The Mission Advancement Office was established in 2001. If you had asked me then if I thought we would be where we are today – I never in my wildest dreams would have dreamt it.
I have seen some incredible changes at Verbum Dei in my 13 years here. Most recently we were able to complete a Capital Campaign project that included renovation of two of our classroom wings. This project was a very high priority as the 1962 vintage buildings have been minimally refurbished since 1962. And with our student population growth projections (from 330 to 400 students), we simply had to do it. Phase two of this project included the renovation of the athletic facilities. The upgrades included new flooring, doors, electrical and plumbing, lighting, monitor mounts with new monitors. The renovation is indescribable. You have to see this firsthand so come down and visit our fine campus; meet our outstanding faculty and staff; and, most importantly, talk with our eager college-bound young gentlemen. You’ll quickly remember why you volunteer, donate, and support Verbum Dei High School. And you’ll see there is no organization out there doing quite the incredible work we are doing in Watts. To schedule a visit, call me at 323-564-6651 Ext. 5110 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll grow to respect our mission even more!
There is never a dull day in our department. Our Mission Advancement Team consists of: Paul W. Hosch, Vice President of Mission Advancement, Stephanie Andrade, Advancement Associate, Michelle Cordova, Advancement Assistant, and our two remarkable student workers, Michael Pineda and Darius Bailey.
P.S. Don’t forget our Mardi Gras Awards Dinner and Auction on March 5, 2015 at the Biltmore Hotel beginning at 5:30PM. Don’t miss this fun event:
The Verb Spirit is alive and thrives. In the midst of academic pursuits, students showcased their talent and enthusiasm during Spirit Week and Grad at Grad Week. In seamless transitions, the students and faculty went from classroom engagement to speaker events and riotous gamesmanship. Though a myriad of moments have left impression during this year, this last week resonated more than most. A tangible energy courses through the student body in the classroom and in extracurricular activities, all the more impressive considering the rigorous schedules each student undertakes. One of the most memorable moments occurred when the keynote speaker, Ernie G, from the Grad at Grad week asked the students to raise their hands if it would make their parents or guardians proud beyond measure to see them go to college and find success in and beyond the school. The hands shot up without hesitation in a beautiful understanding of the individuality and solidarity in the dreams carried by the students and their families.
In a week during which so many members of the Verb family reached out and gave extra time and presence, it is easy to see what makes this a special community. Thanks to the leadership partaken by ASB, invested parents, faculty and staff, and especially Mr. Jovel for his dedication and organization. During the week, we had small groups meet after school and discuss and express various aspects from the Verbum Dei Grad at Grad Philosophy. Students from different years met and shared in confidence their experiences in and out of the classroom in relation to the Grad at Grad pillars. Upper classmen took a nurturing leadership role that led to candid dialogues voicing concerns and personal triumphs.
One of the more encouraging characteristics I continue to witness in the English 4A course and Writing courses I teach is the ability for the students to see different perspectives. As writers, the ability to see the world from different views, as a witness and as someone engaged with their world, opens the mind to ideas beyond those solely from experience. These young men continue to impress with their resolve and willingness to question what the world has for them and what they have for their community.
One of the great joys of being an educator at Verbum Dei is when our graduates come back to see us after a few years away from the Nest. Often they come back just to see the campus, to stop in and say hi to their former teachers, to give updates about where they are and what they’re doing, or to soak in the loving environment of the Verb community once again. The greatest joy, though, comes when an alumnus comes back and says to a teacher or administrator, “You know, you were right what you said about college” or “Thanks for being so hard on me and pushing me to do my best.” Even on the toughest day, those words can work wonders for the psyche.
A few weeks ago, I had one of those encounters—one that made not only my day but my entire year because it was so unexpected. There in the main office standing by the copier was Alejandro from the class of 2010. Now, four years ago, Alejandro may have been my biggest disappointment as a principal. He was clearly intelligent and had so many insights to share during class discussions and in my homeroom period, but he just did not want to do any work. I spoke to him often about this, always trying to motivate him and helping him see the gifts that he had, but it seemed my talks fell on deaf ears. In fact, during his entire senior year, he did almost no schoolwork, earning all D’s and F’s and not graduating from Verbum Dei. Alejandro was a kind, loving, good-natured kid with so many innate gifts, but he was not able to see them and put them to work.
So when I saw Alejandro and asked him how he’s doing and what he’s up to, I was shocked to hear his answer. To my surprise he told me that he was leaving in a few days to start school at U.C. Davis! He said, “I remembered what you said to me, all those talks about me being intelligent and having it in me to do better. I thought a lot about those words and something clicked.” This led him to enroll at El Camino College, where he completed his high school classes and then began college classes. He had worked so hard and done so well that he was able to transfer to a prestigious UC school to complete his bachelor’s degree. I couldn’t have been happier.
Alejandro’s story is a reminder that education is not like industry. We are not working with widgets; it is not input in, output out. We are working with kids who are complex human beings who do not always respond as you might hope. Sometimes you put a whole lot in and get nothing out. It is a reminder that at Verbum Dei, “we plant the seeds that one day will grow,” as Oscar Romero put it. But no matter the obstacles or challenges, we must keep planting, keep watering, keep tilling the soil, keep fertilizing, and keep having patient trust in God that one day the seeds will grow and blossom. And so I conclude with the poem “Patient Trust” by the Jesuit poet Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, which encapsulates this faith:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
This is an exciting time for the art department at “The Verb.” This year we are blessed to have a new member in our department, Mr. Alejandro Baez S.J. Mr. Baez was given the task of leading the first ever Senior Music Appreciation class with a choral emphasis. His exuberance for the choral and pedagogical arts have led to a great choral group that, at this early juncture, has performed to the lauds of the entire school. Bravo to Mr. Baez.
As the year slowly unfolds, I look forward to the Christmas Concert/ Art Show on December 5th which will showcase the works of our choral and our visual artists. This should be a superb event that will display the talent and hard work of our students.
A personal highlight of the year so far took place a few weeks ago. The Verb Teacher Band gave its first official performance at this year’s Back-to-School night. The band made up of John Stradley, George and Ken Favell, Billy Traber, Max Olmedo, and yours truly, rocked out to an audience of teachers and students. Each teacher showed off their musical prowess and proclivity for rocking out!
I am proud to be part of a school that embraces the artistic talents of all of its members from faculty/staff to its youngest freshman. My hope is that, as the year progresses, the arts will become an even more prevalent part of the culture giving way to various ways in which all members of our community can express who they are through their art.
If you are wondering what high school students do in a science class, here is a good example – freshmen students, under the direction of Mr. Traber, are making sense of the world around them by investigating physics phenomena in their everyday life with an emphasis on sports. Sports and Physics? Correct. In fact, physics plays a dominant role in the way athletes perform. Here is how Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, describes football in Football Physics: The Science of the Game by Timothy Gay, “While some observers see only carnage and chaos, brilliant athletic performances and bone jarring collisions, the science-minded see the field as a working laboratory”.
Mr. Traber’s terrific past experience as a professional baseball player allows him to engage students and relate every physics topic to sports! Real data and scenarios from track and field, baseball, basketball, soccer and many other sports are the context in which students develop skills, demonstrate their understanding of physics laws and discuss physics concepts.
A couple of weeks ago, freshmen students played the role of a football analyst. Their job consisted of providing the team manager with a graphic display of football players’ speeds. By analyzing players’ 40 yard dash time, students were able to apply their knowledge of motion, calculate the speed of each player and represent the data on Microsoft Excel.
Freshmen students graph their results on football players’ speed on Microsoft Excel
Timothy, Gay. Football Physics: The Science of the Game. Emmaus: Rodale Press, Inc., 2004.
My role at the Verb has taken on several forms: from Freshman Writing and English, to US History, to Economics and Government, Senior English, Social Science Chair and New Teacher Instructional Coach – I have truly enjoyed serving in each of these capacities.
This year is already shaping up to be quite busy and interesting. With regard to the National Honor Society, my co-advisor, Jesse Jovel, and I, are currently vetting a new crop of members for the Verbum Dei chapter. Once selected, these gentlemen will be inducted into the chapter with a candle lighting ceremony.
This is my 6th year serving as coordinator of the Student Poll Worker Program. Approximately 30 Verbum Dei gentlemen have signed up to participate in the program whereby they will be working in their local election precincts as volunteers, assisting their neighbors with the voting process this November 4th. Not only is this a great way to be a “Man for Others” by giving of their time to the community, but students can also include this service on their college applications.
I am also happy to report that four seniors, Daquan Bass, Nicholas Spates, Zachary Byrge, and Jon Parra, and I, will be attending the World Affairs Council luncheon on November 10th to hear Mr. Bill Clinton speak. The Verb students, along with other area high school students will have an opportunity to speak with Mr. Clinton in a Q&A prior to the luncheon after which he will address the entire body of guests. This is quite a unique experience for these students who will prepare their questions ahead of time in order to make the most of the opportunity.
The Social Science Department welcomes its newest member this year; Ms. Lizette Bernal of the CWSP is teaching US History as she pursues a Master’s Degree in Education. Our department has embraced Verb’s emphasis on literacy and is implementing strategies to develop and improve our students’ reading and writing skills. Mr. George Favell (World History), and I attended a writing literacy workshop at our network headquarters in Chicago this summer and returned with a bounty of ideas and strategies to implement in our classrooms. And in the true “Verb” spirit, we are sharing these with other teachers in all departments.
“You and your family are cordially invited to our wedding” was a line in a recent wedding invitation left in my mailbox at home. The soon to be groom, was an alum of Verbum Dei and a former pupil of my Spanish class. As I read the rest of the details on the invitation, my heart started to pound at a very fast pace. I couldn’t explain why, at the moment, this strange feeling was taking control of my mind and body.
It has been almost twelve years since the first time I set foot on Verbum Dei’s ground. Getting this unexpected wedding invitation gave me the opportunity to sit down and reflect on my time spent as a Verbum Dei teacher. More importantly; it also gave me a chance to look back and appreciate each and every one of the students I’ve had the blessing of educating through all these years. These students and their families have become an intrinsic part of my extended family.
Through the years – learning that life has taken a wrong turn for any member of “my Verb family” has hurt deeply. On the other hand, it is a true, heart pounding joy, to see how Verbum Dei’s mission and the Grad at Grad statements are a reality in our students’ lives. Some are tying the knot, – others are becoming parents, teachers, politicians, bankers, police officers, fire fighters, nurses, doctors, community workers, and the list of professions and occupations amongst the members of this big family goes on and on. There are no words to describe, – the joyfulness I feel when I receive emails, phone calls, Twitter or Facebook posts baring news of new accomplishments for any of my present and/or former students.
My time at Verbum Dei has been nothing but years of opportunities and blessings. I have no hesitation to state over and over “this is what Verbum Dei is all about”… providing underserved students with an education that transcends stereotypes and the multitude of limitations society has placed upon them. I am so proud to be a Verbum Dei teacher; I wouldn’t trade my experience and blessings for anything else!
NEW BEGINNINGS -
Greetings Verbum Dei Family,
On September 18, I was given the honor and the responsibility of being inaugurated as President of Verbum Dei High School. What follows are the thoughts that I expressed at the installation ceremony.
I have great appreciation for the community of the Verb, and I hope my words can help you understand the reason that I am committed to the success of the school.
Friends, Benefactors, Corporate Partners, Students, and the most wonderful faculty and staff with whom anyone could hope to work – Thank you for coming this morning.
I want to especially thank Mr. Rick Caruso (brilliant entrepreneur, and a focused philanthropist) and Mayor Garcetti (represented by his Chief of Staff, Ana Guerrero), who are the principal supporters of this event. It was actually Mayor Garcetti’s idea to have some event that would focus on Verbum Dei and the wealth of untapped potential that exists is South Los Angeles. I want to thank Fr. Michael Gilson, Assistant to the Jesuit Provincial for Pre-secondary and Secondary Education for being here for this installation.
I could not be a prouder than to be the fourth Jesuit president of this amazing high school. I would like to briefly reflect on the history of Verbum Dei High School and then offer a few comments about my vision for the future.
1962 – The Society of the Divine Word (Societatis Verbum Dei) was given permission by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to found a high school in Watts. They did a tremendous job to educate generations of fine young men – surviving a number of challenges including the riots in both 1965 and 1992.
Same book, different chapter.
2000 – The Divine Word fathers and brothers had to withdraw from the school because of lack of personnel and because the financial picture had changed. That year, Cardinal Mahony offered the school to the Society of Jesus and suggested that the Jesuits explore the new Work-Study, College Prep model of Catholic School that had been founded by the Jesuits in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.
Verbum Dei became the third school in what is today known as the Cristo Rey Network which is made up of 28 secondary schools across the country. These schools are staffed by a variety of religious orders of men and women, and all operate on the same model of education. It took some years to implement the model completely at the Verb, but under the leadership of Fr. Bill Muller for the last six years – 100% of the graduates of Verbum Dei have had both corporate work experience and have been accepted to college. Amazing!
With the advent of the Jesuits, Verbum Dei continued as a school of the Archdiocese with the addition of Two Key Networks:
First, Cristo Rey Network (28 schools growing at the rate of two a year) – It provides our model of education:
Serving the underserved – if the student and his guardian want to be here, we will find a way to make it happen
College Prep – academically rigorous to prepare young men for post-secondary education
Work Study – professionally focused to prepare young men to take their place in future careers.
Accountability – requiring all students to perform to the absolute best of their ability
Second, The Jesuit Network – an international family which has various institutions in the Los Angeles area that include:
Loyola High School
Loyola Marymount University
Blessed Sacrament Parish
Dolores Mission Parishes
The Novitiate of the Three Companions
The Loyola Institute for Spirituality
The Jesuit effort with its many distinct but mutually supportive ministries provides the guiding values for Verbum Dei High School
What do we hope to accomplish?
For the School:
We want to be not only a safe harbor for our students, but also a good neighbor in the Watts community,
Partnering with Urban Compass, LAPD, Operation Progress, the office of Council Member Buscaino, and with the many civic and non-profit organizations in the community – to create a better future for all our children and all our people
In addition, we want all Los Angeles to see the Verb as the most unique and innovative secondary educational institution in Southern California.
For the Students:
Guided by the Jesuit vision for the Graduate at Graduation we challenge the students to be:
Open to Growth (open and reflective to a variety of perspectives and experiences)
Spiritual (aware of God’s unconditional love, who feels free to profess that faith in his own religious tradition)
Intellectually motivated (a life-long learner)
Loving (committed to being a man “with and for others”)
Work Experienced (who has learned the value and importance of being dependable and responsible in the work place.)
Committed to doing Justice (confident that he can make a difference in the world through his life)
In a word – to be all that we know that he can be
Bottom line: What is my vision for Verbum Dei and our students:
In 10 to 12 years I want the students that are seated in the bleachers today to join with the friends, benefactors and corporate sponsors that are sitting in the chairs in this gym.
I want them to be the civic leaders, the business people, the clergy, the teachers, the police officers, the corporate sponsors and benefactors for future generations of Verbum Dei Students.
I want these students to join with you – our valued guests – to make a difference in this world; that is,
People who take seriously the prophetic words of Fredrick Douglass, former slave turned orator, statesman and abolitionist, who said that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
People who instead of complaining about the problems with the youth of today are insightful and committed to challenge and support our youth to live up to their full potential
That is my vision for the school, for the students, and for our partnering community.
Many Blessings to the readers of these words and to all the members of the wonderful community of Verbum Dei.
Each year, Jesuit high schools and universities around the country traditionally begin the start of a new school year by celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit. At Verbum Dei, it has been the tradition for the principal to share a reflection on the scriptures as this special mass. This year, I decided to use this opportunity to introduce our school community to the theme for the year: Respect Differences. Although the Verb brotherhood is tight and our campus doesn’t have the visible tensions between Latinos and African-Americans like many other schools in the area, prejudices and stereotypes do exist. Our community certainly is not perfect, so there is room to grow and strengthen this brotherhood, this family.
Below is the text of my reflection which I shared with the entire school community on August 25, 2014:
Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School, welcome to the 2014-2015 school year. Following the tradition of all Jesuit high schools throughout the world, we start the school year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit. And so we come together this afternoon, after a day filled with orientations and schedules and a whole lot of information, to pray as one school community and to ask God to send the Holy Spirit to guide us and protect us throughout the year ahead. We pray for the strength and determination, and courage to give our all to every challenge that comes our way and to be there to support one another when things get tough.
As we begin this school year and come together in prayer, we must acknowledge that there is a lot of conflict and violence in the world. Conflict that stems from differences in cultures, conflict that stems from fear or hatred or ignorance of the other. There is conflict in Ukraine between Ukrainians and Russians. In the Holy Land between Israelis and Palestinians. In Iraq and Syria between Sunnis and Shias, between religious fundamentalists and everyone else. And there is conflict here in the US, as protests over racial discrimination continue in Ferguson, Missouri, and many other cities around the country, including Los Angeles. These are all examples of extremes of what can happen when people do not respect the differences in others, when fear and hatred and ignorance of the other take hold.
Here at Verbum Dei, we have an opportunity to do something different. To not be part of the problem, but to be part of the solution. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that we worry about the speck in other people’s eye when we have a log in our own eye. So as a Verbum Dei community, let’s do something about this conflict in the world by focusing first on ourselves:
All of today’s readings, proclaimed to us by a diverse group of Verbum Dei community members—students and faculty, men and women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Whites—all of these readings deal with God’s message to us about respecting people’s differences. And this message sets the context for the theme that I want to present for the Verbum Dei community for not only this year but all the years to come: Respect Differences. We talk a lot about brotherhood here at the Verb, but as long as we choose to disrespect one another, as long as we are using our words or actions to cut our brothers down—and I know that’s happening because I’ve heard it and I’ve seen it—as long as we continue to do these things then this so-called brotherhood is a sham. So beginning this year, you will see small posters like these in your classrooms and around campus as a reminder about this theme of respecting differences. I know that this change won’t happen overnight, but we need to start somewhere.
Each and every other person in this world is just like you. They are created by God in his likeness, and they share the same needs, wants, and desires as you. There may be differences in their culture—the way in which they go about living their lives—but when you get down to the very heart of a person, they are just like you.
So, if you have a desire to be loved and accepted for who you are, then you need to understand that everyone you encounter has that same desire. And if you don’t like being called names, if you don’t like being discriminated against, if you don’t like being judged for something that you don’t have control over—like the color of your skin or the family you were born into or your religion or your sexual orientation or your ethnic heritage or how much money your family makes—if you don’t like it when it happens to you, then you shouldn’t do it to others. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” It’s that simple. In fact, it’s beautifully simple: do to others what you would have them do to you. But then why is it so hard to do? Why is there still so much war and hatred and violence and discrimination in this world? I’m not sure of the answer to that question, but I think it’s because we as humans focus too much on differences and forget about our similarities. The world has forgotten that we belong to one another. The world has forgotten that we are all God’s children.
But let’s not worry about the world. As today’s Gospel says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and not pay attention to the log in your own eye?” To that end, let’s worry about ourselves—here at Verbum Dei, here in this community in this little corner of the world—let’s make a change and let’s commit to treat others with love and respect, as we want to be treated—not with fear and hate and ignorance. Let’s make this a place of true brotherhood: a place where it doesn’t matter if you’re black or brown or white, gay or straight, Catholic or Christian or Muslim, Mexican or Central American, male or female, tall or short, fat or skinny—you are welcome here and respected for who you are. Sure, we might have our differences, but let’s try to learn about and understand the differences and celebrate them rather than making quick judgment. Let’s use our words to raise our brothers up rather than to cut them down. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Decide to live in such a way that you will not cause your brother to stumble and fall.”
As we begin this school year this is my prayer for this Verbum Dei community: that we may begin to change the world by first changing ourselves and this community. Or as Michael Jackson eloquently put it:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.
Thank you and God bless you and Verbum Dei.
A week of school spirit and celebration of all things Verb ended Friday night at the
Verbum Dei High School home field at Southwest College, but did the spirit end then and there? I think not.
There is a new mindset evident in the varsity football squad this year. The squad’s 2-1 league record says much; however, that better than average record is only a part of the story. In years past, the varsity football teams have been prone to becoming discouraged when the tide of a game goes against them. While most teams begin their games with exuberance and zeal, those positive manifestations can and do fade rather quickly when the fates deal an unwelcomed hand. Starting well is easy, but finishing well requires commitment, resilience, and, yes, spirit.
The 2013-2014 varsity team has all of those qualities and more. Behind 21-14 at the half, Verb rallied to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. It was a narrow lead at that time, 42-40, and the clock still showed ample time for a LaSalle scoring drive. But the Verb defense did not throw in the towel, did not give up, rather it stood its ground yard by yard with determination and focus.
From my vantage point in the stands, it was inspiring to see. There is a refreshing spirit alive and well at Verbum Dei High School in the form of a tireless squad – many playing both sides of the ball – in a quarterback who would just as well be the one receiving the passes rather than the one sending them aloft, and in a team that generally refuses to give up or to let an adversary run roughshod over them.
I am not alone in recognizing this spirit, for after the squad’s narrow defeat, many of the dozens of the diehard spectators stood in solidarity with their team as the recited St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity:
“Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.”
A standing ovation accompanied the close of the prayer in recognition of the team’s valiant spirit, its never-say-die resolve, and its gritty determination in the face of adversity.
Coach Miller is to be commended for fostering a new mindset in the varsity squad. They, under his influence, see the power of teamwork and of a positive attitude. When the breaks were beating the boys, they found the resolve to continue and see the game through to the best of their ability. In doing so, they did Saint Ignatius and their school proud.