Pictured above – Murfreesboro children’s writer Sherry Roberts talks and reads to students from Tennessee Tech’s Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School. The Freedom School is offered through Tech’s College of Education and provides six weeks of literacy activities to 30-40 Upper Cumberland elementary school students each summer.

Plenty Downtown Bookshop is an independently owned nonprofit bookstore in Cookeville

A summer program at Tennessee Tech University and a local business both dedicated to literacy recently teamed up to introduce a group of elementary-age children to an author who read to them, answered questions and signed copies of books for them to take home.

The Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School, a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School partner, is a free six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program for children in first through fifth grades and is coordinated by Tech’s College of Education.

Plenty Downtown Bookshop is an independently owned nonprofit bookstore in Cookeville dedicated to promoting book culture and the literacy, learning, language arts and more that come along with reading.

“One of the first things one of our staff members noticed is that they closed the shop just for us. To me that was a simple way of showing how much this bookstore cares about our community,” said Amber Spears, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Tech and Freedom School director.

Meeting a local author was inspiring for the scholars attending this summer’s Freedom School from Putnam and surrounding Upper Cumberland counties, Spears continued.

“Receiving a personalized autographed book made the experience memorable and personal; it’s a gift that I think the scholars will forever treasure,” she said. “Hearing firsthand about the author’s experiences and writing process hopefully showed our scholars that publishing is not something out of reach. Speaking with her showed scholars that they too can achieve their dreams, regardless of age.”

Sherry Roberts, a children’s book writer from Murfreesboro, read her book “Hello, Can I Bug You?” and talked about another book series that kicks off with a book titled “The Galaxy According to CeCe.” Although the first book is for younger readers, it deals with a meaningful topic: how to make friends. The book series is for older elementary-age readers and its story is ultimately about how children learn to cope with significant change – like moving to another state and having to leave friends at your previous school.

At the end of the reading, the young scholars asked various questions about the writing process, other jobs associated with publishing and illustration, Roberts’ other stories and books and more. Before their field trip was complete, they were given signed copies of one of the books she read or talked about, based on their age and reading level.

“The responses to the event were overwhelmingly positive. Many of the scholars had never been to a bookstore before, and they were surprised to see all the different types of books available to them,” Spears said. “The majority of the kids had never met an author before, and several were speechless when they realized that they now owned a book with their own name in it signed by the real author! They felt special and honored.”

The Freedom School’s research-based curriculum uses culturally responsive children’s books and instruction to foster in attending scholars a sense of connection to the stories they read.

Research conducted by Tech’s College of Education demonstrates that the majority – 80 percent or more – of Freedom School participants maintain or improve their reading levels and are more engaged with reading following the summer program.

The program offers an immersive literary experience for scholars and includes a weekly field trip experience that helps bring their learning to life.

“We like to take them places they’ve never been before, but that hold both educational value and are engaging – and fun! We like to connect our field trips to our weekly themes for making a difference in themselves, their families, their communities, their countries and their worlds through hope, education and action,” Spears said.

“This year’s field trips really allow our scholars to immerse themselves in high-quality learning opportunities. Field trips provide meaningful learning experiences that stimulate curiosity, enhance academic understanding, support social and emotional development, and promote physical and mental well-being,” she continued.

In addition to their literary field trip to Plenty Bookshop, the scholars this year will also visit Oak Ridge Children’s Museum, Cumberland Mountain State Park, Nashville Zoo and Cheekwood Gardens.

Along with offering high-quality academic enrichment, the Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School also supports Upper Cumberland children and families in the areas of parent and family involvement, civic engagement, social action and health.

To find out more about Tech’s Elinor Ross CDF Freedom School, how scholars qualify and apply, or how to contribute, visit https://www.tntech.edu/freedomschool or email: freedomschool@tntech.edu.

Photo via Tech.

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