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!



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.

Thank you.

    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

    Proyecto Pastoral

    Homeboy Industries,

    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.


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.

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