Sauquoit Valley junior shares his story to help others
SAUQUOIT — A Sauquoit Valley High School junior is spreading her anti-bullying message through her own personal story, which has been published in the latest book from the Freedom Writer Foundation, founded by teacher and author Erin Gruwell, whose the story was made famous by the 2007 film, “The Freedom Writers”.
Jadyn Land was brave enough to share her personal struggles with self-harm so her peers don’t feel isolated or alone. She had known Erin Gruwell and her Freedom Writers Foundation from their first visit to her school when she was in fifth grade. It was then that she was a student of English teacher Tammy Purrington, who encouraged Land to write her story.
“I had known about the Freedom Writers since fifth grade because they came to our school, and we heard about them in Mrs. Purrington’s class,” Land recalled. “I always thought they were cool. Then in eighth grade I went through a lot and was introduced through Ms Purrington to the freedom writers – I told them spoke in eighth and ninth grade and helped organize an event for them.
When Purrington learned of Land’s opportunity to submit her story to the Freedom Writers, she encouraged her student to get involved. Land submitted her writings for inclusion in the book Dear Freedom Writer.
“I had to write a draft of my story to be part of it, and about a month later I heard it had been accepted” for the book, the junior said. “I worked on it from August before my sophomore year until last November or December. I sent it to them, and they put it in their book.
Now 17, Land is not only a published author, but has also had the opportunity to meet Gruwell and some of the early freedom writers whose stories were portrayed in the film “Freedom Writers,” with Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey. She recently traveled to Long Beach, Calif., where she participated in “Toast for Change,” and signed more than 500 copies of the new book.
While considering a future career in law enforcement, Land said she feels it’s important to open up and share her story in order to raise awareness about bullying.
“Telling my story was very important to me. My story was about self-harm and suicidal thoughts, and that’s a great message to get across,” the student explained. “You can walk into middle school or high school and see a bunch of kids and whether you know it or not, a lot of kids have these thoughts but they just don’t talk about them. Self-harm is stigmatized and little talked about. I wanted to share that it’s not something to be ashamed of so other kids know there were others who were going through the same thing, who did.
Ms. Purrington was the main force behind organizing all the June 4 festivities at the college, and college students volunteered to set up different awareness stations on different topics. There will also be raffles to raise funds to help bring Gruwell and his freedom writers back to Sauquoit. Locally, Land will serve as an ambassador for the Freedom Writers Foundation.
On Saturday, June 4 from 6 to 9 p.m., Sauquoit Valley High School will host “A Future Writers Event: Writing for Change.” The Sauquoit Valley School District is inviting students in grades 6 through 12 to the middle school where stations will be set up to foster self-esteem, perseverance, and many of the themes related not only to Jadyn’s story, but to the entire Freedom Writers book.
The second hour will spotlight Land, who will lead the audience through “The Line Game”, which will foster a sense of empathy as attendees see that there are others who “walk in the same shoes” as them. Land will then read her story aloud and answer questions from the audience.
The evening will end with an ice cream social to celebrate not only Land’s success, but all of the students who attend. The message of the evening will be that every student has a story, and every story is something to celebrate and share.
“I’ve always looked up to freedom writers, and now to be one of them is weird to deal with, but really cool,” the 17-year-old said. “Now I would go with them if they went to any Sauquoit school – I will always be an ambassador.”
Purrington said she was proud to celebrate her former student and her journey.
“Jadyn has shown so much courage in sharing her personal struggles with the world. Celebrating her by doing this will send a message to other young people that it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to ask for help,” the middle school teacher said. “I really think this story is one that so many young people can connect to.”
She said: ‘As a college teacher after a pandemic, I can tell you that so many of our children are struggling now, and they need to know that they are not alone and that there is hope. Jadyn’s voice really speaks for those who haven’t spoken yet.
Dear Freedom Writer was released at the end of March and is a collection of 50 letters written by young adults around the world who share their personal stories and then ask for advice on moving forward in their lives. Each letter is followed by a letter from freedom writers and teachers of freedom writers, containing real advice from those who have shared this same experience or something very close.
The book is a follow-up to Freedom Writers’ first book, “The Freedom Writers Diary”. It includes the personal stories of students in Gruwell’s class in Long Beach, California, in 1994. These students were labeled “unteachable,” but Gruwell saw something different. She felt that her students needed two things: hope and a voice.
Through books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and The Diary of Zlata, students heard their own story reflected in the words on each page. By having students write in their own journals, they were able to learn that writing is a powerful form of self-expression that could help them deal with their past and move on.
“Having been close to Jadyn as she struggled through middle school and high school, I’m so proud of her for spreading her story to the world in order to help other students,” Purrington said. “She is determined to do whatever she can to let others know that they are not alone in their struggles and will come out stronger than ever. She spent time with my middle school students who have Read her story, and already she’s mentoring students who look to her for guidance and hope, and she’s changing the world, one reader at a time.