‘Freedom writer’ taking inspirational message to students on South Shore | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Freedom writer’ taking inspirational message to students on South Shore

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily TribuneSouth Tahoe Middle School students Gustavo Rodriguez, left, Maggie Lee and Balentine Mariscal create a welcome banner Friday for "Freedom Writer" Manuel Scott.

Last year’s South Tahoe Middle School sixth-graders never thought they would get a “freedom writer” to come to their school.

But they did: Manuel Scott, whose life was portrayed in the film “Freedom Writers,” will speak at a community presentation Thursday.

“It’d be like bringing Tom Cruise to our school,” said Shane Whitt, now a seventh-grader at STMS.

STMS teacher Cindy Cowen took her sixth-grade class to watch “Freedom Writers” when it was showing in theaters last year. She said it inspired her and her students.

All of the students at the middle school watched the movie in class last week, Cowen added.

The film stars Hilary Swank, who plays Erin Gruwell, a teacher who inspired her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance and pursue goals outside their environments.

When Scott was 14, he dropped out of high school and became involved with drugs, alcohol and crime. Now, he holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and Trinity International University.

Scott will speak to middle school students and staff Thursday, then to South Tahoe High School students and staff Friday.

Cowen’s current and former students are excited about Scott’s appearance.

Sixth-grader Jesenia Camarena said she enjoyed the movie. “Everyone got to mix up and didn’t stay in their own little group,” she said.

Camarena said she’s in charge of making posters to greet Scott.

Many students will help out, Cowen said.

Seventh-grader Dakota Cronin said his father will run the sound for the event. Cronin said the movie changed his perspective.

“It changed the way I looked at people before the movie,” he said.

Safe Schools Coordinator Lisa Huard said the community should attend Scott’s presentation.

“Our schools are a reflection of the community,” Huard said. “Manuel is just another comprehensive piece.”

Huard said Scott’s presentation will further the goal of providing safe schools and a safe community.

Along with school drug- and tobacco-prevention programs, a task force charged with helping end gang activity at South Tahoe High School was formed last January.

At the first meeting of the task force, information was distributed on the gangs known as “Southside 13” and “East Side Familia.”

The task force is composed of school representatives and community members who gather information on local activities, Huard said.

The more knowledge people have, the better everyone can react to it, she explained.

“Freedom Writers” comes highly recommended by students who’ve seen it.

“I’d give it 10 thumbs up if I had ’em,” said seventh-grader Whitt. “I guess I could give it four if I counted my toes.”

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