Monday, July 28, 2014

3 Questions For: Andrew Oliver '16

In today's post, Andrew Oliver '16 answers three simple questions.

Andrew Oliver '16 
1) Why did you choose the Prep?
I chose the Prep because it offers all the things that you want in a high school:

  • Great academics 
  • Great teachers 
  • Competitive athletics and outstanding extracurricular activities
  • Opportunities for social and spiritual growth

2) What is your favorite thing about the Prep? 
It’s hard to list one favorite thing about the Prep. If I had to pick one it would be the people. The faculty are always willing to help students. The teachers care about both the students' academics and also about the students' development as young men.

3) Why would you recommend the Prep to an 8th grade student?
Too many reasons, but let me try. Beyond the great academics and athletics, the Prep exposes its students to a much bigger group of people. In my time at the Prep, I've become friends with kids from Bucks County, South Philly, the Main Line, North Philly, and even Jersey. I doubt I would have met such a diverse group of people if I had chosen my local public school or another private school. The Prep also teaches its students how to work hard. The Prep isn't easy, but it pushes each student to be the best student / athlete / actor / musician / person he can be.

Andrew Oliver '16 and Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission contributed to this blog post.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

It's Not the Programs, It's the People

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 talks about what truly make St. Joseph's Prep special.

Forgive us private school admission folks if we like to talk about what our schools have to offer. If you ask any admission director, "What makes your school special?", he or she might tell you about the school's stellar academic program, its outstanding athletic teams and facilities, and all the opportunities for service and leadership - not to mention support services like counseling, spiritual direction, and career guidance.

Now, St. Joseph's Prep has all those wonderful things and more. But let me tell you what really sets our school apart:
  • our students
    Kairos 134
  • our staff
When you come to St. Joseph's Prep, you are surrounded by motivated, intelligent, and caring people who impact your high school experience far more than any strategic initiative or nationally recognized endeavor ever could.

Our Cape and Sword (drama) alumni praise their fellow classmates and their outstanding director, not the props or the stage. Ten years from now, when our state champion football players recall this past year's magical season, they'll talk about their teammates and their dedicated coaches, not the fancy uniforms or the hotel food in Hershey, PA.

Quick story - a member of the Class of 2005 fondly recalls crew practices before Mother's Day each year. One coach, the fiercest of competitors and the most intense of trainers, would show up to practice with a bag full of Mother's Day cards. He ensured that each rower took the time to sit down and write his mother a note. Competition was important, of course, and training for the upcoming regatta was essential. Coach, however, carved out the time for his athletes to show appreciation for the people in their lives, especially their mothers.

As a senior, when you look back and ask, "What was my favorite class?", it won't be biology because of the top-of-the-line microscopes, but because of the lab partner who became your best friend and the fabulous teacher, affectionately know as Mother Brown, who taught you how to love learning.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Catching Up With: Matthew Bischoff '09

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 chats with alumnus Matthew Bischoff '09 (Sicklerville, NJ) about St. Joseph's Prep, iOS apps, and his job at Tumblr.

It was clear that Matt had an interest in computers. While some students preferred a pen and pad for notes, Matt's PowerBook suited his learning style. But like all Prep guys, Matt's interests were varied - drama, service, retreats, and course work complemented his tech background. I had the chance to talk with Matt, a former student, about his time at the Prep, his current job, and what it takes to thrive in the tech world. Here's what I learned:

What have you been up to since June 2009, Matt?
Matthew Bischoff '09

After the Prep, I attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), studying Human-Computer Interaction for two years, before landing a job at The New York Times as an iOS engineer. While at NJIT I played Tobias in the school's production of Sweeney Todd, and did some research related to my major.

My Prep classmate, Brian Capps '09, and I starting writing iOS apps during senior year at the Prep. Our first app, Quotebook, was released while I was at NJIT. Since then we released another app called Velocity. We also do contracting for other people - building iOS apps. That's also my full time job - I'm an iOS engineer at Tumblr.

Can you take me through your day-to-day at Tumblr?

I come in and look at a list of things we need to accomplish - some of them are going to be bugs (problems in the current app), and other things are new features, exciting stuff that we want to add. I work with my team to decide who is best suited for each task and then we start developing it. We write code to start making things happen, and then we share those changes with each other before submitting a beta version to the internal community at Tumblr. Once we're confident with the update, we submit it to the App Store.

It's my favorite job I've ever had. It's such a creative place to work - we're all so focused on making the best publishing platform. And it's incredibly exciting.

Tumblr is the best way to follow the world's creators. And if you're a creator yourself, it's the best way to share your work with an audience.

What skills and background does one need to do what you do?

I was interested in computers from an early age, so that helped. Studying computer science as much as possible. Advanced math skills are nice to have, but not essential.

A lot of it is logic - critical and rational thinking. Anything that would bolster those kinds of skills is good.

But the way that I really learned how to do it was by coming up with the thing that I wanted to exist in the world - an app that I wanted to build. If you commit to that, you're forced to learn how to do it. If you're learning how to do it because you think you'll make a lot of money or because it sounds interesting, I don't think you'll persevere due to the amount of failure in this line of work. Several hours and even days are spent building things that don't work the way you want them to. That's hard to stomach unless you have an end goal in mind.

Matt's senior yearbook photo
Did the Prep prepare you well?

Absolutely. No question about it. The Prep helped me both to think critically and to make an argument in a rational and respectful way. I consider myself to be well-read and can see things from multiple perspectives. I have the Prep to thank for that. In addition, I can usually draw from something that I learned in, say, Latin or History class when I'm trying to solve a problem.

What about your Prep experience are you most thankful for?

My teachers truly cared about me as a person. I remember times when I was stressed out because I had so much on my plate and my teachers could sense that. They were very empathetic.

Why should a family consider St. Joseph's Prep?

It's different for every family - I was drawn to the Prep's excellent theatre program and the level of trust the school gave to students with respect to the use of technology. So my advice to families is: talk to people who've experienced the Prep and be sure to visit the school. Once you're there, you'll feel that St. Joe's Prep is somewhere that you should be.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Image credit:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Great Courses @ the Prep: American Studies

In today's blog post, read about one of the great courses the Prep offers - American Studies with Mr. Connors '80 and Mr. Rupertus.

Breaking down silos

Back in the late 90's, St. Joe's Prep faculty from several academic departments shared work space in what is now the Modern Language office. Bill Connors '80 (History) and Chris Rupertus (English), "jammed in there like sardines", sat back-to-back and frequently chatted about their craft. Since Rupertus and Connors were used to spending so much time together during prep periods and since they shared a passion for the lesser known chapters of American history, from that crowded corral emerged the course known as American Studies.

Why American Studies?

CR: Before I got to the Prep, I taught for a year at Marple-Newtown Senior High School (Newtown Square, PA). A course existed at Marple-Newtown somewhat similar to ours in structure, but not in content. So during our shared prep periods, Bill and I talked about this course. Bill said, 'Wow. That's an interesting idea. I wonder if we could do something like that here.' 

We did a boatload of research; we went to Marple-Newtown and observed; we got course syllabi from other schools' classes that were interdisciplinary in nature. Our proposal for the new course was approved unanimously by academic council to begin the following fall.

The original reason Bill and I wanted to teach the course was that we thought the two subjects (History and English) inform and complement one another. Since then we've learned that the double-period (80 minutes) fosters a sense of community and camaraderie that is difficult to replicate in a 40-minute period; having two teachers for each class means we're now twice as likely to connect with a student who may be struggling in any way; it also means that Bill and I get to model collaboration for our students.

Two consequences have been the classroom's diversity - with regard to socioeconomic status, geography, GPA, racial and ethnic identity, and family make-up. And second, our class's character and complexion engender some valuable and authentic discussions and even some respectful disagreements. In that sense, our class is truly collegiate in nature.

Could you walk me through the course?

CR: In order to synthesize these two disciplines, we take a quasi-chronological thematic approach. We have 8 units of study which expose our students not only to literature, but also to primary and secondary historical texts. Our main secondary source for history is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States:

  1. The History of Native American White Contact
    • We read Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie which is set on a modern-day reservation.
  2. People's Movements during Colonial America
    • Shay's Rebellion, for example
    • Since there isn't a whole lot of literature from that period, we fast-forward and we'll read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne one year, or Arthur Miller's The Crucible the next year so we can get a flavor for the period.
  3. Slavery and Abolition
  4. Women's Movement
  5. Immigration and Industrialization
  6. Harlem Renaissance
  7. The Depression
  8. Cold War & Vietnam
    • Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried
    • We use O'Brien's book as a lens through which we examine more current geo-political and military issues.
How do you assess your students?

CR: Our participation in the school's 1:1 device pilot program has allowed us not only to find new ways to assess our students through the use of Google Apps for Education, but also to employ traditional forms of assessment (e.g., blue books) if they suit our purpose.

BC: Yeah, we found that for simple quizzes, the blue book is still the best tool.

CR: This year we've become more project-based than ever before. And we've asked our students to collaborate more in ways that we can evaluate. During our Slavery and Abolition unit, our guys had to create a Google Presentation - part in class, part at home - on a slavery excerpt and the ripples of the document's publication. We didn't invent anything with the presentation, but by using Google, it afforded us the opportunity to ask them to dig deeper because they had the time. We also ask our students every quarter to evaluate themselves, to give themselves a grade. What's amazing is that our students are within one or two points of the grades they earn.

Any upcoming changes for the course?

CR: We are constantly evaluating what we do. We're fortunate to take field-trips that aren't too disruptive because of the time our class runs (periods 7-8, end of day), so we're always looking for new areas of the city to connect the present to the past. We're interested in examining more contemporary social and civil rights movements. It is easy and comfortable to look back and say that the civil rights movement was so obviously right, how could anybody be against it? It is much more difficult to look at current movements of a different ilk and negotiate that with an eye towards mission and justice. 

What's your favorite thing about teaching American Studies?

CR: I love my job. I never wake up with a pit in my stomach. I think that speaks volumes about the Prep. But if during the course of the day there are any bumps in the road, I can always look forward to American Studies. The level of intellectual effort, and of conversation, is humbling. We have fun together, we laugh. And to be able to work alongside as fine a teacher as Bill Connors - that has made the course fulfilling. Not to mention the atmosphere of the class - which is created organically - it is awesome to witness.

BC:  It's the interactive nature of the class - with Chris, with the students, with the disciplines, and when the kids make these connections. When the guys connect across the subjects, across time, and with one another, it's very rewarding.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mothers' Club Fashion Show - A Prep Tradition

In today's post, two Prep moms, Stephanie Lyons [Sean ‘16] and Sandra Fecca [Chris ‘16], share their story about how the Mothers' Club Fashion Show was a catalyst for friendship and an opportunity to become more closely connected to other Prep families.

The Fashion Show is one of many Mothers' Club traditions, and in the spring of 2012 we met at the “Feeling Groovy" themed show. Our boys would be freshmen in the fall. We remember feeling nervous, not knowing if we would feel comfortable in the Prep community or among the other mothers that we would meet.
The two of us were seated together at the Fashion Show and after we introduced ourselves we immediately started to talk about where we were from and about our amazing sons. We got along and felt comfortable with each other from the start. We had a great conversation and lots of laughs. We remember leaving the Fashion Show excited about the new journey our sons were about to take – and the one we too were now on.

We kept thinking, “WOW", what an amazing group of women we met today, not only at our table, but in the whole room! In May of 2012 we met again at the Incoming Mothers’ Reception where we exchanged information and kept in touch throughout the summer. Today our friendship has grown and we've been blessed to meet other amazing moms on our journey. We all keep in touch and often get together for a girls night out. This past year we co-chaired Homecoming 2013 (O Holy Night theme). We are thankful and honored to call these amazing women our friends! And we owe it all to the Fashion Show.

Homecoming 2013
This blog post was written by Stephanie Lyons and Sandra Fecca, loyal Prep moms.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Getting to Know: Anthony DeRita '14

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 chats with Anthony DeRita '14 (Blackwood, NJ) about his time at the Prep and what lies ahead.

As a talented eighth-grader from Blackwood, NJ, Anthony DeRita '14 had some options before saying yes to St. Joe's Prep. It came down to one thing for him: diversity. And as Anthony, a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, completes his last semester at 17th & Girard, the Prep's blended community is still his favorite thing about the place.
Anthony DeRita '14

Why the Prep?

The Prep is so different from where I come from. When I interviewed with Mr. McCloskey for my Ignatian scholarship, he asked me a similar question and I said diversity. So I'll stick with that answer. I come from South Jersey and I love the area, but I just wanted something different.

What do you want your Prep teachers to know, now that you're almost done?

I am so grateful. I would say, "Thank you for everything you've done" and that I'll be back soon to say it again.

What do you enjoy most about the Prep's faculty?

That's tough because I can only pick one thing - but I truly enjoy the faculty-student relationships. For example, Mr. Fitzpatrick's (Physics) availability and dedication are remarkable. I can show up before school, during a free period, or after school and find him offering extra help in the lab. Mrs. Primick's (Classics) willingness to incorporate creative projects into a strict AP Latin curriculum is also inspiring. I even wrote a college essay (ahem, Harvard) about it.

Have you applied to other colleges?

Uh, yeah. Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Stanford are the so-called top-tier schools I've applied to. I've also received full scholarship offers from Northeastern, Temple, and Fordham. I'm still waiting to hear from a few others.

When you're not applying to the nation's top institutions of higher learning, how do you spend your time?

I'm president of the Forensics Team (speech and debate), I'm involved in Cape & Sword (drama), I'm a student officer for Breaking Barriers (club advocating inclusion and tolerance), a co-editor for the Hawkeye (student newspaper), and I'm on the Mission and Ministry Board (student retreat leaders/organizers). I'm surprised, however, by how much free time I have. I hang out with friends, go to the mall, and some days I just sit around and watch TV. My three main shows right now are: Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and American Horror Story. I'm a big cinephile, too.

Any plans for the summer?

For the fourth summer now, I'll be working at Morey's Pier in Wildwood, NJ. I love that job so much. I meet so many young people from around the world - mainly East Asians and Eastern Europeans.

Finally, why should a family consider St. Joe's Prep?

It's not just a school, it's a community. It's easy to market the statistics - how many AP's we offer, what our average SAT scores are, and so on. It's a little harder to articulate the brotherhood that exists here until you experience it. But it's here, for sure.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Image credit: PowerSchool 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kairos @ the Prep

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 chats with Sr. Kathleen Woody G.N.S.H. about the origin and history of Kairos at St. Joe's Prep.

A recent tumblr. post, shared with the St. Joe's Prep community by Mr. Tony Braithwaite '89 and written by a Jesuit high school grad, reminded me of something that I should never forget: Kairos is one of the best things we do at St. Joe's Prep.

Sr. Kathleen Woody G.N.S.H, whom countless Prep alumni fondly recall as both a teacher and the Amazing Kairotic Ixthotic Supernun, spent some time with me to discuss the origin and history of this "intense retreat."

What is Kairos?

Now, I have to say this: I can give you the basics, but as you know, there is an element of secrecy and privacy to this retreat. OK, here we go.

Table 5 - '99
Kairos, an ancient Greek word that means the right time or God's time, is a three-and-a-half day retreat for adolescents that is based on the Cursillo retreat for adults. Kairos follows, roughly, the same pattern, and the topics of the retreat's speeches are modified for teenagers. I think the beauty of it is that the retreat takes you where you are. If you're someone whose relationship with God is solid, then the retreat confirms you and gives you a boost. If you're having problems at the time of the retreat, your experience might be more profound. It's absolutely the work of the Holy Spirit. During the first couple of retreats, I used to worry about how things might turn out. Around the eighth retreat I said to myself, "Why am I worried? I'm not in charge of this. I just order the buses."

How did Kairos come to the Prep?

There are a few different creation stories out there, so let me give you the one I'm familiar with. We got Kairos by way of Kentucky, I believe, through a Franciscan priest who was familiar with the Cursillo retreat. This priest and his faculty colleagues tweaked the retreat to make it appropriate for high school students. Since Kentucky isn't that far from Chicago, Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois got a hold of it. And once in got into the Jesuit network, it took off. We got it from Gonzaga high school in D.C. We sent seven Prep kids and Fr. Joe Michini, S.J. to D.C. to make the retreat and bring it back. The students thought it was a great retreat, they loved it. But one student said to Fr. Michini, "It'll never work at the Prep." Of course we made him the first rector! (student retreat leader).

How were those first retreats?

Since I hadn't made the Gonzaga retreat, that first Prep Kairos was led mainly by the students. We decided that we would not push the seniors to make it. We knew that if a priest and a nun pushed a retreat, it'd be the kiss of death. The kids would think that you pray all day and that'd be the end of it. So we let the word spread - and it did. We ran three retreats the first year, and for four years after that. One year we added a fourth retreat, then a fifth, then a sixth. We learned real quick, also, that a full four day retreat was too long - by the afternoon of the fourth day, they want to see their loved ones.

What are some of your favorite things about Kairos?

Now that I'm a full-time classroom teacher and no longer in Campus Ministry, I miss the experience of knowing on Monday night that in a few days I would have a much deeper understanding of who these young men were and what made them tick. I miss the students' creativity - I'll never forget a makeshift, Kairos-wide bowling tournament complete with brackets and team names. I also miss seeing how Kairos affects our adult leaders, some of whom said it was life-changing. I don't miss the planning or the worrying.

Are you sure you don't want to share any good stories about Kairos?

Oh, I'm sure.

What do students get out of the retreat?

Although we break students down into groups, the retreat is geared towards the individual because each reaction is individual. Here are the two big graces from Kairos: you recognize that you are a person loved by your God, by your family, by your friends. It then teaches you that everyone else is lovable. Once you know another's story, you're much more accepting of the person and therefore it's much easier to receive someone in a Christian spirit. It can, if you are open to it, change your attitude to become much more open and much more tolerant towards others.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Image credit: