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MHS Eighth-Graders Learn Good Decision-Making During Freedom Writers Visit

On Monday, Oct. 7, two former students from the original Freedom Writers, Cynthia Ray, and Tony Becerra visited Catherine Hall to speak to Milton Hershey School eighth-grade students about making good choices. The presentation, titled “Honesty, Good Decision-Making, and Literacy,” tied the writers’ personal experiences into the MHS Sacred Values and the idea of persevering through adversity.

A former student fo the original Freedom Writers, Tony Becerra, speaks to MHS middle school students.

“You are not a victim to your circumstances,” Ray said during the presentation after she shared stories from her childhood and becoming a student of Erin Gruwell, the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation.

The Freedom Writers Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Long Beach, California. Gruwell established the foundation after teaching 150 at-risk students, who then continued on to graduate from high school, co-author the New York Times bestseller, “The Freedom Writers Diary,” and pursue advanced education. Gruwell and these former students now do outreach among various communities around the world.

“I’ve been in thousands and thousands of schools all around the country,” Becerra shared prior to the presentation. “I have never seen a school as dedicated as Milton Hershey School is to the well-being of the kids and to education from the morning to the night.”

“I think that’s similar to what Erin did on a much smaller scale,” Ray added. “You can’t control what happens outside, but what she could control is what happened in the classroom and the connections we were able to make there.”

Ray and Becerra’s personal accounts about overcoming adversity and taking control of their education resonated with MHS eighth-graders. The message the Freedom Writers shared through dialogue and video excerpts reminded these MHS students of their own school and its values.

“This lesson is important for MHS,” eighth-grade student Jason Burney said. “We have a lot of support here. Our pledge and the Sacred Values teach us to work hard and make good choices.”

MHS student, Jason, listens to the Freedom Writers message.

Of the four Sacred Values, commitment to mission stood out the most during the presentation for another student, Jalynn Braxton.

“To be committed to anything, you have to persevere,” she said.

Some of the other messages Ray and Becerra imparted to the eighth-grade class included expressing emotions in healthy ways, practicing patience and resilience, and taking control of one’s future.

A former student of the original Freedom Writers shakes the hand of an MHS student.

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.