John Muir Dedicates Lending Library in Memory of Student

First published in the Oct. 30 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The dedication ceremony began with the ring of the 9 a.m. bell at John Muir Middle School.
School administrators, teachers, parents and students gathered in front of John Muir’s outdoor classroom Thursday, but not for a lecture. Instead, they huddled around a small wooden box near the entrance of the classroom. Painstakingly painted, the box — a “lending library” of free books for students — was filled with popular reads: “Wonder,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Magic Tree House” and more.
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Teacher of Year Praised as ‘Amazing,’ ‘Beloved’

Amelia Cheatum

Amelia Cheatum is always happy to receive recognition for her work, but earning the Burbank Unified School District teacher of the year honor was extra special for the John Muir Middle School history teacher after seven challenging months of distance learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every teacher I work with, even at the other [BUSD] schools, everyone worked so hard, and I think this year we were forced to try new things,” said Cheatum, who teaches 7th- and 8th-graders. “Some things worked, some definitely didn’t, but I think this year was special because when I go back to the classroom in a few weeks, I have all of these digital tools that I plan on using that I never would have used before.”

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Fundraiser, Blood Drive Planned in Memory of Student

Photo courtesy Meredith Swierczynski
Evelyn “Evie” Swierczynski

When one student’s name was announced at this year’s Burbank High School graduation ceremony, it was met not with cheers, but silence.

The student wasn’t there to collect her diploma or walk across the stage to a wave of applause. Instead, when Evelyn Swierczynski was named, the audience quietly stood, taking a moment to honor the rising 10th-grader who, if she hadn’t died from acute myeloid leukemia in 2018, would have graduated with her class that day.

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Burbank Teachers Push for Diversity, Inclusivity Through New Group


The Burbank Unified School District is dedicated to its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, and it is not alone in its crusade.
It has earned support from the community, most notably a small group of teachers who call themselves the Justice and Equity Team, and they’re ready to assist their fellow colleagues in providing a more diverse, inclusive environment for all students.
“We thought of several names but decided on JET,” said Victoria Cuseo, a Spanish teacher at John Muir Middle School. “It was snappy, and we really liked it.”
Cuseo spearheads the group along with Mojgahn Emamjomeh of Burbank High School and Ericca Dent, a 2nd-grade teacher who was one of 10 educators named 2020-21 Teacher of the Year by Los Angeles County in October.
After attending several California Teachers Association racial and equity committee meetings last summer, Cuseo said she felt it was time to form a similar group in her community and was later given the go-ahead by Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta.
“During this pandemic, we’ve seen gaps in equity and struggles with teachers and students,” she said. “I was feeling like we really needed it, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement. It really highlighted all the ways that we can be doing better, to be more equitable and more focused on social justice in schools.”
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Book Drive Honoring ‘Evie’ Benefits Young Patients

Photos courtesy Meredith Swierczynski
An annual book drive is being held in memory of Evelyn “Evie” Swierczynski, a Burbank High School student who died of leukemia in 2018. Reading, which was one of her joys, became especially important when she was a patient at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, whose Literally Healing program provided her with books while she underwent treatment.

Evelyn “Evie” Swierczynski loved to read.
Wendy Vargas, assistant principal at John Muir Middle School, where Evie attended 8th grade, said she always had a book in her hand. Her mother, Meredith, said she often had a stack of tomes nearby.
Evie still loved books when she was at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, having been diagnosed with leukemia just after finishing her freshman year at Burbank High School, where she was in the theater program, in 2018. Even when the chemotherapy made concentrating on reading hard, Meredith Swierczynski said, she and the rest of the family appreciated having them.
Staff members and volunteers with the hospital’s Child Life program would bring Evie DVDs, games and crafts, while the CHLA Literally Healing program provided a new book every day. The latter was a particularly encouraging initiative, Swierczynski said in a phone interview. When Evie was in treatment and couldn’t leave her room on some days, a volunteer could come in wearing a gown and gloves and offer her a book.

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