Student Learning Journal

Student Learning Journal

Learning to Lead 1

Student Learning Journal

Speakers Series

Erin Gruwell: Teacher

Prepared by the YorkRegionDistrictSchool Board

Table of Contents

Lesson 1: Challenges as Opportunities

What do you think?...... 3

What do others think?...... 4

Making Connections...... 5

Lesson 2: The Challenges we Face

Facing a Challenge.……...... 6

Qualities for Overcoming Challenges...... 7

Seeing Connections………………...... 8

Turning Points ……………………………………………………………………………9

Lesson 3: Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers

Their story………………...... 10

Seeing opportunities in challenges ...... 12

Lesson 4: The Emotional Journey

Diary Excerpts...... 13

Recognizing Emotional Change on the Journey…………………………………….14

Writing the Journey……………………………………………………………..………16

Lesson 5: Webcast

Connecting Who we Are to What We Do……………………………………………..17

Thought Catchers ……...... 19

So now what do you think?……...... 21

Reflecting on the Speaker..……...... 22

What do you think?

Before beginning the class activities, take a moment to reflect on your present beliefs related to the topic of ‘challenges’. Circle either Agree or Disagree after each statement. As you read the statements, you will get a sense of some of the issues that the class will be

exploring as part of this unit.

Statements / After Discussion
1 / Courage is an essential in overcoming challenges. / Agree/ Disagree
2 / It takes creativity to overcome challenges. / Agree/ Disagree
3 / Nothing is impossible if you want it enough. / Agree/ Disagree
4 / It is possible to be a leader and have no one know it. / Agree/ Disagree
5 / Facing problems can prevent more and worse problems from happening. / Agree/ Disagree
6 / ‘Problems’ is another word for ‘challenges’. / Agree/ Disagree
7 / Challenges make us stronger. / Agree/ Disagree
8 / It’s hard to overcome challenges without perseverance. / Agree/ Disagree
9 / The first step to overcoming a challenge is to understand the situation honestly. / Agree/ Disagree
10 / Overcoming challenges helps people become stronger. / Agree/ Disagree

What do others think?

Quotations can be a great way to explore a topic as they often help to focusour thoughts and challenge us to think in a new way. The following quotes represent other people’s thoughts about challenges.

After participating in the class discussion and sorting activity, use the following table to place the numbers that record your personal rankings of the following quotes:

1= most liked
7 = least liked / Quotation / 1=most true
7=least true
Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
African Proverb
History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed.
B. C. Forbes
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
Sir Edmund Hillary
If you have a positive attitude, and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.
Pat Riley
Overcoming challenges what makes life meaningful.
Joshua J. Marine
Anything unattempted remains impossible.
Unknown Author
If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it
even if I may not have it at the beginning."
Mahatma Gandhi

Making Connections

As a personal reflection exercise, you may select one of the following options and use the space below to record your explorations:

1)Find and record another famous quotation that you feel relates to the topic of challenges. State whether or not you agree with the ideas in the quote and explain your decision.

2)Ask someone that you know what he or she thinks are the most important character attributes needed to overcome challenges. Record your notes about what was said. Did you find a good quote during the conversation? If so, record the quote and the person’s name.

3)Create your own quote related to challenges and then write a justification for why you feel your quote should be included in a book of quotations.

Qualities for Overcoming Challenges

Character Traits / Skills / Information Gathering: Questions to Ask / Who You’d Like at Your Side - Consider:
Empathy / Compassion
Determination / Working independently
Self motivated
Using conflict resolution skills
Taking a problem solving approach
Working well as a part of a team
Seting clear goals
Being organized
Listening well
Speaking well
Greater understanding of personal strengths
Reading others
Controlling impulsivity, or anger, or pessimism, or…. / What don’t I know about the topic itself that could help?
What don’t I know about the people involved in the challenge?
What don’t I know about organizations that may be involved?
What don’t I know about myselfthatmight prove useful?
What have others done about this problem that have succeeded in solving it?
What have others done about this problem that has not succeeded?
How much time is worth putting into this challenge? / Parent
A family member
Best friend
My friends
A professional with information I need
Someone who listens well
Someone who thinks I can do it!
Someone who asks me the right questions to guide me
Personal trainer

Use the chart below to help you fill in the previous page. .

Seeing Connections

Today, interview a person you admire and consider competent at handling day-to-day challenges. Circle the qualities, skills and abilities thisperson possesses.

YorkRegionDistrictSchool Board, 2006

Learning to Lead 1

Character Traits / Skills
Empathy / Compassion
Determination / Works independently
Self motivated
Using conflict resolution skills
Taking a problem solving approach
Works well as a part of a team
Sets clear goals
Is organized
Communicates well
Listening well
Speaking well
Has a strong understanding of personal strengths
Reads others well
Controls impulsivity, or anger, or pessimism, or….
Feels a sense of responsibility for others

YorkRegionDistrictSchool Board, 2006

Learning to Lead 1

Turning Points

Pivotal moments that change things forever…

YorkRegionDistrictSchool Board, 2006

Learning to Lead 1

Identify a positive

turning point in your life.

Write it in the centre.

Title: ______

In the rays of the sun, identify:

  • Who helped you this to happen (don’t forget to give yourself credit as well!)
  • What it took for this to happen (traits, skills, events, experiences etc.)

Give a title to your Turning Point

Lesson 3: Erin Gruwell and the

Freedom Writers

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

The Freedom Writers Diary

How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them
by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell

The Freedom Writers Diary is the amazing true story of strength, courage, and achievement in the face of adversity. In the fall of 1994, in Room 203 at WoodrowWilsonHigh School in Long Beach, California, an idealistic twenty-four-year-old teacher named Erin Gruwell faced her first group of students, dubbed by the administration as "unteachable, at-risk" teenagers. This group of students was unlike any she had interacted with before. The class was a diverse mix of African-American, Latino, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Caucasian students, many of whom had grown up in rough neighborhoods in Long Beach. These students felt abandoned by the education system, and saw themselves as the students that no one wanted to teach. In the first few weeks of class, the students made it clear that they were not interested in what their teacher had to say, and made bets about how long she would last in their classroom.

Then a pivotal moment changed their lives forever. When a racial caricature of one of the African-American students circulated the classroom, Erin angrily intercepted the drawing and compared it to the Nazi caricatures of Jews during the Holocaust. To her amazement, the students responded with puzzled looks.Erin was appalled to discover that many of her students had never heard of the Holocaust. When she asked how many in her class had been shot at, however, almost all of them raised their hands, and began lifting their shirts to show their scars. This initiated a battle-scar show-and-tell that left Erin Gruwell shocked and inspired to take advantage of the powerful energy she had sparked.

After realizing her students were all too familiar with violence, she introduced them to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. Reluctant at first to read the

strange texts, the students of Room 203 were soon comparing their lives to those of Anne and Zlata, teenagers who, like them, were surrounded by violence. The students could not believe the intensity of their connections to these stories. Each student began to keep his or her own anonymous diary, recording tormenting stories of drug use, struggles with physical and mental abuse, and reactions to Erin and her unconventional teaching methods. As a result, they made a symbolic "Toast for Change," and began a life-changing, spiritually- enriching journey that continues today.

From the moment they named themselves "The Freedom Writers," in honor of the Civil Rights leaders, the Freedom Riders, the students of Room 203 changed from a group of apathetic, frustrated students to a closely knit, motivated family. They raised funds and arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family during World War II, to visit them in California. Soon after, Zlata Filipovic responded to the Freedom Writers' many letters inviting her to Long Beach, and spent five days with them, swapping stories of their experiences. The visits from Gies and Filipovic reinforced the Freedom Writers' beliefs that voices can be heard, change is possible, and that their words have the power to affect people throughout the world.

The Freedom Writers have continued on their mission to teach tolerance and share their story of success. In 1997 they organized an "Echoes of the Soul" fundraising concert to help pay for a trip to Washington, D.C., where they toured the HolocaustMuseum and presented their diary to Secretary of Education Richard Riley. This trip also allowed them to honor their heroes, the Freedom Riders, by holding a peace march and prayer vigil for victims of intolerance at the WashingtonMonument. In 1998 they won the Spirit of Anne Frank Award and traveled to New York for the acceptance ceremony. In the summer of 1999, The Freedom Writers achieved one of their most far-reaching goals. They traveled to Europe and visited Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, the concentration camps in Germany and Poland, and their friend, Zlata Filipovic in her native Sarajevo, Bosnia.

And most importantly, the Freedom Writers graduated from high school and are now pursuing their undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Seeing Opportunity in Challenges

Challenges Erin Faced Challenges Her Students Faced


Identify two challenges you faced, and overcame in your recent past:

  1. ______
  1. ______

From the list of words below that describe emotions, map your emotional journey on each of the two timelines that represent the two challenges you have chosen to work with.

YorkRegionDistrictSchool Board, 2006

Learning to Lead 1













feeling good about myself

YorkRegionDistrictSchool Board, 2006

Learning to Lead 1

Add more of your own if these don’t accurately describe your experiences.

Challenge #1

First Chose to Working on it, Succeeded!!!

awareness do something but don’t know

how it will turn out

Challenge #2

First Chose to Working on it, Succeeded!!!

awareness do something but don’t know

how it will turn out

Excerpts from The Freedom Writers Diary

Freshman year

Diary 6- “A couple of days ago one of my friends was laid to rest. His funeral was just like any other. Family members were crying. Someone said, ‘Not another one,’ while his friends were swearing that they would get revenge. ‘An eye for an eye…payback’s a bitch.’”

Diary 9- “I hate my neighborhood. It’s surrounded by gangsters and drug dealers. There are too many opportunities that seem out of my reach. What goals do I aim for? I don’t aim, because I don’t have any goals, instead, I deal with what comes.”

Sophomore year

Diary 31- “Ms. Gruwell stood on the desk and began to talk about ‘change.’ I thought, ‘What is this lady trying to do?’… I guess I was offered an opportunity that not many people have…I thank God that he sent an angel to give me that chance to change. I was always known as the person that was going to be a druggie, or get pregnant before I turned fourteen and drop out. Now I have the chance to prove them wrong.”

Diary 36- “At first I asked Ms. G, ‘Why should I read books about people that don’t look like me? People that I don’t even know and that I am not going to understand because they don’t understand me?’. . .She looked up and said very calmly, ‘How can you say that? Try it, you never know. The book may come to life before your eyes.’ So I started reading this book called Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl because I wanted to prove Ms. G wrong. . .To my surprise, I proved myself wrong. . .I did find myself within the pages of the book, like she said I would.”

Junior year

Diary 75 – “I feel like I finally have a purpose in this class and in life. That purpose is to make a difference and stand up for a cause. . .somebody suggested that we name ourselves the Freedom Writers, in honor of the Freedom Riders. . .so if we’re going to take their name, we better take their courage and conviction. . .I am willing to step forward, unafraid of who or what lies ahead. After all, history tells me that I am not alone.”

Diary 89 – “We gave our book to the United States Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, tonight...I couldn’t help but notice how different we were. He is a rich, white, Southern man from South Carolina with a Southern drawl, and I’m a young, black male trying to make it in life, living check by check. But I realized we were both there for the same reasons – we care about the future of kids in America.”

Senior year

Diary 117 – “Days like this create memories worth living for. My day began with tears of happiness after receiving the Spirit of Anne Frank Award, and ended with tears of sadness after watching the play of The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway...[this day] made me realize what Anne meant when she wrote in her diary, ‘I want to go on living even after my death.’”

Diary 142 – “I remember back in our freshman year, people still didn’t understand the importance of a pen instead of a gun. . .but look at us now, the sure-to-drop-out kids are sure to reach higher education. . .these urban kids, however, were never truly given the chance to prove that if only given the opportunity, we could rise to the occasion; and rise to the occasion we have.”

Recognizing Emotional Change

List the emotions you recognize in each of the diaries.

Writing the Journey…

In the spaces below, write Erin Gruwell’s Diary as you think she might have written it:

The first entry: When she first meets her new class

The second entry: The night she decides to do something about the negative situation

The third entry; When she first begins to see signs of success

The last entry: When she has received her first award for excellence in teaching

Lesson 5: The Webcast

Connecting Who We Are to What We Do

Highlight all the Adjectives that refer to Erin Gruwell in one colour, and all the verbs that refer to her work in another colour


Revolutionary educator and catalyst for social change

Nothing could have prepared Erin Gruwell for her first day of teaching at WilsonHigh Schoolin Long Beach, CA. A recent college graduate, Erin landed her first job in Room 203, only to discover many of her students had been written off by the education system and deemed “unteachable.” As teenagers living in a racially divided urban community, they were already hardened by first-hand exposure to gang violence, juvenile detention, and drugs.

Enter Erin Gruwell. By fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to rethink rigid beliefs about themselves and others, to reconsider daily decisions, and to rechart their futures. WithErin’s steadfast support, her students shattered stereotypes to become critical thinkers, aspiring college students, and citizens for change. They even dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” – in homage to civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders” – and published a book.

Inspired by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic (who lived through war-torn Sarajevo), Erin and her students captured their collective journey in The Freedom Writers Diary – How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. Through poignant student entries and Erin'snarrative text, the book chronicles their “eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding.”

While Erin has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at WilsonHigh School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and – today – her impact as a “teacher” extends well beyond Room 203. Currently, Erin serves as president of the Erin Gruwell Education Project (EGEP), a non-profit organization that promotes inclusion and provides scholarships for students in need. She raises awareness and funds by traveling nationwide to speakto large corporations, government institutions, and community associations. But Erin'scapacity to convert apathy to action matters most at schools and juvenile halls, where any observer can watch the expressions of troubled teens shift from guarded cynicism to unabashed hopefulness.