Erin Gruwell, educator, guest lecturer, and lauded author of “Freedom Writers,” as well as the founder of Freedom Writers Foundation, was a special guest speaker for Gonzales ISD’s Back-To-School convocation Thursday, Aug. 4, at the J.B. Wells Expo Center.
Listening to student voices was the message presented by the famous author/teacher to the teaching faculty and staff members of Gonzales ISD.
Gruwell detailed her story about the “Freedom Writers,” her novel, which was turned into a 2007 Hilary Swank movie of the same name, with a goal to bring the story to the audience in attendance at the expo center.
GISD Superintendent Dr. Elmer Avellaneda was moved by Gruwell’s speech and said there was not a dry eye in the audience.
“It was just the best speech I've ever heard in regards to teaching and directed toward the impact of teachers,” Avellandeda said.
The Freedom Writers Foundation has written several books about self-transformation for teachers and students. Gruwell explained they always look at how people “metamorphosize” and how teachers use education differently inside the classroom and at school.
“For most educators, it's about stories and it's about the arc of where they were and how they changed. So just starting the year off in a really positive place and really trying to focus on hope.” Gruwell said.
Avellaneda hopes Gruwell’s speech can impact the teachers and the staff in the district.
“The most impactful individual in any school district is a teacher,” Avellandeda stated. “So her speech will keep the main focus for us, which is students, student success and student academic achievement.
“I'm hoping the takeaway from today was that every single one of our teachers has the ability and capability to be the best they can be for our students even when reaching just one of our students,” Avellaneda said.
Writing and hearing the stories of students with different backgrounds was the main theme of the speech and Gruwell knows the importance of not letting them be invisible, but instead helping them be visible and using writing “to be an up-stander and not a bystander.”
“I think a lot of kids feel invisible. And I think a lot of kids feel like ‘no one sees me. No one hears me.’ And I think, for us, writing allowed them to leave a legacy,” Gruwell said.
“So it’s that idea of write yourself into existence. Write yourself out from the shadows,” Gruwell continued.
Avellaneda agreed with the Gruwell’s message about listening to the voices of both students and staff members.
“It's important for everybody to hear everybody's stories because, in the end, what we have found out is that we are more similar than we are different. It brings unity to our staff. It brings unity to our community. And it brings unity amongst everyone,” Avellaneda stated.
Gruwell’s final message to teachers and staff is to give students “hope and home” and make the classrooms and schools a home-like environment for them, especially those students who don’t have good home environments or are homeless.
“That allows them to have an escape, which allows them to feel nurtured and fostered,” Gruwell stated.
“I still teach, but I also teach teachers in addition to kids. We've realized if we can help do a cultural shift in a classroom and a cultural shift in the school, that it really can affect the community,” Gruwell said.
For more information about the Freedom Writers Foundation, please go to http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/ or find them on Facebook and Instagram: @freedomwritersfoundation and Twitter: @freedomwriters.