The Winchendon Courier
Serving the community since 1878 ~ A By Light Unseen Media publication
Week of February 20 to February 27, 2020

"Freedom Writers" Teacher Shares Her Message of Solidarity with Monty Tech Students

Inspirational speaker at Monty Tech
Erin Gruwell, whose story is the inspiration for the 2007 movie “Freedom Writers,” is this year’s guest speaker for Monty Tech’s annual motivational speaker series.

FITCHBURG----Monty Tech students recently learned how a teacher from California used unconventional methods to turn lives around for students who many termed “unteachable” and doomed to lives of violence and chaos.

Erin Gruwell, 50, is an American teacher known for her unique teaching method, which led to the publication of The Freedom Writers’ Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.

The book became an instant “New York Times” best seller, and the basis for the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank.

Ms. Gruwell and her odyssey is also the subject of the 2019 PBS documentary, Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart.

Gruwell’s visit is part of Superintendent-Director Dr. Sheila M. Harrity’s annual motivational speakers’ series, started several years ago as a means to help motivate students to strive to reach their full potential.

“It’s a very busy time of year for our students who are preparing to take the MCAS tests, and for those making college and career plans. By meeting and hearing about those who have experienced life’s many obstacles, and have gone on to lead successful lives, our students have something for which to strive,” said Dr. Harrity.

Students were able to view the movie prior to the presentation.

Dr. Harrity and Gruwell have been friends since meeting in 2007. Dr. Harrity used the book, Freedom Writers, as inspiration when training for a marathon, reading a passage before each daily run.

Gruwell spoke to the students for an hour and a half, weaving her personal stories with clips from the feature film, as well as footage from interviews with the original Freedom Writers today.

Living among a backdrop of violence due to gang and racial tensions in the 1990s in Long Beach, California, the students in Gruwell’s freshman English class had been written off by school officials and teachers as “unteachable and low-performing.”

When she found her students were so divided and unable to come together, she used lessons in racism, connected to the Holocaust, to demonstrate the destruction this mindset could have. "That's how a Holocaust happens - when you believe that the world would be better off without one group, one race, or just people who are different from you,” she told the students.

She encouraged her students to write about what they knew and what was relevant to their lives, because "writing about it gives you the opportunity to write a different ending."

Through her unconventional teaching methods at the time, Gruwell’s students were able to overcome many of their obstacles to learning and form a diverse family, calling themselves the “Freedom Writers,” inspired by the 1950s and 1960s Freedom Riders.

Through her efforts, all the 150 “Freedom Writers” graduated in 1998, and many went on to higher education and successful careers.

Gruwell told the Monty Tech students she wanted the film to capture the essence of her students, so she encouraged producers to find teenagers in shelters, housing projects and group homes that looked and sounded like her students. "In all things, authenticity matters," she said.

She terms education, “the greatest equalizer.”

At the conclusion of her presentation, she asked the Monty Tech students to participate in an exercise, much like the one she asked her students to do. She hoped that they would "stand in solidarity and see one another. Seeing who among us we have something in common with can be a powerful thing,” she said.

She asked the students to stand if they knew anyone suffering from depression, who has expressed harmful thoughts, or who has simply felt alone. Students stood among their classmates for a powerful representation of commonality and solidarity.

Gruwell currently serves as the executive director of the Freedom Writers’ Foundation.

Sizer School Community Leader Breakfast & Senior Product Day March 11
Local leaders, businesses and non-profit organizations are invited to celebrate with us

The Sizer School Board of Trustees and the Class of 2020 will be holding their annual Community Leader Breakfast and Senior Product Day on Wednesday, March 11 from 8:15 to 10 a.m. at Sizer School in Fitchburg.

Senior Product is a graduation requirement of Sizer School. More than that, senior projects demonstrate the culmination of a personalized learning experience and are designed as a “spring board” into life beyond Sizer. Senior products represent a year-long project wherein a student chooses a topic, develops an essential question and then independently explores that topic in order to create a final product focused on showing subject mastery and a positive impact on the student’s community.

“The Community Leader Breakfast and Senior Product Day is one of those great things that show off what makes Sizer so unique,” according to Tim Smith, SVP, CFO and Treasurer at Workers Credit Union and Chair of the Sizer School Foundation. “We hope that members of the Central Massachusetts community who visit on March 11th will be inspired by the amazing work Sizer seniors are doing, and also inspired to get involved with one of the many volunteer opportunities at the school.”

At this event, the community is invited to learn more about how Sizer prepares students to think independently, care about others, and act creatively and responsibly. Local businesses, leaders and non-profit organizations are invited to this celebration. The schedule will include breakfast and networking from 8:15 to 8:40 am, “A Springboard into Life Beyond Sizer” presentation and then a tour of senior products from 8:50 to 10 a.m.

“It is always a fun day,” adds Jill Connell, Director of Development and Communication at Sizer. “And I hear every year from attendees how impressed they are by the depth of our students’ research.”

This year, the Class of 2020 has done everything from organizing fundraisers, to creating theater art workshops to improve mental health. Our seniors have put on sporting events, run advocacy campaigns that helped raise awareness for health & education programs, created pamphlets for the military, designed comic book to inspire the hero in us all and so much more.

Interested in attending? Please RSVP to Director of Development & Communication Jill Connell at (978) 345-2701 ext 408; by Friday, March 6, 2020.

Sizer School, a North Central Charter Essential School, is a free public charter school located in Fitchburg serving students in grades seven through twelve from 25 local towns and cities. To find out more, visit

Senior Product Day 2019
Senior Product Day 2019 – Local business, leaders and non-profits are invited to tour senior products on March 11.
Sizer Seniors
Sizer Seniors - Senior Product is a graduation requirement of Sizer School. More than that, senior projects demonstrate the culmination of a personalized learning experience and are designed as a “spring board” into life beyond Sizer.