Families lean on local Catholic school to see them through pandemic

After adapting to the academic changes brought on by COVID-19, many parents might say that the 2020-21 school year has not been easy for their child. But Nikki Soda, mother to nine-year-old Harper, said with confidence that her daughter is “thriving” and “having her best year yet” at All Saints Schools in Jupiter.

In light of Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 31-Feb. 6, Soda shared about her family’s transition from the public school system to a Catholic education, a journey that would become an incredible witness to their Catholic faith that saw them through the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Soda explained that in the months before the pandemic, Harper expressed an earnest desire to go to church more. Although Soda and her husband, Jim, grew up practicing Catholics and both attended Catholic school, they gradually fell away from the Church and did not attend Mass regularly with their daughter. When Harper asked to go to church, the couple were astonished by her request.

“I guess you could say that we had taken a break from religion and we didn’t want to push that on our daughter,” said Soda. “The fact that she came to us on her own and expressed that she wanted to go to church was surprising. We started going to church again because of Harper.”

The influence of a devout grandmother and a neighborhood friend who are both Catholic, said Soda, ignited something in Harper to learn more about the faith. Her parents realized that Harper might benefit from a Catholic education in the way of catechesis and in developing a generous spirit for helping others.

“The pandemic has really afforded us the time for reflection on our lives and our priorities. We are fortunate to have so much and we wanted Harper to be aware of how blessed we are, especially since many are struggling right now. We realized that a Catholic school would have an ingrained sense of volunteerism and opportunities to help the community—to give back,” Soda said. 

After some research on Catholic schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach, Soda decided to schedule a tour of All Saints School. The family discovered that the faith-based environment was a refreshing change from the public school Harper previously attended.

Soda said, “Harper was so excited to see the school chapel, of all things! We felt so welcomed by the staff and administration, and you could just sense that they strived to incorporate a Christ-like spirit to their interactions with parents. We said, ‘Now we’re in a school where Jesus is openly talked about.’”

The family also felt that a “theme of kindness—treating people fairly—carried over from the school’s mission to everyday life” and that “the teachings of Jesus were brought into real-life situations.”

Since enrolling at All Saints School in the fall of 2020, Harper has embarked on a journey to complete her sacraments of initiation into the Catholic faith. Soda stated that in attending church more often, Harper expressed a curiosity about the Eucharist and the ritual of the Mass—a curiosity that was fostered at school. She was able to complete religious education courses online in preparation for her baptism and first reconciliation and, is in the process of preparing for her first communion. However, it’s not just Harper who is receiving an education in the faith.

“Harper brings home lessons that ignite family discussions. Sometimes, those conversations continue on between me and Jim long after Harper has gone to bed. It’s like we’re going through the sacramental lessons with her. Harper attending a Catholic school has definitely renewed our faith as a couple,” Soda said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting many aspects of everyday life, the Soda family was grateful for All Saints School’s dedication to the health and safety of their students’ returning to school since the initial shutdown.

“Having Harper attend school in person was important for us because we didn’t want her to lose the connections and relationships she’s built over the year,” reflected Soda. “The diocese had its plan together and we felt safe having her return to school to a small class size where her circle of contact was consistent throughout the day. It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders.”

This communal guidance, spiritual support and safety in returning to school provided by All Saints School was also deeply felt by Victor Canales and his family. His son, also named Victor, is a fourth grader at the school. Canales shared that as New York transplants, he originally enrolled his children in public school because they didn’t know the area and, having been a member of the Sachem School Board in New York, he hoped attending a public school would be a source of comfort in a new environment.   

“Unfortunately, we just weren’t getting what we were looking for in the public schools in our area,” he said.

As a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola, Canales learned about All Saints School and decided to schedule a tour. Since that day, he and his family are “happier than ever” and are “extremely satisfied with the virtual learning opportunities offered throughout the pandemic.”

Although the Canales family has always been involved in their faith, they now find that their son is “more cognizant of it and is entrenched in it as a daily routine.”

“At a Catholic school, faith is the leading factor around which the rest—academics and activities—center,” said Canales. “Going through these trying times has made that even more apparent and vital to our identities as Catholics.”

To learn more about All Saint Catholic School, visit allsaintsjupiter.org or call (561) 748-8994. Follow the school on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @allsaintsjupiter. Stay connected with the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Palm Beach online at diocesepbschools.org. For updates on the 18 diocesan Catholic schools, follow the office on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @DoPBCatholicSchools.