Manny Scott, one of the original "Freedom Writers" from Wilson High School in Los Angeles, will speak at Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District's convocation ceremony on Aug. 1 at Lee Hall on Mississippi State University's campus. The event is open to the public and tickets are first-come, first-serve. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Manny Scott
July 26, 2019 10:08:19 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
STARKVILLE -- Two years ago, Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Assistant Superintendent Anna Guntharp and West Oktibbeha County Elementary School Principal Gabrielle Mills heard Manny Scott, one of the original Freedom Writers, speak at a conference in Orlando, Florida.
Scott's speech centered around his experience at Wilson High School in Los Angeles, California where, more than 30 years ago, he was part of Erin Gruwell's English class. In an effort to both improve students' writing skills and help them process the trauma of their daily lives -- gang violence, turbulent home lives and a volatile school environment -- Gruwell gave each student an assignment that seemed strange to Scott and his fellow students. They were to write a journal in a composition book. They could write about whatever they wanted, as long as it was a true and honest account of the details of their lives and how they felt about the challenges they faced every day. That project earned the students the title "Freedom Writers," and that assignment, and the impact it had, was the subject of a 2007 film by that same name.
According to his website and promotional materials, Scott credits Gruwell's investment in her students with his success in school -- where he had previously struggled almost to the point of dropping out -- and in his continuing interest in encouraging and equipping teachers to help students beyond just imparting curriculum material.
Scott will share that story with SOCSD teachers and administrators at the district's annual convocation Aug. 1. It's an event Mills is "extremely excited" for.
"Hearing about the impact that had on (Scott) and knowing that a teacher never gave up on him and his class, it really tugs on the heart," Mills said. "As teachers, we all want to make a difference. His story shows how it comes full circle. A teacher made a difference for him. Now he travels, speaks and makes a difference for others."
Guntharp felt the same way, she said, and right after he spoke that day in Orlando, she knew she had to get Scott to speak at SOCSD's annual convocation.
"I feel like he really speaks to our school district and our vision to unlock each students' passion and potential," she said. "He's about inspiring educators with their purpose to go and affect students. I feel like his message, for us, is very timely."
Typically, convocation is a closed event held at a district facility, said SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant. This year, convocation will be held at Lee Hall on Mississippi State University's campus so there is space for the public to attend.
"We wanted to open it up to the community by offering a limited amount of free tickets, so we needed a bigger space," Peasant said. "With the message (Scott) is sharing, we felt it was right to open it up to the community. We wanted to do more."
Mills said she hopes that every teacher hearing Scott speak will leave convocation with a renewed sense of purpose.
"I hope we can walk out feeling ready for the school year and reminded of what really matters in the classroom," she said. "If we build relationships with those students, the kids will always remember that. That's what's important."
Tickets are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call the district office at 662-324-4050 for more information.
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