Freedom Writer Institute invites UIU professor
In April 2012, Billie Cowley, assistant professor of education, spearheaded a Freedom Writers event at Upper Iowa University. Erin Gruwell, the teacher depicted in the movie Freedom Writers, spoke to UIU's pre-service educators and practicing teachers in the area.
"It was a wonderful experience in which I got to know Erin on a personal level," said Cowley. Later that fall, Cowley received a phone call from Gruwell's agent, who had traveled with her to Iowa, to personally invite Cowley to the Freedom Writers Institute in Long Beach.
The Freedom Writers Institute is an opportunity to "train and support educators of at-risk students, with the long-term strategy of retaining passionate and dedicated teachers who are committed to transforming their students' education, and ultimately their quality of life."
According to the organization, developing teachers professionally changes the academic experience of students. Research compiled by Freedom Writers shows that of all the educational resources devoted to helping students learn, teachers matter most. (http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org).
"The experience I had is difficult to put in words; it was a five-day ride on an emotional roller coaster. One minute everyone was laughing hysterically and the next, we were silenced by tears. It was a true testament about the power a teacher can have and the magic that can take place in a classroom," said Cowley. "We did many activities in the classroom to get to know ourselves better as well as the other participants. We journaled daily about the day's events and personal reflections we had. Each morning we were able to share those journals with the group."
Cowley met over 30 of the original Freedom Writers and heard their personal stories firsthand. Gruwell taught the group using lesson plans she used with the Freedom Writers.
"As a UIU professor, getting to know my students is critical," added Cowley. "By attending the institute, I have more strategies to effectively model to my pre-service educators how to build positive relationships with their students. Many students want to know that their teacher cares for them. Once the students are sure of that, they are more willing to learn and respect their teacher.
"I met many passionate and inspirational educators from around the country with whom I am able to collaborate. It excites me to hear the stories of hope that teachers share to ensure that no child is left behind. It was amazing how, in just five days, I left the institute with over 50 new friends and colleagues. This was the best professional experience I have to date and am very grateful that I had this opportunity."