Happy Easter

As we enter Holy Week which begins with Palm (Passion) Sunday, we come to the culmination of our self-reflective Lenten journey.  The scripture readings during this period have asked us to check our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters around us. As we move to the celebration of the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday), we are called to witness with gratitude to what God has done for us in the past, and what God continues to do for us daily. One can compare the sentiments of Holy Week with the Grad at Grad values of being Spiritual and Open to Growth.  We ask ourselves about God working in our lives, and about our attentiveness to God’s call to be the best people we can be.

This week, I experienced two very practical examples of how God is inviting growth in my life and in the lives of our students.  On Friday, Mr. Travis Russell and I traveled to Xavier Jesuit Prep in Palm Desert.  Xavier and Verbum Dei work closely with our student interchange programs.  On Friday, Travis and I were asked to celebrate a Mass which ended a week of reflection for Xavier students on Gender Inequality. It was obvious that the students were drained by the work of the week.  However, it was also obvious that these students had profited from the information that they had learned and from the sharing that they had done.  Open to Growth.   Coming back to Verbum Dei that afternoon, I was invited to participate in the sending off ceremony for 11 Verb students and 4 faculty/staff that would be spending a week on a Navajo reservation in Utah.  All knew that they were about to confront the unknown.  All knew that they were going to be living very simply in tents and sleeping bags.  However, each person was anxious to learn about a culture of which they had very little experience. Open to Growth.

My experience of the openness to growth that Jesuit education provides our young people coincides well with the celebration of Holy Week.  The world is alive with the grandeur of God, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.  My prayer for each of us is that we can open ourselves to see the Glory of God in our multi-cultural city and world, and that we can grow to appreciate God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of all whom we meet.

Happy Easter

Fr. Mike

State of the Department

    Following in the tradition of our Commander in Chief, I decided to use this post as an English Department equivalent to a State of the Union Speech.  Staying true to form, I will open by saying, as has become the perfunctory refrain: the state of the union (department) is strong.

    Over the past several weeks I had the opportunity to observe each teacher at length in their milieu. I witnessed courageous educators modeling lifelong learning behaviors while utilizing best practices. I watched as students engaged in thought provoking discussion and activities as they engaged with complex literature. I listened with delight as students worked to express their thoughts and feelings with eloquence and verve. If this reads more as a litany than a celebration, it is only that these educators have time and time again shown these things to be the norm and the rule. However, what did give me pause, and now cause to celebrate, was the unique passion displayed by each of these teachers.

    Terrance Starnes continually demonstrates his commitment to doing justice by allowing students to reflect critically on their own lived experiences. He puts himself “out-there”; sharing his own life, the ups and the downs, and thereby giving license to his students to follow in his brave foot-steps.

    If the phrase No Child Left Behind had not yet been sullied by cynical bureaucrats, I would say that John Stradley is a genuine embodiment of the phrase. In his classroom, each student is held to the utmost standard where no one is allowed to “opt out”. In fact, I heard the students using this phrase amongst each other when a classmate struggled to come up with an answer. It was not used as derision, but rather as an emboldening statement of solidarity.

    Evan Chavez understands students. Going to great lengths to choose materials, examples, and “ways in” for his lessons, Evan has created a joyous culture of learning where students can genuinely “see themselves” in the curriculum. It doesn’t hurt that Evan understands the power of laughter and humor and uses those tools to the delight of his students.

    Last, but certainly not least, Maria McDonald is one of the most focused educators I have ever observed. She knows where she wants the students to go and makes them work to get there. When Maria validates her students’ efforts and achievements, you know she is speaking with the greatest sincerity and with laser-like specificity. She provides her seniors with a classroom experience that requires they rise to the challenge of a more adult, college-oriented mindset.

    As this school year come to a close, I find myself inspired and excited to work alongside these amazing educators to make further strides in the English Department. There is of course much work to be done and many challenges and changes yet to face. However, for all the reasons listed above and because of so many other things not listed, I am confident that next year, and each year subsequent,  the state of the English department will not only remain strong, but will continue to get stronger.

Time for A Short Story

   We are officially in the last quarter at Verbum Dei. As fortune would have it, I am again writing this around our Grad at Grad week. This semester comes on the heels of interim assessments. The students braved the schedule, taking two tests a day while going to the rest of their classes as the week progressed. Overall, I am impressed with the arduous nature with which students addressed this week evident from the beginning of the prior week when they asked for a study guide before the bell for class sounded. In writing class the freshmen applied their writing acumen to creative pursuits and utilized tools developed over the course of the quarter.

   The freshmen developed short stories as a project and as part of their assessments. One integral element to writing that the freshmen embraced whole-heartedly this quarter is the concept of rewriting. The students had to compose multiple drafts focusing on different aspects throughout the process. One class would focus on correcting grammar issues such as subject-verb agreement or pronoun-antecedent agreement while another would tackle the coherence of plot and establishing a tactile setting. Students used this project to flex their imaginations using highly descriptive adjectives and adverbs to paint vivid pictures of events and people unfolding on the page. Eventually, the students shared their work with in-class readings much to the delight of the class and their teacher.

Mardi Gras 2015

“Thank you for coming out and supporting our students…Drive safe and God Bless,” were the words that concluded our Tenth Annual Mardi Gras Awards Dinner and Celebration held this year at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, given my Fr. Mike, Verbum Dei’s President.  To say it was a splendid evening severely understates its pomp and circumstance, as all sixty-nine graduating seniors were present and decked out in their finest threads, clean shaven, best mannered, and looking to network and to be honored for their hard work over the past four years.  In fact, collectively, the class of 2015 has risen over $1.9M toward the cost of their education through their work-study program, not to mention their expected goal of 100% college acceptance rate for the eighth year!

Verbum Dei was also pleased to honor Edison International for eight years of commitment to Verbum Dei through their corporate partnerships, donations, and volunteerism.  Edison International is a model supporter of Verbum Dei.  Mr. Jim Scillacci, EVP and CFO, was present, along with staff, to accept an award.

Everyone was there—donors, corporate partners, foundations, board members, faculty and staff. Collectively, over $400,000 was raised for the scholarships for Verb students.  We wish to thank everyone who supported this labor of love for our fine young men.

Link to Developing Men for Others Video: http://youtu.be/zNbyboF1494

Nick Spates ’15 delivering his speech

2015 Mardi Gras Dinner

Fine Arts Department Updates

Our department has been focusing on preparing our students for our annual Art Week from May 18-22. This week will showcase the works of our visual, dramatic and performing arts. As part of the Verbum Dei family, we cordially invite you to make your presence felt during our evening performances during that week. Below is the schedule and information that will help you in attending the events.

  • May 19-Tuesday
    • Drama perfomance
    • 7pm- in the MPR
  • May 22 -Friday
    • Choir Performance/ Art Show
      • 7pm- in the MPR
        • Suggested Donation
          • $5 Adult
          • $2 student

As this year has progressed, I am reminded of all that the arts provide for our students. Through each artistic medium, our students learn how they belong everywhere. Whether they are attending a Puccini opera, an art exhibit at the Norton-Simon, or a performance at the Dorothy-Chandler, the arts become a means to breaking cultural, socio-economic, and racial boundaries.