The bell rings, signaling the start of class, and students in the new Race, Policy, and Law Pathway at Oakland Technical High School sit down and take out their copies of The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. As they read, they immerse themselves into the real story of two teenagers who were on opposing sides of a crime.
The story takes place in Oakland in 2013, when 18 year old Sasha Fleischman, a Caucasian, gender non-conforming student attending Maybeck High School, was set on fire while riding the 57 bus home from school by Richard Thomas, an African American in his junior year at Oakland High School. While the case rightfully received national media attention, The 57 Bus goes beyond the headlines and examines the nuance and complexity of both Sasha and Richard, as well as the issues of race, class, and gender that influence and divide people in the city of Oakland.
Heath Madom, the lead director of the Race, Policy, and Law pathway, developed a first of its kind curriculum along with his co-director that leverages Oakland’s unique diversity with an ethnic studies framework and social justice lens. They chose this book as part of their new curriculum not only because the event took place in Oakland, but because it addresses a variety of issues such as gender, race, identity, empathy, and the criminal justice system.
“I believe my students would greatly benefit from reading, discussing, and writing about The 57 Bus,” Madom explains. “It will give them a chance to think about how many of the issues we’ve discussed this year manifest themselves in Oakland, and also push them to think about how they as young people can work to address these problems on a local level.”
Made possible by an A-Z Fund mini-grant of just under $600, Heath Madom was able to purchase over 50 copies of The 57 Bus so that each of his students had their own book to read and explore as they please, leading to deep and interesting discussions that helped the students grow and learn together as a community. They were able to discuss in a safe environment topics such as the normalization of violence and deaths in communities, the impact of childhood trauma on maturity, and how personal and societal circumstances can intersect in conflict.
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