It was Vicki Olivares’ third year in college at Cal State Dominguez Hills when a counselor asked if she was looking for a summer job working with kids. She said yes, thinking it would be an easy job watching children play. But she quickly realized it was so much more.
“Little did I know that it wasn’t just a job, it was a movement and that it would shape my entire philosophy of teaching,” she said.
That was 15 years ago. Since then, Olivares has been a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program servant leader intern, teaching various levels of scholars over multiple summers and is now site coordinator for the Long Beach program site, hosted by Success in Challenges.
Olivares is also a first grade teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District. Much of her successes as a teacher she credits to the program and the principles, concepts and strategies she learned at CDF Freedom Schools National Training and those summers she worked with scholars before she got her own classroom.
“CDF Freedom Schools taught me that it’s not about just what goes on in the classroom, it’s about the whole child –– this includes the parents, family and community,” Olivares said. “It is a holistic approach and I use the same techniques in my classroom.”
Olivares has even incorporated cheers and chants –– a CDF Freedom Schools component of Harambe, a coming together of scholars first thing in the morning to get them excited about learning.
In her 15 years participating in the program, Olivares has seen so many young people transformed through the six-week summer literacy program. She remembers children who were so insecure about reading aloud become regular read aloud volunteers; shy children who ended the program dancing in front of large crowds; scholars averse to books turn into avid readers; and youth who hate regular school cry on the last day of the program. “This program changes people. It has definitely changed me.”