On the way back to Roosevelt, Velarde confided, "When I catch some of these kids at home, I threaten to track them, even to turn them over to the district attorney for prosecution.
"But hey, I don't have the time or resources to track them, and the process of prosecuting one of them is incredibly time-consuming and difficult," he said.
He uses the threats as a last resort. "Generally, I believe that students respond better to compassion than anger."
Herman Katz, a special education coordinator with 31 years teaching experience at Roosevelt, believes the key to Velarde's success is his warmth and familiarity with the neighborhoods that have been supplying the campus with students for generations.
"He's at home in this community," Katz said. "And kids like him, which is half the battle."
Edwin Delgado, 18, who should have graduated last year, would not argue with that. Sitting in the school counseling office, he said, "Mr. Velarde is cool. . . . He's gotten me back into classes I was kicked out of. I don't know what he said, but it worked.