Teacher, author speaks about the Freedom Writers

Amira Ahmetovic

Area high schools, educators and WKU students gathered in Van Meter auditorium tonight to listen to teacher and author Erin Gruwell share her experience of using writing to change the lives of 150 students at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif.

Gruwell took the audience back to ‘Room 203′ and shared stories from her students, today known as the Freedom Writers.

Gruwell said the 150 students in her classroom were the lowest ranked on standardized testing, kids that didn’t matter according to the school system.

Each facing personal adversities of their own, the students hated reading, writing and her, Gruwell said.

With determination to change their lives, Gruwell bought 150 marble journals and ordered various books the teens could relate to, including “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and “Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo,” she said. The students related the books to the conflicts in their own lives in Long Beach.

Gruwell introduced a “toast for change,” where each student declared to make a change in his or her life in some form or another.

“Every one of my students has an odyssey, a journey” Gruwell said.

The Freedom Writers ended up graduating high school and college, and some currently work for the Freedom Writers Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds scholarships and promotes innovative teaching, which Gruwell founded.

Some WKU students in attendance thought Gruwell and the Freedom Writers’ story was very inspiring.

“(She) shows what big of a change a teacher can make,” said Ashley Wise, a senior from Connor, Texas.

Educators in attendance thought Gruwell was inspirational for teachers, as well.

Liz Brewer, associate director and special ed. consultant for Caveland Educational Support Center, said they’ve been using Gruwell’s story to train and motivate teachers to reach students since 2005.

Patti Whetstone, WKU assistant professor of exceptional education, said Gruwell’s story is inspirational for teachers.

“We could never forget for one minute that one person can make a difference,” she said.