Freedom Writers author delivers powerful message to local 9th graders

Erin Gruwell speaks at Cohoes High SchoolRenowned educator and New York Times bestselling author Erin Gruwell delivered an inspirational message of hope Monday morning to an auditorium full of ninth grade students from four local districts. Gruwell’s book The Freedom Writers Diary is a true-life story of how her unique teaching method enabled 150 students to use writing as a pathway to communicate their personal stories and change the course of their lives.

“I want them to know that change is inevitable if they choose it. That they can write different stories for themselves. That school and education is the best way to challenge inequality and injustice,” she said.

Gruwell’s book is the basis for the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, which starred Hilary Swank, as well as the recently released PBS documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart. She showed several clips from the movie to the audience, made up of mostly freshmen from Cohoes, Lansingburgh, Waterford and Watervliet schools.

Then, she asked students to participate in an activity that mirrored a lesson from the movie:

“I think it was important for the kids to stand, but also for the adults in the room to see them and see that pain,” Gruwell said. “I hope they left knowing that there are caring adults who believe in them.”

Cohoes High School will host a Q&A with Gruwell on Monday evening at 6 p.m. The event, which is free and open the public, will also feature a screening of the Freedom Writers PBS documentary. Her visit to Cohoes was sponsored by Utica National Insurance Group.

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