Hello from Meridian!

Dear friends of FSTF, 

This week, we want to show you all the great stuff happening at The Meridian Freedom Project! Run by the incredible Anna Stephenson, the MFP was launched in 2014 as an affiliate of the Sunflower County Freedom Project(SCFP), and abides by the same core values. Students engage in rigorous summer and after school programming from 6th grade all the way through high school and receive extraordinary opportunities for academic and personal enrichment. The success of the Freedom Summer Teaching Fellowshipdepends on the amazing work Anna and her team do all year round preparing their students to take on the challenge of college-level summer courses. 

This is our first summer offering ACT prep and college seminars at the Meridian Freedom Project, and the students have adjusted to the work load exceptionally well!

Our two teaching fellows have much to do with that success. Porshé Garner, who is receiving her Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Illinois, has spent much of her time in graduate school working with college students, and is doing a beautiful job adjusting her curriculum to meet the needs of high schoolers. Valerie Soon, who is joining us from Duke University's Philosophy department, has also shown a real knack for breaking down complicated theories and showing students the real-world applications for philosophical thinking. We are so lucky to have these two amazing women working with us!

Valerie Soon (Duke) and Porshé Garner (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Valerie Soon (Duke) and Porshé Garner (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Ms. Garner's course, "Mapping Black Girlhood," challenges students to think through how race and gender are articulated in the work of influential black women writers. In this week's seminars, students collaborated to answer the question, "what is a theory?" and experimented with different theoretical approaches to literary and cultural criticism.

Students also had the opportunity to stage their own performances of Ntozake Shange's choreopoems (poems that incorporate stage directions, and are intended to be performed with music and dance). These two students amazed us with their stage presence!

In Ms. Soon's class, "Science and Democracy," students are working to deconstruct scientific truth claims, uncovering hidden biases behind what consumers often presume to be facts. "The idea here is not to be suspicious of science," she explained to her students, "but rather to understand that scientists, like all researchers, have their own interests and agendas. It's important for all of you to be able to understand the difference between a fact and a theory, and to recognize that they can't always be disentangled."

Ms. Soon explains the difference between descriptive claims (claims that observe the way things are), and normative claims (claims that contain a value judgment)

Ms. Soon explains the difference between descriptive claims (claims that observe the way things are), and normative claims (claims that contain a value judgment)

As wonderful as these courses are on their own, we are most excited that the MFP students get to take these two classes at the same time, because Ms. Soon and Ms. Garner are amazingly good at recognizing opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning. Whereas science and cultural studies are usually siloed in separate departments, Ms. Soon and Ms. Garner are teaching their students to work at the intersection of these fields and attend to the essential relatedness of research bias, lived experience, creative expression, and scholarly discourse. As graduate students ourselves, we can both speak to the value of educational experiences that offer such a thorough-going illustration of the kinds of opportunities available in academic work.

So as you can see, we are totally in awe of our teachers and their students, and we hope you've enjoyed this quick snap-shot of what they're up to. We'll be back next week with news from the J. Austin White Cultural Center in Eudora, AR!

Until then, 
Andy & Emily 

Laura Beth Lott