Growth Mindset: Preparing for College, College Success & Beyond!

Growth mindset is not just a new age philosophical trend, it truly is a way of life and a strategy for good mental health, and thus success! The College Access Program (CAP) curriculum/course is all about incorporating growth mindset. Students learn growth mindset throughout grades 9-11 in preparation for the CAP 12 course: protected and structured time for counselors to guide seniors through a  5 unit curriculum that is essentially the process they will follow in pursuit of college admissions- foundations, feasibility, discernment, enrollment and transition into college.

Why is it so important to pour these teachings into our students? What happened to just teaching pure undeniable hard work?  Well that’s easy, some students will say they have worked hard and still just don’t understand math for example, but then again they have never understood math so they are not surprised that regardless of their hard work, they still did not do well. How many times have you heard it? How many times have you said it yourself? This is the epitome of a fixed mindset.

Research shows that the mindset you have changes everything about how you approach challenges and opportunities—including whether you use the word “challenge” or “opportunity” for the same circumstance. And we all know that high school is full of both challenges and opportunities. We teach students that these two dynamics are actually one in the same, furthermore, that there is success and lessons learned and at the end of each opportunity.

Come senior year we hope our students would have mastered this concept, being able to open themselves to a host of different college options to find the best fit place where they will thrive and reach goals. They will also have the innate understanding that:

  • Belief in the development of whole self, including a healthy balance of mental, social/emotional and physical well-being…
  • Self-confidence in his ability to succeed…
  • Sense of belonging, especially in the school environment…
  • Understanding that postsecondary education and life-long learning are necessary for long-term career success…
  • Belief in using abilities to their fullest to achieve high-quality results and outcomes…
  • Positive attitude toward work and learning…

…is essential to reach their full potential in college and beyond!


Advent Season

As this Advent season begins, I look backward at this past year’s experiences, as well as look forward to new and exciting adventures that are waiting to be born.  I can’t help but pause at the loving influence that Fr. Mike Mandala had on my life.  December 7th would have been Fr. Mike’s 72nd birthday.  I still see his joyful face, eager for life, even as he continued to slow down due to the illness that ultimately claimed him. 

About a month after Fr. Mike’s funeral, I received his set of keys to Verbum Dei and was asked to close down his Verbum Dei cell phone account.  But before I did, I thought I should call whomever might have his phone to warn them that phone service was about to end.  When I called Fr. Mike’s cell phone, I was immediately greeted by the jovial and welcoming voice of Fr. Mike’s message, still alive with his enthusiastic and uplifting manner.  I was compelled to call multiple times because I needed to hear his voice and didn’t want to be the one to finally silence my friend.  When I struggle with the loss of a loved one, I often want to hang on to those things that remind me of their goodness and inspire me to be a better man.  Fr. Mike was that kind of person.  May this Advent season connect you to your faith, your friends and your family the way that Fr. Mike did for so many of us.



This was my welcome to our Annual Supervisor Appreciation Breakfast in November 2018 –

Have you ever walked into your favorite department store and picked up an item with a “one-size fits all” tag on it? Well I have. Many times. And, probably, an equal number of times, I’ve walked into the fitting room with a false sense of hope.

Well, our Corporate Work Study Program does not have a one-size fits all tag. And, it’s intentional. As much as we’d like too, this one-size fits all approach does not always work. Although the goals and expectations remain the same for your students, how the students accomplish them and how long it takes them to get there, will inevitably determine your course of action, your approach to the students’ projects, to their day.

Take a minute to think about your team of students. Think about the students sitting next to you this morning, those that have graduated, and those that worked with you for only a short period of time. Adopting a prescriptive model for how we operate our work-study program would mean the students you just thought of, 1) have the same needs, 2) communicate in a similar manner, 3) possess the same skill level, and 4) respond to feedback the same way. And, since I’m in a room full of supervisors, mentors and managers, I know that you know that this is just not the reality. Much like I knew that that item in the department store would not fit me.

Each of you here this morning is special, because you play a role in carrying out the mission of Verbum Dei. And, while not every supervisor here today plays the same role, you do fulfill the same mission. You believe that your student can and will accomplish the goals and expectations you place before him. You know that the energy and patience you gift your students will reap results. You know that those extra 10-15 minutes to check-in with your student at the end of the day will reciprocate the trust that you place in him. And through this process, not only does the Verbum Dei student grow, so do you. You develop as a supervisor, as a mentor, as role model and friend.

In the many years I’ve been privileged to work with CWSP students and their supervisors, I’ve compiled an endless number of anecdotes. I’d need the entire day to share with you my favorite ones, but there are a few examples of how supervisors enrich the students’ experience and make it their own that id like to share.

  • Allowing the student to spend an hour in the IT department because you know he’s interested in computers
  • Setting up interviews with your friend the architect because you know he wants to be an architect and you’re at a law firm
  • Intentionally breaking up the 4 hour filing project by having him assist with other smaller tasks in between so that he doesn’t get bored
  • Asking him to teach a colleague how find the currency exchange rate from 3 weeks ago so that the check requests from that work trip abroad are properly processed
  • Trusting him with the 60-day invoices to companies in the rears
  • Teaching him Revit and allowing him to present the observatory he designed to architects and engineers at the firm
  • Conducting a semester long research project in a topic of his choice while working alongside experts, and then presenting to the department the findings of his research

The list can go on, but one thing is for sure – remember that feeling of finding an item you liked with a one-size fits all label? I am proud to know that our students are in jobs where their experiences complement their interests and encourage their growth. They will not look back on their CWSP experience and label that tag, “one-size fits all”.

I am grateful for each and every one of you and would like to formally thank you for all that you do with and for our young men.

Thanksgiving Prayer

Creator God,

In a spirit of gratitude, we celebrate with family and friends.

We give thanks for those who are good to us.

We give thanks for those who were there to comfort

during trying situations.

And we give thanks for those

who remind us of your presence.

On this Thanksgiving Day, as we give thanks

for the light of your love, help us to be mindful

of those who will need us tomorrow.


Celebrating Verbum Dei’s Academic Department Chairs!

Last October 12th we held our annual Faculty Inservice Day which is the day when the faculty participates in a professional development. This is usually a one-size-fits-all session on a single topic such as literacy, student engagement, or assessments. This year, however, we took a different approach and asked our talented and experienced Chairs to lead a mini-PD for their colleagues, and offered our teachers the opportunity to choose to attend the sessions that interested them.

Mr. Ken Favell, Chair of the English Department, and Mr. Eduardo Magana, Chair of the Spanish Department, led a presentation on how to teach our students how to write clearly and concisely, as well as how to build language through examples, simulations, and practice.

Ms. Carolyn Westdal – Chair of the Science Department, explained how to use stations in the classroom to get our young men up and out of their seats while reinforcing content knowledge. I was inspired by this presentation, and just last week used it in my own AP US History class. The students enjoyed a video lesson on the Federalists and Anti-Federalists at one station, did a Constitutional scavenger hunt at another station, and deconstructed the Declaration of Independence at a third. The students remarked that they enjoyed the stations so I will call that a win!

Mr. Tim Moore, Chair of the Math Department, presented a variety of ways to use technology in their classrooms and to support and alleviate their tasks and workload. Coach Banuelos is now using the Schoology platform to give students quizzes as homework, freeing up more class time for instruction as a result of attending this session!

Mr. EJ Vieyra, Chair of the Theology Department, guided teachers in discovering ways to highlight social justice issues in their content areas, and Fr. George Teodoro, Chair of the Social Science Department shared his method of unit planning with his colleagues.

It was a great day of learning and sharing, of teachers teaching teachers, and of collegial bonding, and I can’t thank our Department Chairs enough for the planning and preparation that went into such a successful professional development day!

We are … Verbum Dei!

Admissions Season, Helping All Students, Every Student, Every Year to Achieve Their High School Admissions Goals and Greater

Educational accountability, standards and assessments, interviews and measures, seeking the right answers, reviewing transcripts, current report cards and teacher recommendations all of these indicators for potential success, test scores and behavior reports, these are all of the things we use and need to keep identifying the young minds open for this educational alternative for boys of color.

As our students successfully prepare themselves for pursuit of a Private Catholic Jesuit Educational High School experience we are looking for creative ways of thinking, affording an allowance of innovative ideas to stimulate a culture of young men which includes a Corporate Work Study experience that will produce a prodigious people and an unconstrained community. In this effort we need to increase our enrollment from the inside out. We need greater educational partnerships supporting an effective recruitment for every student, every year. Within this annual exercise in consideration of extraordinary opportunity we make reservation for creativity, innovation, problem solving and the thinking skills that define, distinguish and set apart the individuals that may not in their very early grades have overcome the despair commonly associated with the lack educational resources known to exist throughout our Southern California target communities, South Central Los Angeles, Watts and Compton. And as our students matriculate, moving toward high school graduation and the College of their choice we identify pathways for them, methods of navigation to ensure success and we provide a conduit for analysis, resourceful thinking, we do not support learning by memorization or routine conditioning.

Please support us in our efforts.

For more information on how you can help please contact our Administrative Offices (323) 564-6651.

Happiness and Gratitude

Happiness and gratitude is what I feel when I reflect on my seven year journey at Verbum Dei. I never imagined I would be working in a school so close to the place I called home as a child. My passion has always been teaching and helping others. As a child I would take every opportunity to teach – teach my siblings, my neighbors, I even gave my babysitter English lessons.

Today, as a counselor I’m given the opportunity to teach my students skills – skills to succeed in high school and beyond. During the fall semester I visit my freshmen twice a month during bridge class, and facilitate guidance lessons to support their transition from middle school to high school. I give them tools that will help them succeed and reach their goals and their academic potential. During my time with them we discuss time management, organization, communication skills, and study skills. In addition, several lessons focus on topics related to personal/social issues such as stress, anxiety, bullying, and mental health. The goal is to prepare students to cope with daily stressors and learn how to problem solve.

The greatest reward is when students celebrate their success with me. The other day a student walked into my office with the biggest smile on his face “Mrs. Rodriguez, have you seen my grades?” His hard work paid off and he got rid of some F’s on his progress report. Another student surprised me with an appreciation email, “I just wanted to thank you for being part of my journey here and at Verb and for listening to all my problems when I’ve had them”.

Happiness and gratitude! Thank you parents for allowing me to teach your sons, thank you students for allowing me to support you and guide you, and thank you Verb for allowing me to live out my passion.


School Update

Greetings! We have had a great start to the academic year, and have just completed Interim Assessments week! Verbum Dei scholars have been studying, reviewing and taking their exams all week.

Verbum Dei High School has been very fortunate to collaborate with Seattle Prep in Washington for the 3rd year along with the Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy (Seattle University) in an online course entitled, Arts & Cultural Identity. Ten Verbum Dei students and Ten Seattle Prep students take this course taught by Seattle University professor, Carol Kelly, and earn college credit in the process. We are very proud of the young men who sign up for this course for the extra effort, hard work, and self-discipline it requires of them. Not only do they enjoy a college course experience, but they also get the opportunity to interact through video and online with students from a very different cultural experience.

As VDHS junior, Carter Samuels, stated when asked about the course, “It’s impacted my learning because if I’m writing a response to something, or I am answering a question, usually I only hear what I’m answering, and being able to talk directly to the Seattle Prep students gives me new perspective in what they saw in the response or how they saw the question.” Students of the class also learn to critically analyze a diverse array of art medium. In his response, junior, Ty’on James, remarked, “It has made me see art in a more critical way. I see now how artists think, and what their motivations are when they are making their art.”

Our students are experiencing a rare opportunity to engage with peers from a very different cultural and socio-economic background in discussions surrounding important, current, and relevant issues on culture and identity. Exactly the type of academic experience that not only prepares our students, but Seattle Prep’s students as well, for future engaging post-secondary experiences.

Thank you to Seattle Prep for underwriting the costs of this course for our students, and to VDHS art teachers, Ms. Kennedy who generously gives her time to proctor the course!

Teaching all Boys

Here is what I do know:

  • Boy’s account for 71 percent of all school suspensions. Fifty-nine percent of Black boys and 42 percent of Hispanic boys report being suspended.(U.S. Dept of Ed and Schott Foundation Report)
  • Boys comprise 67 percent of all special education students. Almost 80 percent of these are Black and Hispanic males. (USDOE and Schott Foundation Report)
  • Boys are five times more likely than girls to be classified as hyperactive and are 30 percent more likely to flunk or drop out of school. (National Center for Education Statistics)

The goal is to keep our young men out of the street, off their mother’s couch and out of jail. Its crucial as educators we save our young men. Create an open path of communication so parents can come to you with concerns and you can do the same.

Finding the balance of teaching a young man who feels he is going to make it because of his athletic ability and he does not need to be successful in school. This is where a teacher needs not to discourage the young man or prove a point to the young man. Provide him with statistics to help him understand that having an education is just as important in excelling in sports. Punishing our young men, and kicking them out the class is not the way to solve the problem. We have to show our boys as teachers & administrators that we care. Many people in our boy’s life do not care or have given up on them. I always tell the young men that I am here for them and I am willing to help them however I can. Athletics however can be a motivating factor for a young man when it comes to school. Eligibility plays a role at some schools so he has to stay on top of his academics in order for him to play so use that as a tool to help your student-athlete and show that you care that he plays. Showing up to games help develop a good relationship with your student in the classroom.

Boys hear that the way to shine is athletically. And boys get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a student. Does being a good student make you a real man? I don’t think so… It is not cool.

I went to an all boys’ high school in Chicago and it really helped me although I was totally against going. That was the first time I had any black male teacher in my life other than my basketball coach. I was truly focused and prepared to go out in the world and be successful. As a teacher I have a great advantage with dealing with boys. I understand what these young males are dealing with and the struggles they face. Many times boys need for someone just to listen. Not only do I consider myself a teacher & coach but also a mentor to the young men. I know when to be tough and I know when they need someone to understand or be an advocate for them.

The Verb

I’ll take this opportunity to introduce myself, as I hope many of you will introduce yourselves to me over the next few months.  I am a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola High.  I entered the Jesuits right out of high school in 1960 and have never looked back. During my fifty-eight years as a Jesuit, I have served as Principal of Bellarmine College Prep, Provost and Academic Vice President of Santa Clara University and, most recently, as President of the University of San Francisco.  For thirty years I was at the receiving end of Jesuit secondary education and now, at Verbum Dei, I find myself on “production” side of the house, and it’s a great place to be.

As a reader of this blog, you know that 100% of our graduates are accepted into college and that is part of a story that I can only touch on here.  Verb’s academic focus is clear and sharp but it is broader than academics.  Jesuit education aims to develop every aspect of a students—intellectual, spiritual, physical, social.  The Verb offers a full range of competitive athletic teams at the Varsity and JV levels.  Monthly liturgies, students retreats, daily prayer, immersion experiences are woven into the fabric of Verb life.  The menu of student activities and clubs is rich and varied and offers every student the opportunity to explore interests and socialize with classmates.  As a Cristo Rey school, Verbum Dei further develops every students’ professional capacities through a highly structured work experience placement at a local business.  Verbum Dei accomplishes a great deal with its students in a limited amount of time.  Your understanding and support of a Verbum Dei education is key to our success and that of our students.