Final Word: Brotherhood is the beacon of hope of Verbum Dei

By Eduardo Landa, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

As the 2019-2020 school year comes to an end, so does the long four-year journey of the class of 2020. These four years consisted of retreats, corporate work experience, sports, clubs, and unrepeatable experiences that united members of the Class of 2020.

Verbum Dei provided us with not only a learning environment, but it also offered a second home. Although there may be cliques within the school, the greater aspect that connects all grade levels and alumni, is brotherhood. Whether it was developed while spending a few hours afterschool doing homework with friends, while spending late hours practicing, while taking the SAT, and even now while graduating together during a pandemic, the class of 2020 has always been united.

Seniors testified to what brotherhood means to them and how it affected their experience:

“The brotherhood at Verb encouraged me to not give up,” said senior Christopher Gil. “It made each and every one of us not feel alone. By encouraging brotherhood, we set a good example for those around us and for those who come after us.”

“The love, kinship, support, compassion, and solidarity from my brothers helped me overcome adversities faced in and out the classroom,” said senior Jesus Estrada.

“Brotherhood was a really important aspect of my high school experience,” said senior Jason Guardado. “Without it I don’t think I would have gotten through high school. [My brothers] pushed me to do my very best.”

“One of the best things about Verb is the brotherhood,” said senior Adrian Ramirez. “It really was like having brothers. Some of us would argue or disagree with each other, but, at the end of the day, we knew that we had each other’s backs.”

“The brotherhood evident at Verbum Dei allowed me to create bonds with my classmates that won’t ever be broken,” said senior Carlos de Leon Garcia. “It allowed for each of us to get closer to each other and create memories that we all will hold dear. It also showed that we have people to rely upon and trust.”

Brotherhood played an extremely important role in my own development at Verbum Dei. As a kid, I never imagined that my high school career would consist of going to an all-male school. However, this unique experience taught me how to be vulnerable with my brothers, and it taught me to trust them along the path. Without this fraternity of brotherhood, I would have never had the guidance and motivation to strive to become better every day.

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Summative Capstone project encourages graduating seniors to reflect, to reconsider, and to reminisce in oral presentations

By Eduardo Landa and Kawika Smith, Staff Writers

Without a doubt, the class of 2020 will go down in Verbum Dei High School history as one of the most resilient classes to ever sit foot on campus. This year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors were given the opportunity to demonstrate their growth over the course of their four years through the senior Capstone Project.

The project consisted of four main reflective writing categories: Learning, Identity, Vocation, and Education (L.I.V.E) These reflection elements were used in order to construct a website to showcase each senior’s growth over his four years.

“Students reflected deeply on the entire breadth of their experience at Verbum Dei,” said Eddie Vieyra, theology teacher/Campus Ministry Assistant and Musical Director. “The level of reflection I had hoped for, they delivered across the board. This Capstone project was a success as evidenced by the superb quality of the presentations.”

Each senior presented his Capstone Project to a panel of two evaluators. Prior to presenting, the seniors were assigned mentors who helped guide them in the development of their stories and their experiences. Due to the Corona virus, the project’s timeline was modified, which resulted in one less mentor meeting than had been originally scheduled.

“It was our first time [introducing] this project, which is to say I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but the quarantine added another layer of difficulty,” said Vieyra. “I would say that keeping the students on track to be ready for their presentations was the primary challenge.”

“I was nervous that our four meetings with our mentors were cut down to three meetings because it meant that we had less time to prepare, but we still overcame that obstacle,” said senior Drake Pearson.

Mentorship was an integral part of the project. Mentors served to guide and redirect, making sure all of the information was thorough and structured in an effective way. Mentors were chosen through a selection process in which seniors ranked teachers and staff with whom they had a strong rapport.

“I really enjoyed speaking to my mentor, Dr. Odom; she pushed me to dig deep into my time at Verb,” said senior Amir Sevier. “She wasn’t easy, but she got me to write more.”

The response to the mentors’ effectiveness was overwhelmingly positive.

“I found mentoring Sal, Christopher, Rodolfo, and Jacob, to be an edifying experience,” said John Stradley, English teacher.  “I learned to appreciate these young gentlemen as individuals with unique gifts, personalities, and attitudes.”

“The mentoring conversations and the final presentations were both great,” said Karen Chambers, Director of Campus Ministry. “In both realms, seniors [showed] some level of trust and vulnerability. I [was] to be a small part of the process as [they] synthesized [their] growth over the last few years, which is a pretty big deal.”

“I was really proud of the guys,” said Dr. Brandi Odom-Lucas, Chief Academic Officer of Verbum Dei. “[Capstone] showed me things as a school that we need to work on [such as] balancing student workload. Students miss the variety offered at bigger schools, [therefore;] we need to think creatively about how to fix that.”

During their final presentations, students were able to showcase their work and to engage in dialogue with the panelists about their experience and thoughts.

“It was challenging to adjust during quarantine, but overall, I enjoyed doing this project because it taught me about certain aspects about myself that I never challenged myself to understand,” said senior John Madrigal.

“Typically, I am not vulnerable, but I was able to open up a little bit through my writings,” said senior Osvaldo Paniagua. “[My evaluators] themselves were surprised when I presented; I learned that I am a pretty good storyteller after hours of practicing my presentation and then acing it after all.”

“This project allowed me to reminisce over my four years at Verb,” said senior Jesus Estrada. “[The Capstone Project was not only a] great end to my high school career but a new beginning as I enter adulthood.”

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VDHS Corporate Work Study Program considers options for its student workers in the uncertain age of COVID-19

By Eduardo Landa , Staff Writer

For the past 18 years, a Verbum Dei High School education has triumphantly featured its Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP). This program has secured all students a job placement, work experience, and the opportunity to enrich themselves in the culture of corporate America.

Due to COVID-19, there is an extraordinary amount of uncertainty about how CWSP will be successful next year. Verbum Dei is working with the 35 Cristo Rey Network schools across the country by the minute, to ensure that future students have the same opportunity.

“As we prepare for students to return to work in the fall, we will require that our corporate partners send CWSP their ‘return to work plan’ so that we can ease the concern and worry that many students and parents may encounter when returning to work,” said Cristina Cuellar, Vice President of Programming, Corporate Work Study Program.

“The safety and well-being of our students is our primary concern, and we want to ensure we are taking the necessary steps for a healthy return to work,” said Cuellar. “We are still working on the logistics of a CWSP start date, transportation, digital timecards, and CWSP Readiness.”

COVID-19 has impacted future prospects that will attend Verbum Dei and the possibility of getting an internship with CWSP partners.

“COVID-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty for myself and for my Verb brothers,” said junior Joshua Reyes. “However, I am hopeful that next year will be able to continue to strengthen the relationships with the businesses where we intern.”

“This virus has hit [low-income] communities the hardest. Kids from Watts and other surrounding communities will enter their CWSP job placement with more adversity,” said Lorenz Willis, CWSP Program Manager. “The discomfort that CWSP partners or students will encounter post-Covid-19 will be challenging.”

“Our plans are changing daily because there remains so much uncertainty due to Covid-19,” said Cuellar. “As our city opens back up, we will have additional information [planned] for our return to CWSP.”

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: College Guidance’s Shan Slade mentors, motivates, and inspires

By Robert Turner, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

Mr. Shan Slade, the college guidance teacher, has been the teacher that has helped me most at Verbum Dei High School through knowing him for 2+ years.

He has taught me about the college process, about being aware of personal distractions, grades, and at Maxine Waters, which is where I make up my classes from my previous years to graduate.

Mr. Slade has taken me out of class when I felt lost and knew that I was not going to succeed. In my junior year during Kairos, a spiritual three-day retreat, we had a talk about my grades and the path I was going to take if I continued.  He told me to prove him wrong, which is what I have done my senior year grade-wise as well as in the athletic participation in football.

A key moment that has stuck with me are the jokes we would say to each other as well as the times we enjoyed “roasting” each other.  We always had fun after I did my work.  He also taught me if I have applied myself at my job and in my personal life, there would always times for me to be focused as well as well as time to have fun and to create unforgettable moments.

“How are you doing, Rob!”  Mr. Slade would often ask.  This was a check up every fourth period as he was one of the few teachers that checked up on me everyday.

During quarantine, the check-ins have not been left behind. The constant emails he sends were annoying at first, but now that college is months away, I am feeling the pressure of it.  It would be worse if I would have not done what he was telling me in the emails.

Now that I am on the edge of my moving on to college, I realize that he kept the faith and helped me succeed in life.  I pushed myself because of him, and now I am on the road to college. I would not have gotten this far without him, his guidance, and his wake up calls.

I thank Mr. Slade for being my mentor and teacher – not only in my life, but in my peers’ lives as well.  He taught me to never be satisfied with what I can easily obtain; rather, he encouraged me to reach for the “impossible” and to take on challenges.  I learned that it will pay off and will inspire and motivate those around me.

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: Lorenz Willis mentors, inspires, and refines student aspirations

By Eduardo Landa, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

For Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to recognize Mr. Lorenz Willis, CWSP Program Manager.  In my junior and senior years,  he was a great mentor to me and taught me valuable life lessons.

On some late afternoons in these past two years, I went to ask Mr. Willis questions and to share the hardships I was facing in my life.

Thanks to Mr. Willis, I was able to visit a branch of the Google technology company located near the residential neighborhoods of Venice. As we drove to Google in the van, I remember talking to Mr. Willis about myriad topics such as the NBA (National Basketball Association), the barbering industry, other different careers I might pursue, and the value of networking.

My most memorable moment from the trip was a question Mr. Willis asked me.

“If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?”

I was caught off guard by the question, but I took the time to really think about it.

“I want to own 20 barbershops.”

He looked at me squarely in the eye and asked,  “Why only 20?”

I was confused as to why he emphasized the number 20. Shortly thereafter, he asked two follow-up questions.

“Why not own 50 or 100, or why not own all the barbershops in the world?”

This formative experience taught me that, in life, we have to think big. Big ideas and big dreams are attainable. I learned that just because the system wasn’t built for me particularly to succeed and thrive, that doesn’t mean I cannot attain my aspirations. I learned to seek beyond the known and to always believe that I can always accomplish more in life.

I thank Mr. Willis for all he has done to inspire me and my Verb brothers. He has taught us to be the catalyst for change in our communities, he pushes us to do things the right way, and he is a true representation of the Verb motto, “a man with and for others.”

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: Jensen “Coach Flu” Fluellen teaches, mentors, moderates, and inspires

By Massai Walker, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

I’ve had the luxury of being able to attend Verbum Dei for each of my high school years. Teachers have come and go, but for me, one teacher stood out the most.  Mr. Jensen Fluellen, or “Coach Flu” as he is known to the students, is like an older brother to me. I’ve had him as an instructor all four years at Verbum Dei: he taught or facilitated Physical Education, Study Lab, SAT/ACT Prep, and Homeroom. He’s also the moderator of the Black Student Union, an organization that I’ve been a part of since my freshman year.

The thing I appreciate most about Coach Flu is his willingness “to keep it real with you,” even when you don’t want to hear the truth. During my sophomore year, my grades took a huge fall; I was not in the right place mentally. I had a talk with Flu that really changed the way I approached school. It takes a very special person that deeply cares about you, to tell you what you need to hear. Flu pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me realize that I’m great.

I think the Coach Flu’s greatest strength is his ability to be personable. I can always go to him when I need to talk, and he’s always there with the best help. Since he went through four years as a Verb student, it’s easy for him to relate to some of the issues that we face on a daily basis. Flu has many roles on campus: he’s a coach, teacher, mentor, and counselor. There’s not that many people like that in the world.

Thank you, Flu, for always being patient with me when I act like a fool. Thank you for always being available. You have always had an open-door policy for me, and I’m blessed to have you in my life.

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: Jensen Fluellen: “Knock [the chip] off and make room for some shoulder pads”

By Tamajai Dampeer, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

Before coming to Verb, I found myself in a state of constant defense. No matter the approach, I felt as if I needed to always be sheltered within myself so that disappointment or hurt would not be even a remote possibility. My heart was cold, and the culture shock and drastic change Verb presented to me was not something that held my interest.  I was not fond of the idea of solidarity, and felt as if the world, if not against me, was out to get me.

I remember one of my first days on campus, I met a short, yet built man with a great beard and bald head. My first reaction was to avoid eye contact and to carry on with my day, but this man seemed to be looking beyond my eyes.  As we came closer toward each other in the corridor, he stopped me to ask my name.

“Tj,” I told him.

“Tj, you thinking about playing football?” he asked.

Trying to assimilate into an institution like Verb was already hard enough.  I thought to myself, “Football?”  Before I could answer, he grabbed me by the shoulder and looked right into my eyes.

“When I look at you, I see myself,” said Mr. Fluellen.  “I’ve been watching you for the past few days, and I can tell that you have a chip on your shoulder. Knock it off and make room for some shoulder pads.”

His command “Make room for shoulder pads?” reverberated in my mind.  I wondered, “Who was he to tell me to knock the chip off my shoulder, so I could play on his team?  He didn’t even know me or why I carried that chip on my shoulder.”

I held tight to my shield and fought hard to deflect the attacks that were not even coming for me.  Over the course of the year, I continued having encounters with this man, and there seemed no way to avoid him. He was my Physical Education teacher, my Health teacher, my SAT prep teacher, and, now, most of all, my new coach: a jack of all trades.

Although he was a stellar teacher, I doubt that teaching itself is his calling.  Instead, Coach Fluellen uses teaching as a gateway to the youth, and I can honestly say that he was a driving and instrumental force in my letting my shield down and opening a place in my heart I never had before.

Coach Fluellen goes through each day giving life lessons and promoting change within his students  regardless of the setting. The most valuable lesson he taught me was to put action behind words. He has always been his genuine self to me, and he has never given me cause to question his intent, and, for that, I thank Mr. Fluellen.

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: John Galloway tends and teaches technology and models a positive work ethic

By Benjamin Rivera, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

Since I embarked on my journey at Verbum Dei, I was always aware of how Mr. John Galloway walks with a purpose to his step, whether he is fixing a computer in the lab, managing the server room, or just walking to his car.  One can easily tell how much he loves his job.

With his extensive experience in information technology, Mr. Galloway has taught me interesting aspects of earlier technologies and introduced me to some of the first technologies he worked with.

I don’t speak to Mr. Galloway often; however, in each of our conversations, I have always been able to discover some value.  His monumental work ethic is something I have pulled from his stories and incorporated into my life; he has always been about the grind, and he does what he has to do whether he enjoys it at the time or not.

An example of this work ethic is apparent in his work of updating all the PC systems at Verb.  It was a tedious process, Mr. Galloway mentioned, but it was an accomplishment of which he was proud.

Mr. Galloway also taught me to value those who don’t have the flashiest job in the world. His work often goes unnoticed as WiFi is always up thanks to him; however, everyone will admit just how essential this is for the daily functioning of the campus.

A lesson I’ve learned from Mr. Galloway is to just go for it, and don’t hesitate. He landed his first position in IT by taking a chance with a new job, and he fell in love with it.  I think this is one of the more valuable lessons I have taken from Verb, as I tend to second guess my choices.

I thank Mr. Galloway for always being there to help us with our often simple questions, for being a good role model for me and others, and for being the epitome of someone who enjoys what he does.

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: Jovanni Gonzalez motivates student athletes take on challenging goals

By Kevin Parada, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

Mr. Jovanni Gonzalez, Spanish teacher and varsity soccer coach, has personally pushed me to my limits and has influenced me the most in my four years at Verbum Dei High School.  As he is my soccer coach, he has inspired me to physically and mentally push myself to become a better person, a team player, and a captain on and off the soccer field.

A memory that will forever push me harder was a conversation on a day after practice when I asked him to help me out with extra training.

“Kevin you don’t need any more training, skills, or fundamentals,” said Mr. Gonzalez.  “It looks like you don’t want it deep down; I’ve seen you play, and recently it shows that you do not want it.”  That encounter has always taught me that I have way more in me that I need to dig out to better myself and the people around me. Mr. Gonzalez helped me to see the light that I needed to never give up on my dream of playing soccer.

The year of that exchange was a low point in my soccer career as I was not pushing myself hard on or off the field – my studies included.  I chose to push myself harder, and a year later, I became the varsity Captain by the team’s vote.  I led the team to become the first VDHS soccer team to become undefeated Santa Fe League champions.

I sincerely thank Mr. Gonzalez for being a great coach, mentor, teacher, and leader to me and my teammates.  He taught me to never be satisfied with what I could easily obtain; rather, he inspired me to reach toward difficult goals that afford me challenges.  That effort, he assured me, will pay off and will inspire and motivate the people around me.

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Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: Ken Favell challenges students to explore literature through different lenses

By Tyon James, Staff Writer, Class of 2020

Throughout my senior year at Verbum Dei High School, Mr. Ken Favell has become someone that has had a lasting effect on me as an academic. He has truly pushed me to think outside the box, to be open-minded, and to view things through a different lens. His English course has taught me to analyze and dissect pieces of writing in ways that I otherwise would not have considered. Furthermore, he has ignited within me a drive to become a better writer, one who is more effective and creative in ways that will be deemed captivating to readers.

Experiences in this course like class discussions, essays, and one-on-one feedback have all been memorable as they go beyond the expectations of a typical English courses. I feel as though Mr. Favell’s class is actually making me a well-rounded writer and reader. Class discussions are one of my favorite aspects of the class because I have the opportunity to be exposed to other opinions, to step outside of my normal way of thinking, and to collaborate with other students concerning varying opinions on writing techniques.

I would like to thank Mr. Favell for helping me to grow in several ways as a young student, who is about to embark on college endeavors. Throughout my time in his course, I have truly learned, and I have applied all of these skills to other classes and areas of my life. Had it not been for Mr. Favell and his hard work, I would not be the student that I am today. His words of wisdom, encouragement, and his constant push to better his students has inspired me in my academic, professional, and personal life. Kudos to Mr. Favell for being a trailblazer in the lives of his students and pushing us to be our best selves academically.

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