The Freire family first came into being in 1999 with the opening of Freire High School in Philadelphia, PA. Within a few years, Freire became one of the highest-performing high schools in Philadelphia.
- 1997: After years of strife and underperformance in Pennsylvania schools, state legislature passes the “Charter School Law,” creating a new class of independent public schools with the freedom to innovate on behalf of their students in exchange for accountability for school performance.
- 1998: Freire Schools’ founders develop a vision for a public charter school that would offer any and every student in Philadelphia the opportunity to attend college and thrive there.
- 1999: Freire Charter School opens with 100 students in grade 8.
- 1999: University of Pennsylvania doctoral student Kelly Davenport witnesses a Freire student threatening her classmates with a knife. In the wake of this incident, Kelly surveys Freire students about their hopes, dreams and the school environment they want to build. Their responses are clear: “No fighting.” “I have to feel safe in order to learn.” “We need to treat each other with respect.” “I know we can love each other.” These needs expressed by Freire High School’s founding class of students become the foundation for Freire Schools’ approach and commitment to peace. Soon after, Kelly is asked to become Head of School.
- 2000: Freire Schools pioneers an innovative model for responding to student and family trauma, partnering with Temple University, West Chester University, Drexel University, and the University of Pennsylvania to offer counseling and therapy services to students and families at no cost to them.
- 2003: Freire High School’s founding class of students graduate from 12th grade.
- 2007: Freire Schools receives the first of several multi-year grants from the U.S. Department of Education, supporting student achievement through STEAM-based learning.
- 2008: Freire Schools students host their first Take Back the City community event to share personal stories and develop empathic understanding, focused on a powerful prompt: “If you really knew me, this is what you’d know.” Every year since, Freire students take a two-day break from classes to listen to each other’s stories.
- 2010: After a decade of leadership, Kelly remains frustrated by the barriers to opportunity Freire students face. Inspired by this frustration, Kelly founds the Freire Foundation, a nonprofit education philanthropy fund, to support Freire Schools and accelerate educational change.
- 2010: LiveConnections, a leading provider of arts education, hosts Freire 10th graders at its first Bridge Session, pairing professional artists with faculty and students. This event begins a lasting partnership between Freire Schools and LiveConnections, tying community-based field work in art, cultural history, and technology to in-school learning.
- 2011: Freire High School becomes the first charter school in Pennsylvania to receive a national Title I Distinguished School Award for our success in closing the achievement gap.
- 2012: Freire Charter Middle School opens, expanding the Freire family to include students in grades 5-8. Play On, Philly! is identified as a lead arts partner, adding orchestral music to Freire Middle School’s after school programming.
- 2014: Awarded a competitive grant for arts-integrated programming from an anonymous source, Freire Schools begins a partnership with Mural Arts.
- 2014: The Freire Foundation partners with the Delaware Department of Education, the Longwood Foundation, and then-Governor Jack Markell to explore and create Wilmington’s first public college-prep, non-selective high school in decades.
- 2015: Freire Charter School Wilmington opens with 220 students in grades 8 and 9. The partnership and support of the Longwood Foundation, the Welfare Foundation, and the US Department of Education is central to our start-up success.
- 2015: The Freire Schools Network Office (originally known as Build the Future), a separate nonprofit entity, is created to support and guide the Freire campuses, advance the network’s mission, and thoughtfully plan the network’s future, enabling teachers and school staff to stay focused on their critical work with students and families.
- 2015: TECH Freire Charter School is one of only five schools out of 39 total applicants to be granted a new charter by the School District of Philadelphia— the first new charters granted in Philadelphia in seven years.
- 2016: TECH Freire, a high school integrating technology and entrepreneurship into Freire Schools’ rigorous liberal arts curriculum, opens its doors to 300 students in a newly renovated former Packard automobile showroom in North Philadelphia. The Philadelphia School Partnership and the US Department of Education were vital partners in this new school venture.
- 2018: Freire launches Freire Forward, our network-wide initiative that helps Freire students connect their classroom learning to hands-on experiences and begin to establish a vision and framework for their future. Students partner with businesses across their home cities.
- 2019: TECH Freire and Freire Wilmington graduate their inaugural classes of seniors.
- 2019-2020: Freire Schools celebrated our 20th Anniversary — and the visionaries who founded our network, the staff and our Boards who execute our mission with fidelity and love, our partners who open a world of possibility to our students, and our amazing students.
- 2020: When the countless acts of racist violence prompted a national reckoning on racism in America, Freire Schools used this inflection point to begin interrogating the presence of racism in our work and our schools and made a Commitment to Antiracist Action. In the years since, we have invested heavily into developing our staff to ensure our work is rooted in equity and staff are committed to creating an educational program in which Freire Schools students and staff are unencumbered by institutional racism, held to high standards, and supported and uplifted every step of the way.
- 2021-22: While the impacts of the pandemic were palpable and widespread in our school community, it was a joy welcoming students back to our buildings in fall 2021. Every day, we are working to reunite as a community, restore connections with students, raise the academic bar even higher than before.
What is a Charter School?
A charter school is a tuition-free, independently operated public school with the freedom to adapt and innovate its curriculum and structure to best support its students. Charter schools each hold a contract—their “charter”—with a school district or other authorizing organization, which provides oversight and input and holds each school accountable to the high standards outlined in its charter.
Charter schools originated in Minnesota in 1991; today, more than 3 million students attend more than 7,000 charter schools across the United States. Because of the greater autonomy given to charter schools, these 7,000 schools represent a wide diversity of educational approaches and student experiences. Charter schools offer families the opportunity to choose from more than one public school option and find the school that will truly help their child thrive.
Who is Paulo Freire?
Freire Schools is named in honor of the Brazilian educator and theorist Paulo Freire, whose vision for a better future inspires us to create a different kind of school. Freire, who spent much of his early career teaching literacy in rural Brazil before going on to write several deeply influential books and essays on teaching and learning, argued that most schools failed to effectively empower their students to learn. Instead, Freire wrote, traditional teaching methods created a “culture of silence” where underserved individuals were deprived of the means to think critically about their place in the world.
Freire challenges each of us to reconsider our role in learning. Are students merely vessels to be filled with facts and numbers, or are they active participants in a learning process built on equality, diversity, and critical thought? It was, and is, radical to consider students as both learners and teachers.
We believe that every member of the Freire Schools family—students, teachers, and families alike—has much to learn and experience, and also much to teach. This growth begins in our classrooms and continues through the hallways and into our wider community. We believe this holistic approach, which prioritizes autonomy, equity, and community, honors the legacy of Paulo Freire.
The Freire Dragon & Flame
In the years since Freire High School’s founding students first chose a dragon as their mascot, the dragon has come to represent Freire Schools’ most deeply-held values and ideals. A dragon is powerful, bold, and free—it knows what it wants and pursues that goal without reservation. In particular, the dragon’s fire breath has come to define the essence of Freire Schools’ mission. When Freire Schools teachers and students remind each other to “breathe fire,” we are reminding ourselves that each of us holds power and possibility beyond what we could dare to dream. We breathe fire by working every day to surprise ourselves with how much we can achieve.
A dragon exists between the real and the fantastic—part lizard, part dinosaur, part impossibly powerful dream. At Freire Schools, we take dreams that may seem impossible and bring them to life in a very real way for our students. The Freire dragon in our individual school logos and the Freire Schools flame represents the eternal fire of our passion for a better world, and the courage to unapologetically pursue that future.