Verbum Dei gentlemen discovering that Reading Counts! for more than grades

“This is the first book I have enjoyed reading in my 15 years,” said a student in the Class of 2015 in reference to Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  It is the sort of statement that every teacher longs to hear and one that may well signal the conversion of a non-reader into one who loves the printed word.

There is a change in the air, and it is as real as the warmth of the unseasonably warm February sun upon the skin. Students at Verbum Dei High School are reading – reading for their English grades and for pleasure.  It is a gradual transition and not one without its bumps and resistance, but a “culture of literacy” is breathing its life in the classrooms and corridors of the campus and in the abodes and apartments of VDHS students.

“My sons are reading more than they play video games!” a stunned parent of twin Verb sophomores told me at parent teacher conferences in February of 2011.

The numerical evidence is provided through Scholastic’s Reading Counts! program, which debuted in the 2010-2011 school year as a pilot program with the freshman and sophomore classes.  A generous grant from City National Bank’s Reading is the Way Up Fund allowed the program to be implemented school wide in 2011-2012.  Since August, 2011, acting on their own in a completely self-motivated program, Verbum Dei students have collectively read more than 34.3 million words!  This reading of fiction and non-fiction titles is in addition to assigned readings in various classes.

“This is the first book that I have picked up and finished on my own,” said Omar Melendrez, a sophomore last year.  The student has since been recommended to and enrolled in Honors English III, where he currently is reading the imposing Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

“What still impresses me is how a book can drastically change someone’s life,” wrote student Oscar Partida in a reading journal entry for his English II class. “Books are very powerful.”  A reflective journaling activity, coupled with the students’ independent reading, helps to hone active-readership skills including prediction, finding connections, questioning, and evaluation of character motivations.

At Verb we are taking on the leviathan of student apathy toward reading with all the determination and resolve of Melville’s Captain Ahab.  “Call me Ishmael” indeed.

All in the Family

A friend of mine recently asked me if I find teaching fulfilling.  I responded by saying that I find teaching at Verb fulfilling.  Verbum Dei is a special place to be.  In an earlier blog, our principal, Dr. O’Connell, talked about the “Verb family” we have on campus.  This family atmosphere cannot be found on just any campus. It takes faculty, staff, students, and parents that really care for one another and actually enjoy one another to create such a family.

As much as I love being a part of this family, I even more love the opportunity I have to see the students form this brotherhood with one another which helps them grow and mature.  As Director of Campus Ministry, I have the opportunity to witness this brotherhood at its most vulnerable moments on the class retreats.  Within the last month we had both our sophomore and junior retreats.  Our student campus ministers (known as the JEDIS, which stands for Jesuit Educated Disciples in Service) help plan and lead the retreats.  One of the JEDIS also spoke on each retreat, opening up to the younger classmen, to their younger “brothers,” about each of their life journeys and the struggles they’ve faced.  Their openness set the mood for the rest of the students to have open and honest discussions in small groups about their own joys and struggles.  Near the end of the junior retreat, multiple students spoke to the support system they have gained within their brotherhood, reinforcing to one another that they are always there for each other, and that through this unbreakable bond they have, none of them ever have a reason to feel alone.  It is a blessing to witness our students form and live out this remarkable brotherhood as a part of our Verb family.