West Campus Advisory read introduced

Kris Long, Opinions Editor

All Manhattan High students will participate in a school-wide reading this year thanks to a $3 million grant from the Literacy Link of Kansas. Reading “The 57 Bus” is an activity to promote a culture of literacy in MHS.

According to committee member Dedra Braxmeyer, West Campus students will receive a copy of the book sometime in early September — assuming the process stays on schedule —  in their Advisory classes.

“The 57 Bus” is a non-fiction book that deals with societal issues. It focuses on gender identity and expression but includes a discussion of race and the criminal justice system. It tells the story of a gender non-conforming teenager named Sasha who was involved in a hate crime resulting in serious injury. It also follows her attacker, an African-American teen named Richard who faced charges that could keep him in prison for life. The book follows both of their lives before and after the crime.

“The committee reviewed a number of titles and chose [The 57 Bus] because it fits well with the theme MHS will focus on next year — compassion,” Dr. Jeanne Disney, director of secondary education, said in a written statement. “The book is not just about gender. It also includes serious considerations regarding race and the criminal justice system.”

According to building principal Michael Dorst, reading the book is not mandatory and Advisory in general will not be for a grade this school year. However, grading Advisory remains in consideration for future school years. 

Because of the controversial nature of the book, the school provided the opportunity for parents to pre-read the book. All parents of MHS students were invited to check out a copy of the book over the summer, nine parents took advantage of that option. So far the school is unaware of any parents having objections to students reading the book and have had no complaints from students. 

“As with anything new, we anticipate that there will be a mixed reaction,” Disney wrote.  “Some [students] will love the idea and some may not be thrilled at the prospect of reading another book. The point of the All-School Read is very much like the Freshman Read at KSU. It creates an opportunity for us to bond over a shared reading experience. It allows us to create a culture of literacy.”

USD 383 qualified for the $3 million grant from LiNK by having students in multiple different categories that are considered “at risk” of having poor literacy development. The categories include having a 40% free and reduced lunch rate in the district and having a number of students who are a grade behind. The  $1 million per year grant is used to pay for the books as well as other efforts to promote literacy at MHS. These include having a professional development advisor open to teachers to promote literacy in schools. 

“Our hope is that [“The 57 Bus”] will… create an awareness of the issues ” Disney said. “[As well as] an understanding that we all come from different backgrounds and don’t all have the same experiences.”