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.