Bigger Than Bathrooms: Making Schools Safe for EVERY Student

A guest post from Ash Whipple, an Oakland student and one of Oakland’s Energy Converters.

I’m sure when you’re out in public, or at work, all you worry about when going to the bathroom is if it’s clean or not. Nobody likes public bathrooms, they’re dirty, and you never know who you’re going to come across in them, though usually it’s okay.

I want you to pause and think about that for a moment, every time you’ve been uncomfortable going into a public bathroom or have just decided to wait until you get home. Now I want you to imagine that doubled, tripled, quadrupled even. Imagine you need to go to the bathroom and you only come across one for the opposite gender. Compound that anxiety and imagine fearing for your life when doing something as simple but as necessary as going to the bathroom because you know you don’t belong.

That’s what it’s like for me when I try to go to the bathroom. I am transgender. I am neither male nor female. There is no bathroom for me. To be safe, I have to go to the bathroom that matches the gender people think I am. People give me looks, and I feel unsafe.

It’s a miserable experience. Sometimes at school, I wait all day until I get home because I don’t want to have to pick male or female. I am neither, and I shouldn’t be forced into one.

It’s a conversation no one wants to have, but we must discuss.

Transgender students need to feel safe going to the correct bathroom and not feeling alienated over such a simple necessity. This is a struggle I face everyday of my life. I look forward to being able to make educating others on this issue as well as helping the world become more inclusive for people like me.

Thanks to Energy Converters for sharing this—helping Black folx #navigate education. S/O 2 people converting negative energy to positive all over. #BeAnEnergyConvertor #DoWork Founder: @ccoleiii

Student Voices: A Step Closer to Achieving My Goal and Finding My Motivation

By Mario Castellanos

My name is Mario Castellanos and I am an 11th grader at Lighthouse Community Charter. I like to write down whatever pops into my head. In my free time I like to sit down and watch Netflix, and I am curious about many things like archeology and historical events. I’m interested in doing law enforcement in the near future as my career.

Two Schools, Two Worlds

In the past five years I’ve gone to three different schools. When I first moved into my new school Lighthouse Community Charter it took some time to get used to. At my old school they said we were all a family, but I was treated as if I wasn’t even part of the family. I felt like I was just an outsider that was temporarily there.

At my new school they say that we are a community and we should respect each other. Everyone in the community is different, everyone acknowledges each other. I’m more open here. At the other school, the classes were easy. Here, there are high expectations. With these new challenges, it makes things a bit harder for me, but the school staff also supports me to pursue my dreams.

College, College, College

In this new school all the teachers talk about is “college college college.” They never stop and they want us to be ready for it and they think we all want to go to college. When I first got here I didn’t know how the school worked. I thought if I turned in all of my work, I would be done. But there was more to it.

I started struggling with my classes because it was hard, but at the same time I was not interested in what they were teaching us. I wanted to learn history. The start of the world war, Napoleon, the American Revolution. At my old school, my history teacher taught me a lot. My grades went up, up, up, all As. When I was in that class I felt more alive, like I could get something from it. I wanted to learn archeology. If there’s a tunnel, I’ll go check it out. All I need is a flashlight and something to drink. I’m very creative. If you give me supplies, I will make something with it. I’m interested in the Rubix cube: how was it made? Why was it made? Who made it?

When class is over they give us homework of what we covered in class and I don’t want to do homework when I’m home. I want to forget about school for the day, but doing homework reminds me of school. I just want to be alone and relax and enjoy the time I have left for the day before I have to repeat the same process the next day over and over again until the weekend, when I can finally get some rest.

Getting to the Other Side

For the past two years I felt like school was making most of my life harder. I felt like school should be about what I wanted to learn but instead I felt forced to take classes of the school’s choosing. I didn’t have that kind of motivation for what they were teaching in class. But now that I’ve found my way, the tables have turned.

I’ve finally found my goal: to become an officer of the law. I want to be out there, I’m detailed, I see things other people don’t see, and I’m a helpful person. Since last year I’ve been thinking: after I’m done with high school, what will I study? What is my career going to be? What will I do after college? My mom told me I can’t join the army. I said, “how about a cop?” My mom said, “it’s a risk but I’ll let you do it.” My plan is to be a cop, and later an investigator. Now I feel I need to go to college. Now it’s about me wanting to go to college.

When I had my meeting with my parents, the principal, and teachers, I told them about my interest in law enforcement. The principal and teachers told me to ask another student about a program called the San Leandro Police Explorers program. A few weeks later I joined the program. In this program they teach you the lifestyle of a cop, what a cop does on a daily basis, and you get to feel how a cop learns and trains. You learn how they have their own little community.

Now that I have this dream, I don’t feel the burden anymore. I feel I’m finally doing something useful. In order to get to where I want to be, I have to get through school and get everything done. Once I graduate, it’s accomplished. I will either go to the police academy for two or four years or go to college and study there for four years. Now every time I go to class, do homework, or take a test, I know I am one step closer to achieving my goal.

Student Voices: My Evolution. Innocence, Confusion, Revelation.

By Michael Diaz

I am a student at Lighthouse Charter on the east side of Oakland, where I have lived my whole life so far. Working toward my future I have taken class as Youth Radio in downtown Oakland and have a job at Safeway to make some money to pay for my own equipment. I come from a loving family that supports my decisions. I have written poetry and been around music because of my family. I work to see myself excel as a producer in my future. You can check out more of my work at

Growing up in East Oakland, I often dealt with problems outside of my control.  Sometimes I thought I was the problem. Until I realized I wasn’t alone with these problems and found my way.


First day of Kindergarten at Redwood Heights Elementary.

I had lived in my grandma’s house with my family for most of my life, up until my uncle went berserk on us and we had to leave. Two months after that, following a short stay at a friend’s house, we got our own place on High Street. It was a small apartment and the neighbors were loud but I was closer to my friend’s houses so it worked out for me.

I was a different shade than most of the other kids, a darker shade, when I attended Redwood Heights Elementary School. I thought something was wrong with me when I would be called things by these lighter shade of kids; they really threw shade at me.

The tostadas and burritos I would eat at home were somehow wrong, according to these kids. I fumbled my words; my clothes were full of holes. Goodwill had a two-for- one deal and my jeans were ripped from playing in the dirt. They were big so I could one day grow into them, and I did after a couple years passed. There were other Mexican kids along with Black kids but they came and went, never staying for too long. These kids of color knew their culture, they were not trying to fit in like I was.

The White Mexican

Starting off the soccer season, just before I came to Lighthouse.

I felt how far away I really was from other kids who were supposedly “like me” when I came to Lighthouse Community Charter School and felt so out of place. I had painted a coat of white on my canvas when I was expected to have brown on it now. I was placed in a school where kids were a shade like me or darker, and spoke this language with a weird type of tongue.

I was expected to know Spanish when in reality I could barely speak English right, let alone spell words correctly. I saw them drinking Mexican candy, something I had never seen before. I hated hot sauce—still do.  We dressed the same, wore the same shoes, but we talked differently and went about ourselves differently. I was accepted for what I looked like, but not how I acted.

I felt alone everywhere I went, my parents would fight, I was failing school, I was good at nothing, I was still trying to fit in as best as I could instead of being branded that white Mexican, and I started having suicidal thoughts. I had started to give up because I felt that I was a mistake everywhere I turned.

Take My Hand

Me performing with Youth Speaks this year. I was sick that day, which is why I’m wearing a scarf.

The only thing I had really was singing. I remember at lunch I would fantasize being on a big stage singing songs by Maroon 5 and the Beatles, with millions of fans in front of me. Memorizing song lyrics came easy to me surprisingly; it was the only thing I would remember.

I remember a day back in middle school when I was just done. I had gotten another assignment back with an F. I was trying to think how I had messed up so badly and how I could have made things better but all the things I had tried never worked, even after revising three times. I had started to just give up completely; I even skipped playing basketball that day.

After my mom picked me up from school I was done, tired, stressed out, and just felt dumb. I wanted to go home and cry again. But I remember hearing on the radio lyrics to a fast paced song that rhymed and sounded amazing to me. I heard the words “I’M NOT AFRAID” and my ears opened up like Dumbo’s and I wanted to listen more. What followed soon after amazed me even more, “TAKE MY HAND.”

I was shook from this because I felt I wasn’t alone. Eminem was saying fuck the world and be the change you want for yourself, and fuck everyone else who is against you with an open hand. No matter how badly you messed up, it was up to you on how you were going to change it for the next time. I remember going home and buying the song for my ipod nano and listening to it everyday before and after school to know I had a chance to change it all.

I had come to peace with how people had treated me and that feeling of abandonment had left with every Eminem song I would listen to. With time, I became ever more wise to let more people in on my life so I didn’t need to be alone. I ended up gaining a new sister, her name is Pia. She listened to my story at the time and I listened to hers and realized we came from similar backgrounds. I felt blessed because I lasted long enough to find my source of strength, rap. I started writing my own stories in poems and dealing with my problems in a healthier way than just bottling it up for years. I started to become happy in my new home and not only blended in, but was branded a nickname I feel fits pretty well:


Watch These Oakland Students Tell Us How to Understand and End Gun Violence

About the Author: Sophia Sobko is a former teacher and current graduate student at UC Berkeley.

​Last Friday evening E14 Gallery in Downtown Oakland buzzed as 7th and 8th graders from Lighthouse Community Charter School shared their research, artwork, and writing on gun-related violence in Oakland. The exhibit was the culmination of a year of research and creative production exploring the causes, consequences, and potential solutions of gun violence in their community and beyond.

Student ambassadors spread across the spacious gallery, leading visitors through the exhibit’s many stations: research and data, history of the 2nd amendment, narratives, art campaigns, potential solutions, and participant response. Student speakers moved between English and Spanish, sharing statistics and personal stories about gun violence with one goal: to educate others and move them to action.