Above, Advanced Placement students at Verdugo Hills High work on assignments for this year’s Big Read LA program; Dr. Ashaki Jackson and Dale Guy Madison.

By Arturo Barcenas
Verdudo Hills High School

The Verdugo Hills High School Library & Research Center held a special poetry writing workshop today in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs’ Big Read LA program.

Dr. Ashaki M. Jackson, poet and social psychologist, led a class of Advanced Placement English Language and Literature students in a poetry workshop to further explore the Big Read LA’s selection for this year, “CITIZEN An American Lyric: by Claudia Rankine. The presentation started with a series of slides with white text against a black background describing laws from the time of slavery that prohibited the movement and gathering of black people, bridging that history with the micro-aggressions depicted in Rankine’s book. Dr. Jackson also used poems from her chapbook “Surveillance,” an examination of videos capturing police killing civilians and the public’s consumption of these videos, to demonstrate how a poet may use multiple points of view to examine a subject.

Dr. Ashaki M. Jackson leads a poetry-writing workshop at Verdugo Hills High School.

This culminated in students engaging in writing exercises to further explore citizenship/belonging and point of view. Students were given a perspective from which to craft a narrator to speak in a poem. They were encouraged to consider this persona’s perspective of citizenship and belonging when writing the poem. Dale Guy Madison represented the Department of Cultural Affairs at the workshop and helped students as they composed their poems.

After the workshop, Dr. Susan Norton, the AP English Language and Literature teacher, reflected how this workshop reinforced the analysis work the students are doing to prepare for the AP exam in May. Currently, students are working on papers about Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and how the minor characters represent the values and perspectives of different segments or institutions in society. Though not a traditional part of the curriculum, she was pleased with how the themes in “CITIZEN” tied in with other texts like Lee’s classic novel.

On April 11, two students from Dr. Norton’s AP English class will share their creative responses to “CITIZEN” at the launch of the Big Read LA at City Hall. This is the fourth year that Verdugo Hills High School Library & Research Center’s Teacher Librarian, Lisa E. Cheby, has partnered with Big Read LA to bring books to students at Verdugo Hills High School. This year, Verdugo Hills will be sending 80 students, teachers, and parents to the launch, thanks to the support of the Elizabeth Morin, the director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who provided one of the buses.

In addition to this class, the Literature Club read the Big Read LA selection as one of their Fall selections. They will also be attending the event at City Hall in April.