Little Free Library, Coming Soon to LHS

I LOVE the whole idea behind the Little Free Library movement: take a book if you want, leave a book if you can. How simple is that? The best part about the library, though, is how it connects a neighborhood or community.

That’s why I’m SUPER excited to install a Little Free Library  in the cafeteria at LHS.

Many people have offered to donate books to our future school library. I often tell them no thank you, because most of our students are not reading books folks read in their college literature courses. And I’m convinced that a room full of books that feel completely irrelevant to most of our students is far worse than a room full of no books.

Why not give them away?

I think the Little Free Library will be a huge success. My friend Derek, a super talented furniture maker, has agreed to make one for us. I’ll post a picture once it arrives.

Until then, here’s one I saw in the Fillmore recently. Clever idea, don’t you think?


What we are Reading at Leadership High School, #2



Mr. S. shares with us his latest reading endeavor. Thanks Mr. S.!






I am currently reading The Accidental Asian by Eric Liu. The book is an autobiography in which Liu writes about how his identity is shaped by the community in which he lives and his first immigrant Chinese family. Despite being labeled as “Asian American,” he doesn’t necessarily see it as fitting. As a result of growing up in Poughkeepsie, NY and going to school at Yale, he identifies more as white. But the thing is, he is so confused, HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT TO IDENTIFY AS! Liu’s predicament and search for ethnic and racial space yields an important lesson, that concept of identity is not one size fits all.

Off the record: This book is sort of boring and infuriating. Liu comes across as super entitled, privileged, and snobby. In fact, if I met Liu or saw him speak at a conference, I’d probably leave in disgust. And I definitely get his point, identity is not one size fits all because as an Asian American myself, Liu’s voice and narrative does not reflect any thing I can connect with.

The book I have on deck, I Love Yous Are for White People, however, I am very excited to begin reading!

What we are Reading at Leadership High School


Part of my “New Year, New Library” campaign is to improve this blog A BUNCH. Here are some ways I would like to do that:

– post more often;
– write about the many successes of the new and improved reading initiative;
– feature student stories and reviews;
– include more pictures (and maybe video! Ooooohhhh!);
– highlight some of the amazing things other folks at LHS are doing.

To start things off, here is a new feature called What We’re Reading. This will be a place for students, teachers, and administrators (and maybe parents! that would be GREAT!) to share some thoughts and suggestions. I will start off the series with the book I’m currently enjoying.

amy poehler cover

I often have a hard time with memoirs; more and more, I feel like editors or publishers or whoever is in charge of selling books is telling authors, “This is great! Can you make it twice as long,though?”. It’s gotten to where I read half or three quarters of a book and then I just stop, because I know that the last several chapters are redundant. I know that’s probably a gross generalization, but I’ve been burned too many times by too-long books.

I’m only half way through Poehler’s book, but I don’t feel the urge to walk away from it yet. In fact, I’m quite enjoying her book and I might even finish it. She’s got a great voice that is just the right amount of humble and confident. She shares interesting anecdotes about her experiences on television and with other celebrities, but she also writes about motherhood and marriage and how she started doing what she’s doing. Her book is not laugh-out-loud funny, like Tina Fey’s Bossypants (I didn’t walk away from that book either, come to think of it), but it’s still great. It’s an easy read that I’ll likely finish within the next day or so, a perfect follow up to the dark and sad book I just finished about a young Jewish woman who is sent into exile in Siberia (called Your Mouth is Lovely, if you’re interested in reading something dark and sad, but lovely).

Three things I like about Yes Please:

– she shares a long, painful account of a time she performed in a skit that made fun of someone with a serious physical disability. For nearly an entire chapter, she describes what happened and how she went about not making amends and then making amends. It’s honest and painful and very, very real. I like that;

– she calls out a lot of other people by name, not in a braggy, name-dropping way, but in a “I owe so much of my success to the other people” kind of way. She’s humble, and that’s nice. (She does drop some celebrity names, like Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock, but only to say, “I can’t believe I am friends with them!…I can’t lie, it’s so awesome!”);

– she acknowledges her privilege. She names that she is an able-bodied, straight, white woman with a solidly middle class upbringing and a stable and loving family. She names how fortunate she was to have grown up with friends whose chaotic households were not really chaotic at all, compared to so many others: “Even though most of us lived in the same detached homes with wall-to-wall carpet, inside those homes were drunk moms and mean dads.”

I like Amy Poehler, and, thus far, I like her book. I’m excited to hear from others about what they are reading!

It’s Time to Get Serious! (And I Don’t Quite Know What That Means)

Happy new year!

A new year brings all kinds of opportunities: to reflect on the old year, to wipe the slate clean, to set goals. This feels especially true at Leadership High School right now, because we have moved into a new school space, built especially for us! New year, new semester, new building! It’s the first time in the 17 year history of the school that we’ve had a nice space just for us. It feels incredible, and it’s exciting to see how the students respond. All students should have a nice school, don’t you think?

Part of the new school is (in my best Oprah voice) A LIBRARY SPAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!


It won’t be open until March or April, but it will be a real library, with new tables and bookshelves and everything libraries should have!


Everything, that is, but books.

oprah sadness

(Too much Oprah? Sorry.)

My job is to fill that library with books. I picture a lovely, clean, quiet(ish), comfortable space with lots and lots of high interest books, with lovely covers and inspiring stories that validate our students’ existences. I picture a place where even the most resistant reader can find something s/he likes – and then find a good follow up book, once s/he finishes the first book.

I don’t need a lot of reference books; our students who go on to graduate school or law school will learn the lost art of navigating a research library once they go to college. For now, the public library and Google do the trick. What I need is an excellent selection of diverse books that pull people in with great plots, fleshed out characters, and believable conflicts.

What I need is money.

That is my work this semester: to figure out how to raise money for a library. I have some good ideas so far; many generous people have given me many excellent suggestions. Now all I need to do is make something happen: plan a fundraising event, make a video, create a Kickstarter campaign, continue to apply for grants, have a bake sale. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. I just need to do it! And that’s hard.

But it’s 2015, and the year is young and full of promise. I’m energized and inspired, ready to make this library happen.

Because our kids deserve good books.


Exciting news! The first donation since September 22 arrived today. I have another $100 to purchase special requests and making our students’ reading dreams come true!


**Would you like to makes some students’ reading dreams come true? Donate now!**

I Will be Better About Writing, I Will be Better About Writing, I Will…

It’s (past) time for an update on the new Independent Reading program at Leadership High School, as well as the library project.

First, the IR program rolled out a few weeks ago, and, as far as I can tell, it’s a big success. Some teachers have reported that students LOVE the new books and having time to read. That makes my heart joy-filled!

Even better is students ask me for books, or ask their advisers to ask me for books. That is THE BEST! We are telling kids that reading is so important we will order you (just about) any book you want.

Also, a few of the juniors have agreed to walk around to other advisories and give book talks, under the tutelage of my wonderful colleague, Kathleen Large. I haven’t had a chance to see a book talk yet, but I hear they are going splendidly. The juniors are getting good practice at speaking publicly, and the other classes are hearing recommendations for books. It’s a win-win!

Another super exciting development: the amazing and brilliant Mark Isero has agreed to provide every single one of our 9th graders with a Kindle. That’s huge! Not only because it’s generous and kind, but because it encourages reading in an entirely different way that books do. For whatever reason, many kids who don’t like to read books really like reading on a Kindle. Go figure. Maybe it’s the ability to change the font size, or maybe it’s the text-to-speech feature. Whatever it is, it’s working. And now our 9th graders will get to experience it for themselves!

So, as you can see, the IR program is coming along beautifully. Here are some next steps I’m thinking about:

– creating a beautiful bulletin board, with bi-weekly updates (maybe even weekly! dare I dream such a dream?) about reading, maybe with a “featured title” each time, and a book review by one of the students;

– recognizing and publicly celebrating students who finish books, maybe during the all school meeting, or maybe on the beautiful new bulletin board! I’d like to bring in an element of competition, to up the reading stakes a bit;

– continuing to promote a reading culture at school, asking teachers to let students “catch” them reading. I’d love to have posters made of our teachers reading their favorite books. How much does that cost?

I’m embarrassed to say that I only JUST set up my classroom library so it looks nice and inviting for students. Here’s a picture:


Those reflective white pieces are actually reviews of the books. I wrote a few short ones, just to see if they would entice my advisees to try something new. I’ll find out how well it works tomorrow. My hope is to have my students write the reviews and post them. Part of my Global Plan…

Now I need to give you an update about the larger LHS library. I don’t have quite as much to say about that, as I’m still in the “how am I going to raise $60,000?” phase. I’ve talked to many wonderful people, who have given me lots of good advice. Now I just have to decide my game plan and execute. And that’s not nearly as easy as asking people for money on Facebook. It’s going to happen, though. Leadership High School WILL have a library! And it WILL be FANTASTIC!

We Are Ready to Read!

It’s been a little while since I’ve written; I’ve been busy entering books into the Google spreadsheet, numbering each one, and getting them ready to hand over to classroom teachers. It’s good stuff!

We are completely revamping our reading program. In the past, it was Silent Sustained Reading (SSR), and that was great for a number of our students. But not all of them.

I’m hoping that our new program – called Independent Reading for now, but a name change is in order, don’t you think? – will get ALL our students reading for pleasure.

My plan:

1. Get lots and lots of good books.
2. Put all the good books in advisories, where students will have at least 20 minutes of independent reading three times a week.
3. Get each students whatever book he/she asks for (like a Book Wizard!).
4. Make the reading experience JOYFUL!

Pretty ambitious, I know, but I’m determined to make it happen. And I’m off to a good start! Thanks to many wonderful donors, I’ve purchased seven thousand dollars worth of excellent books. And other folks, like the amazing Mark Isero (check him out at have donated excellent books. So we really are well on our way!

This week, advisers will have students participate in book speed dating, where students will have a chance to look at the books and decide which ones pique their interest. Wednesday, some of the juniors will visit advisories to give book talks. By Monday, the first day of Independent Reading, students will be excited to finally check out a book and start reading. It’s going to be great!

I’ll keep you posted as that happens. For now, here’s a picture of some of the beauties I picked up today, from Mark Isero. Thanks Mark!


One Week In…

The first week of school is over and the verdict is in: It’s going to be a GREAT school year!

I’ve already had the distinct pleasure of putting books my students requested into their hot little hands.

“What’s that? You want The Giver? BAM! Here ya go!”

“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Oh, If I Stay? BOOM! Here it is!”

“You want Dante’s Divine Comedy? Really? ZING! You’re welcome!”

That has been the most amazingly satisfying experience, and I can see other students wanting to join in as well.

One of my girls told me she doesn’t like to read, that she’s never finished a book. But when I handed out requested books the other day, she felt the excitement in the room and wanted to get in on the action. She remembered a title that had piqued her interest: Unbreakable: My Story, My Way, by Jenni Rivera. I loved being able to tell her, “I will have that for you on Monday.” I’ll love handing it over to her even more!

My advisees aren’t the only ones asking for books, though. My reputation has quickly spread, and I had a couple of seniors ask for books about medicine and anatomy. Another request, another chance to come through for the reading lives of LHS kids! I’ll keep it up until the money runs out, and then I’ll hustle up some more. Because how can I tell them no?

jenni rivera

First Day on the Job

Today was my first day back at work, and, I gotta tell you: it felt pretty darn good.
I am a bit sad that summer is already over, but I’ve had a three year summer, kinda, so I can’t get too sad about it. And I’m back at the dreamiest job ever! So I’m only .2% sad. The other percent that it takes to get to 100 is thrilled!

I have lots of paperwork to read and go through, and there are plenty of forms that aren’t going to fill out themselves, so I guess I have my first night of homework. Boo homework. But YAYYYY getting paid!

Here’s my folder, as well as the fantastic new notebook I received from my friend Karie for my birthday this year. I’m ready for business!


As for the library, I’m gearing up to embark upon Phase 2: The Big Asks. Phase I was all about getting class sets of 30-40 titles, to support silent sustained reading (SSR) during advisory class. I’ve reached my goal of $6000, and I couldn’t be happier! But now the real work begins. I need to raise approximately $60,000 to have a small but fully stocked and functional library of 18-20 titles per student PLUS some periodical subscriptions AND a small budget for library events. I need some big money! But, given all the wonderful contributions so many people have made already, I’m feeling confident that we can get this done and get the library our kids need. Wish us luck, y’all!

Or, better yet, GO TO THE DONATE BUTTON AND DONATE! Your contribution can make all the difference!

I leave you with a picture of the gorgeous book plate LHS alum Monica Magtoto (’06) created to honor her fellow Griffins who donate to this worthy cause. She does great work (and she’s looking for a job! Know anyone looking for a brilliant graphic designer/illustrator? Cuz she’s got mad skillzzzz)!

Stay tuned for more updates about the Future Leadership High School Library of Amazingness!