Teaching all Boys

Here is what I do know:

  • Boy’s account for 71 percent of all school suspensions. Fifty-nine percent of Black boys and 42 percent of Hispanic boys report being suspended.(U.S. Dept of Ed and Schott Foundation Report)
  • Boys comprise 67 percent of all special education students. Almost 80 percent of these are Black and Hispanic males. (USDOE and Schott Foundation Report)
  • Boys are five times more likely than girls to be classified as hyperactive and are 30 percent more likely to flunk or drop out of school. (National Center for Education Statistics)

The goal is to keep our young men out of the street, off their mother’s couch and out of jail. Its crucial as educators we save our young men. Create an open path of communication so parents can come to you with concerns and you can do the same.

Finding the balance of teaching a young man who feels he is going to make it because of his athletic ability and he does not need to be successful in school. This is where a teacher needs not to discourage the young man or prove a point to the young man. Provide him with statistics to help him understand that having an education is just as important in excelling in sports. Punishing our young men, and kicking them out the class is not the way to solve the problem. We have to show our boys as teachers & administrators that we care. Many people in our boy’s life do not care or have given up on them. I always tell the young men that I am here for them and I am willing to help them however I can. Athletics however can be a motivating factor for a young man when it comes to school. Eligibility plays a role at some schools so he has to stay on top of his academics in order for him to play so use that as a tool to help your student-athlete and show that you care that he plays. Showing up to games help develop a good relationship with your student in the classroom.

Boys hear that the way to shine is athletically. And boys get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a student. Does being a good student make you a real man? I don’t think so… It is not cool.

I went to an all boys’ high school in Chicago and it really helped me although I was totally against going. That was the first time I had any black male teacher in my life other than my basketball coach. I was truly focused and prepared to go out in the world and be successful. As a teacher I have a great advantage with dealing with boys. I understand what these young males are dealing with and the struggles they face. Many times boys need for someone just to listen. Not only do I consider myself a teacher & coach but also a mentor to the young men. I know when to be tough and I know when they need someone to understand or be an advocate for them.

The Verb

I’ll take this opportunity to introduce myself, as I hope many of you will introduce yourselves to me over the next few months.  I am a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola High.  I entered the Jesuits right out of high school in 1960 and have never looked back. During my fifty-eight years as a Jesuit, I have served as Principal of Bellarmine College Prep, Provost and Academic Vice President of Santa Clara University and, most recently, as President of the University of San Francisco.  For thirty years I was at the receiving end of Jesuit secondary education and now, at Verbum Dei, I find myself on “production” side of the house, and it’s a great place to be.

As a reader of this blog, you know that 100% of our graduates are accepted into college and that is part of a story that I can only touch on here.  Verb’s academic focus is clear and sharp but it is broader than academics.  Jesuit education aims to develop every aspect of a students—intellectual, spiritual, physical, social.  The Verb offers a full range of competitive athletic teams at the Varsity and JV levels.  Monthly liturgies, students retreats, daily prayer, immersion experiences are woven into the fabric of Verb life.  The menu of student activities and clubs is rich and varied and offers every student the opportunity to explore interests and socialize with classmates.  As a Cristo Rey school, Verbum Dei further develops every students’ professional capacities through a highly structured work experience placement at a local business.  Verbum Dei accomplishes a great deal with its students in a limited amount of time.  Your understanding and support of a Verbum Dei education is key to our success and that of our students.

CWSP Ropes Course Reflection

This was my first year going to the ropes course with incoming students. Camp Fire Long Beach delivers programs that help build group cohesiveness. Trained facilitators guide participants through a series of challenges that enhance individual and team growth. Our CWSP team has always marveled at the transformations that occur on the course but this year I wanted to see it for myself. 

When we arrived, students and Verb chaperones were separated into groups. Each group was given its own trained facilitator. The facilitator accomplished three things immediately out of the gate:

A) The facilitators enthusiastically introduced themselves which included a discussion of their role. I supposed they figured in order for students to accept the challenge of climbing and jumping off a pole or walking a tight rope they’d have to sell themselves as masters. They also established a community within a community. There were chants and call and responses which seemed to bring the group together. 

B) The facilitator made it clear early on that the success of the individual was dependent on the work of the entire group- including the facilitator. Just because the facilitator had more experience with the obstacle course didn’t make him/her solely responsible for the group’s success. Everyone had a responsibility to supporting the person climbing. 

C) The facilitator was very honest about the challenges students would experience. He/ She shared with specificity the places in the obstacle course that were the easiest, the most challenging, etc. With that same honesty the facilitator let students know they could achieve their personal best. It was clear that all students might not reach the top but with the help of the group they could push themselves past where they thought they could go.

I was expecting to see students transform but instead was inspired to transform my student interactions. 

  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Care 

If the facilitator can get our boys to climb a 45 ft pole clearly I can inspire them to learn the purpose of cellular respiration.


Mission Advancement Update

Well, we’re coming to the end of another successful school year at Verb, as this is the eleventh year in a row 100% of our graduates gaining acceptances into college; 95% accepted into four-year colleges; full employment for our students in our Corporate Work Study Program; and, a successful recruitment effort for the incoming class of 2020 with 100 new freshmen. So, thank you for all you are doing to contribute and support that success.

One area of needed growth is our Adopt-A-Student Program. The Adopt-A-Student Program is a program that connects our students with our donors who help support their education through scholarship and words of advice. We have 300 students and only 120 were “adopted.” So, if you’re interested in joining this vital group, please contact Ms. Courtney Risch at crisch@verbumdei.us or call her at 323-564-6651 ext. 5130.

In the coming year, starting July 2018, we are planning big things—we will have a new president in Fr. Stephen Privett, we have a new and exciting counseling initiative for our students, a new special event in Orange County, and a new stronger push for the Adopt-A-Student Program to make sure all of our students are “adopted.” We look forward to working with you deliver on the mission of Verb to our students.

Spring Gala Celebrating our Graduating Seniors Class of 2018

My Team

I asked, junior, Osvaldo Estrada (class of 2019), to tell me a bit about his experience at Verb and in CWSP. Here’s what he shared with me –

“Verbum Dei High School holds a special place in the hearts of many, especially the students who attend. Let me tell you a little bit about “the Verb”, as we affectionately call it. Verb is a small, all-male Jesuit school situated in the heart of Watts. It is also a member of the Cristo Rey Network of schools.

The primary goal of the teachers and staff is to provide a well-rounded education for students like me: students who are smart, capable and willing. The primary goal of students like myself is take advantage of the abundance of opportunities made available to me. As such, my education includes service trips, athletic competitions, brotherhood networking, rigorous academic classes, clubs and activities, and a work study program, among an array of other experiences.

The Corporate Work Study Program is one of the students’ favorites, and as I complete my junior year, I cannot help but give thanks to Verbum Dei High School and the many Corporate Partners that offer internships to me and other students.

Our Corporate Partners are located all over Los Angeles County, but mine is in Century City. I work at Fox Rothschild LLP and some of my classmates work at other Century City firms like Katten Muchen Rosenman; Daniels, Fine, Israel, Schonbuch & Lebovits, LLP; Polsinelli LLP; Alliance Bernstein; BNY Mellon; and, Bird Marella.

I have worked at Fox Rothschild LLP for three years. Not only have I learned leadership, but I also enhanced my communication skills when interacting with the professionals there. What I appreciate the most about my time at Fox Rothschild is that I am a member of the team. I am a confident member of the team. When I communicate with my team, they take my ideas seriously.  My team includes my supervisors, DeLano and Trish, who have taught me to speak up for what I need and pace myself so that I can be more effective in my work. It also includes my co-worker, Eric, who guides me, and my administrator, Anne, who listens and gives me advice on how to do better.

Thank you to Fox Rothschild LLP and the many other firms for giving us the chance to learn about your company culture. You have all helped with the cost of our education and growth as a young professional by partnering with the Verb.

Verb is a special place. Verb cares about me, and so does Fox Rothschild LLP. “

Go Eagles!

We, on the academic side of Verbum Dei have been full steam ahead since the beginning of spring semester!

College Guidance took the freshmen to UCLA for a college visit where they toured the campus, met two of our Verbum Dei alum who are current students there; Zachary Byrge, c/o ’15, and Christian Munoz, c/o ‘16, and listened to a panel discussion on the experiences of first generation UCLA students. The sophomore class also experienced college visits and tours of University of Concordia in Irvine, and UC Irvine. College tours during the early high school years are a good way to inspire our students to stay the course, and work hard to reach their goal of attending university after their time here at The Verb.

In addition, AP season has just ended! Our Advanced Placement course offerings have grown from 2 to 5 in the last two years. This year we had a total of 55 Verbum Dei students take AP exams in Spanish Language, English Literature, Calculus AB, US History and Government & Politics. We hope to add two additional AP courses in Spanish and English to our curriculum next year. The AP exam season culminated in an AP Luncheon held Friday, May 18th, where we celebrated our students and faculty, and recognized the hard work they put into their courses.

And now, looking forward, we have 38 current 9th – 11th grade students who will continue their learning experiences, in the spirit of the Grad at Grad principles of being Open to Growth, Committed to Doing Justice, and Intellectually Motivated, by spending part of their summer participating in summer programs at universities and institutes across the country, such as Brown University, Boston College, and the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute to name just a few.  Students will be engaging in a variety of topics such as engineering, economics, advocacy, and mathematics. Please join me in prayer for these students, that they grow a deeper appreciation and understanding of their place and value in society, in their communities, and at Verbum Dei, through these enriching experiences.

And as always, Go Eagles!!!

Another Dei in Admissions

The real thing about Admissions is “fit”! Finding the “right fit” is our goal, the student and his family, those that understand the values of delayed gratification, hard work and dedication! Today the Verbum Dei campus community was addressed by our new President Fr. Stephen A. Privett, S.J. offering Faculty and Staff member’s encouragement as we transition to a private, Jesuit School and one of the leading college preparatory schools in Southern California. What this means in the Admissions Department is we must become more creative for identifying the “right fit”. Of course, a visit to our campus is a great way to get prospective students to develop a good feeling for the character of our school, but there are many ways for which we can offer the inspiration necessary to engage with them and assist them to appreciate what “The Verb” has to offer. The majorities of High Schools these days have comprehensive Web sites, use social media and utilize other creative approaches for outreach to connect with prospective students. Understanding just how important the “right-fit” is requires more. We are of the belief, prospective students and their families should have greater opportunities to make implicit decisions based on experiences from a range of angles. By inviting them to visit our campus to gain a generalized knowledge about the benefit of the Verbum Dei educational experience and challenging them in their analysis, we believe our school’s educational experience and the expected outcomes are undeniable; graduating a Jesuit High School, composing a four year resume detailing a unique Corporate Work Study experience and 100% College acceptance!

In Admissions, we are well aware of the goal to attract the young men who were successful in Middle School and had exposure to a bunch of extracurricular activities, yes absolutely, but we also must strive harder to identify opportunities for those prospective students falling slightly beyond the margin. With the proposed plans to strengthen instruction, strengthen student support services and continue expanding our College Guidance curriculum outlined by our Principal Dr. Odom we are showing the mature, motivated, marginalized and underserved student he is going to be able to be highly successful and benefit most from the uniqueness of our institution. The Admissions Department is heeding the suggestions of our leadership. We are planning, assessing, choosing activities, tools, and arranging our goals carefully, with focus on fostering the prospective students’ habits of choice and learning more about the activities for which we should focus. Using critical thinking and helping the prospective students to uncover authentic concerns about the Verbum Dei High School experience we believe they will fully appreciate the answer is self-evident. With our strongest focus on fostering prospective students’ habits of choice, we better our chances of increasing our enrollment. However, there is no automatic relationship between prospective student choices and increased enrollment. There are two factors of the most importance: The prospective students’ way of exercising control over their choice for the High School they plan to attend and the prospective parents’ way of exercising control over their choice for the High School experience for their son. The strongest way to gain the outcomes we seek to achieve is by using a clear and visible system for recruitment that involves our entire campus community, Faculty, Staff current students and parents so the prospective students and their families understand what the expected outcomes truly are and we all successfully promote their ability to matriculate, graduate and go on to College.


We Belong to Each Other: A Dean’s Reflection

On most days, my hourly hallway walk-throughs consist of finding unattended books, a forgotten Gatorade bottle, a black tie and the occasional student rushing to avoid being late to class. On this particular day, however, I was reminded of one of the many foundational elements that keep Verbum Dei’s ground sacred; I was reminded that we belong to one another.  As I walked through the brisk morning breeze from the parking lot to the main office, I came across one of our students walking slowly towards the Multi-Purpose Room to check in before going to his CWSP internship. His gentle steps and observant glances to his surroundings communicated a peace that is not often found in the middle of midterm week. More importantly, amidst his methodical pace the student’s eyes met two slowly moving snails who were on a mission to cross the sidewalk. In a predictable fashion, the student skipped over the snails but suddenly his steps came to a halt. The Verb freshmen turned around and proceeded to picking up each snail and placing it on a long leaf next to the sidewalk. My jaw dropped.

Perhaps what I witnessed was an isolated act of kindness, or an effort to impress the adult who was watching. However, given that his warm Verb hoodie blocked his periphery, I choose to believe that what I witnessed was a Verb gentleman acknowledging that all life is sacred. The hustle and bustle of reaching our destination is often all we need to forget the pivotal role we play in each other’s lives. Meeting a deadline, running late, or feeling discomfort are all things that can very easily gear us away from being a loving and helpful presence along the path of someone else’s journey.

I continue to be humbled by the hearts that walk our halls. While the gesture of picking up a snail and placing it on a safer path may not make our website’s front page, it does speak to the ethos that permeates Verbum Dei. If this act is any indication of the type of college students and professionals our young men will be, then I say we should look at the future with optimism. I am an educator, but on this day, I was taught the lesson.

Technology Needs at Verbum Dei

The message I want to share today is one of steadfastness. As a school administrator and Director of Technology, I have been challenged recently to formulate strategic Technology needs of the school for the upcoming budget season.  The Tech budget is different from other areas other school in that there is a long list of items that are perfunctory – things that are simply necessary and non-negotiable.  Then, I am asked to include those larger-ticket items that are more strategic in nature.  These items often represent the dreams of the school; things that not only can affect student performance in the classroom, but can lift Verbum Dei’s competitive image and marketability as a first-rate learning institution.  I am always eager to fill this section full of “tech dreams.”  That is, until I total up the numbers and quickly see that many of these dreams are not happening – at least not in this iteration of the budget.

The last few years – when line items in my budget are trimmed – I feel I’m at a crossroads. I ask myself, “where is this all going?”  Can I ever put in place the plans that I believe will make a difference in the classroom and the lives of these young men?  While pondering this, two items recently came across my desk that reminded me why I stay steadfast to the task.  An article on the struggles of Locke High School in Watts explained in detail the complexities of preparing the youth of Watts for college and beyond.  Although Verbum Dei is never mentioned in the article, the schools have much in common and face many of the same challenges. There was also a Netflix documentary – A Week in Watts – that was recently released. A Week in Watts focused on Operation Progress and the success they have had – in collaboration with the LAPD – in identifying and placing vulnerable youths in a program that sees them through high school and beyond.  Verbum Dei is featured prominently in the documentary, and several of our students are highlighted.

These two items in the media – for me – serve as a bell-toll for why I remain steadfast to the challenge Verbum Dei faces. They show us that Watts – not unlike many areas of our country – have had the establishment turn their backs on them for decades.  The assistance these communities need really starts at a ground level.  It starts with individuals who care enough to want to make a difference.  Here at Verbum Dei, it starts with our faculty and staff, and relies heavily on the love and good graces of our benefactors – who equally understand the need, urgency and importance of our mission.  I first came to this school eight years ago.  It has had a profound effect on my life and understanding of the world around me.  I want to make a difference here, and play a role in a meaningful success story.  That is why – in next year’s budget – I will again enter my “tech dreams.”  We will stay at this, and get it done.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

When you recognize that you command the attention of 305 young Black and Brown men your mind races as to which, topics, histories, and stories, you want to share with them. I have often found myself thinking:

I have to make sure our boys are exposed to the great thinkers/ philosophers/ writers? Ralph Emerson, Nelson Mandela, Gabriel Garcia Marquez?!

Our young men definitely need to be exposed to great scientist and researchers; Albert Einstein, Charles Drew, Sigmud Freud, George Washington Carver!

I can’t forget good music; Beethoven, George Walker, Henriette Renie, Richard Smallwood, Prince, Michael Jackson!

I have always wanted to create an activity the entire school- students, parents, faculty, staff, and our neighboring community- could all participate in. With the help of my Deans, I decided on a school wide community read. This community read would involve the entire community reading, engaging, and discussing the same book at the same time. Whole-school reads give the entire school community a common literary experience and its benefits are plentiful:

          Students see the adults in their lives as readers- reading for pleasure

          Enhance literacy skills

         Build community

Now we needed a book. As luck would have it, I received a phone call from the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. Their One Million Abolitionist Initiative aims to get the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave into the hands of one million young people. Their goal is to inspire and empower young people to do more and be more than they ever dreamed possible.  This seemed like a perfect marriage. Douglass’s first-person account of his life as a slave, his assertion of the liberatory effects of education, and his ability to call out the contradictory nature of American/Christian ideals in relation to slavery would be inspiration and aspirational. It didn’t hurt that he was also one of my favorite historical figures. With their donation of 480 copies of the Narrative we had the first ever Verbum Dei whole- school read!

Our initiative, called One Book, One Community involves allotting time, resources, and opportunities for the community to get excited and engage with the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass text. We are currently 1-week in and I cannot tell you how proud I am of my faculty/staff, parents and students for truly immersing themselves in the text. The One Book, One Community series will culminate with a celebration on February 28, 2018. We will also be joined by the 3X great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the 2X great grandson of Booker T. Washington, Mr. Kenneth Morris at that time as well. Verbum Dei is celebrating literacy and I couldn’t be more proud to call this place home!