Gratitude

The commitment to and heartfelt appreciation for our students is evident in the mentorship and guidance offered by their supervisors. So every year, we invite supervisors to Verbum Dei to enjoy a meal with their students as we say thank you. Below is part of my welcome speech to them …

In one of his many poems and meditations, William Ward wrote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Please allow me to express my gratitude in the next couple of minutes for your unwavering support to help maintain the mission of Verbum Dei over the years.

I am grateful to each and every single one of you for accepting the call to serve the young men of Verb throughout their high school career. I know that while you couldn’t turn down having eggs and potatoes with some carb loaded pastries this morning, being present with and for your students, I know takes center stage and is the real reason you’re here.

You made the drive to Verb this morning for very much the same reason you committed to supervising a teenager– you care about them, their well-being, their development, their future. For this, I am grateful.

You mentor our young men looking for ways to be a beneficial presence to them – you share college options, career choices, and studies of interest with them. For this, I am grateful.

You show our students ways to increase their skills bank – you teach them new concepts, charge them with a different project, and invest your time showing them computer programs. For this, I am grateful.

You provide a platform for tomorrow’s leaders to learn from their mistakes – you demonstrate care, patience and acceptance. For this I am grateful.

On this 16th anniversary of the Corporate Work Study Program, I can’t help but be reminded of the impact you’ve had on the 765 alum that have participated in the program since 2002. Alongside our faculty and staff, you’ve had a significant impact in shaping who they are today.

I don’t stand alone in expressing my gratitude. On behalf of our President Fr. Mandala, and Principal, Dr. Odom Lucas, I want to say thank you for your continuous support. Thank you.

Fall Sports Seasons Winding Down

We had a very successful Fall Sport Season with both Football and Cross Country earning CIF Post Season berths! Football finished 5-5 overall, a 2nd place finish in the South Catholic League, and a Division 12 playoff berth. Congratulations to the coaching staff and the boys for all the hard work put in! Cross Country finished in 3rd place in the Santa Fe League and earned the opportunity to run in the CIF Division 4 Prelims! Kudos to Coach Finn and the Cross Country boys!

The focus will turn to winter sports very shortly with Soccer returning a lot of players from last year’s playoff team that reached the CIF quarterfinals. Coach Rosa has the boys poised for a league championship and CIF Playoff run in 2017-18! The basketball program is ready to run as well with the hiring of new head coach, Ken Stevenson. Coach K and his staff have been working the boys harder than they are used to and are excited for the 2017-18 Season! Come out and support our Winter Sports!

 

New Faces at Verb

It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that we welcome three new-to-Verb teachers this academic year!

Mr. Kevin Nguyen first came to Verbum Dei High School as a Jesuit Volunteer in 2011-2012 where he worked with Corporate Work Study. He went on to earn his M.Ed. from Loyola Marymount University and has returned to the Verb to pursue his teaching career as our sophomore English teacher.

We also welcome Ms. Victoria de Freitas, who has recently joined the Verbum Dei community to teach freshmen Spanish. Ms. de Freitas has recently taught English as a Second Language in Ecuador and Colombia. As a first generation college graduate, Ms. de Freitas comes to us with a passion for learning and a desire to give back to urban communities.

And finally, we welcome Mr. Eduardo Magana who has joined the Verbum Dei community as a sophomore and junior Spanish teacher as well as Chair of the Spanish Department. Mr. Magana comes to the Verb with a wealth of experience teaching all levels of Spanish, including Advanced Placement.

Please join me in welcoming our three new teachers to the nest. I look forward to seeing the wonderful work they do in the classroom with our young men!

Verbum Dei High School Admissions

The most meaningful aspect of consideration we can offer a prospective Verbum Dei High School student and his family is an opportunity of exposure to gain a quality educational experience, incorporating the Corporate Work Study Program and a successful transition from High School into a four year College or University. It is our goal to promote the awareness that inner-city students deserve exposure opportunities as much as their counterparts living in affluent communities, academically thriving in the educational experiences specifically designed with them in mind. Within our community and throughout our Nation Black and Brown Boys living in inner-city communities are expected to be abysmal failures. At a time when inner-city students now more than ever skip class and drop-out to engage themselves in the traditionally negative pastimes of drug usage, drug trade, gang banging and pre-mature sexual activity, Verbum Dei has created an alternative affording escape. The controversy over why inner-city students demonstrate such low educational enthusiasm, we believe is a direct result of their inability to educationally transcend the negative obstacles that exist within the community even after graduating High School.

By offering educational experiences and incorporating exposure opportunities for participation and observation in real life activities the greatest challenge to our enrollment then becomes ignorance, lack of understanding, accepted unawareness, disbelief that a program designed with you in mind really does exist for the underserved family. At Verbum Dei we produce a type of access to an unknown reality that there is a place, a High School focused on changing the normal expectations for inner-city boys. Seeing is believing! It is our goal to have as many people interested in ensuring that there are resources for underserved students visit our campus and learn how they may become involved in this tremendous opportunity to affect positive change! Verbum Dei is one school within a network of 32 schools across the Nation specifically designated to serve in communities traditionally known to be on the downward trend, deteriorating, due to lack of resources.

Verbum Dei High School students attend class four days a week, “skip” one day of school sometimes two and participate in a Corporate Work-Study Program working five days a month. The students gain valuable “white collar” Corporate Work-Study Experience. We want to stimulate an empathetic introduction to a group of young men rarely appreciated for their understanding of purpose, resilience, fortitude and perseverance. Verbum Dei High School is an extremely useful example, a powerful tool of evidence offering greater understanding for examining the issues as to why inner-city students and schools are experiencing difficulty.

Technology Update

On the Tech front, Verbum Dei has completed its strategic goal to move our staff and faculty email off a local Exchange server model to the Office365 platform. This deployment serves three main purposes.  First, it increases access reliability to our staff – cloud platforms are redundant and for the most part accessible at all times.   Second, the databases have built-in backup services, thus ensuring mail is never lost. Lastly, the elimination of an Exchange mail server paradigm closes several security vulnerabilities.  The data no longer sits behind a local firewall, thus eliminating the need for VPN needs.  IIS accessibility – a massively-hacked feature of Microsoft Web Services – is no longer necessary for web-access.  Closing the IIS service is of great relief to this IT Director.

We have also recently adopted Microsoft’s Volume Licensing Software Program for our MS Office products. The school benefits from significant educational discounts with this program and allows us to deploy – and maintain – the latest Office 2016 product for all of our staff, faculty and students. This deployment allows us to take advantage of all of the email and calendaring features offered in Outlook 2016 and Office365.

Looking forward, we are in the design phases of an initiative to ensure VDHS students have access to online lessons and curriculum. We clearly foresee the need for teachers to maximum the collaborative benefits of class time, while at the same time feel confident their students can complete off-hour assignments 24/7/365.  Teachers need to be confident their students can stay paced in the classroom.  As we said repeatedly, access is an issue with some VDHS students.  We need to have a plan in place to ensure 100% of our students have access to assignments at all times.

The JET Visits Verb Eagles

On Wednesday September 27, 2017, Verbum Dei hosted the California Jesuit Excellence Tour (JET). The JET is a traveling college fair of 17 Jesuit colleges and universities from across the nation. Universities such as Gonzaga, College of the Holy Cross, Santa Clara, Fairfield and Seattle came to speak to our students about their respective campuses and the resources they offer students.

While research tells us that students should visit colleges before applying in order to get a feel for the campus and its resources, for many of our students traveling across the country to visit a college is simply not feasible. Touring college fairs such as the JET are a great resource for our students and in return an opportunity for Verbum Dei to develop relationships with great colleges and universities that may not be as familiar with our school and our driven students. Furthermore, while many of our students know our local postsecondary institutions, we aim to expose them to colleges they may not have heard of but can offer them great educational experiences and excellent financial aid packages.

As a college prep high school, Verbum Dei acknowledges the importance of making sure that the JET was available to not only seniors, who are in the middle the college application season, but to all grade levels as well. Therefore the event happened during school hours in order to make sure that all students could attend. In the end, our gym was bustling with college representatives and curious eagles, which came in with note pads to take notes and a list of questions to ask 17 college representatives. Prior to heading back to their campuses, many of the representatives shared just how impressed they were with Verbum Dei students, noting their politeness, insightful questions and overall preparedness. One representative even mentioned that Verb was one of the most impressive schools she had ever visited!

And the college visits to Verb don’t stop here! Just about every week during the fall, there is a college visiting The Verb. Just recently, Bowdoin College, University of Notre Dame, University of California, Merced and Georgetown University, amongst several others have presented to our students with many more to come! Lastly, this year, under the coordination of the College Guidance Department, each grade level will participate in a college visit field trip to at least one local college campus.

Hamilton will have Eagles in the Crowd!

After a long and competitive process, Verbum Dei has been selected as one of the schools in Los Angeles who will experience the magic of Hamilton the musical! Through a partnership between Hamilton and local donors, the Gilder Lehrman Institute is able to offer our eleventh grade American history classes’ exclusive participation in the program, which combines Founding Era classroom resources developed by the Institute, document-based student projects, and a special student matinee at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.

Led by Mr. Jovel and Ms. Bernal, the juniors at Verbum Dei have spent weeks learning about one of the most influential historical figures in our nation’s history. Through the hip-hop, rhythm and blues and pop music beats found in the Grammy winning soundtrack of Hamilton, students have been able to enhance their analytical and research skills, all while studying the story of our founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Students have created poems, scenes, raps, and monologues inspired by other founding fathers, historical/founding documents, or historical events that they were able to connect with during research through the Hamilton education curriculum.

One of the most popular songs in the hallways of Verbum Dei is “My Shot” , a song written by the gifted and mastermind that is Lin-Manuel Miranda. The song describes Hamilton’s journey from being an orphan to his rise as a prominent revolutionary in the colonies, while highlighting Hamilton’s ambition and fearless character. In the song, Miranda writes through the voice of Hamilton, “I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal…Try’ to reach my goal my power of speech, unimpeachable.” These lyrics have not only captured the ears of our Eagles, but also their hearts. The grit, intelligence, and fearlessness that are found in the lyrics of Hamilton have inspired our Verbum Dei gentlemen to step up and take their shot.

More Than Clerical Work

Andrew began his CWSP internship at Love Productions in January of this year and his experience already encompasses more than the basic entry level clerical work of most internships. Early on, his supervisor, and Production Manager, Karra Duncan, committed to starting him off with basic lessons in TV production, researching and trends.

While in a meeting with EVP Kevin Bartel and Ms. Duncan, Andrew was given a task – pitch a TV show to the Culver City based staff, complete with story board. Mr. Bartel encouraged Andrew to think about his likes, interests and current trends. When I asked Andrew to recall the moment he knew what he would research, his smile was contagious as he shared, “I wanted to pitch a show about the motivation and love for baseball in Dominican players. They play with so much passion beginning at such a young age.”

Andrew worked alongside the son of a staff member who was on spring break and together they tackled the idea of motivation and baseball. They dreamt up characters, set the scene, developed a brief story line, titled their show Behind the Bat, and created story boards for their presentation. After presenting to the staff, Andrew and his partner received advice from the intimate group. Input was offered and one-on-one coaching took center stage. The feedback was priceless.

From the onset, Andrew learned that his supervisors were teaching him more than how a show turns into reality from a simple idea in someone’s mind. He understood that this was only an initial step. If the head of a production company thinks that a pitch is a good enough idea, resources are put behind it to film a sizzle reel and put together a deck, which the Development team then takes to different networks to sell. “There are so many steps,” recalls Andrew, “that I didn’t know were needed to make a show, a show.” Grateful for the time given to him for this project, Andrew enjoyed the process and says he’s ready for the next exciting project that exposes him to the world of TV production.

Not only does Andrew like working at Love Productions because of the great people, he says it’s like he’s not at work, but rather with family, the Love Family.

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.