Belles Blog

a blog about St. Mary's Academy

St. Joseph’s Week Mission Moments

To celebrate St. Joseph’s Week, each student in religion class reflected on what they appreciated about the mission of our school:

Mission Statement

St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic, private, college preparatory high school for young women, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, shapes women of distinction who are committed to lifelong learning and service to the “dear neighbor”.

They wrote their reflections on pieces of “ lace” to symbolize the skill of lace making that The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet taught to young women hundreds of years ago in Le Puy, France.  When they founded St. Mary’s Academy in 1889,  the Sisters had the same mission- to empower and educate young women. The aim of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the lay women and men of the faculty at St. Mary’s Academy is to educate young women to take an active part as Christians in society.  It continues in this tradition to educate and guide young women toward maturity in an ever changing world.

See some student responses to our mission below.

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St. Mary’s Academy Alumnae & Guests Present at the 2018 Career Day Event!

St. Mary’s Academy hosted the bi-annual Career Day event on Friday, March 16, 2018 to educate our Belles about various career paths. This year’s theme “She Believed She Could So She Did” served as an important reminder that women are capable of pursuing their career aspirations. It starts with students believing in their charism (gifts) and using their talents and knowledge to make a difference in the world.

Career Day provides our Belles with an opportunity to explore different professional fields through workshop presentations geared towards the students’ career interests such as law, medicine, engineering, business, arts, social work, finance and education. Red Tie Captain Brenda Threatt ‘71, the Executive Director of U.S. VETS – Long Beach, served as this year’s Keynote Speaker.

A total of 54 women presented at our Career Day event to share their expertise, provide advice, and answer questions. 74% of the presenters were SMA alumnae! We thank each of the presenters for providing an inspiring experiential learning opportunity for our Belles!

Below are a few biographies of our Career Day speakers:  

Kristen Berry has more than twelve years experience developing and executing strategic communications programs for a variety of travel, aviation, interior design/decor, lifestyle and consumer tech brands. Her expertise includes media relations, securing coverage from publications spanning Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Fast Company, and the New York Times; designing effective media and consumer events; blogger ambassador programs; social media activations and more. Kristen also crafts a wide array of communications content in her role, including product news, campaign messaging, press materials, reactive statements, infographics, social media updates and distilling industry/consumer research into coverage-generating highlights.


Jovon English, Blue Tie of 1996, is the Associate Director for Division Operations at  Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System Division (HOPICS). She has over 10 years of extensive finance, operations and management experience to her position. Jovon holds a M.A. in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Southern California. Before coming to HOPICS, Jovon spent over 10 years in banking honing skills that will sure enhance her primary focus; increasing fundraising and meeting strategic goals and financial targets.


Sherry Hayes-Peirce, Gold Tie of 1982, has experienced different professional roles including: social worker, corporate trainer, television news/producer and on-air personality, executive assistant, motivational speaker and now entrepreneur as the President and CEO of Communications Consultants Inc. As a social media strategist, Sherry helps Catholic Churches, University and Health & Safety Industry businesses to create effective social media strategies and provide marketing advice. She has served as a guest lecturer at UCI, University of Australia, University of Washington, LMU|LA and has written an academic paper for the Academy Institute Journal Leadership on social media. She holds a BA degree in Sociology and Communication Studies from California State University, Dominguez Hills.


Monica Henderson is President of Encore Wellness & Weight Loss Management, Inc. She brings over thirty years of experience in the healthcare field to the organization and understands the importance of integrating wellness into the corporate culture to create a more productive and healthy workforce. As founder and principal consultant with Unisource Insurance Services, Inc. and The Unisource Group, Inc., she has served California employers for over twenty-five years. The firm provides employee benefits brokerage and consulting services to small businesses, large national corporations, municipalities and non-profit organizations with a focus on risk management, benefits plan design, wellness program development and identifying effective funding strategies for the clients’ core and voluntary benefits. Monica brings a depth of experience to Encore and is committed to delivering the most effective and sustainable approach to healthy weight loss. With a focus on improving nutrition and establishing healthy rituals, Encore members are able to achieve lasting results. Monica holds a BS in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Finance. She is on the Southern California advisory board for US Bank and is a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Smart Set social organization of professional women.


Donna Simone Johnson, Green Tie of  2005, is an actress who was recently awarded the 2018 NAACP Award for Best Lead Actress for her work in “Broken Fences.” She is seen on TV shows like Shots Fired (FOX), Pilot Season (NBC), Teachers (NBC), Agent X (TNT), The Inspectors (CBS), and a host of commercials for Dannon Yogurt, Walmart, Adidas, and Nike. Most of the time, she is on stage, and has played some of the most lovely roles in the world over 4 continents, 14 countries and many cities. She proudly has a BA degree in Theatre Performance from Vanguard University, a MA in Dance from New York University and a MFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).


Dr. Nicole Johnson, Blue Tie of 1996, is a coach and consultant who develops leadership programs to inspire the next generation of leaders. Nicole has worked for many years as an educator, including 17 years in k-12 and higher education. Her research interests includes: organizational behavior, mentoring and program innovation. Nicole has presented her work to the American Psychological Association and served as an Ambassador to its convention. She is a Governor’s Teaching Fellow and professor. She has taught at UCLA and the University of San Diego and her present appointment is National University. Nicole earned her BA in English, her M.Ed in Teaching & Learning from the University of San Diego, and her EdD in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University.


Veronica Lewis, Blue Tie of 1996, is the Director of the Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System Division (SSG/HOPICS) where she oversees more than 30 million dollars in annual funding for 30 different programs from 10 funders for mental health, substance use disorder treatment, reentry support, homeless and housing services, and trauma-focused services; and a multidisciplinary team of 180 employees. She has spent the greater part of her life working to educate, empower and provide resources to underserved youth and families. She is a recognized leader in LA County in the homeless services and reentry sectors. Veronica graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Business Law Concentration and received her Master of Public of Administration degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills.


Major Lydia Lygon Thomas, Blue Tie of 1968,  is a member of the California State Military Reserve (CSMR), the official State defense force. She is currently embedded with the 578th Brigade Engineer Battalion as the Behavioral Health Officer. In this role, Lydia provides psychological support for Soldiers and family members. Every month she drills at the National Guard Armory in Manhattan Beach, and once a year she accompanies the Battalion on Annual Training field missions to Camp Roberts, Fort Hunter Liggett, or Camp Pendleton where she provides emergency crisis intervention for Soldiers at risk, and presents training briefs on suicide prevention, PTSD, combat stress and resiliency. Lydia was awarded the California Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal for her service to the National Guard. She was also featured in the California National Guard magazine, Grizzley, for her pioneering work as an embedded therapist. Before her retirement career as a Soldier, Lydia served the Department of Social Services for over three decades as a Branch Chief with Disability and Adult Programs Division, Los Angeles South Office, and District Manager of Community Care Licensing Offices in Culver City and the San Fernando Valley. Lydia is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. She is an active member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Lydia resides in Los Angeles where she has a private practice.


Pamela Martin-Polk is a graduate of the historical HBCU Howard University in Washington D.C. with a professional degree in Occupational Therapy. She also attended Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama.  Ms. Martin-Polk has worked in various settings such as The National Rehabilitation Hospital (Washington D.C), Queen of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, Skilled Nursing Facilities extending from East LA to Palos Verdes, Home Health Care, Suburban Medical Center and the Great Daniel Freeman that was once located across the street from St. Mary’s Academy. Besides being a career woman and Clinical Instructor, she is compassionate and enjoys serving others as God has opened several doors for her. Her greatest accomplishment is being the proud mother of Kennedy and Kyla Polk – Green Ties Class of 2021 – at St. Mary’s Academy!


Kimberly Morris, Gold Tie of 2002, critiques self-identity, ideas of beauty, popular culture, and race in America via video, sculpture, photography, and painting. She inserts herself into her work by casting her own body, using her hair, and portraiture—all forms struggling with the constraining expectations society imposes on women of color. She writes “Through the lens of beauty, I examine my position in the diaspora. Pressures of fitting into what the majority culture defines as normal: neater hair and constrictive body type casting, dictate my daily routine.” Kimberly has a BA and MA from California State University Northridge and her MFA from California State University Long Beach. Recent exhibitions include Biomythography: Currency Exchange at Claremont Graduate University, Who Are You? at the Museum of Latin American Art, Insights at the CSULB University Art Museum.


Cristina Nieto, Green Tie of 1997, is the Associate Director for Data and Quality Assurance at Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System Division (HOPICS). She manages several rapid rehousing programs for families and singles, employment services, data integration, and quality assurance. In former professional roles, Cristina worked as the Associate Director for Hearings at a Social Security Disability law firm and interned at the San Diego Mediation Center where she decided to pursue a career working with families and individuals  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution with an emphasis on Mediation, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University.


Tressa Smiley is the Host and Executive Producer of VIP Live Empowerment Talkshow, creating a positive platform designed to educate, elevate and empower all seeking life advancements. She also serves as the Associate Producer and Social Media Manager for Women In Film, assisting with PSA productions with nonprofit organization charity Access Book to promote literacy within public schools. Tressa has served as a co-host for the Red Carpet VIP, interviewing high profile celebrity and non-celebrity guests during pre and post award ceremony. She was also a co-host News Anchor Ed.TV and News for the Long Beach Unified School District helping to identify stories, subject and guests for the daily program. In 2009, Tressa was a Talkshow Contestant for the Oprah Winfrey Network. She has an Early Childhood Education and Teaching degree from Brenau University.


Captain Brenda Threatt, Red Tie of 1971, currently serves as the Executive Director for U.S. VETS- Long Beach. She directly oversees 15 programs with a 7.1 million dollar budget providing daily housing, services and support for over 600 veterans. Brenda’s mission is to ensure that men and women who have served our country in all positions, in all wars, from every walk of life, receive the dignity of life and a place to call home. Prior to U.S. VETS, Brenda served as the shelter system manager with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, overseeing the 14 winter shelters including 3 National Guard Armories, housing 14,700 persons countywide. She facilitated services and shelter for homeless veterans and other homeless individuals.Previously, she was director of veteran outreach, acting as sole liaison to the veteran community for the City of Los Angeles, during Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Administration. Her rank is Captain serving as a military chaplain in the California Guard as the Southern Regional Command Chaplain at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training base. Her duties include advising the Commander on religious matters, providing religious support, deployment support, chapel services, marriage and family counseling and support for chronically homeless veterans at the VALBMC.Brenda was the designer of the California 9-11 personalized license plate which memorializes the lives of the victims who perished September 11, 2001. This plate has raised millions of dollars in funding to support the families of the victims and funding for anti-terrorism in California.


Wenonah Valentine, Blue Tie of 1972, is the founding director of iDREAM for Racial Health Equity, a project of Community Partners®. She is passionate about her ministry to improving Black maternal health and birth outcomes. She was recently featured in the L.A. Sentinel Religion section as a “Champion of Faith”, providing an opportunity to highlight ordinary people inspired by their faith to make a difference in the community. In recognition of Women’s History Month, L.A. women will be showcased during the month of March. Wenonah’s faith in Christ is a three- braided cord and her worship is expressed through alumnae collaborations, lived experience and service leadership. Wenonah has a BA degree in Black Studies and Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a MBA degree in Christian Business and Professional Leadership from Azusa Pacific University.

Arts Career Path Update

The Arts Career Path Program concluded last semester with a site specific performance by our dance class.  The dance students worked with their instructor from Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre to create and execute the performance on the stairs of the library’s reading room.  The Mayor of Inglewood, James T. Butts Jr., even came to give some opening remarks.  We’re so glad to have his support of arts education.  We have another exciting performance in store for this semester too!

The after school dance class with Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre continues this semester as well.  The entire dance class went on another field trip to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook to do a workshop on a fish sculpture with professional dancers.  A few girls even performed the dance they learned in the workshop for the public the next day at Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s Ebb & Flow Festival.   It’s so fantastic that they’re not only receiving instruction and collaborating with professional dancers but also getting the chance to perform what they’re learning.  Way to go girls!

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College Center News

As part of celebrating National School Counseling Week , we thought this is the perfect time to thank our College Counselor, Mrs. Tyesha Hemmans, and celebrate the accomplishments of the Gold Ties’ college acceptances so far!  Mrs. Hemmans, our seniors and parents have put in countless hours after school and on weekends to complete college applications.  We’re so glad all their hard work is already paying off!

The College Center has posted a United States map on the bulletin board to show where all of the colleges are located that our Belles have been accepted to so far!

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Catholic Schools Week: How Your Donation Today Impacts Catholic Education Tomorrow

“I feel that it is very important that young women receive a good Catholic education. They are our future.”

– Cheryl Oram ’60, Blue Tie

Sponsored by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), National Catholic Schools Week (CSW) is an annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States.

This year, NCEA created a new theme to celebrate this annual week “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” to include key teachings and values within Catholic schools across the nation. In addition, NCEA recognizes how parents make sacrifices to afford the cost of tuition as an investment in their child’s values, faith and academic development. Many families rely on financial assistance, scholarship opportunities and development support from schools to bridge the gap. As a new initiative to reconnect people with Catholic school communities, NCEA is launching the Many Gifts, One Nation: A Day of Giving to Catholic Schools to support the existing development and advancement efforts from Catholic schools. Scheduled for January 30, 2018, 9 AM EST to January 31, 2018 9 AM EST, this is a time for individuals to give back to local Catholic schools.

Since 1889, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have ensured the graduates of St. Mary’s Academy were exposed to the core teachings of Catholic education. By educating young women to become lifelong learners and to serve the “dear neighbor”, St. Mary’s Academy is instilling character, compassion, and moral values in each student to fulfill its mission of developing the future women leaders of our communities.

St. Mary’s Academy invites alumnae, friends and local community members who have been impacted by Catholic school education to celebrate this national day of giving back by making a donation today to our school’s Greatest Needs Fund.

 

Help ensure the financial sustainability of St. Mary’s Academy!

Donors who invest in our school are essential to our future growth and ability to provide a learning environment with advanced technology, Christian service, student leadership and college preparation Continue reading

A New Year’s Message from the Principal

Welcome back SMA!

It’s a blessing to be welcomed back into the new year. I wake up every morning excited and grateful to start and end my work day with my SMA community. Before we look ahead into the Spring Semester, I want to take this moment to highlight some of the wonderful things that took place Fall Semester. We implemented some major facility upgrades to continue to enjoy our beautiful school. One of the most apparent upgrades is heating and cooling in every classroom. This has kept our students and teachers happy and comfortable so that more learning can take place. In the curriculum world, writing has been a major push this year. Overall, students are writing more and improving in their writing and analytical skills. Also, our alumnae presence is becoming stronger and more vibrant. Toastmasters, for example, was started this year by one of our blue tie Alumnae Jill White. This organization has helped our young women build their skills in leadership and public speaking. We have also held a number of career path and college field trips like the Little Company of Mary hospital, UCLA and USC schools of engineering, ACE construction sites, LACMA, musicals, and various colleges to provide overall enrichment for our girls. We have also welcomed in a stellar freshmen class who did an amazing job singing the Alma Mater, presenting their mascot and saint, and creating and singing their class song to earn their green ties. Their energy and positive spirit has been infectious and a wonderful addition to our school culture. In addition, red ties received their class rings earlier this year and have been a strong presence in our Advanced Placement courses. They are thriving in their academic studies and are diligently preparing to take their SATs in a couple months.

These were only a handful of the wonderful things that took place last semester. I wanted to thank everyone who contributed to the successes of Fall Semester, especially Dr. Nah, who served as Acting Principal while I was on maternity leave. I am grateful for his leadership and commitment to our mission.

As we move into the 2018 Spring Semester, there is much to look forward to. In just a few days, we will witness our blue ties perform at their Sophomore Showcase. They have worked incredibly hard for this big event, and we are all excited to cheer them on. Lastly, I am looking forward to seeing our kind-hearted, respectful, and loving gold ties finish strong this semester as they prepare for their journey beyond high school. I have seen this special group of young women grow and while I will miss them, God has a special plan for each one of them beyond these SMA walls. I can’t wait to see where the road leads them.

It truly is a blessing to be back. I am so thankful to have had the past few months just being with my son, who is now almost five months. I am excited to develop both my roles as a new mother and new principal. While my journey may not be easy, I know that God will guide me through it all. I am excited to be back and I am ready! Let’s do this!

Mrs. Batungbacal

2017 in Review- #belleoftheweek

As we close out the first semester of the 2017-18 school year,  here’s a look back at all of our impressive Belles that earned a Belle of the Week nomination.  We can’t wait to see who earns nominations next semester.  There are so many Belles doing impressive things!

Our first #belleoftheweek for 2017-18 is our Student Leadership Council President, Gold Tie ’18, Ahlyssa Toscano. She gave great advice to fellow classmates at our welcome back assembly.:

“Seniors: This year is all about decision making. What colleges you will be applying to, what school you will be attending, and what prom dress you will choose to wear on our special night. I know that all of you have the power to succeed this year so stay positive and strive to be your best self. I love you guys and I can’t wait to see you triumph in your final year of high school.

Juniors: Congratulations, you are officially upper class women. Although your junior year will definitely be your toughest year, remember to never give up and to always try your best. Be prepared, work hard don’t spread yourself too thin, and always remember to put yourself and your needs first. Good luck and I hope you all finish the year strongly.

Sophomores: Congratulations on finishing your freshman year. Now although your sophomore year is considered the “awkward year” of your high school career, I know you will all do amazing. Don’t slack off in any of your classes and always aspire to be the best you can be. Good luck and I look forward to seeing what you guys have in store for us for your sophomore showcase!

Freshmen: Welcome to St. Mary’s Academy! I hope you all are getting familiar with the school since this will be your second home for the next 4 years. Work hard not only your freshman year but throughout all your four years of high school and work harder than you currently are because I know you have it in you — that is why you’re here! Get involved with the school, join clubs, sports teams etc… I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to seeing you girls flourish into young ladies of distinction… wearing Green Ties, of course! ”

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Field Trips Recap

What a jam packed first semester.  Take a look back at all the experiential learning our students did outside of the traditional classroom setting these past few months.  We’re so lucky to live in a city with an abundance of cultural

institutions, activities and organizations that we can partner with to make these types of trips possible.  Thank you to all who opened their doors, provided bus funding, and helped educate our Belles!

The Blue Ties and Green Ties in Health Careers go on a monthly clinical visit to Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center that provides a look into the numerous clinical areas at the hospital. Students shadow the clinicians in the operating rooms, surgical units, dietary department, physical and occupational therapy departments, women’s health center, laboratory, cardiac cath lab and bioengineering. Learning one on one from the dedicated staff at the hospital allows the students to apply what they study in the classroom to real health care world experiences. LCOM Medical Center is a wonderful and generous partner of SMA!

September 8- Through a new partnership with Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre our after school dance class attends professional performances by the company with a Q & A after.  For the first trip they went to see a performance at Culver City Hall which was part of Culver City’s Centennial celebration. Continue reading

SMA Belles Class Reunions: Keeping the Sisterhood Alive!

One of the unique aspects about St. Mary’s Academy are the class reunions where our alumnae walk down memory lane to reflect on the wonderful time they had together during high school. Some reunions invite former teachers and staff who were an important part of their high school experience. It is a wonderful time for our alumnae to reminisce about their student days and update each other on what has happened since their last meeting.

SMA is proud of the increase of class reunions happening on our campus where our alumnae will walk the hallways, meet our current students, and learn more about the growth and enhancements happening at our school.

An annual reunion that SMA hosts on campus is the Golden Grads Luncheon where classes of 50, 60 and 70 years are invited back on Graduation day to not only celebrate their own graduation milestone, but to also welcome the graduating class as the newest members of our SMA alumnae family. For the recent graduation of the class of 2017, we were pleased to welcome back the Red Tie Class of 1967 celebrating their 50th anniversary, the Green Tie Class of 1957 celebrating their 60th anniversary, and the Red Tie Class of 1947 celebrating their 70th anniversary. Class years that celebrate their 50th reunion may host a weekend filled with events which includes attending Graduation and the Golden Grads Luncheon. As part of their 50th reunion, the Red Tie Class of 1967 participated in various activities throughout the weekend and through their planning and organizing was generous to include a $5,000 class gift to SMA’s Greatest Needs Fund.

This school year, our Golden Grads Luncheon will be on Saturday, June 9, 2018, and we are pleased to celebrate the graduation of the Gold Tie Class of 2018 and welcome home the Blue Tie Class of 1968, the Gold Tie Class of 1958, and Blue Tie Class of 1948. Invitations and more information will be sent to our Golden Grads in the New Year!

For more information on planning your reunion at St. Mary’s Academy or to invite St. Mary’s Academy staff/students to an off-campus class reunion, please contact Karen Vetter at kvetter@smabelles.org or 310-674-8470 x322.

Below is a recap of class reunions that occurred during the Fall Semester:

September 16, 2017 – Green Ties of 1989 celebrated their 28th Anniversary at St. Mary’s Academy with a campus tour, tacos and margaritas in our school quad!

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Engineering Career Path Program Update

The SMA Engineering Program prepares young women for successful college careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). By engaging in a cross-disciplinary classroom experience as well as design projects and team competitions with other schools, girls graduate from the program fully qualified and motivated to meet the demands of STEM courses in college. The program is certified by Project Lead the Way, a nationwide coordinated engineering education curriculum. For these reasons, and because of the focus on mathematics and science, the SMA Engineering Program is unique among all-female high schools in the Los Angeles area.

The program offers three project-based engineering classes: Introduction to Engineering Design, Introduction to Computer Engineering, and Principles of Engineering.

This year, we are offering Introduction to Engineering Design and Introduction to Computer Engineering.   The major focus of Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) is the design process and its application. Through hands-on projects, students apply engineering standards and document their work. Students learn to brainstorm, sketch designs, and use an industry standard 2D modeling software to help them design and create solutions to solve proposed problems and communicate their work to their peers.

Students in action in IED:

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