The bus will chug up and down the coast, zipping along historic highways that offer views of panoramic seascapes, rolling hillsides and seemingly endless farmland.
The students on the bus will be searching for California.
Those Santa Monica High School seniors are currently learning about the state’s history, politics and culture by unpacking landmark literary works in an English class taught by Jenna Gasparino, and their upcoming trip will bring them to the places on which their syllabus is based.
“We have a ton of stops all along the coast,” Gasparino said, “and with all of the literature and discussions and topics that come up throughout the school year, we get to visit those places. They get to experience the things that we talk about.”
The eighth edition of the journey will begin in mid-March and build on the vision of Pete Barraza, a faculty member in the English department who launched it at Samohi in 2008. Barraza, who was raised in La Puente, went on a similar trip as a high school student with his California geography teacher.
“It was his crazy idea,” Gasparino said.
The California literature class is one of several English options for seniors at Samohi, who can choose between courses involving folktales, Shakespeare, African-American and Chicano literature, women’s literature and existential philosophy.
Gasparino expects to take about 60 students on this year’s trip, which costs about $600 per student. Donations and fundraisers benefit the students with passing grades whose families cannot afford the expense.
“Every year we have 20 or 30 students who have never left Los Angeles,” Gasparino said. “And even the kids who have been to the Central Coast haven’t experienced the Central Coast like this. They usually haven’t read about it previously, so they see it through a different lens.”
Students will have read about migrant worker conditions in “Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viramontes when they visit Harry’s Berries in Oxnard to learn about treatment of the labor force and discuss differences between organic and conventional farming methods.
They’ll visit Cannery Row in Monterey and compare what they see to what they learned from John Steinbeck’s novel, which is set in the area during the Great Depression, and they’ll stop at the National Steinbeck Center in the influential author’s hometown of Salinas.
And they’ll also take in a play adaptation of “Pastures of Heaven” in the area of Corral de Tierra, the region described in Steinbeck’s short story cycle.
The itinerary also includes a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, where students meet with a marine biologist to learn about ocean patterns and conservation efforts.
And the impact of the trip doesn’t cease when the students return. Over the remainder of the school year, they study Santa Monica current events using what they’ve learned about history, politics and community and attempt to come up with realistic solutions.
When the controversial Hines project was being discussed locally, for example, Gasparino’s students presented ideas for what they wanted to see at the site. Representatives from the development company and the City of Santa Monica visited the class to share their perspectives.
“We try to make it experiential and get them out of the classroom as much as we can,” Gasparino said.