Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Were you ready?

In today's blog post, Mr. Turner '00 chats with Dan Barbella '10, Prep alumnus and fourth class cadet at the United States Military Academy.

Each year during the short Thanksgiving week, it is not unusual to see several young Prep alumni, home from college for the holiday, roaming the halls, dropping in on classes, and saying hello to former teachers. I was lucky to see former student and current fourth class cadet at West Point, Dan Barbella '10.

Dan was here, as he has been for the past three years, to talk to Prep students about service academies. Dan and I talked about his future plans, and I learned that not only is he interested in macroeconomics, but also that he wants to be a helicopter pilot. "Not a bad way to spend your everyday" is how Dan put it.

Dan Barbella '10 (right) at West Point
I couldn't resist asking Dan if he felt prepared for West Point's demanding schedule and high expectations. His reply?

"Absolutely. There's a similar standard here at the Prep in terms of self-reliance and personal accountability. In addition, academics and ethics are intertwined. And most important, I'm reminded constantly of my commitment to something greater than myself. The Prep does it right."

Of course, I agreed.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK: 50 Years Later

Mr. Joe Donahue '63, Prep religion teacher and moderator of the golf and basketball teams, reflects on his experience on 11/22/63.

November 22nd, 1963 - On that day and in that moment, almost every American, alive and alert, stopped and cried and wondered what was happening to our world. For the first time in my life, I had no answer, not a clue as to why that weekend in November fifty years ago stopped the world and many wished to get off and start over again.

My lifelong friend, Vince Curran '63, and I were headed to Alumni Fieldhouse on the campus of then St. Joseph’s College, now the University. On Fridays, we had the afternoon off from classes and we wished to shoot some hoops prior to a freshmen basketball practice. It was a tad after one o’clock. As we entered Coach Jack Ramsay’s office, his secretary told us the President had been shot in Dallas, Texas, just moments before.

Media was comparatively slower and smaller fifty years ago. And, as the players filtered in to that small, cramped office, there was a sullen quiet pervading that space. Yes, for the first time, the world had apparently stopped and no one wished to speak; we just wanted to watch that small, 13-inch black and white screen. Stunned and shocked would best describe the mood in Rambo’s office. “Rambo” was our nickname for the venerable and future Hall of Famer, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Saint Joe’s head coach. This pre-dated the advent of the other, violent Rambo, decades later. Around 2 o’clock that afternoon we all heard the soothing tones of Walter Cronkite, America’s newsman par excellence, finally reveal what all had dreaded to hear … “President Kennedy died … at 2 PM, EST, just 38 minutes ago”.
Americans cried just as Cronkite cried. Coach Ramsay called off practice that weekend and I, dumbfounded, trudged back to Barry Hall, packed my few belongings in my satchel, and headed toward 54th and City Avenue.

In those days we traveled by the thumb. So, I began to exercise that digit on my right hand and headed east toward the river. Shortly, a beaten, old 1952, faded green pick-up stopped. The door was thrown open and I hopped in, not really thinking much more could go wrong on this day. How wrong I was. The only thing which looked and smelled worse than the truck was the driver. Ugh! Old newspapers, emptied coffee cups, rusted pipe and broken LP records abounded in this so called vehicle. I actually was able to blot it all out and just concentrate on the fallen, beloved President . After all, here I was – seventeen, a freshman in the Jesuit College, one year out of the Prep, very naive, and now heading for the Olney section of Philadelphia and my home, and quietly stunned and quite moved by the event of that afternoon.

All of a sudden, much to my shock, this wretch driving towards Bala Avenue, out of nowhere, utters a vulgar and profane slur against our fallen President. And then another, and another, until finally, I awoke from this nightmare in November, and commanded this person to “stop the truck … now”. He had wished JFK dead, and as if he had pulled the trigger from that mail order rifle, I just had to get out of that doomsday machine. This follow-up event to our world being shattered now wasted me. I just started walking and thinking. Why do people exist who do evil things, say evil things, and think evil things? And walk I did, and contemplate the answers to those puzzling questions. No answers, just onward towards WCAU, and then onto Monument Avenue and across the Falls River Bridge, the trek started. Through East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough, West Germantown. Mount Airy, this sojourn continued a slow, deliberate pace going nowhere other than home, still searching for answers. Through East Germantown, Logan, Fern Rock, and finally, Olney, my home, my dad with some answers, I prayed.

As I entered our home at 325 West Godfrey Avenue at almost 9 p.m., six-and-a-half hours after leaving St. Joe’s, my Dad looked up from his usual stance of reading the now defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and asked me not about the President’s death, nor about my own brush with a deadened spirit in a dreadful pick-up, but rather why was I home? This was atypical since usually after a practice I would stay at St. Joe’s for the weekend practice. Remember, there were no cell phones, in fact there were very few dimes in my possession that I could make a pay phone call. I did not call him to tell him anything probably due to shock. Now he was the shocked one, why was I home? After a long exposition, Dad told me that there were evil people in our world who just do the wrong thing. It woke me. It changed me and my world. I aged a lot that weekend and watched more TV than I would ever have the chance to again. Media was all  over this. It was the birth of constant news.

And many a reporter was introduced to the questing public who just wanted to know what was going on in our world. Names like Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, and countless other young reporters now became the news media on which America thrived for answers. And this media has not lost a beat since that terrible day.

And answers we got but not, I do believe, the whole story. Hopefully, those answers will someday be found, though many miles will be tread again before their revelation. “And miles to go, before I sleep”, as the poet Robert Frost had written before that other New Englander, JFK, had arrived on the political scene. And Frost had been a part of that Kennedy infusion at his inauguration in the bitter cold of January of 1961. I am reminded of Frost’s words from the same poem, which earmarks for me that awful day with the phrase found at the end of an earlier quatrain:

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   

This blog post was written by Mr. Joe Donahue '63, Prep religion teacher.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Teach Me

Several Jesuit colleges and high schools across the US take time out of each academic year to experience, reflect, and act upon certain aspects of their Ignatian identify. Mr. Sam Deitch, the Prep's Director of Ignatian Service, chats about our own Ignatian Heritage Days.

Our theme for Ignatian Heritage Days this year is Teach Me. All members of the Prep community are encouraged to partake in any of the programs being run throughout the week. Pins will be distributed (see image to the right) to the entire school community as a symbol of our faith and Ignatian identity. These pins are an outward sign of our constant need to learn more about ourselves, others, and God. Take a look at some of the things we are doing this week and next:

  • The ThanksgivingFood Drive will continue all next week until November 26. Each student is asked to bring in at least 5 items of his homeroom's assigned food product. Our homerooms then deliver the baskets to the local community at the end of Mass on the 26th.
  • 8 students and 3 adults attended the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice this past weekend in Washington, D.C. The Teach-in is a conference run by the Ignatian Solidarity Network focused on social justice issues.
  • Each morning during homeroom, our Teachers Being Taught series will take place. One teacher, each day, will talk for few minutes over the PA to the school on a prompt that begins with Teach Me…  
  • A Prayer Service for the Philippines will take place on November 21 immediately after school in the Chapel. We will pray on the two-week anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall and in solidarity with those who have suffered and died. Afterwards, a conversation will take place about what we can do to assist those in the Philippines.
  • Dress Down Day on November 22 will support My Brother’s Keeper, an organization dedicated to helping those dealing with homelessness and substance abuse in Camden, NJ. The desired contribution is $5 for the Dress Down Day and the entire community can wear t-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts, jeans, shorts, and sneakers.
  • Ignatian Lunches for faculty and staff will be offered in the Xavier Room during a different lunch period each day. This will be a time of prayer and reflection in order to give thanks.

This blog post was written by Mr. Sam Deitch, Director of Ignatian Service.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Drama @ the Prep

Mr. Tony Braithwaite '89, popular Philadelphia stage actor and director of the Prep's Cape & Sword Drama Society, talks about this fall's production, the growth of Prep Drama, and the magis.

"The greatest sin against the Holy Spirit is being boring."

I first heard those words as a Prep student - in the eighties - from a young Jesuit named Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J. (who is now a great friend). And I have said those words a lot myself, especially as I work to make sure that the shows at the Prep are anything but boring. In fact that's why I was hired.
In 1994, then-Principal Fr. Herb Keller, S.J. (who is also now a great friend) asked me to take over Prep Drama. Fr. Keller wanted me to make Prep Drama as solid as Prep Crew or Prep Football.  He wanted me to make the Prep shows better than any other schools' shows. He wanted it to be competitive to even get cast in the shows, and hoped that student audiences would find the shows actually interesting and funny. That's not something that happens very often, as the sad reality is that most high school theatre is boring.       
So for twenty years, the students and I have worked hard every day in that glorious theatre - striving for excellence the same way Prep athletes do; striving to make Prep shows truly good and not boring; striving for the magis, the more. Jesuit philosophy has little tolerance for mediocrity of any kind, especially in theatre. 
And things have been going swell for us. We have done shows no other high schools do (some high school world premieres even), and today over 15% of the entire Prep student body is involved in some form of Prep Drama (including, for two years running, the Varsity Crew Team in our annual Night of Scenes). The shows sell out, we get nightly standing o's, and we receive praise from parents and faculty alike. 
But much of that could be considered de rigueur for many schools. In fact, there's no real way to quantify how we're doing. We don't get the determining W or L the way a competitive sports team does. So, how do we know?  How do we truly know if we've, "won"?
Here's one way: a few years ago our head football Coach Gabe Infante came to see our production of The Producers. And he was so impressed by what he saw that he wanted the whole team to see the show. He tricked them into thinking they were coming to an evening practice, but instead they attended one of our final performances. And they loved it. Let’s be clear – the entire football team cheered on the drama kids at a play. That just doesn't happen at other schools, anywhere. But it happens at the Prep. And that's a W, a win. (In fact we won over a nationally ranked team!)

Next up for us is The Laramie Project, and we open November 15th. The show is actually a bit of a departure for us, for although we've done heavy stuff in the past (Death of a Salesman, 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men to name a few) it's not our usual fare. But I invite you to come see what's on display on the Prep stage, to come see what Coach Infante saw, and to come see why Prep football players like Prep plays. 
Come see The Laramie Project. It won't be boring. 

This blog post was written by Mr. Tony Braithwaite '89, director of The Cape & Sword Drama Society.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

6 Tips for the Practice Exam

Applicants for St. Joseph's Prep Class of 2019 will take the Prep's practice scholarship/entrance exam this weekend. We asked Mr. Brian Kearney '99, Prep Classics teacher and test prep tutor, if he had any tips.

1. Think with your pen, not with your head.

You can think about ten different things all at once, but only write about (or work on) one of them. Stay focused by writing, working, moving forward.

2. Don't proceed to the next question until you've eliminated at least one choice.

In other words, save your work. If you return to a skipped question without first making some notes or attempting to reduce your options, that's more time and mental energy wasted.

3. Don't guess until you have 5 minutes left in a section.

Use the bulk of each section's time on material that you can work through confidently.

We in the admission office want to add a few more:

4. Sleep well.

The quality of your sleep can impact your mood, energy level, and ability to concentrate.

5. Eat breakfast.

The all-important first meal of the day is said to improve focus, attention, and emotional well-being.

6. Be grateful for the opportunity.

Grateful people, besides being nicer, are said to be generally more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. So be sure to thank your parents many times before you take the test.

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Go Forth

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
- St. Augustine

Summer Service
Although you will spend the majority of your days as a Prep student on campus, we know that a classroom is not defined by desks and walls alone. Your teachers, coaches, mentors, and peers will encourage and sometimes require you to take a field trip.

Here are just a few places where Prep students have gone - near and far - to learn, compete, and serve:
Prep students arrive at 17th & Girard from all over the Delaware Valley. What's more impressive, however, is where they'll be able to go once they get here.

Andrew Weber '02 in Kenya
This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Getting to Know: Ms. Gulli

Let's head over to the Prep's Modern Language Department and chat with second-year Spanish teacher, Ms. Gina Gulli.

Ms. Gina Gulli
While studying at LaSalle University (secondary education/Spanish), Ms. Gulli observed classes at Central, Northeast High, and her alma mater Cardinal Dougherty (2007), before completing her student teaching at St. Hubert's. Before landing her first teaching job in the States at the Prep, Ms. Gulli - a Harry Potter aficionado and accomplished Quidditch coach - taught at a public high school in Madrid. Although she is Philly-bred (Lawncrest, St. William's parish), Ms. Gulli, who knew she wanted to be a teacher in "first grade", misses her Spanish friends and Madrid's superb public transit system.

Why the Prep?

I've always heard good things about the Prep. And after teaching at St. Hubert's, I understand the value of a single-sex education. The position was open, it seemed like a good fit, so I submitted an application. I'm thrilled that it worked out.

What do you want Prep students to understand?

I want to give them an appreciation for other cultures; to make them aware of other customs through holidays, cuisine, and of course, language. It's so easy for a teenager to be consumed with his daily responsibilities that he often forgets that there's an entire world, with people whose lives are so very different, beyond his neighborhood.

What do you enjoy most about working at the Prep?

My students. In addition to teaching a full course-load (5 classes), I moderate two clubs: the Junior Statesmen of America (JSA) and the Harry Potter Club/Quidditch Team. The groups could not be more different - but each group brings the same enthusiasm and curiosity. It's wonderful.

Besides teaching, moderating, and perusing the Quidditch rulebook, what are some of your hobbies or interests?

I really love to sing. On Sundays I sing in a choir at St. Katherine of Siena in the Northeast. And during the summer I read. It's tough to read during the academic year because I'm so busy.

Have you set any professional goals?

I've already accomplished one: to become a Spanish teacher at a school that I love. I've also started graduate classes at LaSalle for an M.A. in Translation and Interpretation.

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

In this truly caring environment, there is something for everyone. Whether you're an athlete, a debater, or a Harry Potter nerd like me, you can find your niche at the Prep.

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