JSerra’s Goal: Give More to the Community

The following column runs in the current edition of The Capistrano Dispatch.

By Frank Talarico
CEO of JSerra Catholic High School

JSerra Catholic High School’s list of accomplishments continues to grow.

Frank Talarico
Frank Talarico

This year alone, we graduated our first National Merit Scholar, earned our first Trinity League sports championships and will send all 176 members of the Class of 2009 to college.

But there’s another achievement that hasn’t generated as many headlines – our contributions to the San Juan Capistrano community.

One of JSerra’s key founding principles is to give more to the community than it takes.

I’m proud of our local community service record. But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to do more. We do. And we will.

One way is through our new JSerra Community Relations Committee. We recently invited an accomplished cross-section of community leaders to join us. I’m thrilled to report that representatives from the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center, Mission Basilica and the surrounding community have agreed to assist.

JSerra board member, parent and San Juan resident Kevin Baldridge will chair the committee. He told me he looks forward to finding creative new ways for us to contribute.

“I believe we can add additional value to the community by working together to identify new opportunities for us to help make San Juan Capistrano a better place,” Baldridge said. “JSerra is already a positive influence. And San Juan is already an outstanding community. But there’s always room for improvement.”

Below are some recent examples of how JSerra is making a difference close to home.

Compared by some to an Ivy League university, JSerra’s $110-million campus serves as an important venue for community organizations to host their events. In the past year, 26 local sports leagues used our football, baseball, soccer and other athletic facilities. Also, burgeoning local churches of different faiths used our campus for a variety of events geared toward growing their congregations.

Our accomplished class of 2009 dedicated more than 15,000 hours of community service supporting local soup kitchens, building homes through Habitat for Humanity and mentoring younger children through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.

JSerra awarded more than $3 million in financial aid, helping 100 San Juan families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to send their children to our school.

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

Our board members and parents donated millions of dollars to the Shea Center, Mission Preservation Society and other local charitable organizations.

Many of our top students participated as tutors to CREER: Comunidad y Familia underclassmen. The program, headed voluntarily by JSerra science teacher Betty Cappelletti, was such a success that there’s expansion talk. Our students built lasting friendships and helped the CREER students improve their grades.

Of course, the most important thing we do is develop future community leaders. I often say that we’re not only preparing our students for college; we’re preparing them for what they will become after college.

Co-valedictorian Lexi Crommett, our first National Merit Scholar, hopes to cure Alzheimer’s Disease. Our other co-valedictorian, Nicole Madro, isn’t sure where her liberal arts studies will lead her. Wherever it is, she says she hopes to use her academic skills to make the world a better place.

Stories of community service ambitions abound on our campus. As an institution, we are committed to leading by example.

Of course, we won’t only rely on school administrators and community volunteers.

We welcome everybody’s input.

With that in mind, we’ve set up a new “community hotline.” If you have any ideas about how we can do a better job, please contact us.

JSerra Continues to Make News

JSerra Catholic High School CEO Frank Talarico sent the following letter to parents, community members and others last week.

It started with a question? Would some of JSerra’s brightest juniors and seniors tutor underclassmen from under-served San Juan Capistrano neighborhoods?

The answer, of course, was yes. And with the leadership of Betty Cappelletti, our outstanding science instructor, the JSerra-CREER: Comunidad y Familia tutoring program was – and will continue to be – an incredible success.

The JSerra -CREER partnership was the subject of my most recent Capistrano Dispatch column.

The partnership wasn’t the only campus item to make recent headlines. The Orange County Register profiled our innovative music instructor, David Weinberg. Mr. Weinberg spends summers creating shows for high schools, colleges and drum corps across the nation.

And our co-valedictorians, Nicole Madro and Lexi Crommett, continue to draw attention. A group of local newspapers published this article about their divergent paths to extraordinary scholastic achievement.

We look forward to sharing more exciting news with you as we prepare for the new school year. Please visit JSerra Blog and our Twitter for updates.

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


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.