The summer of 2012 at St. Bernard High School was a roller coaster. It was a time of change within administration and coaching staff. While some teachers and students decided it was in their best interest to find a different school, some saw it as a great opportunity to test their character and ability.
Bolger gymnasium was, and remains, the home of DETERMINED young Vikings. The year before, St. Bernard basketball finished one the greatest seasons in the school’s rich history. They were league champions and CIF Southern Section Champions. With the departure of a coach and many players, the Vikings looked like a team in distress; in the public's eye, St. Bernard was counted out.
It takes tough-minded young men to quiet outside noise and regroup as a team. The Vikings no longer had the luxury to only play upperclassmen team members. Now, underclassmen had their chance. They were undersized and lacked experience, but they did not lack DETERMINATION.
Due to the prior success of St. Bernard, the Vikings were placed in what was considered the toughest league in the state - the Del Rey League. Every team in this league, besides St. Bernard, was ranked in the TOP 15 in California. These teams were littered with Division 1 talent. But St. Bernard would not be intimidated, they had each other.
After going winless in league play vs. California’s best teams, the playoffs had arrived. The Vikings were not in anyone's conversation to win CIF, especially not the media's. However, they were battle-tested and DETERMINED to make the St. Bernard community proud.
The goal was to win a CIF Championship. In order to fulfill that DREAM, they knew it would take leadership and sacrifice. No one cared who got the credit - it was about the team, the team, the team. The Vikings reached the semi-finals and were able to host the #1 seed in the playoffs. All of sudden, the St. Bernard family took notice and packed the house to help cheer on their underdog Vikings. #1 Bell-Jeff HS took the court. They had beaten the Vikings by more than 20 points only 2 months earlier; this night would be a different story.
The determination was felt in the gym and was written all over the Viking faces. In a packed Bolger gymnasium, filled with supporters from both teams, the Vikings cheers drowned out the opposing fans and the Vikings took the night by storm and win 67-52.
St. Bernard was the talk of Los Angeles high school basketball.
Proving they could overcome the most adverse times the school had to offer, these young men knew it was about something much bigger than any individual, it was about St. Bernard and all those who played before them.
The 2014-15 Vikings went on the finish the job and captured a CIF Championship just 10 days later. This was something no one saw coming, except the 15 young men with Vikings across their chest.
There are many words to describe this special team, no word better than DETERMINED. Determined to prove themselves and more importantly, determined to make St. Bernard proud.
Definition “b” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary states that resilient means “tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
I have been at SBHS for 23 years and have seen a multitude of change. I am an adult and can handle misfortune or change much better than a teenager. You could then say that I am resilient. You could also say that St. Bernard High School is resilient as it has been through so much change over 60 years and especially in the last 10 years.
What does it mean to a teenager, especially a St. Bernard student, to be resilient? You cannot expect them to be like adults when it comes to change, but I beg to differ with you - they have been much better than adults with all the changes, they have been rock stars.
We run the gamut when it comes to socio-economics. We also have students with a varying array of family dynamics and living situations. With so much change in some of our students’ personal lives we wonder how they can be so resilient. St. Bernard is a safe haven for many of our students. Yet, St. Bernard has also been through so much change. Some students have seen three principals in their four years. They learn one principals’ ways and expectations and then a new principal appears and changes everything. We as faculty sometimes get confused and discombobulated, so I can only imagine what the students go through.
With the change, our students forged on. They never let their grades drop, they never let their school spirit wain, they continued to work hard and get into good colleges and the continued and were dedicated to see the Viking traditions carry on. Where the disappointed? Yes. Were they angry, maybe a few? Did they feel like no one cared, you bet? Did the SBHS students lose faith in the school or feel they were not getting a good education, absolutely not. They still wanted to be here and recommend St. Bernard to others.
In my humble opinion, the St. Bernard student should be in the dictionary as an example of what it means to be resilient. I am so proud of our students and grateful for what they have shown me about being resilient. Each and every St. Bernard student is Loyal, a true Viking and is determined to see the Viking tradition continue.
by Richard Billups ’94
It was July 2018 and I had been on the job officially as principal at St. Bernard High School for all of 10 days. I was sitting with our Head Basketball Coach discussing the improbable run to a CIF championship and State tournament appearance from a few years earlier. He told me those kids had grown tired of hearing the rumors about SBHS closing and their friends teasing them about being a Viking. They decided to put St. Bernard High School back on the map and if they had to do it alone they would. And for two years they were one of the best teams in the state of California.
I walked out of Coach Runco’s office fired up and ready to take on the world! I looked up and saw I was standing in “Legacy Lane” displaying all of the pictures of our graduating classes. I went down the hallway and saw the pictures of my dad, mom, aunts and uncles. I found my own class picture from 1994 and the pictures of my sisters’ classes. I continued walking towards my office and saw the class sizes getting smaller. I thought more about the story Coach Runco had just told me. Where was I as enrollment dropped? What had I been doing that forced a group of 15-18 year old KIDS to feel like they had to “save” St. Bernard? I was five miles away working in Catholic education. I lived even closer. Why hadn’t I done anything? I made a commitment to rebuild St. Bernard by accepting the job as principal, and being a proud alum was one of the reasons I was excited to be back. But in that moment I knew that there was one major bridge that had to be rebuilt in order for the Vikings to return to prominence. We had to find ways for our alumni to be ENGAGED!
The DREAMS initiative certainly focuses on our students, but no high school can be great without their alumni being engaged. Since returning to St. Bernard High School, this has been a point of emphasis for me and our Executive Director, Carter Paysinger. I am proud of the efforts we have made to ensure opportunities for engagement. My family is involved, we have a growing database of contacts and donors, and our new Director of Alumni Engagement continues to work with our team to build events and communications to keep our alumni connected to this great school. The engagement of our alumni is a massive component to the success for our students through the DREAMS initiative.
Ryan Gales '96 and Principal Richard Billups '94 at the 2019 Gala supporting St. Bernard High School's D.R.E.A.M.S. Initiative
by Jennifer Altergott
One of the goals of St. Bernard High School is to prepare students for college, career and heaven (not necessarily in that order!). We have an academically challenging curriculum and teachers work diligently to nurture a strong work ethic and high academic confidence level in our students. Students come to school with a variety of skill levels and our job is to help them improve their skills throughout their time in high school.
I believe St Bernard provides an amazing school experience that many of our students would not get at their local public school. We are a small, personalized institution. We are a tight knit community - everyone knows each other. It is tough to fall through the cracks at SBHS. We are a part of students’ journey through high school and we try to help them along during their time here. I try to practice kindness with my students - they all have a life outside of the classroom with pressures and stresses. I try to be understanding when they are having a bad day - but I also hold them accountable - yes I will accommodate tough days, but don’t use that as a continuous excuse for not getting your work done and not being prepared. I try to hold my students to high standards while acknowledging the outside factors that may be affecting them and their academic success.
I teach freshman lab biology and AP Biology and AP Environmental Science to juniors and seniors. While the content of these classes vary, the idea of thinking and acting like a scientist is a common thread through all of our science classes. Students learn to think critically, be skeptical, and use evidence based reasoning to support a claim.
One concept I emphasize with my students is the idea of having a growth mindset. I ask my students how they can get better at something. This year with my freshman I asked who plays a sport or an instrument - I asked how often they practice and whether they improve upon practice. I suggest that this same attitude - you improve with practice - is also true of academics - if you want to get better at something you need to work at it - the same way you practice to improve your skills in a particular sport or playing an instrument. One of my own personal mottos is: Hard work pays off. I try to emphasize this with my students also - you will get better at academic skills if you practice them; you can improve with hard work and extra effort.
Too often I have students walk into class the day of a test and tell me they are going to fail. I ask them what they did to prepare - did they study? How did they study? I then ask them to turn this negative thinking around - I studied, I prepared, I am ready to succeed on this test. If they did not study we talk about why they did not prepare and what techniques they can use to prepare in the future.
Often students wonder - how will what I am learning apply to the real world? AP Environmental Science could not be more real world Every day in the news there are stories related to APES course content - intense hurricanes, El Nino events, vehicle emission standards, energy use, and how to dispose of nuclear waste, to name a few. This class can be depressing because we focus on many human made problems - but we also look at solutions - that both individuals and groups can take to live on planet earth while trying to minimize harm.
Director of Performing Arts
When I arrived at St. Bernard High School seven years ago, things were quite different. My first time meeting students was at auditions for the first show I would produce, Hairspray. Audition day arrived and I anxiously awaited the student’s arrival. I opened the door to the audition room expecting a flood of teenagers and much to my dismay, eight students walked in. Yes, just eight students. More of a trickle than a flood. The Performing Arts Department was in transition, I was the new director and the students wanted their old one back. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was following in the footsteps of St. Bernard High School legends. In particular, the incomparable Maureen Robinson and Doug Griffin. In spite of the circumstances, we rallied up a cast. The eight students who showed up to the initial audition recruited friends to join, and I begged kids in the hallway to participate. By the grace of God and the motivation of that small but mighty cast, we did in fact produce a show. It was a show with meager resources, but it had a lot of heart. It is a show I will forever be proud of. Since having that experience, my dream at St. Bernard has always been to restore the Performing Arts Department back to its former glory and although there have been many moments over the past few years that have made me feel like we have almost made that dream come true, there is one singular moment that sticks out most to me.
Last year, I decided to give Hairspray a chance again, but this time we would do it the right way. Audition day arrived, and I was as anxious as I was seven years prior. However, this time something was tremendously different. I opened the door of the audition room, and low and behold the flood of teenagers that I had dreamt of seven years prior, had finally arrived. I watched fifty kids enter the Fine Arts Building and I knew this was a sign that a facet of our Performing Arts Department, the Musical Theatre program was indeed glorious again. As aforementioned, I have had a singular motivation to bring Performing Arts back to the forefront of St. Bernard. However, one person, can not achieve such a lofty goal on their own. Reaching this goal and creating a lasting Performing Arts legacy here at St. Bernard requires help. The largest source of help that I have been fortunate enough to receive has come from the students. Without their motivation, the growth of our Performing Arts Department would be impossible. The students are the heart of the entire operation. Without their hard work over the course of the last seven years, none of the progress that we have made could have been possible. Each year more students have taken an interest in the Arts which in turn has made every production more spectacular than the previous. With last Spring’s performance of Hairspray being our most successful production in every sense; cast size, technical design, performance value, and audience attendance.
It has taken years of hard work but I have been privileged each passing year to witness current students, capitalize on the motivation and efforts of those students who came before them and in turn help actualize the common dream that each and every performer has had since I began my tenure at St. Bernard High School. That shared dream is to create a Performing Arts program which is second to none. The work is never done, although we have established a stellar Musical Theatre program, the Performing Arts Department is not yet fully restored. Our motivation, the students and I, is now to build out other areas of the Arts. I firmly believe that a lot can be done with a little. Seven years ago, we started building the Musical Theatre program with a little, and motivation turned a little into a lot. My new dream is to replicate what we have been able to accomplish with Musical Theatre and do the same with choral music, dance, instrumental music, and all other areas of the Arts. I look forward to continuing to work alongside my incredible students to make more of our shared dreams come true.
by: Sam Martinuzzi as told to him by Monique Rigard
Director of Campus Ministry
As the Director of Campus Ministry, art teacher, and on-campus caterer, I wear a several hats at St. Bernard. The commonality between each of my roles is that they all have a spiritual purpose and I incorporate that belief into every interaction I have with the students.
I have been at St. Bernard since 2015 and there is a lot on my plate. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was drawn to St. Bernard. I learned of the school because my cousin used to work here as an administrator. I was told that St. Bernard needed an art teacher and that I would be great as a Campus Minister.
Formerly, I had been a Director of Religious Education at a Catholic Parish in Atlanta, GA. I have always been passionate about ministering to young people.
I strive to bring a powerful spiritual presence to the St. Bernard campus. I want to be a faith-filled inspiration for each and every student. I see the students and the potential they possess. I see God in every one of them. I see the light in them and it shines really bright! That’s what keeps me coming back every day. That is what makes me so hopeful for the future.
When I see a former student at the grocery store and they tell me that something I said has made an impact on their lives, that is a special feeling. In reality, students should know, they also have made a huge impact on my life.
Thank You for your gift!
Thank you in advance for investing in the St. Bernard High School D.R.E.A.M.S. Initiative.
With your help, we will help students find their passion, develop that passion through curricular, co-curricular, and Christian Service experiences as we prepare them for heaven, college, and career.
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