A few weeks ago, Miss Kat and I were working on our website and a new business card for St. John Paul II Academy. We needed to consolidate the mission to fit on one side of the card, which ultimately read the following: “The mission of St. John Paul ll Academy is to train the minds and hearts of young people through the Catholic tradition and a classical education. We support parents in their God-given role as the primary educators of their children by working together to provide instruction in moral character and civic virtue.” I am confident that all decisions, whether they pertain to curriculum, materials, assignments, behavior plans, field trips, etc., are rooted in this mission. I have worked tirelessly to make sure the integrity of our mission is pure and uncompromised.
Fortunately, we were grateful for a visit from Doug Ward, who provided an excellent lesson in hands-on masonry work. His humility and expertise were exemplary and inspired all of us. In just a few weeks, our mission took on a new form. The cancellation of school due to the coronavirus redefined “parents’ role as the primary educators of their children.” I needed to empower parents to carry on business as usual. So I put individual plans together for each child, gathered up their books and sent parents explanations regarding each content area, which included spelling, reading comprehension, math, composition, handwriting, silent reading, etc. We communicate regularly via email, phone, texts, Facetime, etc. and exchange work so that there is regular feedback and progress.
Although this situation is less than ideal, I knew that God wanted us to glean something, especially during the season of Lent. I trust God’s plan. So, “what would Jesus do” in troubled times? We don’t need to search long for the answer. His Passion outlines the most difficult days for Jesus and his followers. Although public Mass has been cancelled, churches are open for private prayer. My family has been spending quality time in church by praying the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, and cleaning in and outside the church. It has brought a sense of peace and makes me feel very close to my father, Bill Tonzi, who loved spending time in his church.
The challenges are obvious. As an educator, I believe in the value of personal contact with students, and it has been devastating to lose that connection. Thank God that a few of my students are my own children who are home, and I thank God for the opportunity to actually see and hear my other students via video conferencing. It warmed my heart when we had our first video meeting and I could see their beautiful faces and hear their voices again! I miss them. Thank God for Miss Suzi, our art teacher, who has offered art lessons with the children via video conferencing. So, despite the hardships, there are many silver linings!
This month, we had a scheduled visit with our friends at The Faatz-Crofut Home. We were also looking forward to their annual Easter Egg Hunt. Because of social distancing, I knew that we needed to do something to show our friends that we miss them and pray for them every day. We are making Easter cards and gifts for each resident, and pray that this lifts their spirits. We are grateful to the staff who have the overwhelming responsibility of caring for our friends.
I want to encourage parents to find value in authentic learning experiences, which can be found every day in real-life contexts and situations. Most often, people find themselves so busy and they rely solely on the school system to educate their children, forgetting that “parents are the primary educators,” Please don’t underestimate your ability to teach, because you can! Whether it be Kaylin and her family sharing the birth of their bunnies and piglets, or Thomas showing us how he made croutons with his mother, Michael sharing a lesson on light reflection or Billy helping me, his mom, to communicate via video conferencing. They are all splendid examples of families partaking in the learning process. This is true and beautiful — families sharing quality time and building loving relationships! Let’s pray that we continue to grow and engage in learning together. I am humbled by the support of our parents and appreciate their love for our school. Find solace and encouragement in one of my mother’s favorite Bible quotes: “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” — Philippians 4:13
Jennifer T. Furnia is principal at St. John Paul II Academy and the mother of two boys at the school. For more information, or to schedule a visit, visit jp2la.org, call (315) 252-4393, email email@example.com or write to St. John Paul II Academy, 6201 Center St., Cayuga, NY 13034 or P.O. Box 1318, Auburn, NY 13021.