In 2012, Reinvestment Fund closed on a loan to Freire Charter School for leasehold improvements to a facility to house a new middle school campus. In 2010, this Philadelphia charter high school was approved to open a 500-student middle school, doubling its enrollment from 500 students in grades 9-12 to 1,000 students in grades 5-12. The middle school facility is located in a former Woolworths building in Center City that has stood vacant for 20 years. The facility is located ten blocks away from Freire’s current high school, which Reinvestment Fund-financed in 2003 and again in 2007.
Reinvestment Fund’s financing of the middle school supported the construction of 18 classrooms, a science lab, a computer lab, an art and music room, board room, administrative offices, a multi-purpose room and a library. The new 40,000-square-foot middle school opened for the 2012-2013 school year.
Founded in 1999, Freire’s mission is “to provide a college preparatory learning environment with a focus on the individual avenues of problem solving, freedom and critical thinking, and the collective values of nonviolence, safety, community and teamwork.” Freire’s learning model is rooted in the teachings of Paolo Freire, an educator and philosopher who emphasized the development of critical consciousness, political activism and cultural critiques. The Freire model emphasizes small group work and student interaction with the urban environment as community participants.
Freire has demonstrated very strong academic results; it has made annual yearly progress in eight of the last nine years and has won the PA Department of Education’s Keystone Award for Academic Excellence four times in its history.
The school’s high school graduation and college attendance rates have consistently exceeded 95%. These statistics are significant, considering that management indicates that about 95% of incoming 9th grade students are at least four grade levels behind in reading and math. The staff and students work to review the necessary skills and building grade-level knowledge, and by the end of freshman year, at least 87% of 9th grade students close the gap.
Freire had been considering adding a full middle school program for many years, as management recognized that many successful, urban college preparatory models start with students no later than the fifth grade, early enough to influence and develop students into critical thinkers with strong study habits and drive to succeed in college and beyond.
Freire middle school students are students from underserved areas of Philadelphia coming from low socio-economic backgrounds. Freire’s high school demographic is largely African-American and 85% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The middle school enables Freire to reach students at an even younger age and engage them in an environment that places students at the center of teaching and learning.