Liberty Learning travels across Shelby County

Published 6:50 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

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Teeming with a level of excitement that can only be achieved during an elementary school assembly, second grade students from two Pelham schools packed into the gym at Pelham Ridge Elementary School on Thursday, Feb. 29 at 9 a.m. for the Hands on Liberty kickoff event.

Sponsored by the Liberty Learning Foundation, the Hands on Liberty program is a 10-week civic education course designed to provide teachers with resources to help educate students on the importance of civic engagement. To kick off this program, the Liberty Learning Foundation traveled to Pelham Ridge Elementary School to introduce the program to students, with a special presentation from their mascot, Libby Liberty.

According to the vice president of educational resources for the Liberty Learning Foundation, Cynthia Green, the mascot character of Libby Liberty is an important aspect of every Liberty Learning kickoff event because of the excitement she generates with the kids.

“Libby Liberty will be there, and she will bring them a message about her gift to our country,” Green said. “She’ll talk about those important lessons of freedom and liberty, which we all have by living here in the United States of America.”

The Liberty Learning Foundation provides educational materials to schools free of charge through donors and community alliances. During each week of the program, teachers use lesson plans from the Liberty Learning Foundation which are designed to both fulfill the program’s mission and tie back to state education standards.

“Our (civic education) materials are based on three pillars, which are financial literacy, character development and also career opportunities,” Green said. “(Our materials) just sit on that foundation of civics and our great American story.”

Lesson plans can feature videos from another Liberty Learning character, Mr. Palmer, a hand puppet that introduces the topic, or interactive activities to engage the students with hands-on learning. For example, the lesson on the importance of voting will feature a mock election. The class will present two cookie candidates and debate the pros and cons of each cookie before casting their votes to determine the best cookie.

As the students learn about the responsibilities of being a citizen, they have to opportunity to nominate members of their school or local community that they believe embody those characteristics. At the end of the program, there will be a special recognition to honor these “Super Citizens” in these students’ lives.

“When they graduate from the program, we want them to feel that they are a Super Citizen,” Green said. “And we tell them at the kickoff that even though they’re second graders, that they truly can make a difference and shine a light in their community.”

While Pelham City Schools are just starting their Liberty Learning journey, Shelby County Schools wrapped up their Hands on Liberty program in early February.

According to Elvin Hills Elementary School Principle Courtney Madison, the students at her school were excited to attend the Shelby County Schools celebration event where they took the Super Citizen pledge and recognized Super Citizens Meagan Hale, Emily Gravitt, Melissa Scoggins and Zeb Ellison.

“You can really tell that they were really proud of themselves,” Madison said. “And they really took the learning to heart and it stuck. They were able to really remember what they learned throughout the year.”

Madison shared that she loved how the Liberty Learning program made her students excited to learn about citizenship.

“What I was most impressed with is the approach and how the program engages the students,” Madison said. “It gives them relevant information and it really does set them up to be Super Citizens.”

In the classroom, the Liberty Learning Foundation provided teachers with a binder containing all the materials the teacher would use for each unit. The students were each given workbooks to go through as they followed along with videos featuring sock puppet mascots such as Mr. Palmer and friends.

Second grade teacher Jennifer Long explained that she was surprised by just how much her students responded to these videos.

“They were just enthralled by the talking hands,” Long said. “I was amazed. Kids these days have so much and everything is so over the top so to speak, but these kids really enjoyed watching those hands talk to each other.”

Between the in-class lessons and in-person events, Long’s favorite moment of the Liberty Learning program was witnessing a special interaction between Libby Liberty and one of her ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

As Libby Liberty educated students on the story of the Statue of Liberty, she was able to address some students in their native language, Spanish.

“I have a really, really precious little boy (in my class),” Long said. “And I mean the minute she started speaking Spanish, he turned around and his face was just glowing. It was a touching moment for me.”

It is special moments like this that caused former teacher Kala Carlson to join the Liberty Learning Foundation’s team as an education specialist rather than going into retirement after 32 years of teaching.

Carlson claimed that how much her students loved the Liberty Learning program while she was teaching made the decision to work for the foundation an easy yes.

“I just have seen (The Liberty Learning Foundation) from the outside and now I see it from the inside,” Carlson said. “And I see that the pure heart that everyone has. We’re all on the same path that we all love America. We love our country and want the children to become productive citizens who also love our country and their community and make a difference.”

According to Liberty Learning Foundation Vice President of Regional Development for Central and West Alabama Alicia Sherman, the work that the Liberty Learning Foundation does wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of multiple individuals across the state with a common goal.

From CEO and founder Patti Yancy and their two traveling event teams to community alliance members, Sherman believes Liberty Learning Foundation is the culmination of many people united under a common mission: to turn the next generation into Super Citizens.

“Working with the community sponsors is huge, because without them, we just wouldn’t be here,” Sherman said. “To find likeminded people that think these kinds of things are important to teach to students and finding that right fit is really rewarding at the end of the day.”