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Writers Are Welcome on the Verdugo Campus

by Xiomara Aguilera-Rico
La Yuca

  How many people here on the Verdugo campus enjoy going to the literary assemblies? I know I do. Having the advantage of listening to successful authors for an entire period is such a wonderful gift, and who do we have to thank for these amazing opportunities? Our school librarian, Ms. Cheby! She is the mastermind behind the scenes, calling up colleagues from graduate school and spreading the word through local public libraries.

    This school year, there have been three literary assemblies, which have all been smashing successes. The most recent one took place during third period on Friday, May 3rd. The author who spoke to a handful of classes was Tochi Onyebuchi, the Nigerian writer of Beasts Made of Night, a thrilling tale about the sins of people personified by ravenous beasts and the fearless warriors who destroy them. Tochi’s presentation was wonderful and had the crowd laughing constantly. At the end of the assembly, there was even a raffle of two copies of his best-selling book and several tickets to a literary event held in Santa Monica on Saturday, May 4th.

    So how did all of this happen? Ms. Cheby said, “When I was younger, I liked writing and I loved literature, but I never knew any writers. So, books were something that I loved, and they just appeared. It was very mysterious to me that some people had the special privilege to write and the rest of us just read their work. When I had the opportunity as a librarian to program these kind of events I went for it, because I want kids to know about the writers behind these books. I want to promote literacy and this love of reading.” The opportunity to listen to these wonderful authors isn’t the norm for most schools, but Ms. Cheby made it all happen because of her love of literature and the students on the Verdugo campus who are aspiring writers.

    As the students sit during the assemblies, captivated by the speakers’ knowledge of writing, there’s a sense of hushed awe that fills the room. So many of our students are eager to learn how to be successful at something we love hang onto every word about writer’s block and developing characters. Ms. Cheby went on to say, “We don’t see the writers behind things like books and TV shows, and to be able to make that physical is a great sort of experience that I can provide for students. And even if students want to do something else behind the scenes, this can give them the motivation to do what they love.”

    On behalf of all the students and staff on campus, I’d like to thank Ms. Cheby for all the work she’s done for us in putting all of these events together because each assembly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that won’t come by again. And that, truly is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon anyone.

This article was originally published in Verdugo Hills High School’s student newspaper, La Yuca. Volume 80, Issue 9. May31, 2019.

Finding Your Voice Literary Assembly 2: Special Guest, Tochi Onyebuchi

On May 3rd “Thinker, Writer, Reader” Tochi Onyebuchi spoke to an audience of 300 students from 11 classes, the Literature Club, and the Black Student Union.  After a brief lecture about his background and history of becoming a writer, Onyebuchi spent an hour answering questions.  As Ms. Swann, our VAPA coordinator later said, “it’s like we all just gathered for a cup of coffee and a chat.”

Tochi Onyebuchi is the author of Beasts Made of Night, his first novel inspired by his Nigerian heritage, and its sequel Crown of Thunder. He has two books forthcoming this Fall and in 2020: War Girls, inspired by Black Panther and his mother’s story, is snd Riot Baby. He has also published numerous essays on popular culture and representation and short stories.

Onyebuchi gave students a realistic view of what it takes to become a professional writer: perseverance.  Though he has graduated from Yale University, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Columbia Law School, and L’institut d’études politiques with a Masters degree in Global Business Law, it was his discipline in writing — he has authored 20 books though only 4 have reached publication so far — that allowed him to leave his day job in technology to write full-time.

With the sets for the school musical designed by and for many in the audience around him on the stage, Onyebuchi gave lengthy, heartfelt answers to the students’ questions from advice on how to get beyond writer’s block to the philosophers who influence his work. He also talked about the importance of diversity in literature and of seeing oneself in books.  He shared how it took him time to realize that he could write those books he wanted to read, books that contained characters that looked like him. Moreover, he noted how significant it is to be able to read about someone other than the self and see that person as hero. It is only through building such empathy that we may create a kinder, better world, a world with less hate and oppression.

After the assembly ended, students and teachers came to have their books signed and to ask more questions.  As he did before the assembly, Onyebuchi chatted with students as if they were long separated cousins catching up on their latest fandoms.

At the end of the assembly, Literature Club co-presidents raffled off copies of Beasts Made of Night and pairs of tickets to Yallwest’s opening keynote with Angie Thomas and Nic Stone by asking trivia questions from the presentation and Q&A.  Thanks to Yallwest each teacher also got a book to raffle off to one student in their class.  Yallwest is a one-day young adult literary festival held each May at Santa Monica High School.  Each year they sponsor author visits to schools around Los Angeles the day before the festival. The also provided a total of 100 books for students and the library.


As Ms. Wilson shared with me later, one the teachers who accompanied her class to the assembly, Onyebuchi was inspiring.

The library has copies of Onyebuchi’s current books for check out and looks forward to adding his forthcoming novels to the collection. Also come to check out the other books donated by Yallwest from other authors who took part in the festival.




Finding Your Voice Literary Assembly

On February 28th during period 2 we had over 200 students attend the library’s 6th annual literary assembly.  This year we had three YA fiction authors: Nicole Maggi, Robyn Schneider, and Jen Wang.  We also rolled out a new format with shorter readings from each author and a panel discussion led by our Literature Club members, Citlali Aguilara-Rico, Kenede Pratt-McCloud, Lizeth Topete, and Anna Ter-Abrahamyan.  Once Upon A Time Bookstore in Montrose provided books for sale to be signed by the authors.

The theme of the assembly was Finding Your Voice.  Each author spoke about her journey to becoming an author and the continued challenges of writing.  From how do they find inspiration to how do you bring life to ghosts as characters, all the authors demonstrated how in writing (and life) there is never just one answer or solution to a challenge.

The authors also talked about the extensive research for their books.  Nicole Maggi’s novel Forgetting incorporated research about human trafficking.  In order to bring accuracy and authenticity to the book, she interviewed and worked with real non-profit organizations that educate communities about human trafficking and provide support for victims. Jen Wang researched fashion for the time period and location of her book The Prince and the Dressmaker and combined it with newer trends in fashion to create the unique designs of her protagonist.

By the time we got to the Q&A portion of the event, there was a line of students waiting to ask questions about writing and publishing.  After the bell rang dismissing students to lunch, many stayed to ask questions, buy books, and meet the authors one-on-one.

Anyone who did not get to buy at book at the assembly may get signed copies from Once Upon a Time Bookstore.  You may also check out multiple titles by all the authors in our library.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


During any session, to follow along  and participate with the presentation, go to and enter the session code.

After finishing my MLIS and my NBCT, I finally have time to become more involved with the California School Library Association (CSLA).  In my enthusiasm I submitted two proposals and volunteered to become a section area rep (come to the Meet & Greet on Saturday afternoon!).  I am also honored to be the recipient of the CSLA Technology Award (with $1000 to buy books from Mackin!).

Here the sessions where I will be presenting with links to resources for follow up or ICYMI.  All presentations have links embedded to documents and resources, though links to subscription databases and student work my not work due to log-ins and privacy.

Friday, February 8, 1:45-2:45, session N4, Finders Keepers? Copyright, fair use & citation as Gateway to Information, Pebble Beach B

Technology puts more resources than ever at our fingertips. How do we teach our students how to choose and use that information ethically? This session focuses on using tools embedded in search engines or databases to identify non-text resources licensed for reuse and to support the habit of citing sources. Moreover, this session will address how to scaffold critical thinking and ethical use of information by unchaining instruction in citation from formats like MLA and APA. Finally, this simple lesson is a gateway to building collaborative relationships with teachers in all disciplines.

Saturday, February 9, 9:30-10:30 session R2, Tech Talk: Winning Tech Integration with Dr. Lesley Farmer, Pebble Beach A

How are CSLA’s award-winning tech-savvy teacher librarians integrating technology? This session shares their insights. CSLA’s Committee on Standards Integration will also show emerging education tech resources to integrate
Tech Use in the Library: Interaction, Collaboration, and Blended Learning

Sunday, February 10, 9:15-10:15, session EE16, Redefine research curriculum: TL & Teacher collaboration to Embed, Congressional

— co-presenting with Dr. Susan Norton, English Teacher, Verdugo Hills High School

This session presents a research unit for 9th grade English created collaboratively to create a model for how we can redefine research instruction. Our goal is to shift how the faculty at our school teaches research from the traditional product driven research paper to process drive lessons that develop skills and critical thinking. We built a unit that explicitly teaches and assess skills from question and query creation through observations of how strategy choices change results to presentation and reflection. Our strategies were designed using the TRAILS test results, the Inquiry Search Process (ISP) model created by Carol Kuhlthau, and the Question Formulation Technique from the Right Question Institute. In this session we will also address our roles as teacher and teacher librarian in the collaborative design of this unit.

Much of this unit grew out of an article I wrote for Knowledge Quest, (“Search Strategy Instruction: Shifting From Baby Bird Syndrome to Curious Cat Critical Thinking,” Knowledge Quest, 44.4 (Mar/Apr 2016): 48-53.) and the research I did to write that article.  I developed this unit in order to find ways to teach and assess the steps of the Inquiry Search Process.  The article by Dr. Leslie Maniotes and Carol C. Kuhlthau was the most inspiring for my journey leading to this unit. I was able to manifest these ideas with Dr. Susan Norton’s support, collaboration, and ability to synthesize skills into a portfolio presentation (and her patience to work through this unit over and over with me).  Here are the references for the initial article to provide the theoretical foundations for what we are presenting.

Abilock, Debbie. 2015. “Addition Friction: How to Design Deliberate Thinking into the Research Process.” Library Media Connection 33 (4): 33. EbscoHost.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. 2014: Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Fuselier, Linda and Belle Nelson. 2011. “A Test of the Efficacy of an Information Literacy Lesson in an Introductory Biology Laboratory Course with a Strong Science-Writing Component.” Science & Technology Libraries 30 (1): 58-75.

Katz, Irvin R. 2007. “ETS Research Finds College Students Fall Short in Demonstrating ICT Literacy: National Policy Council to Create National Standards.” College & Research Libraries News 68 (1): 35-37.

Kuhlthau, C. 1990. “The Information Search Process: From Theory to Practice.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 31 (1): 75.

Landrum, R. E., & Muench, D. M. (1994). Assessing students’ library skills and knowledge: The library research strategies questionnaire. Psychological Reports, 75(3, Pt 2), 1619-1628.

Leslie, Ian. “Google Makes Us all Dumber: The Neuroscience of Search Engines.”, last modified October 12, 2015,

Macgregor, John and Raymond G. Mcinnis. 1977. “Integrating Classroom Instruction and Library Research: The Cognitive Functions of Bibliographic Network Structures.” Journal of Higher Education 48 (1): 38.

Maniotes, Leslie K. and Carol C. Kuhlthau. 2014. “Making the Shift: From Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning.” Knowledge Quest 43 (2): 17.

Tenopir, Carol. 2001. “Why I Still Teach Dialog.” Library Journal 126 (8): 35-36.

More Than Just Back-to-School: Verdugo Hills High School Opens Annual College Fair to the Community of Schools in Sunland-Tujunga

By Lisa Cheby, Teacher Librarian, Verdugo Hills HIgh School

On August 23rd, Verdugo Hills High School expanded Back-to-School night, an event traditionally limited to introducing teachers and class expectation to parents, into a community event including representatives from 19 colleges and trade schools, the military, the Los Angeles Public Library(LAPL),, and Students Run LA.

About five years ago, Leticia Arreguin, College and Career Counselor, started the college fair before Back to School and Open House nights in order to increase participation in Back-to-School and to promote college and career readiness to all students. Starting the college fair at 5pm, an hour before the traditional activities begin, provided students who remain on campus between extracurricular activities and Back-to-School  with a purposeful and educational activity on campus. Representatives from colleges as near as Mission College and as far as Syracuse University were present. There is also a wide representation from universities such as UCLA and trade school such as the Cinema Make-up School and FIDM.

imageWith the release of the LAPL’s Student Success Card two years ago, Lisa Cheby, Teacher Librarian at Verdugo Hills High School, invited the LAPL to set up a table to answer questions about the card, to take applications and immediately issue public library cards to families, and to inform students and their parents about online homework and test prep resources, including free online tutoring.

With the LAUSD Board of Education’s recent initiative to promote civic engagement, Ms. Cheby invited young adult novelist, E. Katherine Kottaras, who participated in the library’s literary assembly three years ago, to host a voter registration table. Ms. Kottaras, who also teaches at Pasadena City College, recently posted about volunteering to host tables at school and community events as a new volunteer with At the table Ms. Kottaras invited our 16- and 17-year-old students to pre-register, and assisted students and parents who are qualified to vote with registration, checking their registration status for accuracy, and updating their registration if needed.


This year Verdugo Hills High School  Principal Arturo Barcenas invited neighboring elementary and middle school families to come to the college fair in order to build a culture of college and career readiness from K through 12 and to strengthen the community of schools in Sunland-Tujunga.  The College Fair has become a model for collaboration on campus and within the community to build a community of schools within one of the many neighborhoods of Los Angeles.


Closing the Participation Gap Through Database Instruction

Since I started at Verdugo in 2012, I’ve been working to recruit teachers to collaborate on research lessons and to educate our faculty about the rich sources contained within the subscription databases funded by LAUSD.   This graph shows the number of views for my database portal page over the years.  It is exciting to see a more or less steady climb in database usage.  I would have to look at my reports to see why there was a drop in 2015 (I wonder if that was the year that we remodeled the lab and had it closed for two months).  Nevertheless, hope we can keep this trend going.  While we have more and more technology on campus, our next step needs to be closing the participation gap by developing students’ information literacy skills to become life-long independent information seekers and users.


Screen shot of statistics from WordPress page 10/16/18

Test Prep Resources Online: Free via the Public Library

The Los Angeles Public Library provides 188 subscription databases for its users.  Of those, two provide access to practice tests and study guides for many common standardized tests from the GED to the GRE.   Most students at some point will have to study for an AP exams, the SAT, the ACT, and/or college placement tests.  All of these are included.

Simply go to and choose “Research & Homework.”  From there, click “online learning” and search.  The two databases that include practice tests and study guides are
“Learning Express Library” and “Testing & Education Reference Center.”

Here is a short video to walk you through finding the databases and getting started in each.

Hour of Code


Though the Hour of Code promotion was December 7th- 11th, the tutorials remain active.  Simply click on the link below and get started:
Check out the game Ms. Cheby created! If she can do it, so can you!
For more coding resources, use this Symbaloo


For certificates or classes, follow these instructions:


To participate in the hour of code follow the instructions below.

In order to be eligible for certificates, join one of Ms. Cheby’s classes.  Each will start you out on one tutorial (choose whichever most interests you), but you can try as many as you want once you register. You will then be prompted to register with an email address.  Use your first and last name so Ms. Cheby and your teacher will see your progress and be able to print your certificate at the end.


Log into Ms. Cheby’s Class to Start

Check out the game Ms. Cheby created!

” I read because books … were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life” Sheman Alexie

I saw this quote from one of my favorite writers, Sherman Alexie, and wanted to keep it in a place I could come back to it when I need to remember why the library and why writing is so important to me:

“As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life…I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life. And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas–that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.” – Sherman Alexie