Students Get a Taste of Medicine

*In the current issue of the Capistrano Dispatch

This is  a monthly column written by President/CEO Frank Talarico

Frank Talarico, JSerra President & CEO

The old man gasped for air, his blood pressure dangerously low and dropping. His heart rate was extremely rapid. The nurse heard crackling and vibrations in his lungs. The situation was bad. And getting worse.The diagnosis: Rule out sepsis, an infection rapidly spreading through the bloodstream.

The prognosis: Without quick and decisive treatment, death from hypoperfusion.

Fortunately, the scene playing out at Mission Hospital happened inside a conference center classroom. And the old man? He’s a lifelike breathing, talking patient simulator called SimMan.

SimMan is an important teaching tool that distinguishes JSerra’s medical program from a handful of others around the globe. Twenty-two high school juniors and seniors huddled breathlessly around the dummy as Connie Gagliardo, Mission’s executive director of critical care and trauma services, attempted to revive him with fluids pumped through an IV.

“His blood pressure is going up,” she announced. “His circulation and heart rate are normalizing. His blood pressure is increasing.”

She leaned toward SimMan, and asked how he felt.

“I’m so sick,” SimMan groaned.

“Thank God he’s talking,” Gagliardo said. “He feels so sick, but his ability to now talk is a great sign of improvement. He was in a state of severe shock. We must keep assessing. Remember: Look. Listen. Feel, and treat.”

SimMan wasn’t the only one in shock during the recent lesson.

“Most students should feel a bit panicked about this type of work,” Gagliardo said afterward. “They are probably asking themselves, ‘Can I really do this?’”

The answer, she says, is yes—with hard work and determination.

As studies progress and clinical experiences are lived they will become more comfortable in crisis situations, she said. Today was about how to systematize the assessment and treatment of chaos and crisis.

That’s part of the beauty of the program. Not only is the material life-and-death, it prepares students for the rigors of medical school. Some will discover that medicine is not for them, and that’s okay.

Senior Tom Joseph says he’s more pumped than ever about becoming a doctor like his father.

“I love the program because it gives real hands-on experience with the hospital and real life practice of medicine,” he said. “It allows me to learn what to expect in college and later in med school.”

Read more: The Capistrano Dispatch – Students Get a Taste of Medicine

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.