Room 404 at Miami Norland Senior High School in Florida is a second home for Precious Symonette’s creative writing students. The love and acceptance they feel upon entering is something they treasure and hold onto long after graduation.
Symonette is a Freedom Writer teacher. She teaches students, many of whom are inner-city teens from troubled backgrounds, that no matter what challenges they face, they can find success in the classroom and beyond. By embracing writing as a tool to discover their identity, Symonette is literally transforming their lives through literacy.
She founded Miami Norland’s Viking Freedom Writers Club and annual Writing Gala, she regularly has her students compete in spoken word competitions and, most recently, she created the Florida Freedom Writers Foundation with her students to encourage others to use writing as a means to explore some of today’s most important topics such as racism, diversity, and empathy.
“I actively create lessons that reinforce the idea that there is strength in diversity,” Symonette writes on the national Freedom Writers Foundation website. “I force my students to learn about themselves so that they can learn to love themselves.”
It was no surprise to Symonette’s students when she was named Miami-Dade’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, as well as a 2016 National Education Association Superhero Educator. Her Freedom Writers all use similar words and phrases to describe her: more than a teacher; a mother; someone with the ability to help students discover who they are, the ability to help redirect their path toward a more positive future.
Her class pledge says it all: “I am not everyone, but I am someone. I cannot write everything, but I can write something! What I can write, by the grace of the universe, I will freely write as a means to become the best person that can be for me, my household, my community, and the world. I have something to say because I am somebody. I am freely writing myself into existence. I am a Florida Freedom Writer.”
To better understand the impact of this award-winning educator, we knew we only needed to turn to her Freedom Writers to discover that she truly is a teacher who comes along once in a lifetime.
Read their words here in the open access March/April issue of Literacy Today, and hear her message about the power of writing during Opening General Session at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits.
Precious Symonette will speak during the Opening General Session of the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits on Saturday, July 15. She will also take part in the ILA Meet & Eat Networking Lunch that day at noon, which is a ticketed event, and a workshop session on the iWrite My Story Movement on Sunday, July 16. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.
Colleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today.