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  • An idealistic English teacher,

  • a room full of quote un teachable at risk students and her helping them find their

  • freedom

  • to write their own destiny well if that sounds like a Hollywood movie the

  • Freedom Writers

  • it is but it's more than that it's the true story that the movie is based off--

  • real students their lives and the teacher who believed in them

  • over ten years later she still doing that but bringing it to the next level

  • with the Springfield City School District and today I'm joined by that

  • English High School student teacher and the founder the freedom riders

  • foundation

  • Erin Gruwell better known as Ms G also we have Springfield assistant school

  • superintendent Lydia Martinez

  • and Denise Jordan from Mayor Sarno's office to talk about Springfield being

  • the first of its kind to implement the Freedom Writers curriculum on

  • on a district-wide level thanks so much for joining us today and

  • I want to start with Ms G as I told you I wanted to call you Ms G because

  • feel that name has really just stuck with you

  • the past ten years or so it's really made you probably

  • who you are today do you feel that connection? I do and I still see the

  • original freedom writers and they still call me Ms G so there's

  • great admiration for that name

  • that's great now everybody's familiar with the story

  • behind the Freedom Writers

  • but we're taking it to the next level like I mentioned Freedom Writers curriculum

  • what is that

  • What was amazing was that when my freedom writers were writing their stories

  • and it was like a message in a bottle we were hoping that

  • their parents and community would read their stories and when it became a book

  • we realized that other kids and other communities have similar stories

  • and so right here in Springfield we hope that would be a mirror

  • to what my students went through so we created a curriculum

  • that allowed teachers and students alike to mirror

  • our story and to pick up a pen and write their own ending

  • and right wrongs essentially what difference is the Freedom Writers

  • curriculum from maybe a normal

  • or what you've seen in the past what is the difference it brings

  • to the table

  • for a lot of education programs we teach to the

  • overachievers or the kids who are headed off to the Ivy Leagues

  • and for me i I had students who weren't college-bound initially

  • students whose parents dropped out of school or even middle school or high

  • school

  • and so we learn how to tap into their prior knowledge

  • and their community and the strengths that they had and not look at it as a deficit

  • but looking at it as a strength and so I was very fortunate that the 150 students I

  • had

  • graduated and went to college and we wanted to replicate that same kind of

  • success

  • withs tudents everywhere but specifically right here in Springfield

  • and talk about that Springfield first time on a district-level you're going to

  • be bringing this to the Springfield school district

  • Why Springfield? I was given an incredible challenge

  • by Warren Buffett's daughter Susie Buffett and she said

  • I think you could take what you did in room 203 with 150 kids

  • and replicate it. If it's a secret sauce and you could bottle

  • where would you take it and the freedom writers and I've been very blessed

  • we're traveled to all 50 states and have been to hundreds and hundreds of cities in

  • our country

  • and there's something so unique and so special about this community

  • that for us it was very easy to pick

  • if we were to have one city to try to replicate what we did

  • in room 203 it was a natural fit and we have fallen

  • in love with this community the educators the students

  • and we hope that there's gonna be great synergy by bringing all these people

  • together to

  • try to fight for kids and give them a voice And it seems that they've been

  • the community has been so involved and so passionate about

  • the same exact model and

  • education that you followed in room 203 in bringing it to this level

  • What's amazing and I think you're gonna meet these incredible women

  • they're super heroes

  • is everyone here believes in kids

  • it's not about data and statistics it's about kids

  • and helping them get next level and when you're in the trenches and you're from

  • hear and you went to school here

  • you want everyone to have the same success you had and I think

  • it's really a partnership I think it's an incredible synergy

  • and it's a belief system that these young people

  • regardless of economics regardless of race or religion each

  • and every kid has the ability through the support of

  • caring adults to make it Lydia

  • why impact do you feel that this will have on the Springfield City Schools

  • and students It's like Erin said it's about a belief

  • and so many of our educators really truly do believe in our children so it's

  • about that love of children

  • 25 of us had the opportunity to go to long beach this summer

  • and really go through the Institute when we returned a lot of people

  • asked us can you explain it and I kept saying no

  • it's something you have to live because it's something that really

  • helps you understand the love for children

  • and so thats what we're bringing to the table and so we'll be

  • doing a workshop with about approximately fifty other teachers

  • because it it's just

  • it's a synergy its it's an energy that I I can't even explain to you so

  • it's really about the love of our children because our children can learn

  • and they will learn and they are learning It seems that

  • sometimes we focus on the students but also it's about getting the teachers

  • involved so they know what to do and how to do it

  • what has been your reaction from the teachers? what it's been their reaction

  • Oh my god I've had to stop them and they just wanna go crazy because

  • the opportunity that they had and what they learned was so powerful that

  • everybody's just ready to give that love to the children

  • it's not about a methodology it's about a love

  • and that's the best way to describe it so our teachers are

  • are ready to go and you'll be hearing a lot more about what we're doing to

  • really

  • make sure that the Freedom Writers way really does penetrate in all of our schools so

  • we're

  • really excited about it Talk about how you feel Springfield

  • was able to show how much they wanted and they needed and looked forward

  • to having the Freedom Writers curriculum take place

  • in the school Well let's just say we had over a hundred applicants for 25 slots

  • and a lot of disappointed individuals that didn't get to

  • go to long beach which is why Erin so generously agreed to come back

  • and really

  • do a workshop for all of them so that everybody had a little piece of the pie

  • because

  • when Erin first came in and we saw one of

  • the documentaries that the Freedom Writers did there was nothing but tears and love

  • and hope in that room in

  • in the energy it was just an energy that I can't describe was something that we

  • were kinda missing for a little while

  • and it came back and so those teachers still have that energy we don't wanna

  • let the energy go so

  • its its it's beyond words I can't describe it

  • Now Denise you are from the mayor's office he's obviously not in this

  • springfield school district but he was just as excited as

  • the school was? Absolutely the mayor serves as the chairperson

  • of the School Committee so I was fortunate enough to attend

  • a conference or actually a reception that was hosted by doctor carole leary

  • from baypath and the guest of honor was Erin Gruwell

  • so the mayor and I and a number of members of the community

  • were in the room to listen to Erin tell her story now

  • if you have not had the opportunity to hear Erin tell her story in person

  • you're really missing out

  • her passion her spirit permeated the room and

  • everybody just focused in on what she was saying and I remember on the way

  • back to the office the mayor was like wow maybe we could bring that back to the

  • city

  • what if we could bring that back to our children and so I mean once everyone

  • in the room heard Erin and heard her story

  • and she basically you know kinda dispelled the myth

  • that kids are unteachable because she had proven results

  • so once we heard her story we're all compelled to be a part of it and we want

  • to bring it back to our children so it was an

  • easy sell That's great now

  • going back to you Ms G I know some people may have originally 10-15 years

  • ago looked at

  • your idealism and said it can never happened

  • you know you're thinking too far outside your dreams are too high

  • there too unimaginable it can't happen

  • you how were you able to look past that and

  • still stay focused on what you wanted your dream to accomplish

  • it's easy I have a 150 students who are still very much a part of my life

  • and the beauty of both Denise and Lydia's visit to Long Beach was

  • part of our teaching strategy is bringing those original kids

  • into the teaching strategy so they were learning beside Darius

  • and Mirada and Tiffany and these original students who

  • very humbly picked up a pen told their story about being homeless

  • or leaving a gang or are burying a loved one

  • and to see where they were and to see where they are is such a transformation

  • and we believe that every kid deserves that chance, deserves that second or

  • third chance

  • deserves somebody believing in them and so it's really a process

  • of coming together and in leaving your ego at the door

  • it's all about being humble and being open to

  • change and knowing that kids who have done bad things

  • are not necessarily bad people and so that's the spirit that we're bringing to

  • Springfield

  • we know that there's some economic challenges and with any

  • urban community we have that in Long Beach they have it here in Springfield

  • but kids are more than their economics and they're more than their past

  • and they're more than those stereotypes and so it's taking

  • a group from entire community saying I want to believe and so when all these

  • incredible business people said how can we support

  • how can we get a scholarship to teachers to

  • take this magic carpet ride to give back it was incredible we had so many

  • businesses and thought leaders and individuals in this community come

  • together

  • and all the major community colleges and universities

  • also came together so it's unprecedented its it's not just an

  • ordinary teacher an assistant superintendent and someone who works

  • beside the mayor

  • its the entire fabric of Springfield coming together

  • for these kids that's great and we're so excited to

  • follow this Freedom Writers revolution that happening now on the other side

  • of the

  • Coast and we're so excited to follow it and see what's going to happen

  • in Springfield about it thank you so much for joining me today ladies.

An idealistic English teacher,

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Freedom Writers | Connecting Point | Oct. 14, 2013

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