Parents take advantage of weekend program to boost kids’ reading

Saturday mornings come, and Antoinette Allen has her children’s clothes laid out from the night before like any school day.

Because the family truck is dead in a tow lot, she walks seven blocks with four of her children to 53rd Street and Prospect Avenue to catch a city bus.

A Saturday morning reading academy begins at 9 a.m., and she gets her children there.

Every Saturday.

“There’s a misconception,” says the Rev. Darren Faulkner, “that parents are unmotivated — that they lack interest in the proper education of their children.”

That was Allen who had her hand in the air at a recent parents’ meeting for the Saturday academy at the Freedom School at 22nd and Olive streets.

Faulkner, the program’s director, and his staff were asking who among the parents would be interested in continuing with another semester beginning this month.

Keith Bonds’ hand shot up as well, on behalf of his 9-year-old son, Keith Jr.

Allen, “by all means,” is determined to get her children reading at or beyond grade level, she said later.

Said Bonds: “I want him to do better than I did.”

Ordinarily a summer program, Kansas City’s Freedom School strained to carve out a budget for a Saturday academy, Faulkner said. Finding grants is a struggle.

So the organizers gathered the parents from this fall’s semester — Freedom School’s first Saturday program — to gauge how many of them would come back if they offered it again.

There were close to 40 parents in the room, Faulkner said.

“And every one of them raised their hand.”

The city and Mayor Sly James have made a communitywide crusade of getting all children reading at grade level by the third grade.

That means more programming, more tutoring, more parents and neighbors reading with children.

The appetite for more, said the Freedom School’s teacher coordinator Sharon McIntosh, clearly runs deeper than many people realize.

“It amazes me how many will get up every Saturday morning and bring their kids in,” she said. “It’s the need.”

On this Saturday morning, close to 40 children between kindergarten and fourth grade scatter among four classrooms with certified teachers.

One of Allen’s children, 7-year-old Bryant Tinsley, is in Nina Harris’ classroom, leaning with his pencil into a writing assignment, answering questions about the book he just read.

Keith Bonds Jr. and another of Allen’s children, 9-year-old Aniya Amie, are coloring brown paper lunch bags, decorating them with pictures and words that recount their latest books.

And in Debbie Muir’s class, B’Anthony Tinsley, 5, and a dozen other children are enrapt, listening to a picture book story of a spider’s Christmas wish.

“What do


want for Christmas?” Muir asks them.

B’Anthony wants a Mustang. Others say iPads or Xboxes. A magic force field, says one. Superpowers, says another.

“What would you do with your superpowers?” the teacher asks.

“Save the day,” says the little girl.

It’s almost noon as all this is going on, the end of a three-hour day, after more than two months of Saturdays.

“When it comes to reading, usually you can’t get kids to sit down long enough,” Bonds said.

They’re learning “the patience.”

Bonds finds whatever work he can, often auto mechanics. It all demands reading skills, he said.

But he tells his son, who joins him in the waiting room at the end of the morning, that he wants more for him.

“Instead of doing all this hard work, you can be a doctor or a drafter,” he says. “Your ink pen gets you paid and you don’t have to work up a sweat.”

There’s no rest for Allen, either. Not yet.

These days she continues to check out charter schools and Kansas City schools. She’s a school shopper. She’s gotten on that bus to ride downtown and push for the right programs for her children, and she’ll do it again.

“Their teachers know who I am,” she said.

She’s been back to school herself, getting her certificate as a nursing assistant, prepping for a career as a medical assistant.

“I still have energy,” she said. “I still feel wonderful. I don’t feel tired.

“When my children are grown and they can handle the situations in their lives, when I see them get their education and get their careers and I have grandchildren — then I’ll rest.”