Study Jam

As we near the end of spring semester, one strategy the counseling department implements  in collaboration with the faculty to prepare students for finals is Study Jam. Study Jam happens two time a year, once in the fall and once in the spring during finals review week.  Students 9th-12th grade are invited to join their peers and teachers in a “college like” setting where they can work in study groups. We create a schedule by grade level and break down the subjects by days. Students and teachers meet in the Student Success Center for about an hour after school and they go over questions on their study guides. Study Jam not only provides a study time for students but also a feeling of community and brotherhood – students learn from both their teachers and their peers. As counselors one of our main focuses is to support our students and to create programs to cultivate lifelong learners – we look forward to continuing to implement existing and new strategies.

A group of freshmen preparing for their Algebra Final

Turbulence in Admissions, Verbum Dei Still Flying High

There are numerous stories being reported on the most recent bribery scandal for college admissions consideration, individuals seeking fraudulent acceptance into several of the nation’s most elite colleges and universities. These actions crafted by a corrupt college admissions counselor, unqualified students and their parents were effected to ensure ill-equipped applicants gain opportunities to be admitted into top colleges and universities. This behavior will bear impact on many levels. The value conflicts that can be associated with this dilemma, lack of character and absence of integrity for the more than 750 estimated families involved will result in an inescapable difficulty, identifying limited spaces for college considerations for qualified students and the resulting negative consequences, especially for some of the most complicated, multidimensional, High School communities we all know as the Cristo Rey Network of Schools. As the third member of the Cristo Rey Network of Schools, and the first conversion school Verbum Dei High School has continued its efforts in the commitment to serving young men seeking chances to dispel the societal stereotypes placed on Black and Brown Boys from its neighboring communities, that they are incapable of producing effort to distinguish themselves as scholars. However, no matter how well-intentioned and proactive Verbum Dei High School is in its pursuit to ensure its students gain valuable opportunities of consideration into college we most certainly will need to remain spiritually rooted. With our focus on further developing the intellectually motivated young man, it is our goal to assist him to uphold a determination, strength of character, grit, and continue our tradition of commitment and perseverance. Our students will face a variety of ethical and moral dilemmas throughout their educational careers however; ethical behavior should not be one. In the Admissions Department we are approaching the Admissions Season’s Second Round seeking young men from our target communities of South Los Angeles, Watts and Compton who possess motivation, maturity, character, leadership and integrity, thus far we have identified eighty-four qualified candidates and seek approximately fifty more to round out the 2019 recruitment season.

We are managing the challenges within this search for qualified candidates during this era of presidential politics, that reveal infuriating stories in the wake of headlines of affluent people accused of paying more than $25 million to misrepresent student test scores and bribe college officials, deceitfully stealing spaces foreordained for those from Verbum Dei High School that have proven themselves despite the difficulties of navigating disadvantaged circumstances. There is an awareness that must be magnified psychologically, within our school community about society and the social theory between poverty and privilege. Within this examination we must assist students to recognize the design for our multidimensional curriculum and the goal, preparation for college and life after college. As admissions counselors/educators interested in radical transformation, we seek students who want to represent themselves in ways which do not appeal to the prevailing classes, we seek students who are mature and will insist that accommodations are made for their consideration in the name of justice, social justice, with an aim for transformative change. While society fantasizes about the High Schools that seek to accomplish this aim, Verbum Dei continues the efforts to eliminate poverty through the guise of the Corporate Work Study Program and other curriculum based programs that seek to stimulate and prepare our students to be agents for change. We assert that as long as measurements in numerical data and the raising or lowering of averages on test scores are used for exclusion into educational institutions and there is less consideration for academic success, human motivation and academic potential we will never eliminate unfair privilege or poverty and the affluent will continue to devise unfair advantages to keep the status quo. Nevertheless, with the appropriate amount of encouragement and educational supports in place, we contend that society will be able to yield an emancipatory outcome for those seeking reform, and with the possibilities for improvements within this continued action plan the scandalous can do no more to oppress those operating in accord to answering the call to action and accountability to see resolve.

What am I supposed to do for Lent?

Recently, one of our faculty pointed Verbum Dei’s faculty and staff to a blog by the Jesuits which focused on a central question about this special season…

What am I supposed to do for Lent?

Do you give up things…like chocolate…or sodas? Do you give up alcohol? Do you pray a little more? Do you go to daily mass? … There is a sense in which these are all good things, but there is a definite temptation that can appear when preparing for Lent: It’s easy to make Lent a sort of “Catholic New Year’s Resolution.”

I have to admit that I tend to let Lent be that sort of experience where I want to simply let Lent be a period of denial…because it helps me be different from my normal routine, but in a much simpler form than I probably should venture into.

You should know that I recently decided to join Weight Watchers, which I have decided is a less religious form of Lent.  But clearly, it can be a life changing experience because it helps you change your body in a positive way.  And along that path, you tend to become more positive about yourself, your health and other goals you seek for your life.  But it really is about me…not necessarily about others.

I guess what I want to challenge each of us to do is to experience Lent in a much more positive way.  Verbum Dei’s Campus Ministry team offered up their Lenten Challenge, which I would suggest is a wonderful option for all of us:

Week 1:      Do one good thing each day when no one is watching.

Week 2:      Give up something you love and donate the money you would have spent on that item to a group you want to support for their social justice work.

Week 3:      Read about one justice related current event and tell someone about it.

Week 4:      Write a thank you note or e-mail to someone every day this week.

Week 5:      Pray for someone daily – or pray with someone each day.

Week 6:      Give up one social media platform for one week!  OR post something related to Lent for the week #Lentenchallenge.

Week 7:      Tell a different family member or friend how much they mean to you each day.

Consider what things in your life keep you in the tomb instead of experiencing the resurrection.  I pray that you may find these challenges a more positive approach to Lent, hopefully helping you to encounter Christ within the mystery of the Resurrection—and the little resurrections that renew your life each day.

Keeping Black and Brown Boys in Class & Engaged

Research has shown that students who experience discipline that removes them from the classroom are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school and become involved in the juvenile justice system. Studies have shown this can result in decreased earning potential and added costs to society, such as incarceration and lost tax revenue.

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)Here are some of the reasons why I feel that Black & Brown boys do not want to be in the classroom or at school.

  • They don’t feel respected by their teachers
  • They don’t feel that they are a welcome member of the school community
  • They don’t have positive relationships with faculty & staff
  • They are not interested in what is being taught
  • They can sense teachers undervalue their intelligence (based on rigor of work and thoughtfulness of lesson plans, etc.)

If you have high quality instruction in every classroom and make sure that the lesson is engaging then boys of color would see school a little different. Also teachers should find a way to get to know their students. Teachers can do this by asking students what they like to do outside of school or attending extracurricular events that their students are involved in. It is also okay to let your students know that you care for them and are concerned about their well-being. Look for ways to let students share their own diverse experiences, whether it’s through spoken word, in conversations, writing or videos. Also they are bothered that some of their teachers don’t understand. Understanding conveys care. Be honest about who you are and your purpose.

Maintain high expectations but throw a dash of love in there. High expectations without nurturing or love will cause a sense of defeat to develop in the boys. You want to show them that you believe that they can reach that goal and that you’re here to help them get there. Be as consistent with positive reinforcements as you are with negative reinforcements—this will build trust. Learning is sustained through trusting the person who is doing the teaching. Some boys of color do not like to admit their educational struggles in fear of being teased by classmates or feeling inadequate. Pride plays a role due to a lack of disconnect between them and their teachers. In some cases, they act out in class because they do not understand the lesson so they are hoping to get put out of class or they ask can they go to the restroom and take their time coming back to class. Our Boys of Color need to be motivated and not have them feel like failures when things do not go well.  We have to keep encouraging and show we care and are there for them. It is a lot going on in their lives that we have no clue about.