In preparation for the upcoming school year, teachers in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District gathered for convocation Thursday morning.
The educators heard a presentation from speaker Manny Scott, one of the Freedom Writers, a group of students at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California, who were inspired to learn and rise above their circumstances by their English teacher, Erin Gruwell. Gruwell required the students to keep journals of their lives and tribulations. The journals inspired the students to improve their situations, and many of them went on to graduate college and move to successful careers. The story inspired the 2007 film “Freedom Writers.”
In his speech, Scott remembered his own childhood in abject poverty, and missing between 60 and 90 days of school a year until a stranger on a park bench urged him to return to school and take his education seriously.
“Before I was 16, I lived 26 different places, not counting the beaches,” Scott said. “I slept on the beaches."
When he returned to school, he had a GPA below 1.0, and begged the principal to allow him to come back. After some pleading, she begrudgingly let him, but warned him of the amount of work he would have to do to catch up. Through his own effort and the support of Gruwell and other teachers, Scott was able to raise his GPA to a 3.9 by senior year and be accepted into the University of California Berkley. He earned two bachelor’s degrees, and went on to earn a master’s. He is currently completing a doctorate. In his address to the teachers, he focused on the importance of understanding that their students’ cultures might be different than their own, and making sure to take it into account. He cited Gruwell teaching iambic pentameter using Tupac lyrics as an example.
“Spend as much time learning about who you teach as what you teach,” Scott said.
Superintendent Eddie Peasant echoed Scott’s sentiment.
“One of the main focuses that we have going into this year is about building relationships and getting to know our students, and this message today was centered around that, where they are and giving them a better chance of meeting the expectations that are placed in front of them,” Peasant said.
For more on this story, read Friday's Starkville Daily News.