When asked to write about how they overcame the greatest obstacle in their lives, the students of Room 318 at Belmont High did not hold back. “My students have gone through some incredibly difficult obstacles and I wanted them to publish their experiences, so they could realize they were survivors,” said English teacher Cassandra McGrath. The ninth and tenth grade students from Belmont – which draws many of its students from Echo Park – responded with some touching and powerful stories and poems that appear in Voices Ten Feet Deep, which is available for sale online. Fifteen-year-old Brenda Villalobos wrote:
“The man standing in front of me pointed the gun in my face. I looked into my dad’s eyes and wondered if I really wanted this father, who was willing to kill me at a young age.”
On Wednesday night, McGrath’s students will share their stories in a cafe-style reading and potluck at Belmont High. The event is open to the public. The book was inspired by a similar project undertaken by teacher Laura Cometa at the nearby Miguel Contreras Learning Center. A vice principal at Belmont High, Stephen Koffman, said he would pay for the books from the online publisher, www.lulu.com, McGrath said.
McGrath’s book proposal took off after some of Cometa’s students came to Belmont to read their stories. “This got my students really excited to tell their own stories,” said McGrath, a second-year teacher. “When I first told them they were going to be published in a book, they didn’t believe me, but they got really excited about it.”