When Nichole and Alex Catevenis and their family (then two kids, now four) moved to Rochester in 2016, they did so to settle down near family after military life. In the preceding five years, Alex had served two tours of duty abroad, the family had moved three times, and Abby, then a second grader, had already had two schools. Rochester was to bring a little familiarity and a lot more stability to their life.
In some ways, the move brought the Catevenis family the stability they sought. Family was just across town, Nichole settled into a job as an office manager in a local business, Alex assumed a career as a paramedic, and their Zach, four years old at the time, jumped and skipped his way to his Prekindergarten class at RCLS each day. However, Nichole recounts, Abby was not thriving in her 2nd-grade neighborhood-school classroom.
“Abby had a lot of change and subpar educational experiences in her first couple of years of school,” Nichole says, “so we intentionally settled into a neighborhood in Rochester with a public school that had a good reputation. We thought we were making a great choice. It was a smaller school, but there were more than 30 students in Abby’s 2nd-grade class. Right away, I was disappointed, but I brushed that thought aside as Abby started in what was supposed to be a solid school.”
That initial disappointment quickly turned to outright alarm as Abby, who was a rather small 2nd grader, became the victim of bullying. With each passing day, Abby grew more intimidated as she was taunted and even physically bullied by a classmate. In the classroom, Abby fell further behind as she began to cope with the bullying by keeping to herself, even to the extent that she stopped asking questions in class. When she did not understand a math problem or something she was reading––and there was plenty of that after her earlier educational experiences––Abby did not ask for help. As the year progressed, Alex and Nichole grew increasingly concerned.
“Alex and I tried to talk with her teacher and, more than once, the school principal. To be fair,” Nichole explains, “we thought that the teacher did everything she could, but it was just crowd control for her in a class of 30 seven-year-olds.” And, for reasons Alex and Nichole did not understand, the teacher’s hands seemed to be tied with regard to real consequences for Abby’s bully.
“When we talked to the school principal,” Nichole continues, “we felt our concerns were minimized. Then, I’m sure that the two times we talked to him, he did not even know who our daughter was, even on the second meeting. There were a lot of students and varying needs in the building, so maybe it was just difficult to sort through the priorities." Ultimately, Nichole says, they felt helpless to help their own daughter.
"It was devastating for me as I felt we did not have a lot of options.”
Even as Alex and Nichole watched Abby grow increasingly timid in school, they were watching Zachary grow in confidence and develop a love for school. His personality was blooming, Nichole remembers, so she could not help but note the diverging outcomes of their school-aged children. As late winter rolled around, RCLS began to talk about enrollment for the following school year. This got them thinking. RCLS was such a great experience for Zach. How could they not consider staying on into Kindergarten? And, then, what about Abby?
You already know the end of the story, since Nichole now sits in the school office as the Administrative Assistant. Well, to tell you the truth, she doesn’t sit much––there is little that happens in school that does not pass through Nichole’s hands––but you get the idea.
The Catevenises did, then, enroll Abby in 3rd grade and Zach in Kindergarten for the following year. In 3rd grade at RCLS, Abby had a class of 16 students, an attentive classroom teacher that she loved, and a resource teacher who worked one-on-one with Abby to “bring her up from behind.”
“That one-on-one time with Mrs. Strohschein was critical for both Abby’s learning and confidence,” Nichole says. Each week over the course of that year, Mrs. Strohschein worked with Abby to build knowledge that she was lacking and to give her strategies for learning and asking for help. In the classroom, she was surrounded by affirming peers and supported by a classroom teacher as she increasingly gained the confidence she had been lacking. She made so much progress that year, Nichole says, so that when 4th grade rolled around, she still needed some academic support from Mrs. Strohschein, but she needed it less often. It took less than two years for Abby to “catch up” academically and even less time to gain the critical sense of safety and belonging that must precede learning.
“RCLS was a game changer for our family,” Nichole says thankfully. She credits “small class sizes” and “teachers willing and able to take the time to really invest in each of the kids” for the academic and emotional well-being her kids now have. As she has watched her oldest children develop both “self-confidence in their abilities” and “self-awareness in those issue areas” that need more attention, she anticipates that this will serve them well in later stages of learning.
Abby has her composure about her again, Nichole says, and a positive outlook and work ethic that will help her succeed in school and life. Similarly, Nichole says she has watched Zach’s personality bloom and his faith solidify. He is a young man of “conviction,” Nichole says, something she is grateful RCLS has helped to foster in her son.
When asked what her family’s story might communicate to those wondering about the possibility of transferring children to RCLS midstream or enrolling children at the beginning of their school years, Nichole is quick to underscore the individual attention that RCLS students get.
“You will see your child flourish here,” Nichole says, rather urgently. “If your child is a visual learner, auditory learner, or simply one who needs time and assistance to learn, RCLS is the place for them. Children are adaptable, but there is little time to waste.” A transition in elementary school or the extra step it takes to look into RCLS––it is so worth it, Nichole says.
“We have already seen what the seeds of personal attention, a positive learning environment, and a structured, solid curriculum will bring. We’re already reaping the benefits of what our kids have received here.”
Now, four years after they started at RCLS with Zach in Prekindergarten, Alex and Nichole have Abby in 6th grade, Zach in 3rd, and Natalie in Preschool. As Natalie moves up to Prekindergarten for the 2021-22 school year, her little brother Logan will fill in her spot in the Preschool class, putting five of the six of the Catevenis clan on the RCLS campus.
The more the merrier, as they say!
Well, to tell you the truth, that’s not what we say about class size, but certainly, it is what we say about the Catevenises.
As we celebrate National Lutheran Schools Week this week, we are grateful not just for the extraordinary excellence of Lutheran schools and educators across the U.S., but we are also grateful for those families who join us in celebrating the blessing of RCLS. This is an exceptional school, as testified by exceptional families such as the Catevenises. How we love them!
RCLS Early Enrollment for the 2021-22 school year opens to the public on February 1, with Early Childhood and Kindergarten enrollment open now.
Looking for an Early Childhood program? Beginning Kindergarten? Transitioning to Middle School? If you’re curious to hear more about how your child will benefit in a school Grounded in Grace, Formed in Faith, and Committed to Learning for Life, click below to schedule a time to meet with either RCLS’s Early Childhood or Enrollment Directors. We would love to welcome you!