COVID-19 has shut the doors of school libraries across the United States. But in Los Angeles, teacher librarian Yahtina Macali Soto ’07 is still opening doors for her students with a rich array of online opportunities.
Macali Soto joined the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in August 2020. She serves three schools there: Sotomayor Arts and Sciences Magnet School (grades 6-12) and two independent charters, Alliance Tenenbaum Family Technology High and PUC eCALS.
“My main jobs are programming, community building and literacy,” she says. “I’m in charge of helping students finds books to read for pleasure and for research.” She also points students toward online resources, and she runs a full roster of enrichment activities, currently all online.
For instance, there’s the book and creative writing club. “We discuss books that we read, and we also write poems,” says Macali Soto, who was an English major at Mount Saint Mary's. One recent session featured a visit by young adult author Kit Frick, who offered advice to the club’s aspiring writers. “We’re also creating an anthology and doing a BookTube—a video book review.”
The Lunch in the Library drop-in program on Fridays gives students a chance to see friends on Zoom, do online puzzles, watch videos or just unwind. Macali Soto also holds virtual office hours for kids who want book recommendations, tutoring or help with research.
In addition, Macali Soto supervises the Black Student Leaders’ Union, with weekly meetings and special events such as the Black History Night Talent Show and a screening of the film, “The Children’s March.” Macali Soto was especially proud when the club’s president, 12th grader Mellese Simmons, spoke at a town hall held by the Black Students Matter Initiative in January 2021.
As if she didn’t already wear enough hats, Macali Soto recently joined the board of Mount Saint Mary’s Black Alumnae Association. Her goals include creating new outreach programs for foster youth. There’s never too many.
“In LA County, a disproportionate percentage of our foster youth are Black or mixed race,” says Macali Soto, who spent time in foster care during her own youth. “Helping our marginalized black foster youth achieve their educational goals through mentorship and training aligns with the mission of the college and our sisters. By reaching out to the foster youth community, we are continuing the mission of the sisters, finding the needs of the day and addressing them."