Illinois teacher’s ‘beautifully lived life’ impresses on Drew Barrymore

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EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A local teacher is being recognized as one of the best in the US. Briana Morales made a recent appearance on the Drew Barrymore Show with a former student and her foster child. Her story and her impact on the community are gaining national recognition.

Morales works at the Gordon Bush Alternative School in East St. Louis School District 189. She was recently named the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year by the Illinois State Board of Education. Selected from almost 500 applicants, Morales was recognized for her positive impact on students.

Gun violence is a problem in the school district where she teaches. The English teacher helps students process trauma through poetry, a concept she learned from her 7th-grade teacher.

“I was struggling a lot in the seventh grade and I experienced a lot of trauma. It was almost too much to bear and I attempted suicide. When I came back to school after psychiatric rehabilitation, I had the coolest English teacher that I could ever imagine,” Morales tells Barrymore. “I felt like my life was a gift that I wanted to return. She helped us do expressive writing as a way to help process a lifetime of grief and hurt. I wrote my first poetry book in her class and I never looked back. That single act of care changed the rest of my life.”

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Morales also co-directed a nonviolence initiative in a housing development and supported teen leaders in earning national certification as Peace Warriors.

“I am blessed to honor her legacy in my life with poetry the same way she did for me,” said Morales.

“I am so inspired by your ability to figure things out, recognize what worked, and then carry that out for other people. That, to me, is the most beautifully lived life. I am just in awe of you,” said Barrymore.

Currently pursuing a doctoral degree, Morales is a National Senior Research Fellow. To her students, she is more than a teacher and provides support beyond the classroom.


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