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.
This summer, eight Verbum Dei scholars packed their bags and used their vacation to experience a glimpse of college at Loyola Marymount University. Juniors Michael Pineda, Jose Flores, Brian Flores, Daniel Herrera, Kevin Vega, Alejandro Rodriguez, Andy Marquez, and Luis Amezcua were accepted into LMU’s Pre- College Summer Program! Our gentlemen were able to dive into the world of urban ecology as they examined the interactions between natural and social systems and learned how they could create positive change around environment challenges. They also took a course in Campaigns and Elections in the 21st Century, where they immersed themselves in the modern world of campaign elections, which included lectures, small group work, guest speakers, and dynamic field trips! They also were able to meet local elected officials, hear from campaign consultants, and received hands on experience with data, analytical software, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help understand modern campaigns.
The summer was filled with experiences of a lifetime. Junior, Andy Marquez even won a program-wide competition to see who would be the best campaign manager! Needless to say this experience was a game changer for our boys and their futures. From learning to live with a roommate to strengthening resumes or college applications, our student’s walked away from a summer on the bluff feeling better prepared to enter the 4-year university environment. The partnership and Jesuit connection we share with LMU is one that has strengthened the educational experience at Verbum Dei. We are incredibly proud and impressed by our boys and are excited to see more of our students get a head start on the college experience.
Four Verbum Dei students joined other high schools students from across the country in Los Gatos, CA for the Arrupe Leadership Summit from February 13-15. Our student leaders attended the summit, which focused on strengthening their capacities to effect positive social change while deepening their understanding of the relationship between faith and justice, as emphasized in the life of Fr. Pedro Arrupe.
Juniors Andy Marquez, Daniel Herrera, Elijah McClucas and senior Edgar Rivera, along with CWSP Program Coordinator Mashanda Finn and Dean of 9th and 10th, Jesse Jovel represented ‘The Verb’. Throughout the three-day program, students explored The Student Leadership Challenge: Five Practices for Exemplary Leaders through the lens of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.’s life. Arrupe, a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, is known for his strong leadership of the Jesuits during a tumultuous period in global history and a time of great transition for the Catholic Church and the Jesuits. The sessions including topics such as Modeling the Way, Inspiring a Share Vision, Challenging the Process, and Enabling Others to Act.
The leadership summit was filled with transformative moments. Amongst those special memories is the presentation the students made on a potential community garden where they created a 30 second pitch to a group of mock investors. The Verb group famously named their community garden ‘The Garden of Eaten’! It was one of the crowd favorites. The opportunity to connect with other social justice minded students from other Jesuit schools proved to be the best part of our leaders’ weekend. The social justice flame was definitely lit, as could be seen by the groups scheming of bringing a social justice club on campus. It will be exciting to see the results of this transformative weekend!
During the summer, I attended an Advanced Placement summer institute in order to prepare for the upcoming AP US History course that Verbum Dei added for the 2015-2016 academic year. Upon arrival, I was quickly made aware by the instructor that the hurdles were going to be plentiful; especially for students that struggle with literacy. While there was a sustained focus on different strategies that teachers can implement in order to assist students with literacy competency, I was caught off guard by a unique hurdle Verbum Dei academics has as it pertains to the AP tests: time. The instructor handed out an outline that listed the amount of days he would dedicate to each unit, totaling in 159 days. After looking at the Verbum Dei calendar I realized our students would have a little over 100 days to cover the same amount of material!
In my mission to create an atmosphere of resiliency and urgency, I shared with them this obstacle. After I presented my game plan in attacking this time constraint, which included occasional Saturday sessions, in unison they replied, “Sounds good, Mr. Jovel”. Though I was pleased with their quick optimistic response, this Saturday really spoke volumes to their determination. On Saturday, September 26th we came together at eight in the morning for a study session that lasted a couple of hours. Not one person was absent. What came after meant the world to me. While most students would have their parents patiently waiting for them in the school parking lot, excited to start the weekend plans, half of my boys were waiting on separate bus stops along Central Ave. It was inspiring to see our boys not use the excuse of lacking transportation as a reason to not come in for an early morning Saturday session.
They are giants, and in many ways encompass the resilient spirit of the Verbum Dei and Watts community. This is true testament to, not only the educators at Verbum Dei, but the families that these young men come from. I am inspired by their winning spirit and their optimistic minds. The hurdles won’t decline for our boys but on Saturday I witnessed how they will approach those obstacles.
“Blessed is the man who preserves under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12