Last Friday, July 20, 2012, the administrators of Verbum Dei High School were witness to an awesome culmination of the 2012 Summer Orientation for Academic & Employment Readiness program (S.O.A.R):

The Almond Joy award is an honor which is to be bestowed upon the best performing student during the full four weeks of the S.O.A.R. Program. It is typically extended to the student who actively participates in class to the highest measure and shares their knowledge with other students. The Almond Joy Award is awarded to the quintessential S.O.A.R. student who is a joy to have in class.

~ Ms. Brandi Odom-Lucas, S.O.A.R. Principal and Verbum Dei High School Dean of Students

Affectionately referred around campus as The S.O.A.R. Kids, these young men have now transitioned to being identified as the Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School. Four years from now upon graduation they will be known as Verbum Dei Gentlemen. Their awards ceremony was truly a celebratory experience only to be surpassed by the tremendous display of maturity demonstrated by the newly crowned Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School as they presented themselves to the Corporate Work Study Program’s (CWSP) corporate partners at the job fair. Each of the CWSP Partners was seated behind their stations about the Eagles Nest, our gymnasium, prepared to listen to every one of our new students highlight their intelligence, their capabilities, and eagerness to work. The entire Verbum Dei High School community is extremely excited as the summer activities come to an end and we prepare for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year. Extra special kudos is extended to Monica Gonzalez, Admissions Coordinator, and Joanne Flynn, Admissions Data Entry Specialist, for their outstanding service during the 2012- 2013 prospective student recruitment campaign. Without their sweet symphony of combined effort we certainly would not be able to consider ourselves successful in identifying and recruiting these outstanding Gentlemen of Verbum Dei High School.

These young men are prepared! They are ready to achieve all, which “The Verb” experience provides: A resume detailing four years corporate work study experience; a high school diploma; and, college acceptance. As stated by Christopher Lewis, ’09, who served as a teacher in the S.O.A.R. program this summer home from successfully completing his junior year at Amherst College:

As you move forward I want you to accomplish two things: (1) Identify and articulate those experiences which are essential to your story here at Verbum Dei High School. (2) Identify and articulate the experiences that will prepare you to change the perspective of how Black and Brown Boys from inner city communities like South L.A., Watts, Compton, and the surrounding communities are perceived when they present themselves on College Campuses across the nation. This is the foundation of all the young men that follow this path.

If we are to appreciate the truth about ourselves as educators, we need to reflect upon our own educational experiences and continue to serve in a greater capacity. The young men we are serving are encountering experiences from which they are now unsheathing the conclusions of life. It is natural for them to do so. Nevertheless, without careful reflection, the skill that should be refined and exercised regularly, our suppositions about the best practices to follow when teaching them will at best be inadequate, and at worst invalid.

Remember, our goal is to reach them and teach them. To be educated is better than the alternative. If our students are to truly learn, they need to rely on our knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and insight. The process of discerning and identifying truth is the mechanism that works best when the process is stimulated through careful instruction.

I believe this is the process that is essential for developing men of conscience and reliability, leading to choices for positive change. Ultimately we want to graduate these young men to a level of leadership, character and integrity, so that they can become people who will change the world, and change it for the better.

Peace…

Lorenz B. Willis

Learn, grow and experience

“Where have these four years gone…” a senior stated last week as I signed his yearbook. I smiled and continued scribbling in his yearbook words of encouragement. There was truth to his statement given that the last four years flew past us, but the years are not gone. These four are only a fraction of his life, but they are formative years that impact his future in higher education and years to come.
Here at the Verb, he has learned the value of a college prep education by taking on an academically rigorous schedule. He has appreciated the experience of a four-year work study position. The numerous service excursions allowed him to be a man with and for others. Participation in extracurricular activities enabled him to strengthen brotherhood and kinship with his peers. His involvement in sports made him a competitor and a team player. These four years gave him endless opportunities to thrive and while he will not re-live these days, the memories, experiences and relationship are forever present in his mind and heart.
This is what the Verb is all about…providing opportunities for young men to learn, grow and experience. And this senior succeeded because he took full advantage of all we have to offer. He is on his way to St. John’s University in Minnesota and without a doubt, will reach great heights. I am honored to know him and be witness to his development.

Work Hard, Play Hard!

Freshmen racing to the finish!
The freshmen class went on a recent field trip to the land before High School. This place is magical, where you worry about getting tickets for rides and getting tickets for prizes. This place has games, rides, music and food. Golf N’ Stuff – as featured in the original Karate Kid movie, has the makings of a destination all on its own.

I was lucky to be part of the adult contingent that included veteran teacher and golf moderator Nicolas Hogan and theology teacher Ms. Jazmin Jimenez. It was at this magical place that I was also transformed into a pre high school kid. It was halfway through the trip that I started to think about how these Verbum Dei Freshmen are now embarking into the true and rough waters of manhood. They are stepping into the place where they will soon start to develop as men and no longer boys. It was such a revealing trip to see them enjoy their last few days as freshmen and also kids. They had worked hard during the year so now it was time to see them loosen up and play hard.

These boys had a great time. From the start, they ate pizza, drank soda, and got more sugar fuel by sampling some good old ice cream. We played an hour of miniature golf in which everybody knows that boys will climb, kick and hit anything that has moving parts. You also know that you don’t let the ball go at the 18th hole because then your game is over. We skipped from course to course on the 4 course park. We definitely had our fill by the time it was announced that the Lil’ Indy car racing track was open for us. I don’t think that Mr. Hogan has seen these boys run as fast as they ran to the open cars waiting at the starting lines in any of his Physical Education classes. I mean, the race started as soon as you passed the turnstile.

I raced a few races but quit as soon as everyone wanted to crash and spin my car around. It didn’t help that I ended up with the slowest cars on the track. The boys on the other hand, had a blast racing around and around. This was also true in the bumper boats. At the end of the day, it was great to see the boys really enjoy themselves and play without care. It was great to see them just be themselves and have a blast.

What a strenuous year this has been! I am not sure how I make it through each year, but I thank God every day for keeping me, if only just a half step ahead.

This year there were so many changes to the college application process that I thought I had perfected. From changes to the financial aid application, to the different way for students to register for placement testing, this year was full of changes that impacted the way that we do things here in College Guidance. Through it all, we were able to send our students to college, in a system that was designed to keep them out.

In an effort to keep from being too militant, offensive, or politically incorrect, I will try to express my true feelings. I have a serious concern about how many of these changes are communicated. For example, this year, California State University (CSU) system has decided not to accept paper and online payless registrations for their placement tests. These tests are required for all students who are planning on attending a CSU. I typically have all students take the test, even if their plans do not include a CSU, just as a back-up. It is just a way for students to be on the safe side since there is a window for students to take these tests that usually closes around the first week in May. Originally, students just needed to register for the test by mailing in a form or registering for a place online. Students would pay with a check or money order when they arrive on campus for the test. This year, the way students register, changed. This change was not discussed at the annual CSU conference, which is designed to update counselors on changes for the new year. This change was discovered when the class of 2012 was trying to register for placement testing.

The way the new registrations works is as follows: Students go online to ETS (Educational Testing Service), the same organization that works with the College Board and the SAT. Students have to register online only and they must use a credit card at the time of registration. I can understand the changes, I mean, I am sure that had plenty of no-shows with the old system which would result in spaces being reserved and not used. I understand the benefits of a more streamlined process that would allow for universities in the system to be able to seamlessly retrieve registrations. I truly understand how this helps the CSU system but how does it help the student?

How does this system help the student who does not have access to internet at home? Or a computer? Or better yet, how does this system help the student who does not have access to a credit card? Many would argue, there is access to internet everywhere, and a credit card, who doesn’t have a credit card these days??? The truth is that there are many luxuries, or even things that we would consider basic, that thousands of people do not have access to, including a credit card.

So finding a way to help my students navigate this system is rewarding even if I have to collect cash from a student and use my credit card to pay for a mom does not have a credit card. Unethical? Not in the least. I like to think that it is the price that we pay to have a future of leaders who represent the true America. I know that I will be ok. I am here to make sure that each and every young man who walks these halls will be. And I believe, with the dedicated souls who come to work here every day, they will.

Verb’s Getting It Right

It pleases me greatly that during a time that African American and Latino American inner city young men are being described as confused and spiritually ill, we are getting it right. I am proud to illustrate the relevance to the relationships we have cultivated. This blog is representative of our effort. It hopefully will provide an explanation and offer greater understanding of our collective accomplishment. In this account, hopefully you are apprised of what you have done to assist our young men to enter an experience that is certainly not promised. I have chronicled this for you to continue to work toward our goal of changing lives. The major theme is that we are winning and it strongly implies that the events evidenced are written and designed as examples to observe and continue.

I have had the distinct pleasure of serving in several capacities here at “The Verb” over the course of my tenure and one-thing remains constant; our young men are focused and, in most cases, well prepared to accept the challenges that lie beyond Verbum Dei High School when they graduate. This observation comes to mind by way of a recent visit to Cal State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). Verbum Dei High School College Guidance Coordinator Mrs. Bowie and I served as chaperones for several Verb Gentlemen who were identified as campus leaders and were invited to participate in The Third Annual Male Success Alliance Spring Summit: Saving Lives and Salvaging Dreams. As soon as we arrived on the campus we were greeted by two Verb Graduates working as CSUDH student advisers for the conference. The Male Success Alliance Founder and President David Lopez 06’ and Mariano Rojo 11’ stepped on board our bus and welcomed us.

The goal of the conference was to partner with local high schools to raise awareness and promote success. We spent most of the day finding out how to improve our educational experiences and reach our goals in life. We were encouraged to connect with other students who shared our common goals and to build a support system that will be a part of our success in the future. This was the start to believing differently about ourselves so that we can reach our full potential. We encountered people from other schools who were totally excited and motivated. Although I was truly delighted and inspired by the presentation I spent a great deal of the time throughout the day making observations, drawing suppositions, doing comparison and contrast exercises. This all lead me to the same understanding… Damn We’re Good! The whole of the Verbum Dei community would have been equally proud of the way our young men presented themselves while representing The Verb. As a result of the experiences and the influence The Verb offers, our young men set themselves apart. They were distinguished, well dressed, well educated, well spoken, and extremely mature. Several of the other partner school representatives approached me asking, “From what school are your boys?” “Oh… Verbum Dei… they are so well behaved and attentive too!” “I knew they were students from a private school.”

I encourage everyone (students, faculty, staff, donors, board members, volunteers, etc.) to reflect on your Verbum Dei experiences and think about what they mean to you, perhaps there are a number of ways in which you can consider yourself to be ultimately blessed, and in some situations having the opportunity to bless others through your blessings. I truly believe God has an out of this world blessing in store for me! A universal blessing, that is inclusive with the effort and energy that each of us within the Verbum Dei High School community can share. I want each of you to know that we have gotten the chance to witness the transition and transformation of our young men and I am truly grateful for all of those who have contributed to the goal of getting our boys ready for greater understanding. We in our own unique way have asked God to reveal to us in detail the signs of the increased growth of his kingdom. Although it is not always evident to me when I am self-reflecting it is truly a blessing to witness our collective effort and the evidence that God is moving, in the manifestation of our boys. Keep up the good work! Peace…

Verbum Dei “Boys of Summer” bring spirit and skill to pick-up games of catch

The Verbum Dei Eagles varsity baseball team warms up by playing catch prior to the first game of a March 3 doubleheader in Avalon on Catalina Island.  Photograph by John Stradley, English Department Chair

“You wanna have a catch?” It’s a line of dialogue from 1989’s Field of Dreams that is certain to tug at the heart of anyone.  The question in the film speaks to lost opportunities, to times past, and to new beginnings.  When I pose that same question to the gentlemen of Verbum Dei, I speak of new opportunities, of better understanding, and also to some new beginnings.  Playing a pick-up game of catch has become a cherished part of my lunchtimes at the Verb.  My classroom faces Senior Square, and on any given day, several members of the varsity baseball team congregate at the tables outside in the corridor.  I have taken to storing my equipment bag in my classroom for such opportunities. 

 Playing catch in that space allows my students and former students to see me in a new light and under a blue sky, far removed from the classroom setting that is the basis of our most frequent interaction.  As their thrown balls smack into the pocket of my favorite glove or my throws find their mark in their mitts, we enjoy the celebration of baseball – the delight in throwing accurately and catching decisively.  I see these gentlemen in a different light as well, for many who squeeze their hands into one of my two extra child-size gloves are not current players on the Verb roster, but former park-leaguers and Little League players who have left the game for other pursuits.  Still, the feel of the stitches and the warmth of a leather glove draw them back.

I had the good fortune to accompany our baseball team to a double header against Avalon High School on Catalina Island a few weeks ago.  It was a wonderful day for baseball in any setting, and the Verbum Dei squad represented themselves well in play and in spirit.  The team is forming anew with different coaching and many new players.  Along with their equipment bags, the players bring a desire to learn, to grow, and to contribute.  While the viability of fielding a baseball team may have seemed dubious earlier in the school year, all elements have come together to make Verbum Dei baseball a reality.  “If you build it, he will come,” whispers the voice of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams.  The dedication of many at the Verb has shown that if you build it, they will come, and they will come with heart and a desire to contribute.

The Unexpected

On a recent visit to one of our Corporate Partners, the supervisor was outlining the tasks each of his 4 students perform, and was explaining how much he appreciates Verbum Dei’s students. He then pauses and tells me, “You know, when we first started this program, I expected to spend a considerable amount of time training our students when they first arrive, re-explaining instructions and that sort of stuff. I knew they would be young and that I would have to get used to them being here. But, what I didn’t expect was to miss our students on the days when they are out ill. We have come to rely on them so much that when they are not here, man, we miss them and our work load doubles! We all look forward to their arrival because they energize and increase morale in the office. They are members of our team and carry out important tasks, so when they are absent, I hurt for help!”

From my visit with this company and many others, it is evident that the students add value and significantly contribute to the operations of the departments where they work. The Corporate Work Study Program is a win-win for students and the companies. Students are gaining valuable professional and life skills that only come with the hands on experience they are receiving at organizations that partner with us. The work study program compliments the academic program and I am proud to be a part of this wonderful experience. I, just like the supervisor above, value the time spent mentoring and teaching our Verb students.

Verbum Dei students are well rounded young men who graduate with a high school diploma, an impressive resume, spiritual growth, social skills development, a caring heart and a positive outlook in life. As an adult, it is rewarding to work with and for a group of young men who want to succeed and accomplish the impossible.

If you haven’t visited the Nest, come on down…we are happy to host you and show you firsthand how Verbum Dei Eagles soar!

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.

Verb Gentlemen: Why We Are Here!

The day to day operations of fundraising can be tedious and repetitive as certain tasks and services must be performed daily in order to insure our donors and prospective donors understand our mission and see how well we steward their gifts. So much so it requires a dedicated team of three: Mrs. Stephanie Andrade, Mission Advancement Associate, Ms. Theresa Curtis, Mission Advancement Assistant, and myself.  Yet, don’t for one moment believe our 2011/2012 fundraising goal of $2.3 million is a three-person-only project.  Quite the opposite—Verb fundraising requires the entire Verb family from the President to faculty to staff to volunteers…it’s a major team effort. Yet, I digress…  My point is sometimes making sure all reports are completed on time; donor questions are answered; and, tours are conducted, one can sometimes lose track of why we are raising funds in the first place—difficulty seeing the forest for the trees.

However, once I leave my office and walk around the campus among the Verb gentlemen, I’m quickly reminded with salutations such as, “How’s your day, Mr. Hosch;” “Thanks for recommending that book, Mr. Hosch;” and “Mr. Hosch, I think I may want to attend Cal State LA.” …or when I open my door to hear Mr. Nick Hogan, across the hall, teaching one of his demanding courses while keeping the gentlemen honest and holding them to task, of why I am here and why I do what I do—the Verb gentlemen deserve the opportunities and resources needed to gain access and graduate college.  …and I am reminded that I’m privileged to play a small part in their immediate and future successes.

So, do yourself a favor!  Come down and visit our fine campus; meet our outstanding faculty and staff; and, most importantly, talk with our eager college-bound young gentlemen.  You’ll quickly remember why you volunteer, donate, and support Verbum Dei High School. And you’ll see there is no organization out there doing quite the incredible work we are doing in Watts. To schedule a visit, call me at 323-564-6651 Ext. 5100 or email me at phosch@verbumdei.us. You’ll grow to respect our mission even more!

P.S. Don’t forget our Mardi Gras Awards Dinner and Auction on February 16, 2012 at the California Club beginning at 5:30PM.  Don’t miss this fun event: http://www.verbumdei.us/supportus/mardigras.html