Dr. Lakia Scott
Assistant Professor, Curriculum & Instruction
Spending time with elementary and middle school students is something that drives Dr. Lakia Scott in her work because it reminds her of the impact that can be made at the college level as she prepares new teachers to enter the workforce.
Her work focuses on social issues in education like equity, social justice, race, gender and social class.
In 2017, Scott launched Freedom Schools in Waco, a summer program focused on building literacy among children by curbing summer learning loss and closing achievement gaps. The program is offered through the Children's Defense Fund. The mission of the CDF is to provide a healthy, fair, safe and moral start in life for children with the help of caring families and communities.
"I love the versatility that I can have in working with pre-service teachers but also working with students directly," said Scott, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.
The seven-week program is offered at no cost to Waco-area students entering 6th, 7th and 8th grade.
Children from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds attend, with Baylor students engaged as servant-leader interns. The program is designed to offer targeted intervention in a culturally affirming learning environment, said Scott.
The morning begins with a harambee, a Swahili word that means all pull together, a morning pep rally and celebration of reading. The day's program is composed of a guest reader that might be a parent, teacher, politician or even a bus driver. After introducing the guest, he or she reads a self-selected book followed by questions from the children.
"Children who participate in the program often don't remember that we're teachers. They feel like we're older sisters or brothers. They feel like we're mentors," Scott said. Community-building and intergenerational leadership are key aspects of the model and foundational pillars of the CDF Freedom Schools program.
Next is a moment to reflect on the day followed by a high energy motivational song that gets students excited about why reading is fun and how it makes a difference. The children then spend time in their classroom working on the integrated reading curriculum, which is prescribed by the Children's Defense Fund. Students take home the book they worked on that week to add to their personal library.
"These books are culturally affirming and developmentally appropriate and are selected by a panel of expert librarians and reading specialists," Scott said.
After lunch, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities are incorporated into the program with things like building rockets, racing cars and checking buoyancy. Fridays included field trips to the children's museum, swimming or the zoo last year. This year, eight clubs are being added ranging from gardening to debate.
"Dr. Scott truly embodies the great command of God that says we are to love the Lord and others. Her commitment to the people of Waco and their children is admirable," said Alexis Hooker, a Baylor senior who serves as the site coordinator. "She's adamant about staying connected with the families and each child's success beyond the Freedom School summer."
Parents are required to attend a weekly meeting to learn about their student's activities and stay engaged. Community resources are also made available.
"All children need someone to love them and know that they care. Freedom Schools provides the perfect culture and climate to not only make that possible but easy," said Hooker.
Student assessments reveal the program is making an impact. More than half, and in some cases 70 to 80 percent of students, increased their independent and instructional reading level for sight word recognition and reading comprehension.
This year Scott will be looking at new and returning student data to see if the outcomes are higher as a result of multiple summers involved in the Freedom School. She'll also compare district assessments for students who did not participate in the school. That will give Scott a deeper understanding of the need to expand the program's reach.
"They don't come to Freedom Schools expecting to gain the camaraderie or community, but they definitely leave that way. And it's not just with the peers that they meet, it's the staff as well," said Scott.
Dr. Scott came to the School of Education in 2014, and since that time, she has published two books — one on culturally appropriate literature for urban students and one on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Scott said her educational philosophies were forged during a three-year stint teaching English Language Arts and Reading at an all-male charter school in Houston, The Pro-Vision School. “A lot of the students came there as a final option before entering the juvenile justice education system. It was our job to show them education was a key to freedom. Those three years taught me how to grow up like nothing else ever did,” Scott said. “And I came out as a trail blazer, so I stayed in education.”
Scott earned her MSEd at Prairie View A&M University in 2009 and went on to complete a PhD program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2014.
At UNC Charlotte, Scott continued to focus on urban education and explore cultural themes, such as the urban dialect, multi-cultural education and historically black colleges and universities. Before graduating, she co-authored a book with one of her mentors, Dr. Greg Wiggan. The book, Unshackled: Education for Freedom, Student Achievement and Personal Emancipation, analyzes cultural barriers in education and poses recommendations to improve academic outcomes for traditionally marginalized student populations.
Scott is teaching classes for SOE students studying elementary education, and she hopes her experiences can offer insight for working with the urban demographic. “I didn’t grow up in poverty; my parents worked hard to ensure that I had opportunities in education,” she said. “It’s a great misconception that because I am black, I can relate to any black student. Every teacher faces some sort of cultural struggle and adjustment. But I hope my transparency will help my Baylor students see how we can all get beyond our naiveties to best meet the needs of our students.”