Through March 26th-30th, Claire Schoonover, a junior at Key West High School (KWHS), and Kyla Shoemaker, an English teacher at KWHS, traveled to Long Beach, California to celebrate Schoonover’s appearance in the sequel to The Freedom Writers, a nonfiction book in 1999 written by 150 high schoolers: Dear Freedom Writer.
Last school year, Shoemaker assigned her students to write to the Freedom Writers, the authors of the book The Freedom Writers, and potentially “reach out” to them to seek help. “I thought it was a great opportunity to advocate for people with dyslexia by sharing my struggles and life story with the [same] disability,” disclosed Schoonover. Because of Schoonover’s challenge, the Freedom Writers saw her story and thought it was a great opportunity to help, later being featured in Dear Freedom Writer along with 49 other students’ stories.
Hosted at the Hotel Maya, Schoonover and Shoemaker spent a couple of days getting to know the teacher who started this series, Erin Gruwell, and the 30 original Freedom Writers. In addition, they had the opportunity to hear the stories of two guest speakers: Dydine Umunyana and Margret Polak. Umunyana was a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, a planned campaign in Rwanda of mass murder in 1994, and Polak was the daughter of two Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews during World War II, survivors.
To enhance the students’ skills, the Freedom Writers event hosted workshops to learn more about leadership and seminars about hope and changing mindsets for the better. In addition, all the participants in Dear Freedom Writer got to sign around 500 books for the release. While signing the books, Schoonover felt that “all of [their] hard work had paid off.”
Since last school year, Schoonover and the other students chosen have been working on the book virtually, so seeing 40 of the 49 students in person was a great experience.
Dear Freedom Writer gave Schoonover something greater than the title of a published author, it gave her wisdom. “I learned that everyone is more similar than different,” stated Schoonover. “I was reminded that you never know someone’s full story…so always treat others with patience, respect, and kindness.” Also from the experience, Schoonover’s passion for reading and writing has grown stronger.
Throughout her Freedom Writer journey, Schoonover appreciates all the people that have supported her. “I would like to thank Miss Shoemaker for listening to my story and giving me the opportunity to write in Dear Freedom Writer. I’d also like to thank the Freedom Writer Family for being so welcoming and encouraging,” said Schoonover. “Lastly, I’d like to thank my parents for being…my cheerleaders.”Dear Freedom Writer is currently number one on Amazon’s parenting teenager book list and is available at the Books & Books store at the Studios of Key West. The Studios of Key West has talked about hosting a signing party there for Schoonover. “I can’t wait for people to relate to some stories and know they aren’t alone through [challenging] times,” exclaimed Schoonover.