Photo: Dr. Sue Robinson (R) with Erin Gruwell
It was the experience of a lifetime, no doubt, says Hardin-Simmons University assistant professor of counseling and human development, Dr. Sue Robinson. This past summer, Robinson was selected to attend the Freedom Writers Institute in Long Beach, California.
Chosen from hundreds of applicants, Robinson says the five days she spent at the workshop were among the most emotionally and physically draining experiences of her life, but also one of the most rewarding.
The New York Times Bestseller, The Freedom Writers Diary, and the 2007 film Freedom Writers, with Academy Award winner Hilary Swank, tell the extraordinary story of an ordinary high school teacher. The Freedom Writers Diary relates the story of Erin Gruwell, the teacher who managed to turn around the lives of at-risk students at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California.
As Robinson recites a long list of high profile attendees, she says humbly, “I’m not sure how I managed to get in with such distinguished people. I worked alongside a superintendent from the Bronx in New York, an educator who runs a school in Rwanda for 500 orphans whose parents were killed by genocide, the director at the Anne Frank Center in Amsterdam, and professors from Denmark and Germany.” There were also two Cree Native Americans from Canada and an Aborigine, all with family members killed by genocide, she says.
Robinson says she wanted to go experience the institute for herself because its mission is vital for youth everywhere, “It’s not about those young people portrayed in the movie. It is about the young people in Abilene, Texas, or Eugene, Oregon, or The Bronx, New York. That’s why the message is so strong. If we want our youth to succeed and we want our communities to be better, we have to invest in our young people while they are in school or we will invest in them while in prison,” says Robinson.
Students in the HSU Irvin School of Education will benefit from the training Robinson received as she
incorporates many of the Freedom Writers’ diary entries into her counseling classes. “Their experiences deal with issues that many of our future mental health professionals will deal with in working with clients,” she says. “The diary entries will be excellent springboards for discussions and many of the activities we did will be useful tools when working with clients.”
Robinson says one of the most remarkable things about her experience at the Institute is not simply receiving great ideas from her teachers, but the continuing education. “Erin promotes the concept of family within the Freedom Writers,” Robinson says. “We have conference calls monthly. I have never been to a conference or workshop before where you actually remain in contact with the participants. Erin and I talk or text on a regular basis; I do consider her a dear friend.”
About the Freedom Writers:
The name “Freedom Writers” refers to Gruwell’s original students, and is a nod to the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists of the 1960’s.
Despite the odds, all 150 students under Gruwell’s instruction graduated from high school, and according to the Freedom Writers Foundation, most of them have gone on to college. Many continue to pursue higher education, receiving teaching certifications, master’s degrees, and PhDs.