08/27/2010 04:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

'Freedom Schools' Promote Literacy For Underprivileged Kids Nationwide

In a country with a large achievement gap between students of color and their white peers, Freedom Schools across the country are working to help students of color succeed.

Over 9,600 children participated in Freedom School programs this summer, at 140 locations in cities across the country. The Freedom Schools were created by the Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit group working to advocate for children. The summer schools are modeled after civil rights era programs that educated African Americans in the South.

The Los Angles Times reports the free summer programs help underprivileged children across the nation learn to love reading. The children participate in daily reading sessions, both individually and in groups, and get to keep the books they read.

Jaylen Chairez, 8, said she likes reading funny books and about science "inside the body and stuff." She's also learned about African history and presidents and said her love of reading has grown so much that recently, halfway through one of her favorite video games, she stopped and picked up a book.

"It's different than real school; you're doing work but at the same time you're having fun," said Jaylen, who enrolled in the program with her best friend, Wendy Fuentes, 10.

The children also engage in energetic and educational field trips and other activities. During the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours, children are provided with healthy meals for breakfast and lunch.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has supported the program in L.A. county, where Freedom Schools now serve children at seven different locations.

"There is a strong emphasis on literacy, and that struck me as valuable," said Ridley-Thomas, who was introduced to the Freedom School concept by Children's Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman.