On my wall in my office is a prominent poster outlining Verbum Dei’s Grad-at-Grad principles.  Whenever I quickly glance up at them (every day, seemingly), I am reminded of several obvious applications which immediately seek impact with our students through the use of technology.    Certainly, I can clearly connect the benefits of technology to its enormous role in one being Work-Experienced, as well as being Intellectually Motivated.   Those are obvious.  Yet conversely, when I ponder the other values – Open to Growth, Spiritual and Loving – it seems to be more of a challenge and difficult to directly connect their attributes to technology.  That may be the case, but at Verbum Dei, we seek to mold well-rounded gentlemen ready to take on – with confidence – every hurdle tomorrow’s world will throw at them.  The value of each principle is equal and ever-lasting.  There is however one last Grad-at-Grad value that – although at first glance seems afar from our technology goals at school – actually delivers the strongest cue to what I ultimately seek to achieve for our boys at Verbum Dei.   That is, I am – as Tech Director for the school – Committed to Doing Justice for our guys.  Let me explain.

The impact of a Verbum Dei education – and the school’s ability to set afoot tomorrow’s leaders – is ultimately what our work here is judged by.  Every aspect of the school’s operations is ultimately measured by the success of our graduates and the influence they’ll make in society.  To me, the real grit of Verbum Dei’s mission is less about rescuing or accommodating lives and families in need, and more about fairness, equal footing and preparation for an ever-increasingly competitive job market.  I’m not interested in salvation so much – I’m more concerned in getting our young men ready to compete.   That’s what drives me.   In my zeal to ensure our guys will have “the skills to pay the bills,” I need to be confident in my mind we’re delivering every opportunity for them to interact and master the latest forms of technology in the classroom.  That is the Justice I’m Committed to; I feel mandated to having helped create an atmosphere of learning where – through the use of technology – we are equipping our students with the finely-honed study and research skills they’ll need down the road.  I want – and expect – our graduates to go toe-to-toe with any other student – from all communities and all social boundaries – to compete in the college classroom.  And in turn, I want – and expect – for those same young men to compete in tomorrow’s job market as well.

My mission is clear, and the constant reminder is there –every day – on my wall.   When you walk the halls of Verbum Dei on any given day, you’ll see a diverse array of technology actively integrated in each classroom.   Having an eager and intrepid group of faculty here helps this process immensely; I feel blessed to work with such gifted individuals who are willing to experiment and deploy new methods of learning.  But they can’t do it alone.  Information Technology is – at its core – a service department.  My department is here to assist our faculty and help them enhance their teaching environment.  Together, we will distinguish Verbum Dei as a superior institution which confidently builds tomorrow’s leaders.  I take my role in that process seriously – there are no choices here.   I am Committed to Doing Justice for these young men.


I would like to thank all who have helped me transition into my role as the Vice President of Corporate Recruitment at Verbum Dei; faculty, staff, administration, board members, corporate work study partners – and students. It has been a warm welcome. I look forward to nourishing and sustaining the many long-standing partnerships already established amongst Verbum Dei and the Southern California business community – and thank you for your continued benevolence. As well, I relish the opportunity to expand our corporate partner base – so that any capable young man that desires a Verbum Dei education is ‘afforded’ one. The role of corporate recruitment at Verbum Dei is one of relationships, friendships, connections and introductions. Please never hesitate to reach out to me via email, phone – or stop by campus. I look forward to meeting you.


As the school year comes to an end, I am happy to have time to reflect on the shifts that have taken place in the math department this year.  Although there is often apprehension when parents hear the words “Common Core,” the math department has found incredible success implementing a common core math curriculum in all levels of math.

The two major focuses of the math department this year were rigor and growth mindset, which truly go hand in hand.  Students often come into our classrooms with an idea that they are just not good at math.  It is our job to help each student realize that he has the potential to learn and grow in any area he chooses, including math.  The way that we have accomplished this feat is through instruction in growth mindset.

We teach our students that the brain is a muscle that can be taught new information, that our attitude towards learning new things affects our ability to learn that mindset, and the power of the word, “yet.”  The statement, “I don’t understand this,” changes entirely when we add on that one, extremely powerful three-letter word.  Our students now say, “I don’t understand this yet,” giving themselves time to learn and recognizing that they can and will learn.

Paired with an increase in rigor, we have seen a shift in our students’ willingness to attempt challenging problems as well as an increase in their proficiency.  By teaching our students how they learn, we have allowed them to accept struggle as part of the learning process.  As our students analyze their failures, they are able to re-attempt problems in new and interesting ways.  I find myself continually impressed by the grit and hard work of our students as they learn new material.

Presenting at the OLA regional in-service in March, I had teachers from other schools come up to me and ask if we were really implementing Common Core and challenging problems at Verb, and I was proud to say that we are not only implementing, our students are improving every day.


Often, many people, usually supporters, ask us for materials they can use to help spread the word about the good works we do at the Verb.  So, we put together three links that will help you tell the story of the Verb— video links which explain our programs and mission. Please feel free to forward these links to your colleagues, friends, family and anyone who may be interested learning more.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact Michelle Cordova – 323.564.6651 x5120. You can also email her at mcordova@verbumdei.us

  • Developing Men for Others 2015: Talks about the school, CWSP, and Adopt-A-Student Program—This video is best for an overview of the Verb.
    • Verbum Dei High School is a Catholic, Jesuit, college and career preparatory complemented by our corporate internship program, serving young men of Watts and the surrounding communities who are economically and academically underserved. We develop self-confident gentlemen who are intellectually motivated, spiritually rooted, contemplative, and courageous in their pursuit of a more humane and just world.
    • To learn more please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNbyboF1494&feature=youtu.be
  • Corporate Work Study Program: Talks strictly about CWSP—This video is best for those interested in sponsorship.
    • Verbum Dei adopted an innovative Corporate Work Study Program created to fund inner-city College and career prep education. Companies contract with the Corporate Work Study Program for full-time, entry-level, clerical jobs.
  • Adopt-A-Student Program: Talks strictly about AASP—This video is best for those interested in sponsoring a student

    • Participating in the Adopting-A-Student Program simply means being financially supportive of the funding gap between actual cost and actual funding—$4,000 to $5,750 of our students. By participating, you will get to know “your” student(s), as they will send you acknowledgement letters, photographs, class assignments, etc. You see, part of our mission is to teach our gentlemen to appreciate the support of our benefactors—we feel it will help them to remember to give back to important causes when they achieve success.
    • To learn more please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gAC296BWcI&feature=youtu.be

After being reminded about the responsibility to compose this month’s article it did not take long to reflect on the huge responsibility we now have in the Admissions Department. The goal of identifying new Student Ambassadors to succeed the Graduating Seniors, a group of very distinguished young men!  The Student Ambassador Program is an independently organized effort of the Admissions Department for Verbum Dei High School. It is an exclusive opportunity! All Student Ambassadors report directly to the Dean of Admissions, with responsibility for providing admissions intelligence and assessment to senior administrators. Admissions Intelligence-gathering is performed by the Student Ambassadors, many of whom are trained to speak to prospective students and their families. Student Ambassadors are encouraged to share their stories, testimonies about the experiences they have encountered. The VDHS Student Ambassador is also engaged in activities at the request of the Principal and President of Verbum Dei High School.

Many of this year’s Graduating Seniors were included in the initial cast of Student Ambassadors that was assembled through a process of auditions and mock presentations. Each of the Graduating Seniors has mastered this unusual obligation; through their efforts they have transcended the issues of how failing institutions and poverty have a negative effect on individuals, particularly the Black and Brown “boys in the hood.” Each Student Ambassador has learned to circumvent the negative consequences of poor decision-making and much of the testimony they share is confirmation of their success highlighting their acceptances to several of the finest Colleges and Universities in the Nation! They present themselves in a manner in which they may have never before considered. They are recognized for their courage, their ability to be open, semi-vulnerable, sharing the realistic portrayal of their lives as Urban Youth.

Uncommonly, each of these young men through deep exploration of sociopolitical themes refuses to allow themselves to become associated with the groups of young men who are commonly considered when the reports of negative statistics are presented coming from within their communities. The exceptional sense of purpose that this program requires has always assured the conviction, confidence and certitude that Verbum Dei High School is a training ground for the individual success and leadership that can change the world. These young men will complete their course of study and become Verbum Dei Gentlemen on Thursday, June 11, 2015 at 7 p.m. during the 50th Commencement Exercises assembled in Our Lady of the Angeles Cathedral located in Downtown Los Angeles.

We proudly recognize:

Nigel Beckles- Dakota State University, Zachary Byrge- College of the Holy Cross, Daniel Felix- Loyola Marymount University, William King- El Camino College, Jacob La Rue- West LA College, Anthony Little- Lincoln University, Ignacio Molina- UC Merced, Chase Moore- College of the Holy Cross, Jon Parra- Long Beach State, Clifford Peeples- Boston University, Andrew Ramirez- CSU Dominguez Hills, Micah Smith- UCLA, Emmanuel Soto- San Francisco State, Nicholas Spates- Georgetown University, Nicholas Stenson- Lincoln University


As we enter Holy Week which begins with Palm (Passion) Sunday, we come to the culmination of our self-reflective Lenten journey.  The scripture readings during this period have asked us to check our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters around us. As we move to the celebration of the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday), we are called to witness with gratitude to what God has done for us in the past, and what God continues to do for us daily. One can compare the sentiments of Holy Week with the Grad at Grad values of being Spiritual and Open to Growth.  We ask ourselves about God working in our lives, and about our attentiveness to God’s call to be the best people we can be.

This week, I experienced two very practical examples of how God is inviting growth in my life and in the lives of our students.  On Friday, Mr. Travis Russell and I traveled to Xavier Jesuit Prep in Palm Desert.  Xavier and Verbum Dei work closely with our student interchange programs.  On Friday, Travis and I were asked to celebrate a Mass which ended a week of reflection for Xavier students on Gender Inequality. It was obvious that the students were drained by the work of the week.  However, it was also obvious that these students had profited from the information that they had learned and from the sharing that they had done.  Open to Growth.   Coming back to Verbum Dei that afternoon, I was invited to participate in the sending off ceremony for 11 Verb students and 4 faculty/staff that would be spending a week on a Navajo reservation in Utah.  All knew that they were about to confront the unknown.  All knew that they were going to be living very simply in tents and sleeping bags.  However, each person was anxious to learn about a culture of which they had very little experience. Open to Growth.

My experience of the openness to growth that Jesuit education provides our young people coincides well with the celebration of Holy Week.  The world is alive with the grandeur of God, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.  My prayer for each of us is that we can open ourselves to see the Glory of God in our multi-cultural city and world, and that we can grow to appreciate God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of all whom we meet.

Happy Easter

Fr. Mike


    Following in the tradition of our Commander in Chief, I decided to use this post as an English Department equivalent to a State of the Union Speech.  Staying true to form, I will open by saying, as has become the perfunctory refrain: the state of the union (department) is strong.

    Over the past several weeks I had the opportunity to observe each teacher at length in their milieu. I witnessed courageous educators modeling lifelong learning behaviors while utilizing best practices. I watched as students engaged in thought provoking discussion and activities as they engaged with complex literature. I listened with delight as students worked to express their thoughts and feelings with eloquence and verve. If this reads more as a litany than a celebration, it is only that these educators have time and time again shown these things to be the norm and the rule. However, what did give me pause, and now cause to celebrate, was the unique passion displayed by each of these teachers.

    Terrance Starnes continually demonstrates his commitment to doing justice by allowing students to reflect critically on their own lived experiences. He puts himself “out-there”; sharing his own life, the ups and the downs, and thereby giving license to his students to follow in his brave foot-steps.

    If the phrase No Child Left Behind had not yet been sullied by cynical bureaucrats, I would say that John Stradley is a genuine embodiment of the phrase. In his classroom, each student is held to the utmost standard where no one is allowed to “opt out”. In fact, I heard the students using this phrase amongst each other when a classmate struggled to come up with an answer. It was not used as derision, but rather as an emboldening statement of solidarity.

    Evan Chavez understands students. Going to great lengths to choose materials, examples, and “ways in” for his lessons, Evan has created a joyous culture of learning where students can genuinely “see themselves” in the curriculum. It doesn’t hurt that Evan understands the power of laughter and humor and uses those tools to the delight of his students.

    Last, but certainly not least, Maria McDonald is one of the most focused educators I have ever observed. She knows where she wants the students to go and makes them work to get there. When Maria validates her students’ efforts and achievements, you know she is speaking with the greatest sincerity and with laser-like specificity. She provides her seniors with a classroom experience that requires they rise to the challenge of a more adult, college-oriented mindset.

    As this school year come to a close, I find myself inspired and excited to work alongside these amazing educators to make further strides in the English Department. There is of course much work to be done and many challenges and changes yet to face. However, for all the reasons listed above and because of so many other things not listed, I am confident that next year, and each year subsequent,  the state of the English department will not only remain strong, but will continue to get stronger.


   We are officially in the last quarter at Verbum Dei. As fortune would have it, I am again writing this around our Grad at Grad week. This semester comes on the heels of interim assessments. The students braved the schedule, taking two tests a day while going to the rest of their classes as the week progressed. Overall, I am impressed with the arduous nature with which students addressed this week evident from the beginning of the prior week when they asked for a study guide before the bell for class sounded. In writing class the freshmen applied their writing acumen to creative pursuits and utilized tools developed over the course of the quarter.

   The freshmen developed short stories as a project and as part of their assessments. One integral element to writing that the freshmen embraced whole-heartedly this quarter is the concept of rewriting. The students had to compose multiple drafts focusing on different aspects throughout the process. One class would focus on correcting grammar issues such as subject-verb agreement or pronoun-antecedent agreement while another would tackle the coherence of plot and establishing a tactile setting. Students used this project to flex their imaginations using highly descriptive adjectives and adverbs to paint vivid pictures of events and people unfolding on the page. Eventually, the students shared their work with in-class readings much to the delight of the class and their teacher.


“Thank you for coming out and supporting our students…Drive safe and God Bless,” were the words that concluded our Tenth Annual Mardi Gras Awards Dinner and Celebration held this year at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, given my Fr. Mike, Verbum Dei’s President.  To say it was a splendid evening severely understates its pomp and circumstance, as all sixty-nine graduating seniors were present and decked out in their finest threads, clean shaven, best mannered, and looking to network and to be honored for their hard work over the past four years.  In fact, collectively, the class of 2015 has risen over $1.9M toward the cost of their education through their work-study program, not to mention their expected goal of 100% college acceptance rate for the eighth year!

Verbum Dei was also pleased to honor Edison International for eight years of commitment to Verbum Dei through their corporate partnerships, donations, and volunteerism.  Edison International is a model supporter of Verbum Dei.  Mr. Jim Scillacci, EVP and CFO, was present, along with staff, to accept an award.

Everyone was there—donors, corporate partners, foundations, board members, faculty and staff. Collectively, over $400,000 was raised for the scholarships for Verb students.  We wish to thank everyone who supported this labor of love for our fine young men.

Link to Developing Men for Others Video: http://youtu.be/zNbyboF1494

Nick Spates ’15 delivering his speech

2015 Mardi Gras Dinner


Our department has been focusing on preparing our students for our annual Art Week from May 18-22. This week will showcase the works of our visual, dramatic and performing arts. As part of the Verbum Dei family, we cordially invite you to make your presence felt during our evening performances during that week. Below is the schedule and information that will help you in attending the events.

  • May 19-Tuesday
    • Drama perfomance
    • 7pm- in the MPR
  • May 22 -Friday
    • Choir Performance/ Art Show
      • 7pm- in the MPR
        • Suggested Donation
          • $5 Adult
          • $2 student

As this year has progressed, I am reminded of all that the arts provide for our students. Through each artistic medium, our students learn how they belong everywhere. Whether they are attending a Puccini opera, an art exhibit at the Norton-Simon, or a performance at the Dorothy-Chandler, the arts become a means to breaking cultural, socio-economic, and racial boundaries.

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