Freestyle Academy Provides Summer Fun Through Reading

NOTE: As of Feb. 29, 2024, Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC) has rebranded to Landmarks for Families. Our nonprofit, community programs and residential services remain committed to cultivating thriving youth and families in this new chapter.

Over the last 16 years, Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC), has partnered with The Children’s Defense Fund to offer the summer Freedom Schools® program on its North Charleston campus. 

The program is focused on providing enrichment for students through a model curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components: 

  • High-quality academic enrichment; 
  • Parent and family involvement;  
  • Civic engagement and social action;  
  • Intergenerational leadership development; and 
  • Nutrition, health and mental health.

The Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities.

Unfortunately, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, CYDC’s ability to conduct a full Freedom School for the community’s children this summer was not an option. However, CYDC leadership was committed to continuing to provide on-campus summer programs, similar to those offered during Freedom School, for CYDC residents to help bridge the academic gap resulting from early school closures. 

So CYDC’s 2020 Freestyle Academy was created! This year, the Academy was focused on CYDC residents and was targeted at helping youth avoid “summer slide” particularly amidst the academic disruptions this year. 

Youth-in-residence enjoyed a summer full of reading, learning and engaging with their peers and leaders, as well as a very special Freestyle Academy Guest Readers program that invited community and child welfare leaders to read to CYDC youth.

Throughout the summer, scholars read a total of five books including memoirs, fiction and nonfiction works that explored our current society, breaking barriers and learning from historical events. They took turns reading and participating in activities related to each book including rewriting the story endings, painting the story settings from their perspectives and leading group discussions about the novels’ themes and lessons.

The youth were able to hear from some special guest readers including DSS Director Michael Leach and DSS Chief of Staff Emily Parks, who each did a virtual reading with the youth. Over fifteen guest readers were able to share pieces from their favorite books with the youth. The readers were a big hit and shared stories of resilience and advice on overcoming obstacles. 

Ms. Parks read to the youth from Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead and chose a selection from the chapter, “Courage is Contagious,” sharing this message: 

“Owning your own story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” 

The program had a tremendous impact on the youth and leaders who participated in the Freestyle Academy Readers Program, and CYDC is looking forward to continuing this and similar programs with ongoing community support! 

If you would like more information about the reading program, Freestyle Academy, Freedom Schools® or any other CYDC programs please contact our development team at

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CYDC is now Landmarks for Families!

For more than 230 years, we have guided neighbors toward stronger, hopeful futures and now we’re evolving too. We’re grateful to enter this new chapter with you. Welcome to Landmarks for Families!