On Friday, April 13. 2018, Ms. Nahla Nasser, Ms. Jamie Shick and I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon at the Marriott Marquis Houston which was hosted by the Neuhaus Education Center. For those not familiar with this innovative and groundbreaking foundation, they serve to train teachers to aid their students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, which affects at least 20% of the US School population. In addition, the keynote speaker was Erin Gruwell who co-authored with her students their extraordinary journey in the book The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The story was so compelling that Hollywood ultimately made it into a movie in 2007.
Each time Erin speaks, she brings her story alive by chronicling her journey as an ordinary school teacher and the obstacles and hurdles she had to overcome to reach these students through innovative teaching methods and strategies while teaching at Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA. After leaving Wilson, Erin taught at University of California Long Beach bringing her methods and strategies to teachers in training. This led to her founding of The Freedom Writers Foundation which sought to offer scholarships to students to attend college. In addition, beginning in 2007, Erin began to bring teachers to Long Beach, CA to train at The Freedom Writers Institute. The magic that was born here helped to create The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher Guide as well as other books that followed. The momentum continues as educators, administrators, and counselors from both public and private schools to this day are trained by Erin and the original Freedom Writers in her methodologies and strategies. To date, there are 550 teachers from the United States and countries throughout the world who can call themselves “Freedom Writer Teachers”, and I am one of them, having trained with Erin in 2009. I am fortunate to have Erin in my life as not only my mentor and colleague, but also as a friend. Subsequently through Erin’s support and guidance, I was able to serve as one of 12 consultants and contributor’s for Scholastic’s On the Record, a nonfiction reading program, that seeks to engage, enlighten and empower students to reach their full potential.
Through my efforts and connections with Erin and the Freedom Writers Foundation, I continue to bring the magic of the Freedom Writers Curriculum and On the Record to my classes at St. Stephen’s.
By: Michael J. Stambaugh