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Chapel Hill High teacher attends freedom writers convention

Corey Waters is one of thousands of high school teachers in North Carolina. However, his recent involvement with the Freedom Writers Foundation put him in a much smaller pool.

Waters, a history teacher at Chapel Hill High School, is one of three N.C. teachers featured in the new book, “Teaching Hope: Stories From the Freedom Writer Teachers and Erin Gruwell.”

The book is a compilation of stories from 150 teachers who have attended the Freedom Writers Institute in Long Beach, Calif.

Waters was the first teacher selected from North Carolina to become a Freedom Writer teacher. He first attended the institute in the summer of 2007, along with 25 teachers from around the country.

The week-long session was designed by Erin Gruwell, the original Freedom Writer teacher who inspired the 1999 book, “The Freedom Writer’s Diary,” and the 2007 movie based on the novel.

“We went out there for a week to learn a lot of teaching methods strategies,” Waters said. “A lot of her methods are to empower students — to make them feel like they have a voice. The ultimate theme is enforcing teachers to be agents of change, as well as students, through their writing and will to excel in education.”

Each of the Freedom Writer teachers was invited to contribute a story to “Teaching Hope.”

Waters’ piece is based on his experience with a student in a summer program for at-risk students.

He was working with a student who had recently lost his twin brother to gang violence. Around the same time, Waters’ own brother was in the hospital recovering from life-threatening injuries from random violence.

The story centers on his relationship with this student as his “honorary brother,” and the experience of mentoring a student suffering from a loss.

“I linked the fact that he had lost his brother, and really, I could have lost my brother like he had lost his at the time,” Waters said.

The story of loss and connection between teacher and student is one of 150 in “Teaching Hope,” which was released Aug. 18.

The book was a collaboration of teacher representatives from all 50 states, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The publication also commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the original Freedom Writers book.

The stories of the book are arranged into sections which reflect stages teachers often go through during their careers — inspiration and motivation in the beginning, challenges that sometimes discourage, then rejuvenation after finding inspiration from their students, said Lisa Smith, speakers program coordinator for the Freedom Writers Institute.

“These are teachers that are in the trenches every day with students at risk in the most low socioeconomic areas and they just have amazing stories,” she said.

The institute’s goal was to train 150 teachers nationwide to represent the 150 original Freedom Writers. As of this fall, the Institute has accepted and trained 210 teachers.

“We look for teachers who have shown a real dedication to their students, especially in the areas of promoting tolerance and supporting diversity or if they’ve used our material in the classroom,” Smith said.

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