The day Woodrow Wilson High School students Darrius Garrett and Maria Reyes stood in Erin Gruwell's classroom and raised plastic champagne glasses filled with sparkling cider was the day their lives changed forever.

Before they met Gruwell, Garrett and Reyes were a couple of troubled teens headed down dark and similarly hopeless paths--paths that, had their fortunes not changed, likely would've found them living on the streets, selling drugs, in jail--or worse.

Garrett was a street-hardened teen who had lost more than a dozen friends to gang-related violence. When he was just 14, he saw his best...

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