ITAV’s Freedom School Empowers Through Education and Social Justice

By Brandie Booker

Tagged: education, Family, history, Parent Ambassadors, rc, RiverCity, school, socialjustice, VLA, vlacademy,

9 minutes, 43 seconds

The phone rings at the JLM Center on Chicago’s West Side, and a fifth-grade student answers, “Hello, may I help you?”


A parent is calling to let the coordinator know they will soon arrive to pick up their children from ITAV’s free after-school program.


The student displays her impeccable phone etiquette and then sweetly calls out the children’s names so they can prepare to head out the door.


This is a typical afternoon at ITAV’s after-school program, which serves 3rd to 8th grade students. Many of these children also attend the Saturday Freedom School. The program is more than just a place for kids to spend time after school; it’s a haven for learning, growth, and development.


“I love the children,” beamed Dr. Arlette Parker, ITAV’s Freedom School Manager who works closely with the after-school program team at the center. Parker is impressed with how bright and mannerable the children who attend are.


In early November, Parker began working with her team of twelve Freedom Fellows, preparing for the launch of ITAV’s Saturday Freedom School in December.

Historical Significance of Freedom Schools


Freedom Schools emerged as a response to the inadequate education available to African American children during the era of Jim Crow laws. These schools were established by activists and community leaders who recognized the power of education in challenging systemic racism and inequality. By offering quality education, Freedom Schools provided agency to marginalized groups, equipping them with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a sense of agency.


ITAV’s Saturday Freedom School


Saturday Freedom School is another valuable program offered at ITAV’s Village Leadership Academy. Through their curriculum centered on social justice, Freedom Schools teach students about their rights, encourage civic engagement, and promote activism. By empowering young minds with knowledge and critical consciousness, these schools are catalysts for change within their communities.



Building Holistic Education Initiatives


Dr. Arlette Parker

Dr. Arlette Parker, ITAV’s Freedom School Manager, envisions a holistic approach to education that goes beyond traditional academic learning. Her focus is on the overall development of students, nurturing their intellectual, emotional, and social well-being. According to her philosophy, “Education should not only equip students with knowledge but also empower them to become compassionate and responsible individuals.”



Parker never thought she would be a teacher. “Now, I have spent 26 years mentoring and educating people from third grade through college. I believe myself to be a life learner.” 



She was first introduced to policy as a Model UN state rep which led to volunteering on Jesse Jackson’s Presidential campaign and completing A Summer of  Challenge with Bell Hooks and Cornel West. “My studies have included being a Fulbright Scholar in Ghana and extensive post-graduate studies at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.”



Parker believes in creating an inclusive learning environment where every student feels valued and supported. She emphasizes the importance of personalized learning experiences that cater to each student’s unique strengths and needs. By recognizing and fostering individual talents, she aims to unlock the full potential of every student and the Freedom Fellows working under her supervision.



The Role and Impact of Freedom Fellows and Village Leadership Academy


The Fellows selected for these positions are passionate about creating equitable learning environments and promoting social justice within education systems. These fellowships create a ripple effect by empowering educators who can empower their students. The impact goes beyond the classroom, as these Fellows become advocates for change within their communities, working towards dismantling systemic barriers and promoting educational equity.





Ways to Contribute to Education and Social Justice


Freedom Fellow tutoring VLA student.

Individuals can contribute to education and social justice initiatives within their communities in various ways. Volunteering in educational programs or mentorship initiatives is one impactful way to make a difference. By offering your time and skills, you can directly support students’ academic progress while also serving as a positive role model.


Advocating for policy changes is another essential avenue for promoting equity in education. This can involve attending school board meetings, contacting local representatives, or joining advocacy groups focused on educational reform. By raising awareness about the importance of equal opportunities in education, you can help shape policies that benefit all students.


Additionally, supporting community-based organizations that prioritize education and social justice is an effective way to contribute. Whether through donations or volunteering, these organizations rely on community support to continue their important work.


it takes a village