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 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: