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Yukon principal heads metro-area nonprofit reading program

Independence Elementary principal Amy Young wears many hats.
In addition to her work at Independence, the Yukon resident also serves as vice president of Pets & People, and, for the past 10 years, she has served as executive director of a metro-area program that helps children excel.
“I was recruited by the then-board president of FSOKC to help build the program. The first summer, I was hired just to run the program, hire and train staff, and ensure that the scholars had a wonderful program. After that summer, the board of directors asked me to take on the executive director role,” Young said.
Freedom School OKC is a nonprofit, tuition-free summer literacy program that targets children from under-served communities.
The six-week program runs from June through July, helping about 80 first- through fifth-graders.
Freedom School OKC features pre- and post-program reading assessments, daily breakfasts, lunches and snacks, and a 10:1 children-to-instructor ratio. Participants also receive books for their own libraries.
“We are doing incredibly important work with our most valuable resource: our children,” Young said. “I enjoy bringing college students in and developing them as mentors, I enjoy watching the scholars grow academically, and the best part is to see them enjoy learning.”
As executive director, Young said her main focus has been to make the nonprofit sustainable and successful.
“In the past year, we have grown
tremendously in our capacity and our financial sustainability,” she said. “We have served 900 children and we’ve distributed 9,000 books to the community. We have a wonderful partnership with Metro Technology Center that provides us free program space. We partner with Regional Food Bank. I have created and maintained relationships with Kirkpatrick Foundation, Sarkeys Foundation, Kerr Foundation, Gaylord Foundation, Wegener Foundation, the Chickasaw Nation, and also Remington Park.”
What makes Freedom School OKC special, she said, is that it’s the only one of its kind in the metro area.
“Our average growth in reading (after testing) is six month in just five weeks’ time,” Young said. “What is so important about that is that the majority of our scholars come to us reading at least one grade level below. Not only do our scholars not succumb to summer slide, the term used to describe a child’s loss of reading skills over the summer, but they gain skills.
“In addition, our program is a safe, nurturing environment for the children. Over 90% of our scholars enter our program reading at least one grade level below. Many read two or three grade levels below. Over 95% of our scholars live in poverty. Most attend very low-performing schools and the ZIP codes they live in are among the most crime ridden in our state. Our program provides a safe, nurturing environment that supports our scholars during the summer,” Young said.
That combination of daily mentoring, motivation and meals is invaluable, she said, to participants’ success. But because the program is free, it means constant work in securing funding.
“We are able to provide this program completely free to our scholars’ families,” Young said. “I work year-round to ensure that we have the funds and space and resources so we can provide the very best experience for our scholars. We typically fill the program in just two weeks and we are a first-come, first-serve application. I fill the program completely and we have to turn away over a hundred children each year because we fill so quickly.
“The need is there and the need is so much larger than the space we have each summer. We are the only program in the OKC metro that is of our quality, our length of program and that is completely free,” Young said.

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