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.
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.” Continue reading “Burbank Teachers Push for Diversity, Inclusivity Through New Group”
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.