Sweet Spirit…of Verbum Dei

I remember the first time I stepped onto Verbum Dei’s campus. Despite growing up not too far from Verb, I had no idea this beautiful community existed. I instantly fell in love with the Jesuits and their way of living out the love of God.

The Verbum Dei Community is my family. We encourage, uplift, support, and love each other professionally and personally. We are all blessed to carry out our vocations in community with these amazing people. However, the many amazing qualities that make up Verbum Dei does not make us immune to the societal ills present in the American culture.

Many of us received an education that did not provide a complete history of America and severely limited the voices of diverse experiences.

Most of us have been inundated with media messages that have portrayed certain races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and religions in a negative manner.

Many of us have been socialized to be fearful of people based on their skin tone, the neighborhood they live in, or their socioeconomic status.

Many of us have been taught, either directly or indirectly, that human dignity is earned and not given.

As I continue my journey towards gaining a true understanding of the histories and experiences of my own culture and the cultures of others while preparing my own children for the lives their futures, I am faced with the ways I am complicit in espousing anti-blackness (or anti-darkness) beliefs. I have been reflecting on those times I supported racial uplift but not social justice; the times I perpetuated the values of the model minority; the times I placed value judgments on a student’s way of being. This work has not been easy but is extremely necessary.

Karen Chambers and I were given the opportunity to discuss the ways in which racism can appear in Catholic schools. More importantly we offer steps schools can take to ensure the values of freedom and equity are present in all aspect of the school’s culture. I have included the article below.

I am committed to ensuring Verbum Dei consistently works toward the goal of educational equity. Verbum Dei must be as passionate about equity as we are about educating our students. We must be as committed to being anti-racist as we are about being impactful in our job duties. We must be as dedicated to the work of social justice in our individuals’ classrooms/ offices as we are to the collective work of social justice embedded in our mission.

As we move forward to do this work as a community, let us remember these agreements provided to us in the text Courageous Conversations About Race by Glen Singleton:

Stay Engaged

Experience discomfort

Speak your truth

Expect and accept non-closure

Fail foward

Always,

Brandi

The Privilege of Time

Older generations have always rolled their eyes at the younger generation’s complaints of how hard they have it. To be fair, I wouldn’t trade an hour of my day for that of my grandmother’s when she was a young adult. Her daily encounters with overt racism, sexism, and every other experience of oppression she endured would undoubtedly make any reasonable person roll their eyes at my recent tantrum caused by my 5th cracked iPhone screen. That is not to say I do not encounter issues that are traumatic and overwhelming to my emotional and physical wellbeing but some of our first world problems cannot compare.

And so, it is with our students. Whether in an affluent school or school serving working class children, country school or rural, suburban or urban, our students are carrying psychological, emotional, and spiritual loads that would overwhelm even the most seasoned among us. And yet, within the classroom, many educators continue to create classroom policies and procedures that presume the opposite.

My co-blogger today is Mr. Tyon James. Tyon is a member of the Class of 2020. He is a member of the National Honor Society and a leader of multiple organizations on campus.

I asked him what assumptions he feels teachers make regarding how much time students have outside of their class. He offered to solicit input from his friends on social media. Here’s what they said:

You’re Not the Only One! Teachers assume students have no responsibilities outside of school.

“There’s never really enough time for me-for real personal development. To actually figure out what I want to do and to do things I like to do.”

Teachers tend to forget that not everyone takes on the traditional role of a dependent child in their household. Some people play more of a parenting or adult role in their own lives and the lives of others. When teachers say, “This is your only responsibility!” and “You have nothing better to do!”, it puts blame on the student. That’s showing disrespect for my time and experience.”

“I sometimes wish I had more time. More time to sleep, to talk to my family, to do something I want to do and not something I have to do.”

Teach teacher! Teachers assumes the class is their personal talk show. They use the allotted class-time to talk about irrelevant things that don’t hold substance or merit within the subject matter.

They talk about irrelevant things and things that don’t relate to the lesson, they focus on the bad kids and talk about what they are doing wrong and end up taking all our time. Outside of school, they give us homework that is more like busy work than something you can actually learn from.”

 “I feel like they are not respectful of our time because of the way they teach their curriculum. For example, I have teachers who have us watch Crash Course videos in class. Like… if I wanted an online teacher, I would not be going to public school.

Hold Up, Wait! Teachers assume their subject takes priority. Teachers don’t give enough time to complete assignments.

Teachers give too many major assignments due the same day for multiple classes.”

They don’t give enough time to finish assignments and they take the entire class time explaining instead of explaining for like 5-10 minutes and then letting us explore and helping us with any questions.”

Are You Going to Grade This? Teachers assume we don’t know what meaningful work is. They assign “busy work that is meaningless and boring. It’s a waste of time.

Teachers waste my time by giving busy work and not actually going over the class material. I believe that students have different learning styles and teachers should be able to utilize all those styles, so every student is engaged. Busy work is not for everyone.”

Is This Thing On? Teachers assume in-person communication is more effective than online communication. Some teachers aren’t very tech savvy. They seem to only want to interact in the classroom.

When they read your email and never reply! And then wait 3 days later to address you in person.” 

We are not calling for less homework (ok…most aren’t). But we are asking for teachers to be more thoughtful and intentional about what they are assigning.

Well said Tyon! Teachers, if we must assign work on their personal time it should be relevant to the course and to their lives. The facts are that time is a commodity and free time is a privilege. Our students need us to be open to creating spaces where all students can succeed, thrive, and be well- even those without the privilege of (free) time.

We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For…

Over the next few days the media will be flooded with excerpts of Dr. King’s speeches and letters. One of my favorites is the Letter from Birmingham Jail written on April 16, 1963 where Dr. King defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. In one of the most profound points, King writes:

For years now I have heard the words “Wait!..The “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.”… I guess it is easy for those who have felt the stinging facts of segregation to say, “Wait.”…when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however hold you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respect title of “Mrs.”…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleekness of corroding despair.

Just eight months prior to Dr. King’s speech Verbum Dei opened its doors. Verbum Dei, an educational institution founded on the Word of God, consisted of faculty members, parents, and students that refused to wait. They refused to wait for a society to become ready for their students- scholars and scholar-athletes ready for college success. They refused to wait for educational research to recognize the importance of student-teacher relationships and high expectations- they had already done that.

And so it is with us, Verbum Dei. We find ourselves in similar times as Dr. King. Human dignity is perceived as something that must be earned not something that is innate to one’s human-ness. Verbum Dei’s nonviolent strategy to racism (or any other -ism that denies human dignity) is education and inspiration. Verbum Dei educates and inspires young men of color in Watts and the surrounding cities. We refuse to wait for permission. We refuse to wait until it is trending. We refuse to wait for the perfect conditions. We refuse to wait for city or government leaders to lead the way. Verbum Dei knows WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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.

Amen.

CWSP Ropes Course Reflection

This was my first year going to the ropes course with incoming students. Camp Fire Long Beach delivers programs that help build group cohesiveness. Trained facilitators guide participants through a series of challenges that enhance individual and team growth. Our CWSP team has always marveled at the transformations that occur on the course but this year I wanted to see it for myself. 

When we arrived, students and Verb chaperones were separated into groups. Each group was given its own trained facilitator. The facilitator accomplished three things immediately out of the gate:

A) The facilitators enthusiastically introduced themselves which included a discussion of their role. I supposed they figured in order for students to accept the challenge of climbing and jumping off a pole or walking a tight rope they’d have to sell themselves as masters. They also established a community within a community. There were chants and call and responses which seemed to bring the group together. 

B) The facilitator made it clear early on that the success of the individual was dependent on the work of the entire group- including the facilitator. Just because the facilitator had more experience with the obstacle course didn’t make him/her solely responsible for the group’s success. Everyone had a responsibility to supporting the person climbing. 

C) The facilitator was very honest about the challenges students would experience. He/ She shared with specificity the places in the obstacle course that were the easiest, the most challenging, etc. With that same honesty the facilitator let students know they could achieve their personal best. It was clear that all students might not reach the top but with the help of the group they could push themselves past where they thought they could go.

I was expecting to see students transform but instead was inspired to transform my student interactions. 

  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Care 

If the facilitator can get our boys to climb a 45 ft pole clearly I can inspire them to learn the purpose of cellular respiration.

 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

When you recognize that you command the attention of 305 young Black and Brown men your mind races as to which, topics, histories, and stories, you want to share with them. I have often found myself thinking:

I have to make sure our boys are exposed to the great thinkers/ philosophers/ writers? Ralph Emerson, Nelson Mandela, Gabriel Garcia Marquez?!

Our young men definitely need to be exposed to great scientist and researchers; Albert Einstein, Charles Drew, Sigmud Freud, George Washington Carver!

I can’t forget good music; Beethoven, George Walker, Henriette Renie, Richard Smallwood, Prince, Michael Jackson!

I have always wanted to create an activity the entire school- students, parents, faculty, staff, and our neighboring community- could all participate in. With the help of my Deans, I decided on a school wide community read. This community read would involve the entire community reading, engaging, and discussing the same book at the same time. Whole-school reads give the entire school community a common literary experience and its benefits are plentiful:

          Students see the adults in their lives as readers- reading for pleasure

          Enhance literacy skills

         Build community

Now we needed a book. As luck would have it, I received a phone call from the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. Their One Million Abolitionist Initiative aims to get the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave into the hands of one million young people. Their goal is to inspire and empower young people to do more and be more than they ever dreamed possible.  This seemed like a perfect marriage. Douglass’s first-person account of his life as a slave, his assertion of the liberatory effects of education, and his ability to call out the contradictory nature of American/Christian ideals in relation to slavery would be inspiration and aspirational. It didn’t hurt that he was also one of my favorite historical figures. With their donation of 480 copies of the Narrative we had the first ever Verbum Dei whole- school read!

Our initiative, called One Book, One Community involves allotting time, resources, and opportunities for the community to get excited and engage with the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass text. We are currently 1-week in and I cannot tell you how proud I am of my faculty/staff, parents and students for truly immersing themselves in the text. The One Book, One Community series will culminate with a celebration on February 28, 2018. We will also be joined by the 3X great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the 2X great grandson of Booker T. Washington, Mr. Kenneth Morris at that time as well. Verbum Dei is celebrating literacy and I couldn’t be more proud to call this place home!

 

What’s New for the 2015-2016 School Year

What’s New for the 2015-2016 School Year

Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.- 2 Corinthians 9:6

Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy. – Psalms 126:5

I remember when I was in high school it seemed like every time I turned around someone in my family or at my church wanted to talk to me about the future. “Where do you want to go to college?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe this is happening to our students. Sometimes those questions can be overwhelming.  I have told our students to keep in mind (and in their hearts) that the decisions they make today will impact the choices they have tomorrow. The verse above explains just that. The sacrifices our students make today- to study, attend office hours, persevere in times of struggle- will always, ALWAYS pay off. As we embark on a new school year, let us take heed to the scripture found in 2 Corinthians and Psalms and have faith that God will honor our service, passion, and sacrifice.

In Him,

Dr. Odom Lucas

Interim Principal
Verbum Dei High School

 

What’s New in 2015/2016

Verbum Dei Writing Lab

The VDHS Writing Lab, open Monday through Thursday from dismissal to 3:45 P.M. in Room 103, is an as-needed resource available to all Verbum Dei gentlemen regardless of grade level.  All students are welcome to work on writing assignments and papers for any course in a focused, productive environment.  VDHS laptops and personal electronic devices may be utilized in the classroom for word processing and research assignments only.  English teacher Mr. Stradley is available during this time for assistance with revision, editing, research, and formatting and citation.  Individualized assistance may be limited depending on the number of students requiring assistance on any given day, but all students should expect to have an opportunity to interact with the teacher on a one-on-one basis when working in the Writing Lab.  No reservations are required; however, as the Writing Lab is available on a first come, first served basis, it is important that students begin long-term assignments early to avoid a last minute rush and to avoid encountering a full Writing Lab.

AP Classes

We are offering a total of 5 AP courses for the 2015-2016 school year. New courses are noted in bold italic.

 

AP US History                            AP English Literature

Instructor: Jesse Jovel                   Instructor: Ken Favell

 

AP Calculus                                 AP Government

Instructor: George Chahrouri       Instructor: Maria McDonald

 

AP Spanish Language

Instructor: Max Olmedo

Principal’s Message

I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.-PHILIPPIANS 4:13

What an amazing year! We have grown so much as a community and our focus- to get Verb students in and through college- is stronger now than ever before. Below I’ve included an excerpt from a conversation I had with Nicholas Spates, Valedictorian for the Class of 2015. I am sure you will find his responses demonstrate both maturity and thoughtfulness.  As we move forward, please know Verbum Dei remains committed to ensuring college entrance and graduation for all its students. The faculty and staff recognize we cannot accomplish our goals without your help.  Students, we need your commitment. As Nicholas states in his reflection, you have to “work harder”.  Every year strive to have a BETTER GPA, complete MORE Christian Service hours, and STRENGTHEN your relationship with God.  Parents, we need your support. Students that have supportive parents are more successful. Email us, call us, stop by and visit us. You are important to us and we value our partnership!  Verbum Dei Community, we are unstoppable as long as we work together- Faculty/Staff, students, parents, corporate partners and supporters! Let’s continue to work together to set the world on fire!

In Him,

Dr. Odom Lucas

Senior Spotlight

Student Name: Nicholas Spates

City: Watts, California

Junior High School: The Accelerated School

College Destination: Georgetown University,

Washington, D.C.

How was Verb different than your junior high school?

Verb is far more structured.

What were your keys to success here at Verb?

Organization, teamwork, mentorship, and a flat out dedication to working hard every day until my work ethic became a habit.

How have you benefited from the CWSP program?

The CWSP program gave me insight on how to work in the workplace and gave me a taste of certain careers. I have connections I couldn’t have dreamed of before.

If you had to do your high school career all over again what, if anything, would you do differently?

I would make sure to balance work and play a bit more. At times I wish I could be less serious!

Which was the hardest year of high school? What did you learn from that year?

Sophomore year! I had to learn that it doesn’t matter how tough it gets you have to persevere!

What was your most favorite memory during your time here at Verb?

Playing basketball with my older brother (Verb alum Darrius Spates, c/o 2012)

We have no doubt you and the other members of the Class of 2015 will do amazing things. What message would you like to leave for the underclassmen?

Work harder. It doesn’t matter how hard you are working now, every last one of us can work harder, so do it!

What message would you like to leave for your Verb teachers?

I love you all for giving us your time and expertise because I know it’s not about the money at verb. You guys really love us.

What message would you like to leave for your CWSP supervisors and other supporters of Verbum Dei?

It just isn’t possible without you all. At the end of the day, I can go to school because of you. Thank you!

Finally, what would you like to say to your family who have supported you through your time at Verb?

The foundation is made at home and my foundation A1. I couldn’t be who I am with you all. Thank you!

“You Got This”

With the recent transition caused by Dr. O’Connell’s departure, I found myself extremely concerned about my students. How will they respond? Will they be comfortable with my leadership? Is this the best thing for my students? I was confident in the resiliency my boys have demonstrated personally and academically, but I was very nervous that this transition would be a negative disruption to their already busy lives.

Once the announcement was made Donaven, the 6’3” senior who is the Center on the Verbum Dei Varsity Basketball team came up to me and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Odom. How do you feel?” I responded, “A bit nervous!” Without skipping a beat Donavan smiled and said, “Don’t worry… you’re good! You got this!”

I walked away but couldn’t help but hear his voice saying, “You Got This!” What an amazingly simple, yet poignant expression that, to me, represented the lessons the Verb has taught him these past four years. Lessons about having faith in the small things, being a man for others and exercising resiliency were undoubtedly taught both inside and outside the classroom. Donaven’s response to me demonstrated his understanding of life’s twists and turns. He showed that he understands the importance of faith when facing a new endeavor- faith that God’s love will sustain you, faith that you have exactly what you need to face this challenge.  But Donoven also showed the importance of standing with your brother or sister in their time of need.  What more could I want a senior to know as they leave the Eagle nest?

But this is what makes the Verb so different. Not only do the faculty and staff at Verbum Dei seek to edify and strengthen the students’ spirits but we also help students understand the importance of edifying and strengthening the spirits of their brother or sister. Donaven’s response to me was important, not just because it contained the exact words I needed to hear as I began the role as Interim Principal but it reminded me what an amazing job the Verbum Dei parents and teachers are doing in the formation of our young men.

As I work with the Faculty and Staff of Verbum Dei to lay the foundation for an exciting future, I can’t help but say to all our supporters…..Don’t worry, WE GOT THIS!