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.

 

The Verb community celebrated Latino Heritage Month from September 17th – October 12th. Students, faculty and staff came together for a time of learning, sharing and having fun.

Immigration is one of the topics that the Latino Student Union and the Latino Heritage Committee has embraced to share with students. In the classrooms, students were challenged to break down the word “undocumented” and describe the words, feelings and images that come to mind when it is said. For many, the term took on a new meaning as they now understand it. Students were open to learning more about those without legal status while being respectful of their status. While for others, a new found commitment to the undocumented was formed. Students also read about prominent leaders in Latin American culture and discovered that the accomplishments of Latinos are many.

During the month-long festivities, students were introduced to Operation Dream, an organization that collects rice, beans and canned meat to send meals to orphans in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. While as a school we fell short of our goal, we showed that our community is one that loves our neighbors and gives without expecting anything in return.

Second period classes were in competition with each other for a bag of sweets if they answered a question about Latino culture correctly. During lunch, a mechanical bull brought students together as they competed to stay on the bull the longest. After school, students enjoyed the flavors of sugar and cinnamon on churros.

We will continue celebrating Latino Heritage all year long, but we culminated the month on Friday with a mass celebrated by Fr. Ted Gabrielli from Dolores Mission. He challenged us to look beyond racial status to fully embrace our brothers and sisters. He urged us to celebrate each other and accept our differences as gifts of God.

After mass, our parents prepared a tasty meal of enchiladas, rice, beans, horchata and dessert for all to enjoy. A group Salvadorans and Dominicans performed for our students and even encouraged some brave students to dance with them.

A busy month for Verb, but full of culture!

 

A few years ago a student in his junior year remarked in US History class that he really liked history and was thinking about becoming a teacher when he graduated from college. “Wow! That is so awesome, Jesse!” I replied. The next year, the same student, now a senior, and I were having a conversation about his college plans, “I would really like to come back to Verb” he said, “and teach US history.” “So, what you’re saying is that you want my job?!?” I replied jokingly. “Oh, No! Nothing like that, Ms. McDonald” Jesse responded. Well, I am happy to share with you that Jesse Jovel was successful in his plan to return to Verbum Dei as Mr. Jovel; our new US History teacher! And, I am happy to add, that I still have a job as well.

It seems inadequate to call what I do here at “the Verb” a job. It is so much more than that; it is a passion, a mission, a source of fulfillment and joy every single day. Verbum Dei is a dynamic community where we are challenged to innovate within our sphere of influence, whether that is in our departments, classrooms or extracurricular activities. As such, I am very excited about the establishment of the new Humanities Department. We have combined the English and Social Science Departments and instituted policies designed to integrate curriculum and increase student achievement.

 

The 2011-2012 school year was a very productive and successful year for The Verbum Dei Foreign Language Department. A group of juniors took up the challenge of spending their last year of our Spanish program in the demanding setting of the Advanced Placement Language class. It was a year of hard work and demanding assignments in order to be prepared and soar on to the College Board Examination. It was all worth it, as there was a passing rate of 100% for the final result! All 15 students (David Gómez , Aaron Ruíz, Andre Pérez, Anthony Arce, Anthony Reynoso, Emmanuel Cáceres, Jonathan Salazar, José Herrera Kevin Lopez, Omar Meléndrez, Ricardo Placensia, Roberto Placensia, Eduardo Ramirez , Raúl Erazo, and Henry Salguero), now seniors, came back from their summer break feeling proud and happy to report and share their individual scores with me and each other. The following chart summarizes our students’ performance in the Advanced Placement Exam in the last five years. Way to go Eagles!

 

Students and their personal and academic needs is always the Foreign Language Department’s top mission. In fulfillment of our mission and to make sure every gentleman that passes through our doors takes away the best experience possible, whether it is learning or improving their skill in the Spanish language, an Intermediate section of Spanish was created to accommodate students who are not ready to succeed in a Native Speakers setting or to advance to be placed in a Non-native setting class. With this little change we are seeing students placed in Intermediate Spanish I and Intermediate Spanish II have a great learning experience; they clearly are in an environment honed to their individual and collective academic growth. It was truly a much needed addition to our department curriculum. Special recognition to Mr. Olmedo for taking on the task of putting together and implementing a curriculum that was clearly done with our students’ needs in mind.

We are enthusiastic about having another great year and already planning for the future. Our department vision is to give our students an opportunity of a third year in a Spanish classroom. Hopefully, all juniors taking Advanced Spanish Culture and Language right now will be up to the challenge of making it possible to bring our Advanced Spanish Culture and Literature class back. For our non-native speakers, our expectation is to offer them a section of Spanish III both regular and honor.

Our daily prayer is to be able to offer our students only the best and to make sure they are challenged enough to use their talents and gifts to their highest potential.

 

Fr. Muller has often mentioned in his liturgies the idea of “I’ll see it when I believe it.” Beyond its powerful spiritual message, that framework equally resonates with me when I think of the relationship I see with our young men of Verb and technology. I’ve professed to anyone who’s asked me – with sometimes astonished looks – and believed it to be true; our students are exposed to the latest trends in technology more than we think, and have high expectations for the interaction of technology and education in the classroom.

So, recently in our new school year orientation, my assertion was to be put on public trial. Gathered in front of me was our entire student body. The purpose of our meeting was to inform them on some new policies involving tech this coming year. I also wanted to introduce to our boys our latest addition to the technological arsenal at Verbum Dei: Ipads. I knew they would be excited to hear the Ipads were ready to be used in the classroom — Their eyes certainly widened and many edged up in their seats when the word came. I felt compelled however – and completely off my script – to ask the boys: “How many of you have ever worked with and used an Ipad before?” So here was a moment of truth – would my contention hold true. How many hands were going to rise? I believed it, but will I see it? Well, there wasn’t much hesitation – and the result was clearly pronounced – as dozens and dozens of hands shot to the air. I formed a wry smile, and blurted on the microphone the first reaction in my head, “Right on!”

Later, I was meeting with a fellow staff member. She told me she appreciated me asking that question during the orientation. What she liked most about the poll – and its visceral results – was the reaction it produced with some of the faculty members present. You see, there are some teachers and staff members interacting closely with our students on a daily basis – who know much about their lives outside of academics, who may not fully realize how technologically savvy Verb students actually are. It belies what many of us may think socioeconomically – but our young men know and follow the latest tech trends and reach out to them wherever possible. My interaction with our students has proved to me that they have a thirsty desire to utilize technology and recognize how tech can be used educationally. I know this most simply by the questions they ask our IT group. I can tell they follow the newest developments in the tech world.

What we need to appreciate is that the Men of Verb have been surrounded by tech their whole lives; hence, the classroom should be no different. As IT Director, my mission must take this fact in consideration. Not only must IT provide the means for educators and students to access information and assimilate it in a timely and efficient manner, we must in parallel prepare our young men – in all aspects – to become tomorrow’s meaningful contributors to humanity. Thus, they must be exposed to and comfortable using all the tools – tech included – that in turn form Men for Others.

 

Last Friday, July 20, 2012, the administrators of Verbum Dei High School were witness to an awesome culmination of the 2012 Summer Orientation for Academic & Employment Readiness program (S.O.A.R):

The Almond Joy award is an honor which is to be bestowed upon the best performing student during the full four weeks of the S.O.A.R. Program. It is typically extended to the student who actively participates in class to the highest measure and shares their knowledge with other students. The Almond Joy Award is awarded to the quintessential S.O.A.R. student who is a joy to have in class.

~ Ms. Brandi Odom-Lucas, S.O.A.R. Principal and Verbum Dei High School Dean of Students

Affectionately referred around campus as The S.O.A.R. Kids, these young men have now transitioned to being identified as the Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School. Four years from now upon graduation they will be known as Verbum Dei Gentlemen. Their awards ceremony was truly a celebratory experience only to be surpassed by the tremendous display of maturity demonstrated by the newly crowned Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School as they presented themselves to the Corporate Work Study Program’s (CWSP) corporate partners at the job fair. Each of the CWSP Partners was seated behind their stations about the Eagles Nest, our gymnasium, prepared to listen to every one of our new students highlight their intelligence, their capabilities, and eagerness to work. The entire Verbum Dei High School community is extremely excited as the summer activities come to an end and we prepare for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year. Extra special kudos is extended to Monica Gonzalez, Admissions Coordinator, and Joanne Flynn, Admissions Data Entry Specialist, for their outstanding service during the 2012- 2013 prospective student recruitment campaign. Without their sweet symphony of combined effort we certainly would not be able to consider ourselves successful in identifying and recruiting these outstanding Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School.

These young men are prepared! They are ready to achieve all, which “The Verb” experience provides: A resume detailing four years corporate work study experience; a high school diploma; and, college acceptance. As stated by Christopher Lewis, ’09, who served as a teacher in the S.O.A.R. program this summer home from successfully completing his junior year at Amherst College:

As you move forward I want you to accomplish two things: (1) Identify and articulate those experiences which are essential to your story here at Verbum Dei High School. (2) Identify and articulate the experiences that will prepare you to change the perspective of how Black and Brown Boys from inner city communities like South L.A., Watts, Compton, and the surrounding communities are perceived when they present themselves on College Campuses across the nation. This is the foundation of all the young men that follow this path.

If we are to appreciate the truth about ourselves as educators, we need to reflect upon our own educational experiences and continue to serve in a greater capacity. The young men we are serving are encountering experiences from which they are now unsheathing the conclusions of life. It is natural for them to do so. Nevertheless, without careful reflection, the skill that should be refined and exercised regularly, our suppositions about the best practices to follow when teaching them will at best be inadequate, and at worst invalid.

Remember, our goal is to reach them and teach them. To be educated is better than the alternative. If our students are to truly learn, they need to rely on our knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and insight. The process of discerning and identifying truth is the mechanism that works best when the process is stimulated through careful instruction.

I believe this is the process that is essential for developing men of conscience and reliability, leading to choices for positive change. Ultimately we want to graduate these young men to a level of leadership, character and integrity, so that they can become people who will change the world, and change it for the better.

Peace…

Lorenz B. Willis

 

Another busy summer of athletics has been completed with three teams practicing and playing summer basketball, soccer, and football. We officially began our yearly Dead Period as mandated by California Interscholastic Federation (CIF). CIF now has an online presence, so most forms will be completed in that manner. Therefore, if you are a transfer student, please see Mr. Wood for more information. Our football, basketball, baseball, and soccer staff attended a coaches’ conference the last week of June at Concordia University. We learned many new and exciting things that we will introduce and teach our student athletes.

Basketball competed in Watts Summer games and continued to show signs of improvement. Mr. Tresor Tulanda is our new head basketball coach.  He and his staff have been working all summer to get our boys in top shape. Our incoming freshman class looks very promising and coach is very excited about our upcoming season.

Coach Durk is back for his fourth season and is excited to have almost 60 students tryout for football. They also competed in the Watts summer games and played in a couple of passing league games. Football season kick off this year will be a little different, as the team will hold a six-day camp with three overnights in our gym. Our annual Blue Gold game will commence on Saturday, August 11th beginning at 8am. Mark your calendars and come out to see some good football.

Soccer has completed another exciting summer showing signs of improvement and team building all summer. We started with the Watts Summer games then travelled to the Travis Jackson Tournament at Cal State Dominguez Hills. At the Travis Jackson our boys won four games and just missed the championship round. Then we went to Monrovia for a side tournament where we competed against many teams from our division and played very well again just missing out on championship round with two teams finishing third in their bracket. We finished up with our second annual summer wrap-up tournament in which we had a chance for our incoming freshman to play. The tournament was followed by a family picnic that was attended by over 60 people. This was a great way for soccer to wrap up their summer routines.

Stayed tuned for more exciting athletic news in the future!!

 

Both of these special events give me great pride and appreciation for all the challenges overcome and the hard work accomplished by the students, faculty and staff at Verbum Dei. It is hard to describe accurately the love, support and pride displayed at these life defining moments in all of the Verb family lives.

There is so much good to celebrate from so many different perspectives. In sitting with my thoughts since the end of this current school year, the greatest and most lasting achievement for the young gentlemen of Verbum Dei going off into the world is their perspective on their lives and the world around them is permanently altered. The world is an unlimited space with no boundaries or boarders, with so much to explore. Their lives are filled with opportunities – possibilities, challenges, failures and successes. Their chances and choices are theirs’.

There are no words to express the gratitude owed to our Corporate Partners and Donors for helping all of us at the Verb. They’ve helped us grow and sustain this life changing opportunity for the young men of Watts and the surrounding communities.

 

“Where have these four years gone…” a senior stated last week as I signed his yearbook. I smiled and continued scribbling in his yearbook words of encouragement. There was truth to his statement given that the last four years flew past us, but the years are not gone. These four are only a fraction of his life, but they are formative years that impact his future in higher education and years to come.
Here at the Verb, he has learned the value of a college prep education by taking on an academically rigorous schedule. He has appreciated the experience of a four-year work study position. The numerous service excursions allowed him to be a man with and for others. Participation in extracurricular activities enabled him to strengthen brotherhood and kinship with his peers. His involvement in sports made him a competitor and a team player. These four years gave him endless opportunities to thrive and while he will not re-live these days, the memories, experiences and relationship are forever present in his mind and heart.
This is what the Verb is all about…providing opportunities for young men to learn, grow and experience. And this senior succeeded because he took full advantage of all we have to offer. He is on his way to St. John’s University in Minnesota and without a doubt, will reach great heights. I am honored to know him and be witness to his development.

 
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