As the students walked across the stage, at the Commencement Ceremony in June 2014, all I could think about was “We did it again…We helped one more class along their way towards their dreams of graduating college!” And, it wasn’t easy, for the students or the faculty and staff. Yet, as I look back, it certainly was a labor of love.
Fast forward to January 2015 and we’re half way there to getting another class through. Yet, this time it’s different, we have larger goals in the Mission Advancement Office: $2.4M and planting seeds for future support. You see, we now know we can’t keep raising funds for the current year without laying a foundation for the future of fundraising at Verb. What does that mean? It means increasing Development staff and adding more opportunities for supporters to donate to Verb. So, in August 2014, we hired a new Development Assistant, Ms. Michelle Cordova, to help us expand our reach. Ms. Cordova has more than six years of experience in fund development working for such organizations as STOP CANCER. She is charge of one of the most important programs, Adopt-A-Student Program, as well as several other newer programs: Adopt-A-Teacher and our Planned Giving program cultivation. We are thrilled to have Ms. Cordova.
With the addition of Ms. Cordova, Ms. Stephanie Andrade, Development Associate, is freed up to do more higher-level development such as meeting with donors and writing grants. Ms. Andrade has been at Verb for over 13 years and is in charge of two very large programs, the Annual Mardi Gras Awards Dinner, which generated over $450K last year, and our Foundations program, which should generate $1.1M this year. With her institutional knowledge and fundraising acumen, she has proved herself invaluable to the Mission Advancement team.
Our big push for the second half of 2014/15 is the Mardi Gras event, Planned Giving, and our Adopt-A-Teacher Program. This year’s Mardi Gras will be held at the Biltmore in Downtown LA, where we are honoring Edison International and the Class of 2015. Since 2006, Edison has been a part of Verb’s Corporate Work Study Program, as well as showing support of our mission far beyond what has been asked of them. And, as you know, we honor the Class of 2015 because all that they have done to reach for their dreams of a college education. Planned Giving is important to the future of Verb because it allows donors to support the school in a significant way—through bequests, will, trusts, etc. These types of gifts often help on into the future. Our Adopt-A-Teacher Program, where we allow donors to support a specific teacher and their class for a year, helps connect supporters to what is actually happening in the classroom.
…And, after the Class of 2015, we, in Mission Advancement, will sigh in relief of a job well done, yet we will continue to try to expand our tools even further to raise even more support for resources for our students’ futures. Stay tuned…
In the 1960 film adaptation of the H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” a man from Victorian England travels to the distant future where he discovers the desiccated remains of books amongst the ashen ruins of a long-forgotten library. The child-like denizens of this seemingly idyllic future society, called the Eloi, live care-free lives of hedonism, unencumbered by the harrowing self-reflection that is often the beautifully-tragic byproduct of literacy. However, beneath this veritable future Eden, there dwells a race of monstrous creatures called the Morlocks who use the ignorant, blissful, surface dwellers as cattle — literally; they eat them. Perhaps it would be premature to start battening down the hatches to defend against the next Morlock attack; but one need only follow the shockingly ignorant and grammatically impaired comments on any given youtube video to feel that the future of literacy and critical thinking is imperiled. Wells’s not- so- subtle symbolism aside, as an English teacher it can be tempting to view this generation as becoming more and more like the Eloi and, consequently, more opportune prey for the corporate, government, and infotainment Morlocks of the world. But are they? Is our current crop of youngsters really hurdling blissfully and ignorantly towards a bookless, illiterate future? The answer, thankfully, is resoundingly no!
What I have discovered about these so-call digital-natives is that, far from being reading averse, they are actually consuming more written information, ideas, and stories than probably any generation prior. The profusion of mediums through which students consume writing, much of it digital, may seem to be a precursor to Wells’s charred, forgotten libraries; however, a library is just a building – a sagacious and venerable building to be sure – but its demise would be no more an indicator of waning literacy than the loss of a church to a hurricane signifying the loss of God’s presence. Perhaps the real concern is one of quality over quantity. Sure, students might be reading more, but if that reading is dominated by the derivative fan-fiction of a gregarious dilatant (“50 Shades of Grey “ anyone) , or the paint-by-numbers adventure of yet another teen protagonist in a cliché dominated dystopian future, then it may be a case of them simply becoming a more literate version of the Eloi. Don’t misunderstand me, I love fun trash just as much as my younger millennial compatriots. But our mission in the English department has to be to provide students with thought-provoking, world-challenging literature that enlightens as well as entertains.
From the horrific and inhuman death camps of Nazi Germany presented in Elie Wiesel’s “Night” to the mean streets of a segregated Chicago in Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, Verb students are engaging literature that presents complex characters in difficult situations. The conversations that I have been a part of concerning those titles, as well as many others, reassures me that our digital-natives are not destined to be either Eloi or Morlock, but rather true exemplars of a grad at grad. Importantly, it’s not just the anointed titles of the so-called cannon that are being thoroughly analyzed and discussed on an advanced level, but the contemporary work of tomorrow’s cannon.
Being open to the inclusion of great writing from an increasingly diverse, dynamic, and digitally-based pool of writers is the key to making reading relevant and meaningful to our students. I am pleased to report that the English department has taken great strides in this direction as each teacher looks for new and innovative ways to reconcile the analogue and digital domains of today’s literary landscape. The sheer quantity of stuff out there is mindboggling and with so much drivel cluttering up the interwebs it can seem as though the age of the Morlocks is nigh. However, each day I am encouraged and emboldened by what I see and hear when students connect with great stories old and new.
The Campus Ministry team is always trying to improve the opportunities we offer our students to grow spiritually, personally, and in brotherhood with one another. As we looked at our retreat program, we saw places that needed improvement, so we began to make some changes this year. The biggest improvements can be seen in our junior and senior retreats. Our senior Kairos retreat moved from a three-day retreat in Sierra Madre to a four-day retreat in Running Springs, up near Big Bear. There is something special about seeing our students off campus, especially in such a beautiful setting. A large number of them woke up early in the morning to go for a run in the woods with a couple teachers. During the breaks, some did indoor wall climbing, while others crossed the field on the zip line, while still others played soccer, football, or basketball. Even more remarkable, though, than watching the students thoroughly enjoy their free time, was watching the student leaders open up, sharing their life stories with their classmates, as well as being witness to students as they have emotional and spiritual breakthroughs. Kairos reminds us adults why we do what we do each day.
At the end of next month, we get to go up near Big Bear again; this time to Angelus Oaks for our first overnight retreat with the junior class. We are very excited to be able to take our students out of the “ordinary” for a sort of spiritual reboot. Though I can’t give an evaluation yet, as we have yet to make the retreat, I can tell you that I have high hopes and expectations for even further growth in relationship with God and with one another than we have seen in previous years. There is something special about going up a mountain and having a “mountain-top” spiritual experience. The challenge, though, is holding onto that growth and nurturing it, even after coming back down the mountain. Luckily, our boys are always up for a challenge!
As Dean of Admissions it pleases me to report that Verbum Dei High School is growing! We are in our twelfth year after joining the Cristo Rey Network. There are twenty-six Cristo Rey schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia each of us provide a quality, Catholic, college preparatory education to 8,000 young people who live in urban communities with limited educational options. Verbum Dei is the only school within the network that exclusively provides an educational experience to High School aged boys. Emphatically, as many of our young men are experiencing a metamorphic, transitional change identified as puberty; the process of physical changes through which a boy’s body matures into an adult body, the Administration, Faculty and Staff members are experiencing growing pains too. We are at a place in our development as a school where our community of educators, innovators, and problem solvers are working together to expand the threshold of academic change as we know it.
Our goals have not changed, however our approach is the area where we are experiencing the most challenge. We are successful! And successfully addressing issues to promote and sustain the academic behavior of our students in a manner that leads to success while attending college and beyond. Within the past twelve years we have experienced a tremendous amount of success by achieving 100% college acceptance. Recently, we have had an increase in our student population as well as an increase in the need to remediate educational deficiencies. Over the past twelve years we took an aggressive approach to unwarranted student behavior in our classrooms and on our school campus. We are categorically pleased with the cultural transformation in the student behavior that is presented on our school campus. Now, we look forward to stimulating consistency in the academic behavior of our students.
This is what we do. Together, all of our efforts produce a platform for effecting remarkable young men displaying an unbelievable ability for breakthrough. By sharing ideas from a wide variety of sources, we convert our student’s intelligence into a capacity for a remarkable outcome. Our students are people growing into leaders capable of enduring the challenge associated with transformation and positive change. We have established a community of young men that are making a real impact in the world. We invite you to join us in our growth!
Over 100 of our Corporate Partner supervisors and mentors spent their Friday morning having breakfast with their team of student interns. The CWSP team hosted the 11th Annual Supervisor Appreciation Breakfast last Friday, November 14th. We were delighted to have so many of our students’ supervisors and mentors participate. Our gym was bustling with excitement as both supervisors and students enjoyed each other’s’ company.
Each year, students eagerly wait to find out whether their supervisors RVSP for this annual event. There is a great sense of pride when supervisors visit our school, our home. The norm is for our students to be transported to work one day a week, but on this day, this special day, supervisors travel to our campus to meet up with their student team. Thus, students anxiously come into our CWSP office days before the event, and with an undeniable look of curiosity, hope to get a positive response to their question, “Are my supervisors coming?”
…yes, Tylan, Western Asset will be here….yes, Julio, Ares Management will attend.
Students just can’t wait. They can’t hide their excitement when we tell them their mentor will participate or their disappointment when mentors are unable too. You see, students have formed strong relationships with their supervisors.
Our students’ supervisors play a significant role in their development. It takes a village to raise a child and supervisors become members of that village
…the village that helps to raise a child and contribute to their growth
…the village that doesn’t give up on a child while encouraging mistakes
… the village that applauds effort and not ability
…the village that reinforces responsibility
…the village that provides learning opportunities that promote confidence and self-esteem.
They are part of that village that teaches students skills that help them advance the work they complete, no matter how small.
Imagine that! Our students are surrounding themselves with a network of professionals that contribute to their growth. A 14-year old student has formed a network with professionals from companies like Ares Management, The Aerospace Corporation, Irell & Manella, Nike, Loyola Law School, and Western Asset Management among many others.
Our Annual Supervisor Appreciation Breakfast was a small token of appreciation and time to thank our Corporate Partners for their dedication to our young men and Verbum Dei. It was a time for students and supervisors to come together and enjoy breakfast in a relaxed setting. We are grateful to our Corporate Partners, supervisors and mentors.
It is Thanksgiving week, and we are all getting ready to eat too much and to feel guilty about it afterward. We say that we will start a diet soon to lose the pounds that we put on during the holidays, and we tell ourselves that we will begin an exercise program as well. We are grateful for the friends and family we have, for the good times we have shared, and we are a little embarrassed that at times we have messed up. We are also grateful for the possibility of new beginnings. Such is the spirit of the times.
As it turns out, in this liturgical year, Thanksgiving falls between the Feast of Christ the King and the First Sunday of Advent. In the liturgy for Christ the King we think about our lives – both the good and the bad parts of them. Even more, we recognize God’s unconditional love of each of us. After Thanksgiving on the First Sunday of Advent, we realize that with God there is always the possibility of starting again with a clearer focus and a better future.
This liturgical period is a fine metaphor for what we desire for ourselves and for our students at Verbum Dei. We are all grateful for the lives that we lead and for the goodness that we experience all around us. We all realize that sometimes we fall short in our appreciation of the gifts that we have been given. Yet students especially come to realize that the “Verb” is a place where there is always the possibility of finding the help they need to begin again and to meet the challenge to succeed and to have a bright future.
To the family of Verbum Dei: students, faculty, staff, donors, corporate partners and friends, Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings for the future.
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 email@example.com. 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.