A cluster of children knelt together on the floor of a Silver Spring church, wiggling their arms and looking up at "Mr. G" as they sang: "I know that I can make it!"

"Freedom School is what?" shouted Mr. G, aka George "G" Sumner, a sophomore at Morgan State University.

"Red hot!" they roared back.

Then the children gathered around a parent who was reading a book aloud. The story described the life of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, using such words as "groove" and "dude."

This was not typical summer school. It was Freedom School at Mount Jezreel Baptist Church, where students studied African American history and developed self-confidence as part of a first-year program in Maryland.

Nationwide, there are 85 Freedom School chapters. The program is run by the Children's Defense Fund and inspired by the Freedom Schools of the civil rights era, which were created in 1964 to improve education of African Americans and increase voter registration.

The Silver Spring school was funded by Mount Jezreel and led by church member Marion Brown. When she started the program, Brown expected 50 to 70 students to enroll; she ended up with nearly 100, ranging from kindergartners to eighth-graders.

Brown said Freedom School differs from other summer programs, particularly in the ways it highlights African American heritage and fosters intergenerational relationships among children, parents and college students who serve as mentors.

The program also offers after-work sessions for adults on how to raise their children and how to encourage reading.

"Freedom School is about parent involvement," Brown said. "Many times, people write about programs where mostly mothers are involved, but we have a big fathers group."

The college students, who are paid a stipend to teach the summer classes, offer the children role models closer to their age, living examples of young people who are going to college to become lawyers and teachers.

"As a person who had trouble in high school, I try to tell them the importance of education," Sumner said. "I put it into their heads and make them remember it."

The six-week program at Mount Jezreel, which was free and ended Aug. 6, included morning reading classes and afternoon extracurricular activities taught by college students, with instruction in areas such as dance and music. Each day started with reading -- often led by a parent -- and then harambee, which is Swahili for coming together and referred to a time of group singing for the children.

"It's nice because it gets us hyped," said Bianca Johnson, 10, who during the school year attends Newport Mill Middle School in Kensington. "It is music that helps you."

The children also learned about the voting process through a mock election.

Carole Taylor of Silver Spring said her son was so enthusiastic about Freedom School that he didn't want to sign up for other activities that would interfere with the program's schedule. "He told me, 'We've got to stop karate because Freedom School is so much fun,' " she said.

The reading curriculum is selected by the Children's Defense Fund, and all of the books focus on African American heritage. Children get to keep every book they read, Brown said. "They read a lot of books that deal with cultural issues and conflict resolution," she added.

Perhaps most important, the children have found friends and teachers in the college students, who had to go through an extensive June training process led by Freedom School organizers in Tennessee. "Here we give them freedom of expression. . . . We're always building confidence," said Carmen Rosa, 20, who is studying education at Morgan State University. She was assistant site coordinator and a teacher at the Silver Spring program.

"They can't be the leaders of the next generation if they don't believe in themselves," Rosa said.

One day this month, the children followed the college students throughout the church -- the kids tugging at their shirts, clamoring for "Mr. G." and "Mr. Lockhart."

"We try to plant in their heads to at least enjoy some of the books and start looking forward to college," said Carnell Lockhart, who taught at Northern High School in Baltimore as part of his schooling at Morgan State University.

Lockhart will take the Law School Admission Test in October to begin the path toward becoming a lawyer. "A lot of times, people are discouraged about college, but I try to present a different side to kids," he said. "I never was the brightest kid in high school, but I wanted to do it."

Jordan Wylie, left, and Matthew Strawder, both 7, practice drumming on five-gallon water bottles at Freedom School, which was held during the summer at Mount Jezreel Baptist Church in Silver Spring.Miles Walker, 5, and Tyler Brown, 6, rehearse a skit on the last day of class at Freedom School. The program also helps adults improve their parenting skills.