By Erin Gruwell, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Erin Gruwell is the inspiration for the film “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank. She helped a group of disengaged students in Long Beach, California, turn their lives around by reading stories of people whose struggles they could relate to. She encouraged them to pick up a pen and put their stories on the record. She is the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation and author of a new nonfiction reading and writing program from Scholastic called On the Record.
(CNN) - When I reminisce about my first day as a teacher, I can remember walking into my classroom in polka dots and pearls, with the hope that I could change the world – or at least the worlds of the students assigned to my ninth grade English class. Then I discovered that my students hated reading and hated writing, and complete and utter panic set in. Quickly, my idealism turned to doubt—and I doubted my decision to be a teacher and my ability to reach my students.
As a first year teacher, fresh out of college, I was confronted with a challenge that so many new teachers face every year—the reality that my students had checked out of school a long time ago. Many of them had never read a book from cover-to-cover. Nor did they intend to. And they didn’t see how school had any relevance in their lives.
In the minds of most of my students, school was not relevant to their daily struggles: poverty, the threat of gang violence, drugs, juvenile hall, or worse yet, funerals. My students looked at me and thought there was no way I could understand what it was like to be hungry, to have a father in prison or a mother who had to work three jobs just to put food on the table.
I remember one of my students, Maria, walking in on the first day wearing an ankle monitor around her leg, and a parole officer by her side. She was throwing up her gang signs in the back of the class, carving her initials on her desk and making it very clear that she was miserable. Her goal was to make me as miserable as she was. I was determined to get her to record her story, in the hopes that maybe she could rewrite her own ending.
by Tomeka Jones, CNN
Editor's note: This post examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the CNN Student News community. Some comments have been edited for space or clarity.
(CNN) - Thanksgiving is more than a succulent turkey with all the fixings and a slice of sweet potato pie. At least that’s what some middle and high school students believe when it comes to a day of giving thanks. Many students shared with CNN that they’re most thankful for family, friends, and much more.
Read some of their heartfelt messages of gratitude:
Asia: I’m thankful that someone adopted me and that my sisters are able to get the proper TLC (tender loving care) that they need and I’m also thankful for my awesome civics teacher, Mr. Plyler.
Robert: I am thankful for my mom for keeping food on the table and keeping a roof over my head. I am also thankful for my father; he has passed away but he’s still here with me. I am grateful to have a caring mother and a loving father.
Angel: I have a lot of things to be thankful for. I'm thankful for everything that has entered my life, even the bad times. Without the bad things, something good after that would've never happened. I'm also thankful for my family and friends, they’re always there for me when I need them. And, for having life of music!
(CNN) - Millions of students are chronically absent. CNN's Athena Jones looks at what schools are doing to increase attendance.
by Josh Levs, CNN
(CNN) - Across the country, fathers are taking part in public events aimed at sending a critical message: Dads’ involvement in education is crucial for school children.
In New York, it’s become a state-wide celebration, appropriately entitled “Dads take your child to school.”
In parts of the country, the events are inspired by the “Million Father March.”
Numerous studies show that kids with involved fathers have all sorts of academic advantages, including better linguistics skills, an improved ability to handle stress, and some other “hidden benefits.”
What would you do if you learned your kid was a bully?
In Greece, New York, parents of middle school students who taunted a 68-year-old bus monitor saw it happen on a video that went viral; it captured students hurling insults, threats of physical and sexual assault at Karen Klein. One comment she couldn't ignore referenced Klein’s son, who committed suicide a decade ago.
Police and the school district where the incident took place are publicly grappling with how best to discipline the students involved. Meanwhile, the CNN community has weighed in on Facebook and on CNN.com about what they would do if their own kids were the culprits in such an intense case of cruelty.
Some commenters on CNN.com felt students’ threats rose to the level of harassment and police action should be taken. Some comments are edited for clarity.
antoinette18 One kid actually said that if he would stick a KNIFE in her, it would be like cutting through butter. That is a THREAT. It went beyond teasing to actually touching her, threatening her with bodily injury through a weapon and sexual assault. They should all be charged as adults. Their parents should be responsible. They are raising animals. And the parents should be forced to take parenting classes and boot camp.
Colorista The harassment and threats should be punished legally. In addition, that big chunk of community service is warranted but I would add that there is a "supervisory clause" and that a parent must be present and participate in all of the hours with their little darlings. Since it is the end of the school year, they should be banned from riding the bus for the first month of school in the fall. Failure to attend/get to school in that time frame means more service hours for mom/dad/miscreant. I am all for a parental boot camp.
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) Combining her efforts from the school year with some serious, sartorial creativity, Kara Koskowich wove together a garment that truly made the grade.
The 17-year-old Canadian student graduated in a dress made from her homework.
There was literally no chance of her running into anybody else with the exact same dress. Most graduates never want to look at homework again; Koskowich found a way to look good in it.
She cut, sewed, glued, and eventually tailored a graduation gown out of the assignments that helped her graduate. It took about 75 pieces of paper. She said the math work she did made for the best look.
And though she started the project in March, she cut it pretty close to deadline, finishing the dress the night before she graduated. “I did most of it the last week because I’m that kind of person. I procrastinate,” Koskowich said.
She wasn’t the only student to skip store-bought couture. Her friend Dorothy Graham substituted plastic shopping bags for silk and fashioned her own dress. According to Graham, “It was actually funny because everyone was wearing these elegant dresses, and we’re in dresses that cost nothing, and we were the most popular people there.”
It shows you don’t need a designer label (or any label at all, really) to win acclaim while accepting a diploma. And if Koskowich never wears the dress again? Well, it was only homework, after all.
Steve Perry explains why he thinks that the Trayvon Martin shooting is a "teachable moment" for American students.