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Occupy Summer Camp Teams With Occupy Sandy in Hope to Gain Strength

WILLIAMSBURG — It may have had a slow start last year drawing kids, but Occupy's summer camp is ready to mobilize the masses — or at least more students — at its new home this July.

The Paul Robeson Freedom School — which began last year as the first-ever OWS approved summer camp in Williamsburg's St. John the Evangelist Lutheran School building — only served a handful of adolescents last year, director Justin Wedes admitted. But through early recruitment and a partnership with Occupy Sandy, Wedes said he's confident the program will grow both in size and power.

"We are proud to be Occupiers and to be bringing popular education to the Occupy movement," said Wedes, who will be holding the 8-week program in Clinton Hill's Occupy Sandy hub the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew. "We’re aiming to have upwards of 20 to 30 students in our school this year and a larger community program with community dinners."

Wedes said the church was rebuilding after a fire deemed "suspicious" by the FDNY, and that the reopened building would continue to serve Occupy Sandy while hosting the Freedom School this summer.

Plus, Wedes said he was launching a new teacher training program in May and June, which would "focus on helping train college students from low-income communities to teach in the school this summer and become the next generation of teacher-leaders."

The camp, for ages 10 — 14, focused lessons last year on discussing the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, LGBTQ rights, universal healthcare and other topics of social justice, as well as providing tutoring, lessons in urban gardening and local food, and weekly family nights.

And this year the school would also add culinary arts, farming and discussions of stop-and-frisk and gun violence, Wedes said.

The program's name came from the Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson and from Paul Robeson High School, a public high school whose students marched out to the nearby Fort Greene Park building as part of the city’s May Day protests last year.

And the school is also a nod to the Freedom Schools, free alternative schools for African Americans that operated in the 1960s, Wedes said in a past interview.

"We are attempting to build a school that’s going to be a laboratory of what the future of education looks like," he said, "to educate people about issues raised by the Occupy movement."

Interested students and parents can reach the Freedom School for registration at 347-618-8675 or through the program's website. The program is also holding a fundraiser May 24 at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity.