematics and more technology, which scholars need to be good leaders, Wilson said.

“We’ve added a new and innovative approach to teaching urban youth,” Wilson said.

She said they also teach the scholars to be more politically engaged and urge them to educate others.

“We give them tools that they can use to encourage their own communities to become engaged and active leaders,” Wilson said.

Lauren Bottoms, junior psychology major, is Wilson’s program assistant and an FLA program assistant. Sh e said she hopes scholars utilize the leadership skills they learn through the program.

“I really want them to gain confidence and become comfortable with themselves,” Bottoms said.

She said she has seen scholars doing just that.

“The atmosphere of the program really makes them feel at home like they can act like themselves,” she said.

Bottoms said she has become more comfortable with herself and her talents as well.

“This has taught me more ways of how I can bring my leadership skills to others.”

Through FLA, Bottoms said she hopes scholars go to college but that they keep the real-world skills they learned through FLA in mind.

“We say a lot that education is expensive, but ignorance is more expensive,” Bottoms said.

The FLA staff is still working out the kinks, Bottoms said, but she sees good things in the future.

Wilson has gotten responses from other states wanting to try something like FLA. She said she has high hopes for the program as well.

“We are developing something that I believe could literally transform education,” Wilson said. “We really have an opportunity to make a national program that can be replicated all over the country.”

Contact Maranda Shrewsberry at [email protected].