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Delta-based Education Program Fills Gaps for Students

To some, the Delta is known for cotton fields and the origin of the blues, but for those involved in the Sunflower County Freedom Project (SCFP), the Delta is home to kids who need them.
An after school program, the SCFP was founded in 1998 by three Teach for America instructors with the purpose of giving children from middle school to high school extra help in their studies and providing enrichment opportunities that many schools in the Delta cannot offer.
“I love the drama program,” program director Justine Moser said. “We perform original plays written by the students and faculty. This past spring we went on a tour to Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and we performed at the Alley Theater.”
Executive director Nick Allen agrees the extracurricular activities are an important feature of the SCFP.
“I love working with the students, and I especially love that we offer enrichment programs, including art, music, drama and dance,” Allen said.
Initially, the founders started the SCFP to help their students in the summer while school was out. Eventually, they wanted to have a greater impact on the children, so the program was lengthened to a full year.
Other than three full-time staff members, everyone at SCFP is a volunteer. These volunteers often include students from Ole Miss.
“I started in the uprising program in middle school,” Primus Aplonio, a junior at Gentry High School, said. “I have made a commitment, and I plan to stay until 12th grade.”
Tuition is $300, but fundraisers can help with this fee.
The program serves three districts: Indianola, Sunflower and Drew Public Schools, but the SCFP understands that transportation could be an issue for some of the participants. To deal with this matter, it has two 15-passenger vans that are used to pick up participants at central locations.
“I enjoy the kids the most – 100 percent,” Moser said. “I just love being able to work with them in a different environment. School can be a difficult place to get to understand each child’s special need.”
With the average graduation rate at only about 65 percent for the three districts that the SCFP serves, Freedom Project participants, on average, score 25 percent higher on the ACT than their peers, and they generally have a 15 percent increase in their school grade point averages.
Students in the Freedom Project spend an average of 8.5 hours studying outside of regular school hours.
The SCFP has graduated 100 percent of their seniors, with all of them enrolling in four-year colleges and universities across the United States.
While parents and educators praise the program, students are often too busy having fun to think much about the impact of the project.
“I love Thursdays because that’s club night where all the different clubs meet and discuss new ideas,” Apolonio said. “We have a step, film, hip-hop, dance, garden and art club.”
The program is completely nonprofit. They receive half of their money from individual donations and the other half from federal and private grants. If you would like to donate to the SCFP, call 662-569-2441 or send checks payable to SCFP at PO Box 701, Sunflower, MS 39778.
Part 2 of this series focuses on a student success story. Read how one young man went from faking it to making it. That story runs Monday in the Daily Mississippian.