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To broaden their understanding of the novel, Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, 7th grade English students invited a select group of community members to participate in a panel discussion. The multi-award-winning novel tells the story of a young black man and aspiring filmmaker, Steve Harmon, who is on trial for attempted murder. In order to process his circumstances, Steve tells the story as a screenplay he might write, interspersed with first-person diary entries, to show how his life was turned upside down in an instant. Guilty or innocent is something readers must decide, as they consider the themes of racial discrimination, injustice, violence, family bonds, and the juvenile justice system.

Panel members included Willy Palomo, Community Engagement Manager for Utah Presents, community activist, and published poet; Becca Ross, Family and Criminal Law Attorney and Guardian ad litem; Patricia Cassell, Chief Prosecutor for Summit County; Captain Kacey Bates, Public Information Officer (PIO) for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office; Derek Pullan, Utah 4th District Court Judge; Chris Crowe, BYU Professor and author of, among others, the young adult novel, Mississippi Trial, 1955; and Dr. Nichole Loser-Nielsen, therapist and educational psychologist.

“My main goal for this gathering was to model for our students how intelligent and experienced adults can discuss important and complex topics with civility and mutual respect,” explains Steve Williams, 7th grade English teacher and WSD’s executive director. “I wanted most of all for our students to be curious about their world and ask honest questions about it.”

The students prepared questions that probed the philosophical, legal, and ethical dilemmas we face as a society, and that resulted in an altogether engaging and productive discussion – one that ran overtime and left all participants wanting more. Our thanks to the seven panelists who gave generously of their time and expertise, and who shared their honest and informed perspectives with our students.