A small grant made a huge difference in Randi Flynn's English class.

A small grant made a huge difference in Randi Flynn's English class.

Flynn, a Grove City High School English teacher, received a $615 grant from the South-Western Education Foundation to buy about 30 books, an audio CD and some teaching materials for the 2009-10 school year.

It was her third attempt to get a grant for the materials.

She didn't buy just any books. Flynn bought a classroom set of "The Freedom Writers Diary," a book of anonymous letters and essays written by teenagers that chronicle their struggles with drug abuse, gang-related violence and the unconventional techniques their entry-level English teacher used to inspire them to learn.

The book was made into a movie, "Freedom Writers," in 2007.

The story tells of troubled teenage students from Long Beach, Calif., who have no willingness to learn until their tenacious young teacher shows them that stories from classic books, such as "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" and "Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo," speak on subjects dear to their own hearts.

Flynn said she always tries to make her English class fun, but "The Freedom Writers Diary" was the leverage she needed.

She said her class has gone from good to great. Her sophomore students were eager to praise the change after English class last Wednesday, May 19.

"I pay more attention," said Brandon Damopoulos.

"I just like how English is so much different," said Lauren Hendricks.

"It isn't boring," said sophomore Marina Vasquez.

They all said the change for the better came from a simple understanding that the Freedom Writers learned: finding a relationship with a story.

The stories taught the students about diversity.

Kaitlin Rice, another of Flynn's sophomore students, said Grove City High is rather homogenous compared to the stories told by the Freedom Writers. She said she was happy Flynn added their stories to her curriculum. "I just think that it was pretty cool that a teacher could do that," Rice said.

Another part of the Freedom Writers approach to teaching involves community service.

"We get a chance to give back to the community," said sophomore Shelby Dials.

She said Flynn's students write letters to third-grade students at Buckeye Woods Elementary School.

The high school students act as mentors and friends for their younger counterparts.

The new program has been so successful, Flynn is confident she'll see improved scores on state standardized tests. "I won't be surprised in a few weeks when we get the (Ohio Graduation Tests) scores," she said.