It is time for the Class of 2022 to graduate. I taught those guys when they were freshmen in Physical Education. I remember it like it was yesterday. Those guys were so young, but they were fun to be around. They were a good group of young men, and they were fun to be around. Dr. Odom decided to give the upperclassmen fitness, music, and study hall. Dr. Odom gave me the fitness class to teach, but, most importantly, she gave me time with the Seniors. I got the group of men that I taught as Freshmen. These guys have grown tremendously, and they are very competitive, which made class exciting and fun. They remembered all of the rules from their first year. I didn’t have to review anything; we just picked up where we left off.
My first Kairos experience was with the Class of 2022. I had such a great time with those guys, and what a first experience it was for me. Yes, I will miss those guys so much. I want to extend a heartfelt Thank You to each of them for all the memories. I wish each of them the best that life has to offer them. I have had so many laughs with them and so many lasting memories. There will never be a class like the Class of 2022! God Bless you, and I wish you all the best.
May 13 will be our last schoolwide liturgy for this semester. Since we are not in session on the Feast of St. Ignatius (July 31), we typically make our May liturgy the Mass of St. Ignatius. At this year’s liturgy, one of our seniors will be offering a reflection on his time at Verb and his gratitude for his Jesuit education.
May 20, 2021 was the 500th anniversary of when St. Ignatius had his leg shattered by a cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona. Up to that point, he prioritized worldly goods, military prowess, and women. However, once he was injured, he had nothing to entertain himself while bedridden except for a book on the saints and the life of Jesus. Some may say that getting hit by a cannonball was all part of God’s plan so that the vain Iñigo would become the faithful St. Ignatius of Loyola. However, at Verb we teach our students that our loving God doesn’t cause suffering. We have free will that we sometimes use poorly, and there are natural laws that sometimes lead to events that cause suffering. When that happens, God offers us ways to transform the suffering – to bring something good from it. God offers us the grace we need to respond in such a way that we can make meaning of the experience. When St. Ignatius’ leg was shattered by that cannonball, he could’ve wallowed in self-pity or acted violently in revenge. But he didn’t. He opened himself to the grace God was offering him. He had a conversion of heart. He prayed in solitude. He went back to school for an education. He met companions in the faith and founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). They went out on missions. They started schools.
Because St. Ignatius opened himself to God’s grace and responded to the call, Verbum Dei is now offering a quality, faith-based, justice-oriented education to the young men of Los Angeles. When we listen for those little “nudges” that God so often offers us (wouldn’t it be nice if it were a big booming voice?!), we have no idea the ripple effect it will have for years (or even centuries!) to come.
Right now, our seniors have been actively putting into practice the skill of listening to God’s nudges. In addition to selecting their colleges, they are putting on the final touches of their senior capstone project. This project is a product of their year-long reflection on what they’ve learned, of their passions, and of their true selves that God is calling them to be. They are starting to spread those eagle wings that will cause ripples of positive effect in our world that will last for years to come.
Let us use St. Ignatius and our seniors as our own inspiration. Let us pause and reflect on our lives and on how God might be “nudging” us. How are we listening to God’s nudges in our own lives? How are we responding to the graces God offers us? How are we being authentic to our true selves – to who God desires us to be?
During this year’s Cristo Rey Annual Conference, founder Father John Foley was highlighted throughout the week. Stories of how this transformative idea of incorporating corporate work experience into the school model were shared by various figures that had a hand in molding what is today a network of 38+ schools throughout the country. True to his personality. Fr. Foley shared humorous anecdotes that lightened the enormous undertaking this truly was. From begging families to enroll their students at a school with no address/location (can you believe it?!) to the moment they realized they did not have an answer to the question, “how are you going to fund this school?”- the stories were rampant and surprising.
What stood out most to me, however, was Fr. Foley’s transparency with not having all the answers or resources early on. From the outside, one would think something as ambitious as the Cristo Rey model would have every inch planned and bullet proof. To hear one of the founders and pillars of the Cristo Rey mission admit that they had no clue how this would unfold is both refreshing and inspiring.
We are just two months from celebrating the end of this school year- and with it, a myriad of triumphs and hurdles we’ve encountered. As we pray and plan for the upcoming school year, I am channeling the brave spirit of Father Foley and not letting “reality” factors impede ambitious dreams and goals for the growth of CWSP at Verbum Dei. Together we are stronger- and if there is anything we can take from Fr. Foley is that dreaming, planning, sprinkled with humor is all a recipe for enjoyable ride!
As the director of Student Activities, I have the privilege of working with some pretty incredible student leaders on campus. Dillen R. has been the Verbum Dei Student Body President throughout the pandemic and has done a phenomenal job. I first met him 3 years ago in his sophomore biology course and watching him grow into the leader he is today is one of the many joys of working at the Verb. I asked him to write about what being a leader at the Verb means to him, he shares:
Personally, to be a leader at Verbum Dei High School is very important. I’ve been President of Verbum Dei High School since my sophomore year and enjoyed every moment of it. My goal as President was to inspire, motivate, set a vision, communicate, respect, and of course lead by example to the Verbum Dei community. Being the President brings lots of responsibilities. Planning events, having/leading meetings, and having an open mind all became part of my job. I represent the school. This means staying out of trouble, making the right decisions, always looking presentable, and being the person my Verb brothers look up to. Although COVID-19 ruined most of my plans as President, I tried my best to accommodate my peers and the rules of the global pandemic. Unfortunately, we could not do a lot of the events I would have liked to because of the pandemic, but I appreciate the Verbum Dei faculty and staff for giving us the opportunity to do events under the regulations and rules we had to follow. There are not many African American presidents anywhere! To be an African American president of a high-achieving high school, is not only an honor but a blessing. I am proud to say that on June 9th, 2022, I’ll be breaking another statistic by graduating high school. Statistics believe that black and brown men aren’t expected to graduate high school and are anticipating us to either being dead or in jail. I am proud to say that Verbum Dei young men see this as inaccurate data and do more and go far beyond society’s expectations. We will not only graduate from high school, but we will already have a plan for the next step in our lives. How many high school students can say that they worked at a professional corporate job for 4 consecutive years, managed the heavy workload with classes, and be involved in either an extracurricular activity or sports? Not that many! I am extremely proud of every student, faculty, and staff member of Verbum Dei. It is an honor to represent and be a leader of Verbum Dei High School. Continue to be the great people you are and pursue beating the expectations people have set upon you.
This year’s Chairman’s Gala, May 5, 2022, at 5:00 PM, will be the largest fundraiser the school has ever produced—it will be held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. We are proud to honor Nick Osborne & Trevor Engelson, Fr. Steve Privett, and the Class of 2022. In addition, we’re memorializing Carole Kearns and Mark Wood.
We decided to switch it up this year, as most supporters have shown a great desire to meet in person this year. Yet, since our previous venue—the L.A. Grand Hotel—is being remodeled, and after polling a few of our board members, donors, and supporters, who all agree: “Go big or go home!”
We’re looking to have four areas and times:
5:00 PM — Join us for a VIP Event*
5:45 PM — Registration and cocktails inside the Peristyle
7:00 PM — Join us for dinner on the iconic field of the Coliseum
8:45 PM — Dessert and After-Party in the President’s Suite
*VIP Purchase required
On Friday, March 25th, we had a walkthrough with Sharon Wood, Mark Wood’s widow, to go over staging and programming. The excitement and anticipation of Sharon, our consultant, and the Verb staff were palpable. It felt amazing. We are now working on the programming to bring you an event to remember.
We look forward to seeing you soon!! Here are a few images of the LA Memorial Coliseum, which recently spent $315M on remodeling:
A 2005 study by Janice Jackson out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst shed light on a nuance to “the habitual be” found in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). During the study, groups of black and white children were shown a picture of cookie monster sick in bed and Elmo standing nearby eating cookies. When Jackson asked the children, “Who is eating cookies?”, all participants indicated Elmo. When Jackson asked the children, “Who be eating cookies?”, the white kids replied it was Elmo while the black kids pointed to Cookie Monster. For those of us proficient in AAVE, this makes complete sense. It is the existential state of Cooking Monster to eat cookies (he always eats cookies) while Elmo just happens to be eating cookies at that moment.
Many of us were raised speaking AAVE in our communities and criticized for speaking it amongst friends at school (I am speaking to you Ms. Smith, my 10th grade teacher!). It can feel liberating to know that AAVE is considered a legitimate dialect. It also serves as another example of how rich, dynamic, and expansive the African American culture truly is.
This is what African American History is about- celebrating the cultures, traditions, and ways of being that make up the community’s rich tapestry. African Americans are not one-dimensional people. The culture has multiple languages (AAVE, Gullah, Louisiana Creole, Patwa) and traditions (debutante balls, champagne parties, Juneteenth celebrations, family reunions, homecoming celebrations). There are nuances in cuisine (sugar DOES ABSOLUTELY belong on grits!) and music (Hip Hop in LA, NYC, and the South all sound very different). That is the point of this month. To celebrate it all.
As we continue our celebration of African American History let us commit to learning about all aspects of the culture, even those that are misunderstood, criticized, or disregarded by others. Those of us in the African American community recognize that these are pieces of our ancestors and, just like our ancestors, these pieces have survived because they are strong and help unite us.
To celebrate African American History is to be proud, to be strong, and…. to (just) be.
On Sunday March 6, the Senior class loaded onto a bus and off to Camp Pondo, near Big Bear, for their Kairos retreat. They woke-up next morning to snow clad-hills and iced pathways; for many it was their first experience of a real winter. Kairos Retreat is a pivotal moment in Verbum Dei’s “whole person” Jesuit education. The experience is generally offered to Juniors and facilitated by Senior classmates, but COVID restrictions prevented us from offering the retreat last year.
Kairos is one of two Greek words for “time;” the other is chronos. which simply answers the direct question, “what time is it?” Kairos is “time” in the sense of “now is the time,” e.g., to stop smoking, to apologize, to be more considerate of others, to support Verbum Dei, etc. Kairos names opportune moments for personal change. At 7pm PST, February 24, 2022 (chronos), Russian forces invaded Ukraine. It was a time (kairos) when ordinary Ukranians displayed extraordinary heroism in support of democratic ideals, in opposition to Russia’s forced annexation of another sovereign nation in complete defiance of international law.
Kairos Retreat is the single most focused period of time for Verbum Dei students to reflect on who and how they want to be in the world. The three day experience is marked by moments of prayerful reflection, presentations by fellow students, shared personal stories, intense discussions, and sacramental celebrations. All of these taken together constitute a kairos moment for Verb students to take a giant step toward responsible adulthood and personal integrity.
Now is the time (kairos) for me to thank all of you – Corporate Partners, donors, friends, adopting parent, volunteers– for your generous support of Verbum Dei’s education that transforms boys into “men-with-and-for-others, who serve their communities and pursue a more just and humane world for all” (Mission Statement).
As the year progresses the admissions department has found itself at various odds. Finding a new groove and trying to understand and carry on the message of what schools all around our community and country share. It is evident that COVID negatively impacted our students on various means, from socioemotional issues to academics. As the admissions department director, it is always important to take a holistic approach to the admissions decisions. It has been an interesting year, and a nice return to in-person learning, activities, and recruitment. We look forward to what our future eagles will bring to the campus community, and to see the everlasting impact that they will create.
On the other end, I am overwhelmed with joy when I see the seniors receive their college acceptance letters. Being able to also work with them in the college guidance department and seeing the full circle come to realization. This current senior class, was the first class I recruited when hired at Verbum Dei, and they are my “babies.” To see them grow, develop, and mature throughout these past four years has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. To develop and foster relationships with these young men, who I can call my Verbum Dei brothers, is an experience that I will be forever grateful. They have learned so much, but they have also given me various lessons. The impact they had on my development in education is one I will cherish, and one that will benefit all students for years to come.
As we near the end of the school year, I reflect on all of the amazing things our students have accomplished. The year 2020 was an uncertain year, a year that challenged us to try and learn new things, and a year that brought unexpected grief to the lives of many.
Here we are two years later, our seniors are months away from graduation, college acceptance letters are coming in every day. At the same time, our admissions department is mailing out acceptance letters to our prospective eagles. Our underclassmen continue to adjust to physically attending school again and they are thriving academically and personally. For school counselors, this has been a challenging year, but our passion to support our students is what continues to motivate us to do the work that we do – the cura personalis work. Together with our college counselors, mental health counselors, and support team we will continue to work to ensure that our students are meeting their personal and academic goals.
The year 2020 was a different year, but we will continue to make 2022 the best year yet.
According to my records, Technology’s last contribution to our Leadership Blog occurred in November 2019. That’s pre-Covid 19. It’s almost unfathomable to picture how the world operated before this pandemic. So much has changed — Including how Technology has interfaced with our user groups. Perhaps an overview from that moment forward would be engrossing to our readers
In March 2020, Technology was asked to stand and deliver – quickly. Students and families (staff and faculty as well) were instructed to shelter down. Strategic decisions on how to continue learning had to be made in quick succession. How do we teach from afar? How can we insure equity and access to all of our families? From a support side, how do we streamline apps and processes to ensure continuity? These questions and other needed immediate answers. Our first task was to ensure each student had a device to use remotely. Many of our students share devices at home – we needed to relieve this burden and did so by handing out 100’s of Chromebooks to our student population. Students with access issues connecting reliably to the internet at home were give LTE-enabled iPads. We then quickly pivoted to online apps that re-create – to the extent they can – collaborate classroom environments for full remote learning. We contracted with Nearpod – an interactive classroom tool – and leveraged enterprise Schoology as our LMS (Learning Management System). Of course, Zoom accounts for the faculty and staff were procured for uninterrupted remote sessions. Yes, as empty classrooms sat quiet on campus, the process of online learning forged onwards.
The 2020-2021 school year seems so long ago, and that we completed an entire school year completely remote still boggles my mind. In reality, we – in reality – completed 1.5 years remotely (if you include our 2nd semester of 2020 when Covid shut down our world). Our current year has greatly brightened with the return of students on campus. Our Technology response changed dramatically as well, instituting a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) platform for both students and faculty. Each student has a device in his hands each day each period of our school day. And with the increase of on-campus devices on our network, we’ve had to bump our wireless capacities in response. Strategically, technology is keeping infrastructure poised to support our growth. Indeed, Covid may have brought much of lives to a standstill, but the Admin at Verbum Dei remained staunch in our promise to keep the learning moving forward.