Library Progress Report

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Reference Shelves

Although it still lacks books, the newly refurbished Library Media Center was acknowledged with a reception last Wednesday, April 18, in the Brothers’ back yard, followed by a special naming ceremony outside the library and a brief tour of the interior.

In an interview with KCHS, President Martin Farfan estimated the total cost for the new air conditioning system, computers, bookshelves, tables, chairs, and Smart Board technology at approximately $240,000.  Funding was provided by the Shea Foundation. In January, Mr. Farfan indicated costs of roughly $200,000 for upgrades and another $200,000 for technology. [See Purple Letter of Jan. 16, 2012]

Photo by Abel Gutierrez

The back yard refreshments were tacos made fresh to order, accompanied by frijoles, salsa and assorted beverages. It was an opportunity for trustees, alumni, faculty and students to socialize.

Mr. Leong, Br. Lawrence, Br. John, Br. Chris, Br. James, Br. Paul, Br. LaSalle, Br. De Sales and Br. Roch. (Photo by Abel Gutierrez)

Afterwards, the group moved to the library. But before opening the door, Director of Development Oscar Leong and President Martin Farfan unrolled a blank scroll, and individual Brothers stood behind it, each holding a letter to spell out the identity of the person whose name is attached to the Library Media Center. This activity endorsed what the CHS Alumni Association had done several years earlier, and from the photo you can see that the honoree himself participated in the ceremony.

Br. James and Alumni Association plaque (Photo by Abel Gutierrez)

For those who do not know, James Meegan attended Cathedral as a student, left for college as a graduate, and returned as a lay teacher. A few years later he left again to become a Christian Brother, and returned as Br. James. He spent many years teaching, serving as (English) Department Chair, Principal, and eventually President of the school. Currently he teaches history and, as President Emeritus, is special advisor to President Martin Farfan.

Once inside the library, guests viewed a presentation on the SmartBoard and admired rows of computers, new study tables & hardwood chairs, and inviting upholstered furniture at the entrance. The additional tables and chairs mean students have more space to do their homework. There are also more computers, so once they are up and running, research will be easier. Rumor has it that there will be more online assignments next year, even in English, and that will keep the computers busy, too.

Photo by Abel Gutierrez

Loading all the applications onto the computers will take a while, and printers need to be installed as well. Then all of this has to be connected to the school network for access to the Internet. Moreover, because the books cannot be moved onto the shelves until the contractor finishes his work and signs off on the job, the library will not be open to students for several weeks yet.

Photo by Abel Gutierrez

Although her psychology classes are meeting in the library now, Librarian and Media Specialist Helen Moses indicates that “re-shelving the books will take weeks,” at least in part because she has to map out where the books go. The number of books was reduced by 60% to make room for the new computers and study tables, to the stacks (bookshelves) also have to be reconfigured. For example, fiction will now be up front, near the librarian’s desk, and Mrs. Moses invited “anyone who is reading a fiction book” to sit in the comfy upholstered sofas and chairs in this section.

Photo by Abel Gutierrez


A Week in Review and Coming Attractions

March 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last Tuesday’s even-bloc classes were modified so Dean of Studies Sulema Modesto and the academic counselors (Mr. Godoy, Mr. Lowdermilk, and Mr. Ryan) could explain to grade-level assemblies of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors how they will be registering for their fall classes. Each student had a copy of his transcript, which contained not only his coursework and grades through the first semester of this academic year, but also his contact information as contained in the school’s database. The Dean asked that each student verify the contact information and report to the Registrar, Mrs. Solis, if any of it needs to be updated.

Registration takes place in the computer lab this week (March 5 – 9) and will be entirely online, a new application of the technology everyone has been learning. Freshmen will register during their Spanish classes; sophomores during their English classes; and juniors during their U.S. History classes. Ms. Modesto also pointed out that registration will not include Honors or AP courses; placement tests for these classes will be administered through the departments after registration, and the final decision will be made by the Dean of Studies.

Students already enrolled in the second semester of an Honors or AP course will take the placement test for the next level in their current Honors or AP classes. Continued enrollment, however, is not guaranteed. Placement tests are scheduled for AFTER registration. Students who would like to enroll in an Honors or AP course in the fall but are not currently enrolled at that level should contact their teacher to discuss their readiness for an advanced class. Pre-requisites in addition to appropriate score on the placement test include a grade of “A” or “B” in the fall semester and the teacher’s recommendation. Individual departments may have additional requirements.

Last Friday 71 juniors returned from their overnight retreat to St. Mary’s Seminary in Santa Barbara. Guiding them in their reflections and spiritual development were Campus Minister Sanford Jones, Junior Class Moderator Jamie Murphy, Counselors Terry Catlin and Brady Lowdermilk, andStudent Life Moderators Br. Chris Patiño and Ryan Resurreccion. Friday was also Physics Day, and teachers Mike Trafecanty and Abel Gutierrez took their physics classes on the annual field trip to study the principles behind the rides at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Those of you who did not make it to at least one performance of Fiddler on the Roof [see February 19, 2012] have missed an event that will be recalled with pride for many years. This reporter saw the show twice (in order to see both Tevyes and both Perchiks) and came away more impressed each time. The lead performers were exciting, moving, and professional, but so were all the members of the ensemble. Each one was always “in the moment” ready with the appropriate response.  And there is more. The swirling backdrop, reminiscent of a work by Van Gogh, was painted by Cathedral alumnus Ixmal Rodriguez (Class of 2008). The sets, designed by architect Richard Olander, were constructed under the able direction of Walter Durham by the invaluable yet usually anonymous stage crew made up of seniors Michael Candaza, Luis Salcedo, & Cade Maldonado; juniors Christopher Lopez, Xavier Muñoz, & Christopher (or is it Cristian?) Rubalcaba; and alumni volunteers David Chavez (’09), Anthony Perez (’10), and Aaron Celaya & Christopher Garay (both ’11). How many high schools do you know that command such loyalty and service especially after graduation?

The sets fit together on stage like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and they are moved seamlessly into place under the supervision of their crew chief, senior Adolfo Monroy. And it’s not just the buildings. In “Tevye’s Dream,” members of the aforementioned stage crew provide mobility for the ghost of Fruma-Sarah (Rebecca McDonald) as she enters to terrorize and threaten Tevye (seniors Eric Babb and Julio Ortiz, double-cast) and his wife Golde (Yvette Santos, a junior at Visual And Performing Arts High School). That took a lot of practice, as Rebecca notes in the program.

As if two weekends of sold-out performances of Cathedral’s smash hit production of Fiddler were not enough, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival arrives on tour Tuesday, March 6, for its annual presentation. Last year it was The Tempest [see February 28, 2011]; this year it is Macbeth. Teachers throughout the English department are using journal assignments and discussion to prepare their classes to consider the way Shakespeare addresses such universal themes as ambition, power, success and the supernatural in this tragedy.

The odd-bloc schedule will be modified in that Period 1 will be only 25 minutes, and Period 3 will be extra long (8:45 – 11:20) to allow for two performances. Freshmen and sophomores will see the play first, followed by 75 minutes of instruction. Juniors and seniors will have instruction first, followed by the play. Everyone has a 25-minute break at approximately 11:20. Period 5 and Period 7 will each be 60 minutes, and lunch will also be only 25 minutes. Dismissal will be at the usual time.

Unfortunately, teachers in the Science and Math Departments will miss Macbeth because they will be at a STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) Conference. Next week four teachers will be attending the two-day CUE (Computer Using Educators) Conference in Palm Springs, and the following Friday (the pupil-free day after the Walkathon) each department will visit a different Catholic high school in the Los Angeles area to observe teachers in their own discipline. Their observations will be included in the WASC/WCEA document being prepared for the spring of 2013. Professional development never ceases at Cathedral.

Cathedral Library, Part II

January 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

Br. James Meegan

Former Cathedral librarian Sandra Gerard used to say that the library is “the heart of the school” and books, checked in and out at the circulation desk, are its “lifeblood.” The first librarian in the San Francisco District to be named a “Lasallian Educator,” she worked with Br. James Meegan, former Principal and President Emeritus, and with the late Br. Christopher Bassen, a former Dean of Studies, both of them staunch defenders of the role of the library in preparing young men for college.

A great believer in technology, Mrs. Gerard bought the school its first VHS player and collected a number of videotapes for educational use. Before there ever was a computer lab, she lobbied for the installation of computers in what she dubbed the Library-Media Center. She purchased the first databases and taught students (and teachers) how to use them for research.

When she retired after twenty years of dedicated service, Cathedral‘s library-media center was a showcase. Tours of the campus always included a stop there, and Mrs. Gerard greeted all her visitors with a smile. She talked with the students who came into the library, too, and knew them all by name. “What kind of books do you like to read?” was a favorite question. She had books to recommend no matter what a boy’s interest. An avid reader herself, she created “special collections” for several YA genres of paperbacks: blue dots for science fiction and fantasy; black dots for mysteries; and red dots for contemporary fiction. She pioneered the purchase of graphic novels (the lineal descendants of Classics Illustrated from a generation ago) so that even reluctant readers would be able to find something of value.

Mrs. Moses

Over the years more computers have been added, more databases, and more reference books. Like Mrs. Gerard, Mrs. Moses has also done her best to maintain the State Standards for a secondary school library-media center. She keeps the reference books up to date by purchasing new editions year or two; evaluates databases and subscribes to appropriate ones so the departments can use them to teach their curriculum; and purchases Young Adult literature, both fiction and non-fiction, so our boys will develop an interest in reading for fun and information. With her annual budget reduced even as enrollment increases, Mrs. Moses has chosen to maintain the databases rather than renew magazine subscriptions or buy YA novels for pleasure reading. The LMC has become more focused on research than on circulation, she concedes. Hence, the technology upgrade that begins this Monday.

Having 38 new computers will mean online access for an entire class during school hours, and a new air conditioning system means less danger of overheating and breakdown. When the remaining books are back on the shelves and the databases are updated and online, research should be much more efficient, and more akin to the kind of research college students do.

In the meantime, the juniors made their final trip to the library for the foreseeable future last week. They were looking for print sources for biographical information on the authors they had chosen (or had been assigned) for their English IIIB research project. On Thursday and Friday, the computers disappeared; all the books were divided into two piles: one to keep and one to give away. Some books were packed into the small storage container in the parking lot between the 100s and the 200s until the remodel is completed; others were boxed up and given away. A carton of paperback novels free for the taking made its way to Room 203, but not many of those are left.

As their project continues, the juniors will have to do their research after school in Mrs. McNeal’s classroom (203), where the English reference books are being kept. Database research is still possible if students can find a computer with Internet access. On campus that is difficult if not impossible because the labs are rarely open before or after school, or during break and lunch. To find a work (novel, play, collection of poems, short stories or essays) by the subject author, students will have to investigate the public library system. None of Cathedral’s books can be checked out until the library re-opens.

For the duration, Mrs. Moses will be meeting her three psychology classes to the MHR, Room 203, and Room 201. The two dozen or so students who liked to use the library as a place to study or do homework before or after school, at break or during lunch, are out of luck. They will have to find a sympathetic teacher who will let them use a classroom instead. And finding printers will not be easy, either. The advice from the Administration is to print at home, assuming you have a printer, and paper, and toner.

While the increased focus on technology has undeniable advantages for student research, the initial financial investment is substantial [see Purple Letter, Jan. 16]. It also requires regular maintenance and updating to keep everything running smoothly and speedy repair when the machines go down, as heavily used equipment frequently does. All of these costs have to be included in the budget.

Adding to the difficulties, many devices become outdated more quickly than they wear out. For example, our recently installed SmartBoards require updates that some of our current laptops cannot provide. This leads to an endless cycle of investment, maintenance, update, and replacement.  The good news will come when the new Library-Media Center re-opens.

Library Closes

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Anyone who has visited Cathedral’s Library-Media Center recently has noticed that individual students regularly gather in the library before school, during break, lunch, and after school to do homework, study, or print out the homework assignments they wrote at home. However, it is also true that the air conditioning does not work and neither do several of the computers. When classes come in to use the resources, there are more students than working computers, and Mrs. Moses, the librarian, is often not available because she is teaching three psychology classes.  However, all this is about to change.

According to the school’s President Martin Farfan, the Library-Media Center will close for at least four weeks beginning January 31. During this period the worn-out air conditioning system, which came to us many years ago from the Brothers’ house at LaSalle High School in Pasadena, will be replaced, and the number of hard-wired computers will be upgraded and increased from 20 to 38. Also, 8 wireless laptops will be available to check out and use at the library tables. The cost, paid for by a grant from the Shea Foundation, he explained, is “approximately $200,000 for the upgrade, and an additional $200,000 for the new technology.”

There is no doubt that the remodel is necessary. Mr. Farfan pointed out that the library’s computers are “eight years old and have reached the end of their useful life.” On the other hand, the new computers in the senior building, recently installed by CHS alumnus Eddie Franco (Class of 2011), currently a student at UC Santa Barbara, “are much more efficient.” And with well over thirty students per section, “we need enough computers to serve everyone in the class.” Although Mr. Farfan conceded that “the computer lab in the senior building is rarely available,” it would be helpful if, while the library is closed, the computers in the senior building were accessible after school for student research.

To make room for the new technology, however, sixty percent (60%!) of the library’s books will be removed and given away. Mr. Farfan confirmed that the reference section will remain, as will “books used in classes” for projects in English, religion, speech, history, psychology, etc. “Whether the Young Adult novels stay will depend on space,” he admitted. The books that stay will have to be put in boxes and stored until the remodeling is finished.

Mrs. Moses, Cathedral’s librarian, will make some of the decisions about which books stay and which ones go. She agreed that some print resources, such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Current Biography, are either available online by subscription or outdated and not worth updating. These are the easy choices. But others are more problematic, such as World Book Encyclopedia, which provides general information quickly and in language accessible to high school students.

Unfortunately, no plans have been made to allow students access to the remaining 40% of the books while the library is closed. After the announcement at last week’s Curriculum Committee meeting, departments scrambled to come up with ways to scavenge print resources that are important to their fields of expertise. Already Mr. Walsh has taken custody of a series of 100 monographs called Playwrights in an Hour, and the Catholic Encyclopedia has taken up residence in Br. Paul’s room.

The English Department is discussing how to rescue the biographies, collections of critical essays, primary source literature, reference books, and YA fiction, and then store them in teachers’ classrooms in such a way that students might use them during the closure. This is, after all, the semester when juniors traditionally undertake their research paper in American literature.

A curriculum-based library like Cathedral’s works differently from a general circulation library in terms of its needs and services. Instead of counting the number of books checked in and out, our library measures its value by looking at the number of “hits” on our databases as students conduct research on a variety of topics for their classes.

Thus, in addition to print resources, CHS needs online databases. As Mrs. Moses points out (when she has the opportunity to teach library lessons), “Ninety percent of the internet is invisible.” She is referring to databases not accessible except by subscription. These are the sources our students use when they go online: Galenet, Facts on File, Opposing Viewpoints, Bloom’s Literary Reference Online, as well as science and math databases that allow students access to the most recent information. Research advances so quickly that science textbooks are out of date by the time they reach print.

The websites that show up via such search engines as Google, Yahoo, etc., may or may not have accurate information. People who for pay for domain names usually have a point of view they want to communicate, so their data might be biased. What’s more, the sheer number of responses means it is extremely difficult to discern which sites are the most relevant for a particular purpose. Wikipedia, for example, shows up at the top of most searches, but its information, even if accurate, is only of the most general kind. If a student requires more specific data, he has no way of knowing which of the several hundred other websites has what he needs. Databases, however, are already tailored for student research, and our librarian, with an advanced degree in Library and Information Science, is the information specialist who has been trained to evaluate and choose the best databases, just as she chooses the best books.

Open House

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Parents line up for a tour.

It has been quite a week! It started calmly enough as teachers and students started preparing for the end of the semester after a five-day Thanksgiving holiday, but then the winds came and took out the power at 1:03 a.m. on Thursday. The traffic light at Broadway and Bishops Road, the electronic gates to the parking lots, the lights in the science building, the computers and (of course) the copy machines – none were operational. Teachers and administrators lined the sidewalk outside the school, informing parents as they came to drop off their sons that a power outage had cancelled classes. Seniors and the teachers accompanying them to their retreat in Wrightwood gathered at tables outside the cafeteria until Br. John and Dean of Services John Ferrante found a bus company to take them to the mountains. Power was restored at 10:00 Thursday night, and all classes met, not just the originally scheduled even bloc.  Thus Open House on Sunday proceeded as scheduled.

Water polo players Chris Hooks & Colin Murphy

Open House is Cathedral’s biggest recruiting tool, bringing seventh and eighth grade boys and their parents to tour the campus and see what we do here. Tours begin in the gymnasium, and student guides take small groups to visit the many sites on campus.

Ruben Randall & Alexi Aguilar with recent soccer trophy

Outside the gym athletes and coaches from football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, golf, tennis, water polo, and swimming talk to those interested in playing (or learning to play) one of our many sports. Other coaches show off the locker rooms and gymnasium. Around the corner, between the parking lot and the classrooms, the robotics students demonstrate their programming skills.

Mural designed & executed by math students

In the classrooms, the Religion, Spanish, History, Math and English Departments display their books and explain their curricula. Mrs. Salas and members of the Math Club present its many activities, and as  she is also moderator for both National Honor Society and California Scholarship Federation, many of those students talk with parents and potential freshmen about their service to the community, academic accomplishments and college goals. In her classroom, Mrs. Staveley and her honor students talk about the Academic Decathlon and National English Honor Society.

Of course, in their new building the Science Department conduct experiments in the chemistry and physics labs, and models and dissections from the biology classes are on display as well.

Biology: Models of skin cells

In the two computer labs, touring families see how students develop keyboarding and formatting skills as well as their accomplishments in media graphics.

Jazz band rehearsal

In the Annex, members of the band rehearse for their upcoming concert; in the theater, the cast of Holes performs scenes from the play; in the art studio students work with clay, and KCHS television classes show how they put together their daily program of news and announcement .

Anthony-Loren Williams displays his work.

In the cafeteria, tours will meet the Student Life moderators, Mr. Resurreccion and Br. Chris, and Mr. Catlin will be explain our Counseling Department, which helps students in their preparation for college as well as making available personal counselors for non-academic concerns.

Tom Varela and Mike Duran, alums of the Class of 1967

Upstairs in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Conference Room, the Alumni Association emphasized the continuing interest of the Cathedral Family even after graduation. “Phantoms Forever!”

Back to School Night

September 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Like most schools during the first few weeks of the semester, Cathedral follows the tradition of Back-to-School Night. On Thursday, September 22, parents and guardians have the opportunity to visit each of their sons’ classes, meet their teachers, and find out a little about the course requirements and the skills the boys will be developing in order to prepare for college. As a bonus, the progress reports will be distributed by the seventh-period teachers. However, each class meets for only ten minutes, so if you want to have an extended discussion with a teacher, you are encouraged to make an appointment.

Progress reports? Where did the time go? No sooner do we finish welcoming the freshmen into the Cathedral family, and already it’s time for the first progress reports!

Part of the reason for this speedy accounting to parents is that, unlike many public schools, Cathedral’s first semester ends before Christmas, and parents are entitled to three progress reports before the final semester grades. (For the record, the mid-semester report will be distributed at Parent-Teacher Conferences on October 20, and the third report will be mailed during Thanksgiving week. Final exams end December 15, and first-semester grades are mailed out the first week of January.)

As you tour the campus looking for your son’s classrooms, you may notice increased use of technology in the teachers’ presentations. In July the faculty were presented with iPads, and in August they received some training in how to use them. Many teachers now use their iPads exclusively for taking attendance, and a new app will shortly enable teachers to access their PowerSchool gradebooks to add assignments and enter grades. The number of SmartBoards has also increased, and (gradually) top-mounted projectors are being installed to make using the technology easier.

Freshmen have very little choice in their coursework. They are required to take religion, English, Spanish, biology, math, and a semester each of P.E. and theater arts. Depending on their entrance exam scores, some will be taking Genre Literature to hone their reading and study skills; others will learn keyboarding, word processing and other computer techniques to prepare them for more advanced coursework, such as computer graphics, in the future. Some students, having already met the basic freshman requirements, will be able to enroll in Band I, where Dr. Brian Bartel will teach them how to read music, play an instrument, and prepare them for a public concert later in the semester.

Sophomores, too, are taking college preparatory courses, expanding their knowledge of the world beyond the local neighborhood. Besides the requisite religion, English, Spanish, biology (next year’s sophomores will take chemistry), and math, they also learn world history. Possible electives include an additional math course or one from the Visual and Performing Arts Department (Band II, Theater Arts II, an introductory course in video production, or an intermediate one in computer graphics).

Juniors, having met most of the basic graduation requirements, have more opportunities to specialize in their electives, but they still take five required courses: religion, English, chemistry (in two years, juniors will take physics), math, and U.S. history. Advanced Placement (AP) classes in English Language, Spanish Language, U.S. History, and Calculus are available to juniors who qualify for them. These college-level courses are demanding, with intensive reading and writing requirements as well as additional class sessions outside the regular school schedule. However, students who pass the AP exam in May can be awarded “advanced placement,” meaning they do not have to take the basic course in that subject as college freshmen.

Seniors have more elective opportunities, but they, too, must take the required courses in religion, English, physics, U.S. government, and math. Advanced Placement courses available to qualified seniors include English Literature, Spanish Literature, U.S. Government, and Calculus. (In three years, seniors will be eligible for an AP science course).

As you listen to the teachers explain their courses and their expectations for the year, give thanks for these men and women who are dedicating their time and effort to prepare your sons for the future.

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