JSerra Tutors Help Under-Served Students Improve More Than Test Scores

* This story ran in today’s edition of the Capistrano Dispatch.

It started about this time last summer with a question.

Would JSerra Catholic High School’s brightest juniors and seniors tutor underclassmen from under-served San Juan Capistrano neighborhoods?

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

The answer: Absolutely.

To the delight of everybody involved, the JSerra-CREER: Comunidad y Familia tutoring program has been and continues to be an incredible success.

But it didn’t exactly start that way, recalls Betty Cappelletti, an outstanding JSerra science instructor.

Some of the CREER students had never even seen a science lab. “I think the kids were a little intimidated at first,” she said.

It’s easy to understand how a student who’s never visited a private school might be overwhelmed walking into Cappelletti’s laboratory. Inside, there’s a pond with goldfish, koi and red-eared turtles, a caged Son Conure bird named Einstein, just about every lizard known to man and five chinchillas.

Some have compared JSerra’s $110-million facilities to an Ivy League campus. And Cappelletti’s classroom is where college-bound honors students enjoy advanced lectures in biology, anatomy, physiology and chemistry.

But from 2:30-4:30 p.m. every Tuesday for the past year, Cappelletti conducted a different type of experiment – a more social one.

With the assistance of dozens of JSerra California Scholar Federation (CSF) students, whose membership is granted based on high standards of scholarship, service and citizenship, Cappelletti oversaw the transformation of 20 CREER students, providing guidance in every subject.

She recalled one student preparing for a test on the respiratory system. Cappelletti asked if he had ever dissected an animal.

“Of course not,” the student answered.

She brought out a fetal pig and, with a student-tutor, provided hands-on coaching. There were other firsts. Another student had never seen a microscope. And another bragged that his tutor helped him get his first “B.”

But it wasn’t just the CREER students who benefited from the tutoring sessions. The JSerra volunteers made new friends.

“These kids come from different cultures, different economic backgrounds, different religions, but the kids – the JSerra kids and the CREER kids – started to realize that even though they come from different places they really have so much in common,” she said. “As a teacher, that was my reward.”

Most of the JSerra volunteers signed up for eight hours – or one month of tutoring. After their time was up, many stuck around for the entire year.

The success is evident by the number of students on the CREER waiting list, the friendships and the improved grades.

“Several of the CREER students have achieved higher test scores and (built) greater confidence in their academic abilities” wrote Teresa “T.J.” Gause, CREER’s executive director, in a letter to Cappelletti. “We look forward to an ongoing partnership in developing the educational, cultural and social opportunities of the Mexican/Latino children and families.”


Finals are over and we handed 176 hard-earned diplomas to our graduating seniors, all of whom are now preparing for college.

The Class of 2009 devoted more than 30,000 hours to community service and earned more than $2 million in college scholarships. Our baseball, soccer and lacrosse teams won the school’s first Trinity League titles and baseball Coach Brett Kay was Orange County Register’s Coach of the Year.

Lexi Crommett, our co-valedictorian, became the first JSerra student to earn a prestigious National Merit Scholarship. She plans to attend Texas A&M. Our other valedictorian, Nicole Madro, plans to attend Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. Both received significant achievement-based scholarship awards. Matt Kewell, winner of the JSerra Award and class president, plans to attend the University of Dallas. And salutatorian Sam Inman will attend the University of Arizona, where he received the Excellence Award scholarship.

From tutoring CREER students to winning athletic titles to earning impressive scholarships, JSerra scholars continue to make a difference in the community – and make us proud.

JSerra Catholic High School Valedictorians Take Different Paths to Extraordinary Achievement

The story below ran in this week’s edition of Mission Viejo News, Coto de Caza News, Rancho Santa Margarita News and Ladera Ranch News.

One was a star long-distance runner and athlete. The other spends her free time mentoring younger children and doing community service.

Despite their divergent passions, Lexi Crommett, of Rancho Santa Margarita, and Nicole Madro, of Mission Viejo, share one common trait: Extraordinary scholastic and extracurricular excellence.

The 18-year-olds were JSerra Catholic High School’s 2009 co-valedictorians.

Valedictorians Lexi Crommett and Nicole Madro with Principal Tom Wazsak
Valedictorians Lexi Crommett and Nicole Madro with Principal Tom Waszak

Crommett, the school’s scholar-athlete of the year, will attend Texas A&M next year on a full scholarship. She plans to major in math and neuroscience, and says she hopes someday to cure Alzheimer’s Disease.

Madro, who finished with a 4.7 grade-point average, will attend Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Santa Paula, Calif. She’s not sure what the future holds, but hopes college helps her gain a sense of “how I can use my intellectual talents in a career that truly builds up society.”

“Lexi and Nicole both share a love for intellectual challenges and they both possess a curiosity for knowledge that transcends the typical high school student,” said Tom Waszak, JSerra’s founding principal. They “are exceptional examples of JSerra’s mission to provide a well-rounded education that values excellence in academics, extracurricular activities and spiritual development.”

At the graduation ceremony May 30, Crommett learned that she was the first student in JSerra’s six-year history to win a National Merit Scholarship (Madro was a semi-finalist). Crommett earned straight A’s and aced six honors and 10 Advanced Placement courses.

Madro also posted a perfect scholastic record, acing 13 honors and six Advanced Placement classes.

To be named valedictorian at a school like JSerra is an incredible achievement. Each of the school’s 176 graduates plans to attend college. Some earned scholarships to top universities like the Air Force Academy and the University of California, Berkeley, and 40-percent will attend a school outside California.

At the graduation ceremony, Waszak read a long list of Crommett’s and Madro’s accomplishments. They were members of the prestigious California Scholastic Federation, the National Honor Society and Principal’s Honor Roll for each semester at school.

“Do you see a pattern here?” Waszak asked. “We’re looking at two different facets of a beautifully polished diamond… They have taken different paths but they both apply the same skills to achieve their goals – hard work, focus and determination.”

Crommett earned varsity letters in three sports and competed in the state cross country championships. She also earned the school’s top awards for math and science.

Madro earned similar awards from the social studies and foreign language departments. She was also honored for her leadership with the Soul Sisters Club, Splendor of Life Club, Lily of Valley Orphanage and Catholic Worker. Last year, her peers selected her for the JSerra Christian Service Award.

In her valedictory address, Madro spoke about how she hopes to use her faith and determination to make the world a better place. “Always remember,” she concluded, “You are loved.”

Crommett artfully used the sport of basketball as a metaphor for life and encouraged classmates to “take a shot.”

“I learned a lot about friendship – with God and my peers,” Madro said of her high school experience.

“My little motto,” Crommett said, “is that you have to work hard and do your best in everything you do, so I just focus on what I’m doing at the moment, like running, and do my best.”

With more than 2,000 family members and friends on hand, Waszak concluded his introduction of the young scholars by saying: “You embody the values that JSerra strives to teach, not only in academics but in morality, faith, integrity, excellence, humility, and in service to others.”

JSerra Continues to Make News

JSerra Catholic High School President and CEO Frank Talarico shared the following letter last week with parents and others.

I have some more exciting news to share: JSerra Catholic High School continues to make news.

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

We handed 177 hard-earned diplomas to our graduates, and the Orange County Register took note.

The Class of 2009 dedicated more than 30,000 hours of community service – and earned more than $2 million in college scholarships. Co-valedictorian Lexi Crommett was JSerra’s first National Merit Scholar. She shared the honor with Nicole Madro, who finished a remarkable high school career with a 4.7 grade-point average.

Salutatorian Sam Inman was quarterback of our football team. He was also a midfielder on the lacrosse squad that won JSerra’s first divisional championship in any sport.

It’s not just our graduates making headlines.

JSerra’s baseball team won its first CIF playoff game in school history – beating Camarillo, 3-2. Coach Brett Kay was named Orange County’s baseball Coach of the Year. Slugger Austin Hedges earned first-team all-county honors, and senior Joe Kurrasch – headed to the University of California Berkeley next year on a scholarship – earned second-team honors.

You can read about all our accomplishments – and more – by joining the more than 2,000 visitors of our month-old JSerra Blog.

Also, I continue to write a monthly column for San Juan Capistrano’s local newspaper, The Capistrano Dispatch. Look for the newest column June 24.

This is an exciting time in our evolution, and we plan to continue to share our news with you – and the community. You can follow us on our Web site, JSerra Blog and Twitter.

As always, thank you for your support. I look forward to seeing you soon.

JSerra’s Brett Kay is All-County Coach of the Year

By Nathan Wright
The Dana Point Times

Coach Kay
Coach Kay

It was a season for firsts for JSerra Catholic High School’s baseball team.

The team won its first Trinity league title, and first CIF playoff game.

And now JSerra can add first “Coach of the Year” to its list of accomplishments.

Dana Point resident Brett Kay is the Orange County Register’s coach of the year.

And he’s not the only Lion honored last week by the newspaper.

San Juan Capistrano sophomore Austin Hedges, who batted .383 with 10 stolen bases, was a first-team all-county selection. And senior pitcher Joe Kurrasch – who is headed to University of California Berkeley on a scholarship next year – was named to the second team. Kurrasch also lives in San Juan Capistrano.

“Earning coach of the year is a great honor,” Kay said. “It’s a tribute to the entire staff and our scholar athletes. Our staff’s job is to set and example and to develop our kids the right way – and we’re doing that.”

The Lions finished 20-5. They entered the playoffs ranked No. 2 in Orange County, and beat Camarillo 3-2 in the first round before losing, 5-3, at Riverside Poly.

Kay, a former catcher in the New York Mets organization, now turns his attention to next season. He’s returning several outstanding ballplayers, including Hedges.

He also plans to follow next week’s College World Series. Kay played in two world series himself for Cal State Fullerton. Still friends with Titan head coach Dave Serrano, Kay plans to root for his alma mater. Fullerton offers one the best programs around – “just like JSerra,” he said.

2009 was a big year for JSerra athletics. The six-year-old school won its first league titles in soccer, lacrosse and baseball.

“We are proud of Coach Kay’s accomplishments with our scholar-athletes both on and off the field,” said Frank Talarico, JSerra’s president and CEO. “Four of our seniors will play Division I baseball next year – and, even more important, each member of the baseball team is an outstanding young man.”