Post-secondary Planning

Post-secondary planning is never an easy task, but when you add the additional layer of being a first-generation college student, things seem to become a bit more challenging. At 16 and 17 years old, students are asked to plan to the direction of the rest of their lives. While this decision can be undone later, a lot of students do not see it that way. Students want to find the right fit for them from the beginning of their college career, so whether that is a trade program, a 2-year college, 4-year college, or enter the workforce – either way, students go into senior year with a plan.  For many Verbum Dei students, they are the first in their family to apply for college, and as a college counselor, it is my duty to help students navigate through the process of finding the best fir for them.

When thinking about fit, for many, it goes beyond their GPA and test scores. Many students consider the schools’ reputations, location, academic programs, etc.  For many Verb students, however, the number 1 factor is financial fit. The issue with using financial fit as the determining factor is that most financial aid packages are not available until March or April and students need to commit a college or university by May 1st. A good way to estimate college cost is by looking at cost of attendance, scholarship programs, financial aid from the institution, and plugging the students’ information into the Net Price Calculator tool, linked here: https://collegecost.ed.gov/net-price  So, what can we do on our end to support students in identifying the other aspects of a best fit college in the meantime? I will list them below:

  1. Consider all the factors connecting students to the best fit for them outside of financial fit (i.e. academic fit, location, Verbum Dei success data, and social emotional fit)
  2. Meet with students regularly and loop in their parents to chat about why certain schools are on their list and others are not
  3. Have a healthy mix of reach, match, and safety colleges/universities on their list.
  4. Use resources available to the students to learn as much as possible about a potential college/ university (i.e. Net Price Calculator, Verbum Dei Alumni, College Fly-in Programs, Summer Programs, and College/University Repetitive Visits)
  5. Making sure the student is comfortable with all the decisions they are making about their futures

Finding the best fit can be a challenging process, but the reward is so great knowing that students are in a place where they feel comfortable living and learning which leads to better retention rates and student stress levels. Here is a video on what the reward feels like, enjoy!

Life-long Positive Effects

On the first day of school I read a thank you email from an alumni that not only brought a smile to my face, but it also validated that the work that we all do at Verb is something to be proud of.

He recalled the times we talked about test-taking skills and grade check-ins. He shared everything he was thankful for – I was surprised that he still remembered conversations we had during his freshmen year!

The relationships we build with students can create  life-long “positive” effects, but most importantly we have an impact in students fulfilling their long-term goals and their dreams.

We are Verbum Dei!

Instructional Framework

There have been several new instructional practices added to the Verbum Dei High School repertoire this year – all of which focused on improving student academic success.

Among these new practices is the implementation of the Instructional Framework. This framework will ensure that every teacher in every classroom will incorporate Learning Targets, Direct and Indirect Instruction, as well as the use of Summarizers at the end of each lesson. Students benefit by first by being made aware of what they will be learning. When students are told what they are about to learn, they are more receptive to the instruction they are about to receive. The Instructional Framework also benefits students by requiring teachers to create lessons that allow students to engage with the subject matter rather than be passive receivers of content. Finally, studies show that students who are allowed a few minutes at the end of the class to summarize the information they have learned will retain more of that information than if they had not summarized it.

I encourage you to take a look at the Instruction Framework yourselves to see what teachers and students have been up to in their classroom this year!

Please click below:

Instructional Framework

Being a Black Man From My Perspective

When I was a young boy, I often asked my parents, “why are you so hard on me and expect so much of me?” They told me that the world would not be kind to me. To be honest with you, I didn’t really know what he was talking about, but I nodded my head anyway.

I grew up playing basketball, but I always knew I wasn’t destined to go to the NBA so I used education as a tool for success. I had never heard anything positive about being an African American male from society. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  is the reason why I’m a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

I wanted to dispel the myth that African American men are uneducated, lazy and don’t take care of their families. I’m neither of what I just described. Is there pressure being a black male? The answer is yes! I feel it every day. I have to work harder than everyone else.  I always have to prove myself and I have to carry myself accordingly. One question I ask all the time is, why do I have to do these things because I’m a black male? It feels like I can never relax for a second. Why is it that people don’t trust black males? They automatically assume the worst from us and don’t let us make a mistake; it’s the end of the world. I love being a black man and all that comes with it. I know who I am, but society judges me differently. Why can’t I wear a hoodie? Why can’t I wear a certain hairstyle? Why am I judged so harshly? Why are the rules different for me? Why do I get pulled over by the police? Why can’t people see me for who I am and not “just” a black man?

I understand it and deal with it accordingly, but what about my young Verb students?  How are they handling it? Are they comfortable in their own skin? Why do teachers teach down to black men?

I would say, I have been very successful throughout my journey. I feel like when I win, we all win, but reality tells me that isn’t the case. As black men our success’ and failures divide us as men. The work environment can feel like a street environment because your success can be another man’s misery, so you have to watch your back? What happened to I win, we all win?

These circumstances make you surround yourself with only like-minded individuals but that again forces us to separate ourselves from each other. In my mind, when President Barack Obama won, I won!  I thought the success of Barack Obama would get people to see me in a different light. I guess I was wrong. I’m not giving up the fight because being a black male is awesome thing to be and I wouldn’t have it in any other way.

The belief in God gets me through my tough days as well as my good days. He knows what my calling Is. I want to thank my parents for preparing me for this world and teaching me to love myself and who I am. For that I am so comfortable in my skin. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an Alpha I’m carrying out the legacy you started and I promise I won’t let you down. To all of my Fraternity brothers, you guys make it cool to be Black & Educated. Mary Innanculli you gave me my first leadership position at Seton Academy. Brother Tim King founder of Urban Prep Academy you let me shine so bright and let me do my thing from a leadership standpoint. I am so well prepared. Father Privett & Dr. Odom you guys believe in me so much that words cannot express how I feel. I appreciate the both of you because you have let me loose to do positive things and mentor our young men.

 

A Dream Too Big

I just completed reading a phenomenal book by alumnus and Rhode Scholar, Caylin Moore, “A Dream Too Big.” I knew a lot about Caylin, his mother, and his brother. Yet, not as much as I thought or in such detail. Typical to the area, Caylin has seen more than someone his age should see. Atypical, he never stopped dreaming…perhaps too big, many of us thought.

When I knew him as a high school student, Caylin was a bit cocky. Yet, that never bothered me too much because brothers need that intense belief in themselves, as once they leave the halls of Verbum Dei, their very presence at colleges and universities across the nation will be questioned, challenged, doubted before they even utter a word, join a study group, or turn in a paper.

What is remarkable about the book is it shows Caylin has transformed his cockiness into even more faith in himself and his god; belief in giving back to the community; and, ultimately, a firm and steady humbleness that’s difficult to articulate.

Further, Caylin devotes an entire chapter to Verbum Dei and what the school meant to his past, current, and future successes all built on a dream too big. Admittedly so, reading the book made me even more proud to spend time at this A-Dream-Too-Big institution.

So, I encourage you to go out and buy this book and learn why, through the eyes of a remarkable young man, Verbum Dei is a very special place.

Caylin on GMA: https://youtu.be/RYL4FtBzkWY

We will be having at least two book signings—stay tuned!

A New Dei

In the last book of the Bible, God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rv. 21,15).  This echoes an earlier assertion of God urging the people not to “dwell on days gone by” because God is doing “a new thing” (Is. 43,19).  Both of these passage came to mind when I looked back on the first weeks of Verb’s 2019-2010 school year and realized how accurately “new” captures so much of Verbum Dei today.

In late August, Verb received a large batch of new students, a sizeable cohort of new faculty, and several new Jesuits. Verb is not pining over “days gone by,” but enthusiastically welcoming new people, new programs and new possibilities.  Over 100 freshman have settled into campus life and some of them are participating in a new course designed to equip them with keyboard skills, excel mastery and basic web competence—all skills that our corporate partners highly value and have long desired in prospective employees.

Six new faculty members—3 from LMU’s credential program—will be teaching math, science, writing, and Spanish.  We warmly embrace new faculty, not simply because they fill teaching positions, but because they also bring new energy, different perspectives and fresh ideas.  Among our new staff members is Melanie Guerrero, who will be the face and voice of the front office.  Jesuit Bro. Frederico Gianelli is also new to Verb Dei, where he serves as director of faith formation programs and working with campus ministry.  Another new Jesuit at Verbum Dei is Fr. Roger De la Rosa, who comes from the Provincial Office in Portland to teach physics and chemistry.  Verb hit a new Jesuit high with four among its faculty/staff.   Brittany Bradley, formerly of is our new College.  Verb enthusiastically welcomed Brittany Bradley as its new Director of College Counselling.  Ms. Bradley hit the ground running with an engaging presentation to faculty on the college selection and application process.

Those of us who were part of the crowd at the opening of the football season on Friday, August 23 at Pius-Mathias’ new field saw new coach Marquis Bowling’s energized Verb squad in their new uniforms turn in a stellar team performance to defeat  Firebaugh 34-16.  Aug. 31, 1pm at Pius Mathias is your opportunity to see Verb’s football team in action against St Monica’s.

This year we introduced a new curriculum for Freshman that includes two English courses, one devoted exclusively to writing skills and the other to literature and reading.  We are confident that this intensive language arts focus will better prepare students for college, where writing is critically important for success.  The Principal, Dr. Odom, has introduced a new administrative team structure to provide strong support for teachers and a data-based approach to learning that will  chart the progress of each student in verbal and quantitative areas as well as identify areas where students need additional instruction. Verb is putting all the pieces in place to make sure it lives up to its new vision of being “most successful at preparing young men of color to graduate from college and lead Spirit-filled lives of purpose and meaning.”

“New” occurs at least 20 times in the above reflection.  It may be overused but it certainly gives you a sense of how much has changed here and how enthusiastically and confidently Verb embraces a future rich with promise for its  students, their families and the communities  they will ultimately serve.

JEDIS

It’s that time of year again! Seniors are both excited and nervous as they wrap up their four years at the Verb and start making preparations for where they’ll be off to next. Juniors can’t believe they’re really on the verge of being seniors. Sophomores are finally going to be upperclassmen, but they know that it brings with it great responsibility, as SATs near and their grades are that much more important for college applications. And the time has almost arrived for freshmen when they will no longer be the “new” or youngest students on campus. However, standing between now and all those “almosts” are final exams. When the temptation is strong to simply look ahead, students need to be focused on the present and making sure they prepare well for finals so that they can finish the year strong.

This tension between the present and the future, however, is not limited to students. Faculty and staff feel this as well. I, too, feel the tension between ending this year strong with my current students and looking forward to next year. In fact, we are currently in the midst of interviewing students for next year’s JEDIS.

JEDIS stands for Jesuit Educated Disciples In Service and they are our student campus ministry team. They help plan and lead retreats, liturgies, schoolwide prayer, and pretty much everything faith-based on campus. Each May we go through the application process to select our JEDIS for the following year. This year, we received about double the number of applicants than we can actually take, meaning about 10% of Verb students applied for JEDIS. This is doubly impressive since applications are only available to two grade levels. Due to the maturity and mentoring skills needed to be in JEDIS, it is a leadership opportunity reserved for juniors and seniors, which means only current sophomores and juniors can apply. Though it is always difficult to tell good students whose hearts are in the right place that they didn’t make into JEDIS, we are proud that so many of our young men find so much meaning in both their faith and their responsibility to their Verb brothers.

As evidenced by the large pool of applicants, JEDIS has grown into a respected leadership group since it was founded nine years ago. Eduardo Landa, class of 2020 and one of our current JEDIS who is re-applying for next year, says that “JEDIS has been a great opportunity for me to grow as a leader and to help my Verb brothers grow as a community.” What makes JEDIS work is not only the brotherhood amongst the JEDIS themselves, but their desire to bring that brotherhood to all on campus. Eduardo added that JEDIS, “helped me to understand that my overall purpose here on earth is not just to learn about God, but also to act on my faith.” I am proud of how the JEDIS put their faith into action as they lead their Verb brothers in both faith sharing and fun activities. They remain positive examples on our campus of “men with and for others” who put their faith into action. It is both a sad and proud moment to have to say goodbye to our graduating JEDIS, but I also look forward to the energy and spirit of our new team for next year.

Click Here to Play

Giving a voice to students is important to all of us at Verbum Dei.  Our young men need chances and encouragement– as all people do – the express ideas and interests they feel are important to them.  Verbum Dei is no different from other schools; we historically have done a magnificent job offering a traditional variety of clubs, sports and service interactions that allow our boys to show off their talents.  These opportunities are extremely important to their growth.

We recently analyzed feedback however that showed a sub-set of our students is not involved in extra-curricular activities.  Sports may not be their thing, and clubs may not interest all.  I feel however, some of those students still want chances to shine at things that interest them.   We have to continue to look for ways to be inclusive with our students, and I recently found evidence of a team activity trending in high schools that may have a chance to take root.

Next fall, technology is looking to take the lead in forming an ESports club.  What is ESports?  Esports is a growing force in the entertaining and video gaming community where teams compete against one another playing sanctioned video games.  The games require teams of players to compete together in competitions that require rich layers of planning, strategy, communication, delegation, and instruction.  Players need to coordinate actions together – much like other team sports – in order to succeed.  These – I believe – are transferrable life skills applicable to many careers and opportunities in real life.

We recently sent out a survey to our students seeking levels of interest and experience in video gaming.  It comes as no surprise to any of us that our boys are quite enthusiastic about it.  Many report having great interest in – and knowledge of – the specific games played in official competitions.  I believe Esports can provide a way for these students who normally are not involved in club or sports to give them a chance to fit in, and succeed when utilizing skills they are good at.

If the club is approved next year to compete against other high schools in official competitions, we will look to fund raise for computing equipment and entrance fees.  Keep your fingers crossed.

If you’re comfortable, you’re not doing it right : The Call to Authentic Discipleship

Verbum Dei is focused not only on the academic success of our students, but also with the creation of men who are with and for others, as the Jesuit motto states. This is another way of saying that we are working alongside God in the molding of authentic Disciples of Christ who place themselves alongside those who are marginalized, oppressed, and “othered.” Our Theology classes take part in this work by addressing various aspects of the human experience through classes on scripture, Christian ethics, vocations, social justice, and interreligious dialogue. Each class tries to help the students understand Christ’s life and works in light of their own context in order to help them learn how to respond to today’s issues as Christ would.

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to expand our lessons beyond the classroom and onto the open road. During Holy Week, we took 18 students on our annual service immersion trip to Utah to work alongside the Dine(more commonly known as “Navajo”) people on the reservation. There we do manual labor that can range from constructing a Hogan(a traditional Dine home) to picking up large pieces of trash and everything in between. We never actually know what we will be asked to do but the students go in with open hearts and a desire to do whatever they are called upon. This year, they we asked to help continue building a Hogan, a task that apparently takes at least 1 year according to a local resident. For hours and hours the students and adults mixed water and mud and added it to the already existing structure trying to make the concoction stick to the Hogan. This all required lots of patience, energy, and the right frame of mind considering all were caked in mud by the end of the first hour. At times the students would also fall into mud puddles which made the work all the more uncomfortable.

At the end of that day, after hours and hours of work, it is safe to say that we barely made any progress . That is when we all found out that the work we were doing was started by a man who had suddenly past away the day before we arrived. The man’s sister thanked us for taking the time and care in continuing his work by building the Hogan.

Father Greg Boyle, SJ says that, “Kinship is not serving the other, but being one with the other.” While our service in building the Hogan could go unnoticed based on the progress we made, it was our presence alongside the family of the deceased man that is what God is calling us to.

We drove 14 hours to Utah, slept on floors, ate turkey sandwiches every day until the students couldn’t stand the sight of them, worked in the cold while caked in mud up to our knees, and barely saw any progress on the Hogan, but this is what we are called to do. Authentic discipleship is not about being comfortable or doing what is easy. It is about getting outside of our comfort zones, going to others who can be far from us, getting dirty, doing the work, and even when it looks like we’ve done nothing, trusting that our presence there is a small part of the vision God has for creation. Being an authentic disciple of Christ is about the growth and change that happens when we all reach out to each other, get a little dirty, take part in work that we will not see the end product of, and find ourselves changed by being with others.

As we find ourselves in the middle of our Easter season, remember, if you are too comfortable in your journey with Christ, do something different. Get out of your comfort zone and seek out opportunities to give more of your time, effort, money, and attention. It will be uncomfortable but only then will you know the joy of being a disciple of Christ. Who knows, you may even find the joy the students found in working alongside one another while caked in mud under the Utah skies.

My Thoughts on the Spring Gala 2019

On March 7, 2019, at the Biltmore Hotel, in Downtown LA, Verbum Dei High School produced the “best ever Verbum Dei event,” according to most of our attendees—sponsors, volunteers, faculty, and staff. They said they loved the interactions with the students, who were networking and passing out their own business cards. Guests also enjoyed the VIP reception. Finally, they said they enjoyed the program, the videos, the student involvement, and ending the program “at a very reasonable time.” How and why did this happen?

Well, I believe there were several reasons:

  1. We hired a consultant who pushed us to do things that were uncomfortable for us, but in the end proved that they were for the best.
  2. Our event honoree, Joe Viola/Crescent Capital, and co-chair Phil Hosp, were incredible with their support, efforts, time, and energy.
  3. We involved the student body in the evening’s program far more than we have ever done before…in fact, our emcees were students!!
  4. We produced a very enjoyable/successful VIP reception
  5. Last but not least, the Mission Advancement team came together and rallied around the effort like never before, led by Stephanie Andrade, Michelle Cordova, and Annie Levine. Simply put, we have assembled the dream team.

And, our results speak for themselves:

  1. Our fundraising goal was $500K and we ended up raising $600K
  2. Our attendance goal was 350 and we closed the evening with 400 people present
  3. The graduating class of 2019 thoroughly enjoyed the event and the honors we bestowed upon them—several stopped me the following week telling me how much they appreciated the evening
  4. We acquired 121 new Verbum Dei supporters!
  5. We aimed for the event to end by8:30pm…we got everyone out by 8:40pm…not too bad…

Stay tuned for next year’s Spring Gala, as we can guarantee it will be bigger, better and of course the best event you will attend in 2020! Yes, the Dream Team has already started planning it!!P.S. Thanks to all of the staff and faculty, volunteers, supporters, parents, those who attended and those who couldn’t make it, but were there in spirit. It was a smashing success thanks to you all!!