Students’ Voice on STEM

If you have already heard or read about the mini (I call it “mini” because it only involved one of my biology classes) STEM fair you are probably wondering why all this emphasis. I get it. If you have not heard yet, you are getting more intrigued. Hopefully. Here is an answer to both hoping either way you won’t get bored.

This year honors chemistry and biology students were required to complete a STEM fair. In this post, I will tell you about the small group of honors biology students (sophomores) who engaged in this project. Using their comments (I will quote them!), I will provide you with a true picture of their experience.

It all started with a strong desire to expose students to STEM in a way that would excite them and encourage them to pursue a career in this field. I wanted students to live and experience what engineers and scientists go through in their every day life. I wanted students to feel excited, passionate, curious, and proud of themselves. But I also wanted them to experience the little frustration that a challenging task might generate so they would have an opportunity to elaborate healthy ways to deal with it and move forward. It was important for me to make students realize failure is an important part of this process and feeling comfortable with it is even more important. In the end, we all learn from our mistakes.

Students were asked to select a problem/need they were interested in and engineer a device that would directly or indirectly help solve that issue. To emphasize the interdependencies among the scientific disciplines students were allowed to pick anything related science (anything related to physics, chemistry, biology or any other scientific field). They worked in pairs and were asked to each submit a scientific paper (written in APA style) that embedded an introduction to define the problem, multiple solutions, material and design plan, results, discussion and conclusion. Compared to the scientific method, the engineering design process is quite different: it requires students to define a problem and generate multiple solutions as opposed to the scientific method that helps scientists make testable explanations and predictions about the world. In the real world, the distinction between engineering and science is not always clear. Scientists do some engineering work and engineers often apply scientific principles among which the scientific method.

Here is what my students had to say about this project:

“From the STEM project, I have learned the importance of science on the daily issues in our lives. The project has helped me think differently on certain problems like climate change and pollution.” – Cristian Aguilar

“It was a phenomenal experience because my topic related truly to who I am. In my project I learned a way to improve the safety in football.” – Arturo Ramirez

“This project showed me the steps engineers take to solve their problem using the engineering process.” – Anthony Valentin

“The STEM project forced me to write my first APA format essay, and in the process, though often rigorous, I became better and better at it. As for the physical project, the experience allowed for me to get a taste of the engineering field; I was able to work on an actual, functioning scientific device. This experience gave me a feel of how being a scientist is like, which is a career I would like to pursue in the future.” – Oscar Herrera

“The STEM project looked like it was going to be very tedious and dull. But while doing my research, I realized that the project made me think about the relevant issues in this society and motivate me to find a new solution for them.” – Randy De Paz

“The STEM project has helped me experience what hard work does and how it pays off. It also taught me a lot of new formats and ways that I can incorporate this project into others. If I could do the STEM project again I would.” – Omar Garcia

From a teacher’s perspective, there are many aspects of the project that can be tweaked and improved. However, I was happy to be able to combine so many skills in just one project and see students learn “by doing” and experience first-hand how science is relevant in our daily life.

Counseling in a Data Driven Culture

Counseling students through the college application process is difficult work. This is especially true when working with lower income students who have the weight of the world working against them.  With the rising cost of tuition, stricter admission requirements, and ever-changing financial reporting protocol, it is extremely challenging for a student to navigate this process without help.

Enter the counselor. The hopeless optimist that had an unwavering belief in the potential of each and every student regardless of grade point average, or even more telling, motivation.  This professional has been brought on by a nonprofit organization that boasts a unique model to encourage student achievement, most specifically, college attendance.  (College graduation is a different beast that deserves its own blog entry.)    The goal of this counselor is to get the students into college…by any means necessary…and often the task is met with excitement and fervor.    Throughout the year, however, as she gets to know students more closely, she learns that college is a long shot for some.  Whether it be a homeless student or one who reads at an eighth grade level, her overwhelming confidence and determination morphs into the celebration of small victories… “You made it to the SAT on Saturday!” or “You did not fail a class this semester!”  Managing expectations is a part of the job… but so are data.

Data are essential to the success of many nonprofits. After all, you must show that your program works in order for it to continue to be funded.  This is especially true with our current administration’s drive to cut government funding to programs like TRIO.  Non-profits may have to rely on foundations and private donors for funding.  But what happens when the data tells a story that does not indicate success?  How does the counselor explain that her students have fallen below the mark?  I would argue that she should do just that.

Data can be scary, but it can also highlight areas of need which is critical to the success of programs, especially those designed to improve the lives of others. This information can be used to make adjustments where needed with the goal of delivering a superior product resulting in impressive results.  Additionally, the only way to really see growth is to have firm understanding of where one stands.  Thus, data is critical.

To our counselor friend who is now completely overwhelmed with the tasks of each day, working with students while providing her superiors with data, I say, hang in there! Your work is all for the greater good.  You, my friend, are working to create a more thoughtful, empathetic, perfect society… keep going.

Verbum Dei High School Admissions First Round Down!

We are currently at the mid-point of the Admissions Season and are yet looking for outstanding candidates!

At Verbum Dei High School our Admissions Department and the stakeholders who serve on the Admissions Committee have prudently appraised each application to identify the students and their families we believe will be an ideal fit for “The Verb”. We consider personal circumstances, academic performance and special achievements, including: the rigor of the Middle School curriculum, grades, High School Placement Test, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, leadership and interview results to make our determinations. However, we expect that all prospective students will complete the Corporate Work-study Readiness Program successfully before the fall enrollment. This year one hundred forty-nine Applications were reviewed in the first round, eighty-five Freshmen Students were Accepted, six Transfer Students Accepted, six Freshman Students “Waitlisted” Moved into the Second Round, fifty-two applications were Not Accepted.


We welcome the prospective students to identify the values they possess by expressing their interest in the area of study and the college they hope to attend as they begin to focus on the goal of transitioning from Middle School, into High School and on to a four year College. We enjoy examining the key issues of what it takes to gain Verbum Dei High School acceptance through a multifaceted perspective. Our most successful students are able to demonstrate prudent, well thought-out preparations for an intended transition into High School.  Additionally, openness to growth, new ideas and a willingness to explore subjects beyond their comfort zone is truly beneficial. Our students are typically gaining the exposure to make informed decisions about their intended pursuits for college. Ideal students are also intellectually motivated, loving, work experienced and committed to doing justice.

Personal Attributes

We are looking for prospective students and their families who possess the potential to contribute to our campus community and want to demonstrate an array of interests and passions. Individuals who are leaders and unafraid to speak up in class or take on the challenge to make a difference by leading a cause. We value the students who challenge themselves and make us think outside the box; those that like to get involved in student life and join the organizations on our campus. We value students who can and want to contribute to the campus community.

Our student’s financial needs do not affect an admission decision

The Admissions Deadline is April 12th we exclusively serve the working class community and every family receives financial aid to satisfy the tuition requirement. All of the students enrolled receive tuition assistance; one hundred percent of the students gain valuable work experience in our Corporate Work Study Program. The Cooperate Work Study Model covers a portion of the cost, the parents are responsible for a portion of the tuition fees annually, and the assistance they require is then covered in Scholarship. There is no early action or early decision program in our admission process. We do maintain an admissions waitlist when necessary. Students who apply for fall admission must successfully complete the CWSP Readiness Program during the summer to enroll in the fall semester. This experience has revealed that students starting in the fall transition easily into the Verbum Dei community and continue to perform well academically.


Verbum Dei Builds Bridges

The gospel and our Ignation values calls upon us to be “men and women with and for others.” During a time of historic tension between so many communities within the United States, the Verbum Dei community took a big step in creating bridges between law enforcement and our communities.

After 3 months of careful and intentional planning, police officers from South Los Angeles and Verbum Dei students came together for a “Community RoundTable”. The event brought a total of 10 LAPD police officers, 17 Verbum Dei faculty/staff, as well as 65 Verbum Dei gentlemen. The event opened with an inspiring testimony from Officer Baker, who delivered a message highlighting the importance of a shared identity and shared vision between the police officers and students. Students then broke off into groups where each group had a Verb adult facilitator and two LAPD police officers. The groups tackled some very important questions such as: “What actions can law enforcement take to de-escalate potentially violent situations?”, “What requirements or guidelines should be in place for handling potentially violent situations?”, “What personal experiences have you had with the LAPD or any law enforcement agency that has shaped your opinion?” The conversations can be best described as being honest and respectful.

Throughout the event, smiles and gestures of understanding and comradery could be found permeating the campus. Side by side, our Verbum Dei gentlemen and local police officers expressed the gratitude they shared for one another. The event ended with students sharing some of the lessons they learned from their small group sessions. One junior student remarked, “This event helped me understand the role we all have in bettering our communities and has forced me to look inward and evaluate how I can contribute positively.”

Mother Teresa reminds us that, “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” On that day, a bridge was built at Verbum Dei High School and we were all reminded that we belong to each other.


Moving Forward

Technology at Verbum Dei has taken major steps in the last six months. With assistance from our Federal Government’s E-Rate program, the school was able to procure funding to pay for a large portion of our new wireless and switching networks.  In addition, the school’s administrative data and server base achieved a much needed overhaul in 2016.  Lastly – with benefactor assistance – a new security appliance was installed, protecting the school from today’s latest data threats.  A sturdy and secure data infrastructure will enable our school to move forward with educational technology initiatives that best fit our unique blend and needs of our students.

Forecasting impactful Ed-Tech developments comes with some subtleties that are unique to Verbum Dei. Primarily, we’re looking to pilot a blended-learning initiative for the 2017-2018 school year with a vision to rollout the following year.  With blending learning, we look to involve traditional classroom curriculum and lesson planning with online instruction, both in school and at home.  Verbum Dei faces some upstream impedances; namely access to the internet at home on a consistent basis for some families.  Last year, we surveyed our families and found that 10% of our families do not have internet at home.  Although this seems daunting to tech initiatives, my gut feel is that the gap is closing.  I sense that all of our families will have internet services accessible in home in the seeable future.  And for those who may not, there are services and devices that can provide those families accessibility solutions on a case-by-case business.  Lastly, we are contemplating plans to roll-out some form of a one-to-one device initiative in the next few years.

Of course, funding and sustaining these programs require Verbum Dei to derive solutions from various sources. It’s not without consideration that families may be asked to contribute to some form of a “tech fund” as many schools – both public and private – have adopted.  We also will need to lean on deploying devices that have proven to be durable, as well as cost effective.  Lastly, we always need to effectively leverage the ongoing assistance of our loving benefactors and donors.  With this, we’ll ensure lasting, meaning directives that benefit our most valuable asset – our students

Connecting Verbum Dei’s Past and Present

It is with great pleasure that I get to interact with alumni from time to time. The history and tradition of Verbum Dei High School is fascinating…and often heart-warming.  Please enjoy the recent interaction between the son of Claude Child, a Chemistry & Physics teacher from 1963 – 1979, and Steve Wellington, one of Claude’s students from the Class of 1972:

Dear Verbum Dei,

It is with great fondness that I recall Fr. Francis visiting our home after Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary in Paramount, California during the sixties.  He did so often, creating a strong friendship with my dad, Claude H. Child.

In those days my Dad worked as a staff scientist with North American Aviation in Downey, California.  Fr. Francis had plans for an all-boys high school in Watts.  He would talk about these plans with my Dad, asking if he would teach Chemistry and Physics when the campus was built.  To my recollection, the campus was completed mid-summer 1963 with its first classes starting in the Fall of 1963.   I know this because I helped my dad set up Verbum Dei’s Chemistry class room.   I must have been 10 or 11 years of age. 

Bishop Francis, my Dad and many years have since passed away. I read the legacy of Bishop Francis. It warms my heart.  Like any son, I wonder if my Dad’s efforts made a difference.  I read on your web site that Verbum Dei has gained recognition for its sports program.  Did any of Verbum Dei’s students from the sixties go on to careers in the science fields? 

The men my dad taught would be in their mid-sixties to seventy years of age by now.   Like me, they’d probably have grandchildren, possibly even grandchildren soon to be attending Verbum Dei.

It would be a blessing to know this legacy story, so that I may pass along a more complete history to my grandchildren.  Does Verbum Dei’s Alumni have active members that might remember my Dad?

Having written to you about a year ago, and receiving no reply, I had given up hope of following up on these legacy thoughts.  This evening, at a fund raiser for Mother Teresa Maternity Home here in Placerville, a chance conversation with a priest named Fr. James sparked a renewed interest.  Fr. James taught at Verbum Dei before leaving to teach in China.  He is now a pastor here in Eldorado County.  I was encouraged to try contacting you again.

May God Bless You,  

John J. Child



Hello John,

I was one of your father’s physics student’s during the 1971 – 72 school year. He was a great influence on me as I pursued a biology degree from UCSD and a Master’s degree in Business Administration and Technology from the University of Phoenix. I spent most of my career in science and seven years ago I managed a state-accredited laboratory, which supported a major utility, nuclear and non-nuclear, water plant operations.

I am grateful he devoted his time and knowledge of physics to students wanting to realize their full potential in life. Some of us held to the sciences while others led fulfilling and meaningful lives elsewhere.

Thank you for reaching out; your father was a great teacher and wonderful person to have known.

Steve Wellington

(Verbum Dei Class of 1972)

Winter Sports Seasons Winding Down

We are entering our last week of league play in anticipation of CIF Playoff Berths in both Basketball and Soccer. Our soccer program, led by Coach Rosa is tied for 3rd place in the Santa Fe League Standings. The finale against Bell-Jeff on Wednesday, February 8th may well determine whether the Soccer team makes the playoffs.

Our basketball program has made strides from last year and has won more games than previously. Our boys are sitting in 4th place in the Santa Fe League. With the new playoff formats, both basketball and soccer may still get either a 3rd place berth or a wild card berth to the CIF Playoffs!


Proud Partnership, Ignatian Service Corps

“What are your plans after graduation?” is a question all too familiar for college seniors. While some students opt to begin their career or attend a graduate program immediately after graduation, there are those who chose to participate in a post-graduation year of service and volunteer with a non-profit organization.

One of the many post-graduate programs available is Ignatian Service Corps (ISC) through Loyola Marymount University. The program seeks volunteers who through their work in marginalized communities want to create a more just society. By responding to the call of social justice, volunteers are placed in non-profits for a year of service. Community organizations like St. Margaret’s Center, Venice Family Clinic, and among others, Verbum Dei High School have partnered with ISC to foster a professional environment that nurtures growth. As a charter partner of Ignatian Service Corps, the Corporate Work Study Program is delighted to have a volunteer assist the department.

Last year, Caisen’s enthusiasm and adaptability were a breath of fresh air. Verb students gravitated towards his candid personality, contagious energy, and willingness to help. Caisen is not only a caring individual, his commitment to learn with and from the Verb students, made him admirable. We found a life-long friend in him. He is now studying at Oxford and continues to stay connected with many of us at Verb.

This year, Christiann is our volunteer. Her value and appreciation for our young men is complemented by her thirst to pursue a career in public service. Christiann takes a genuine interest in the students’ well-being, and is committed to her quest to enrich their experiences. Next school year, Christiann will attend law school. She recently got into her first choice, Georgetown Law, but has many others to choose from. We’re excited for the opportunities ahead of her and look forward to continue nurturing her thirst for social justice.

Both Caisen and Christiann had options after college graduation. They chose to work with Verbum Dei’s Corporate Work Study Program through LMU’s Ignatian Service Corps. We’re proud to a play a role in the journey of college graduates yearning to make this world a more humane and just one.

Exceptional Students

The Spanish Department here at Verbum Dei High School has always encouraged students to take advantage of its AP Spanish Language and Culture course offered. Fortunately, students do take advantage of it, especially after they learn that, not only does this course fulfill high school graduation requirements but also a score of 4 or 5 on the examination will give them college credit.  To our students’ benefit, being a small preparatory high school, our AP courses consist of small classes, allowing for more one-on-one instruction.

Last year, I had the opportunity of teaching this course to ten bright and dedicated students who set up a rather ambitious goal for themselves: to pass the AP Spanish and Culture Examination with a high score. I let them know that it was not going to be an easy task, but that such goal was not impossible either.  After two semesters of intensive learning, which included countless after school meetings and several Saturday lectures and practices, they took the examination.

Fortunately, their hard work paid off. Two months later, all ten students learned they had passed with 4s and 5s. To put this into perspective, the College Board uses a scale of 1 to 5 to grade their examination.  Most colleges, and especially universities, only honor a score of 4 and a score of 5, thus only giving college credit to students who score 4 or 5.  Fortunately, university credits await this group of exceptional students who accomplished the goal.

As an AP instructor, I could not be more proud of each and every one of them.   This is why I believe their names should appear on this blog as my way to honor them and to remind them of their brilliance, determination, and hard work.

The 2015-2016 AP Spanish Language and Culture course members:

  • Alejandro Rodriguez
  • Andy Marquez
  • Brian Flores
  • Daniel Herrera
  • David Ayala
  • Isaac Gonzalez
  • Jose Flores
  • Luis Amezcua
  • Michael Pineda
  • Victor Apolinar

Happy New Year!

This season is a one of surprises and hope for the future.  A light shines in the darkness. A child is born and laid in a manger. God surprises those whose hearts are open to receive and share the light. 

At Verbum Dei graduates and corporate sponsors join faculty and staff and students to shine God’s light on a world much in need of it.   Thank each and every one of you for your support and for the light that you share with the young men of Verbum Dei.

Many blessings in the New Year.