Changing lives one word at a time

Amy Putney and the Eagle Grove High School Creative Writing class had the chance to meet teacher and auther, Erin Gruwell, face-to-face. Photo provided

The power of the pen...where it can take you is limited only to the source of your imagination and what you are willing to write down on paper. It can help you record memories. It can help you convey a message. It can help you push your creative side. It can even help you set goals and believe that anything is possible. For one teacher from Long Beach, Calif. in the 19902s, it was the pen and the power of the written word that changed the lives of her 150 students at Woodrow Wilson High School who everyone else had given up on. And 20 years later it has also changed the lives of Eagle Grove High School students in Amy Putney’s Creative Writing class.

During her own senior year, Erin Gruwell had goals of becoming a lawyer...until she saw the LA Riots on television. Something about watching them changed her life, and her career path. She decided to pursue teaching instead so she could help students fight their battles in a classroom rather than in a courtroom. After earning her Masters Degree in teaching, Gruwell set out to change the lives of her students forever by accepting a teaching position in a classroom of “unteachable” kids at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach. These students had hard lives and had witnessed first hand the disasters of violence, drugs, and alcohol. It was such a tough school in fact that other faculty members encouraged Gruwell to stop wearing a set of pearls to work that her father had given her in fear they would be stolen. Gruwell ignored their suggestions and instead chose to find the good in her students and pursued helping them find the good in themselves - through the power of the pen.

She introduced her young students to books like “Schindler’s List,” “The Diary of a Young Girl,” and “Night.” The message that tied these books together was people who persevered during difficult times of their life.

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