My Story

Growing up, I was the only girl of color in my elementary magnet school.  I struggled with reading and was put in the ‘Orange Uh-Oh’ reading group.  I didn’t know then, but later learned that my parents had to fight long and hard for me to receive the support I needed to be a success in my academic career and continue in the magnet program.  The discrimination they endured while they were in school, and saw their daughter going through, drove them to fight for something better for me.  They won their fight, and I thrived.  Having later learned of my elementary experience, I was determined to make sure that all people are treated with respect, given every opportunity for success and to make my parents proud.

I continued on my path, not knowing where I would end up.  I proudly earned a B.A. in Sociology at CSU Dominguez Hills. After obtaining my B.A., I decided to try my hand in teaching and fell in love with the process.  I decided to further my education and am blessed to have obtained my M.A. in Educational Administration, as well as gained experience in grades K – 10 as both a learner, educator and administrator.

I never expected to be a teacher.  I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted to do something that would leave a positive imprint on society.  Upon reflecting on my journey, it is evident that God’s hand has always been leading me to where He needs me to be.  A counselor, a friend, an encouraging word, an educator.   My experience has allowed me to assist hundreds of students improve their skills and see them thrive in a positive environment.  Seeing them walk in the classroom on day 1 as an unsure student, and walk out standing tall and thankful for what they have learned is a great gift.

The journey has not always been smooth, but it has brought a plethora of knowledge and experience that I have needed to complete God’s work.

I am blessed to be able to share that with the Verb community.  Thanks for having me!

The Privilege of Time

Older generations have always rolled their eyes at the younger generation’s complaints of how hard they have it. To be fair, I wouldn’t trade an hour of my day for that of my grandmother’s when she was a young adult. Her daily encounters with overt racism, sexism, and every other experience of oppression she endured would undoubtedly make any reasonable person roll their eyes at my recent tantrum caused by my 5th cracked iPhone screen. That is not to say I do not encounter issues that are traumatic and overwhelming to my emotional and physical wellbeing but some of our first world problems cannot compare.

And so, it is with our students. Whether in an affluent school or school serving working class children, country school or rural, suburban or urban, our students are carrying psychological, emotional, and spiritual loads that would overwhelm even the most seasoned among us. And yet, within the classroom, many educators continue to create classroom policies and procedures that presume the opposite.

My co-blogger today is Mr. Tyon James. Tyon is a member of the Class of 2020. He is a member of the National Honor Society and a leader of multiple organizations on campus.

I asked him what assumptions he feels teachers make regarding how much time students have outside of their class. He offered to solicit input from his friends on social media. Here’s what they said:

You’re Not the Only One! Teachers assume students have no responsibilities outside of school.

“There’s never really enough time for me-for real personal development. To actually figure out what I want to do and to do things I like to do.”

Teachers tend to forget that not everyone takes on the traditional role of a dependent child in their household. Some people play more of a parenting or adult role in their own lives and the lives of others. When teachers say, “This is your only responsibility!” and “You have nothing better to do!”, it puts blame on the student. That’s showing disrespect for my time and experience.”

“I sometimes wish I had more time. More time to sleep, to talk to my family, to do something I want to do and not something I have to do.”

Teach teacher! Teachers assumes the class is their personal talk show. They use the allotted class-time to talk about irrelevant things that don’t hold substance or merit within the subject matter.

They talk about irrelevant things and things that don’t relate to the lesson, they focus on the bad kids and talk about what they are doing wrong and end up taking all our time. Outside of school, they give us homework that is more like busy work than something you can actually learn from.”

 “I feel like they are not respectful of our time because of the way they teach their curriculum. For example, I have teachers who have us watch Crash Course videos in class. Like… if I wanted an online teacher, I would not be going to public school.

Hold Up, Wait! Teachers assume their subject takes priority. Teachers don’t give enough time to complete assignments.

Teachers give too many major assignments due the same day for multiple classes.”

They don’t give enough time to finish assignments and they take the entire class time explaining instead of explaining for like 5-10 minutes and then letting us explore and helping us with any questions.”

Are You Going to Grade This? Teachers assume we don’t know what meaningful work is. They assign “busy work that is meaningless and boring. It’s a waste of time.

Teachers waste my time by giving busy work and not actually going over the class material. I believe that students have different learning styles and teachers should be able to utilize all those styles, so every student is engaged. Busy work is not for everyone.”

Is This Thing On? Teachers assume in-person communication is more effective than online communication. Some teachers aren’t very tech savvy. They seem to only want to interact in the classroom.

When they read your email and never reply! And then wait 3 days later to address you in person.” 

We are not calling for less homework (ok…most aren’t). But we are asking for teachers to be more thoughtful and intentional about what they are assigning.

Well said Tyon! Teachers, if we must assign work on their personal time it should be relevant to the course and to their lives. The facts are that time is a commodity and free time is a privilege. Our students need us to be open to creating spaces where all students can succeed, thrive, and be well- even those without the privilege of (free) time.

One Big Family

It is always easy to reminisce on my time as a student at Verb. Walking down the corridors, the field, or even speaking to the students are always a reminder of my time here at Verb. I always remember the constant support and guidance from teachers, coaches, and staff. We as students bonded over homework assignments, sports, and everything else going on in our lives throughout our teenage years. We created a brotherhood that will last a lifetime no matter the distance or the different paths that our lives will take. The Verb became a second home, a place for us students to develop as young men with and for others.

Now in my third year back at home I have seen all the long hours and hard work that everyone at Verb endures. Constantly seeking to grow not just for ourselves, but also for the students. The constant theme is not, how I can make this situation better for me, but rather how can this situation be better for the students. It is this passion and love that I see on daily basis that makes me want to grow and become a better person for everyone around me. It makes me appreciate what my teachers and the staff did for my family and me.

As the admissions season continues and we as a department start getting assistance from the teachers, staff, and students I notice that we all care about one another. We all pull together to ensure that any visiting student, or family has a memorable experience of the work that we are doing here. It does not matter if it is 70 students visiting or just one, the experience is equally as impactful as the next. Everyone on campus greets the visitors with a warm smile, a quick greeting, and every single time students and parents leave the Verb knowing that we are a family. Any prospective family leaves the campus with the feeling that this is not just a place of higher learning, but also a place of community – a family. Any student or family that visits will know that who we are and what we do.

WE ARE VERBUM DEI!

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.