The Capezza family: Jennie and Louis Capezza, seated; and their children, Kate, Luke and Abbey.

Editor’s note: redefinED guest blogger Jennie Capezza is director of campus ministry at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., and mother to three John Carrol students. She writes here of her efforts to juggle caring for her students as well as for her children during the COVID-19 crisis.

Even pre-COVID-19, our family routine was hectic. Raising three teenagers and juggling our careers required my husband and me to hold family meetings on Sunday evenings in an attempt to get a handle on the week ahead: which children had practice games, which work- and school-related meetings must be attended, and last but not least, which evenings could be set aside for family dinners with everyone at the table.

Even our best intentions to make it all work sometimes resembled a glorified fire drill.

Everything intensified five years ago when I took a giant leap of faith and left my job as a second-grade teacher to become an English teacher at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce. That move required both a professional and personal adjustment, but it’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

Our school serves roughly 400 students in grades 9-12. We are the only Catholic school within a one-hour radius of Fort Pierce. Since 2012 when we began accepting students who are eligible for a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a program that provides the means for families with limited financial resources to attend private schools, our student body has become more representative of our community. We currently serve 77 tax credit scholarship students, as well as three students who qualify for a Gardiner Scholarship for students with unique abilities. Two students attend on the new Family Empowerment Scholarship, which extends support to middle-income families.

(All three scholarship programs are administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.)

In my years at John Carroll, I have become fully vested in our school’s mission to inspire students in the pursuit of educational excellence, foster character formation, develop a commitment to serve and affirm the dignity of each student entrusted to our care. Certainly not a small undertaking, but one that our administration, faculty and staff embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation.

In my role as director of campus ministry, I’ve observed students, families and teachers consumed with their daily routines. Now that we’ve been unexpectedly pulled away from the school we love due to COVID-19, things are different for my colleagues and friends, and for my own family as well.

At the outset of this time of isolation, we discussed what our days would look like. We decided that the kids’ weekdays would be filled with Zoom classes, practice tests, essay revisions and vocabular reviews. My husband, who is a financial adviser, would work from home. I would continue to explore creative ways to stay connected to my students. At the weekends, we would enjoy fishing, playing tennis, trying new recipes, working in the yard, and praying together.

We’ve been able to stay true to this intention. But along the way, I’ve begun seeing our three teenagers in a different light as we’ve engaged in conversations we’ve never had before. Conversations about their dreams and the lessons they’ve learned in self-defining moments. Meanwhile, my husband and I have had the chance to share more about our life experiences than we ever have.

We all are realizing there is value in setting aside time to talk, to think, to reflect. To reminisce about the past and to set goals for the future.

This realization in turn has led me to begin thinking about what drives our lives as a family. My husband and I have always wanted the best for our children. Additionally, I’ve maintained a focus on doing whatever I can to create the best environment for my students. But it’s occurred to me that perhaps we’ve been so focused on staying busy that we’ve lost opportunities for spending and enjoying quality time with each other – time for self-expression and honest communication.

None of us know when our lives will return to “normal,” but I do know this: The opportunity to fully engage as a family over the past month has been a priceless gift. It’s one I intend to cherish and carry into whatever comes next.   

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