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Bergen County family gets good 'back to school' news

For Tom and Mona Rundle, preparing children to return to school in the Fall was never so stressful. But when the Teaneck, N.J. couple found out that their beloved St. Joseph’s Academy in Bogota was one of three Catholic schools in Bergen County that would not reopen in September, they were hit with mixed emotions.

“When we first received the news about the closure of St. Joseph Academy in Bogota, we were all so disappointed and surprised,” said Tom Rundle. “My entire family loved St. Joseph Academy and the news hit us out of left field. Then we found out that several other schools were also not reopening this Fall. It was nerve-wracking at first, and everyone was scrambling for a solution.”

The Rundles immediately started their research knowing the only option they wanted for their three sons, Thomas, 13, Theron, 12, and Mason, 9, was to enroll them in another local Catholic elementary school. 

Mona Rundle recalls, “It was a very stressful time. Parents began communicating with each other, asking where are your kids going, and what are you going to do as a parent? We just knew we wanted our children to continue with their Catholic education because their faith formation is very important to us. Our fear was choosing another school that was going to possibly close soon and whether or not we would be able to enroll all three of our children at the same school.”

Fortunately, they found out about Notre Dame Academy in Palisades Park, N.J. While they were in the process of scheduling a tour of the school, the Rundles, along with many other families and business owners throughout Bergen County, lost power due to Tropical Storm Isaias.

“My wife called the school, and we were so happy they responded right away with open arms,” recalled Tom. “We met with the school vice principal, who took us on a tour of the school by flashlight because of power outages. We were all very happy with the school’s technology, curriculum, classrooms and especially the sports programs because my three sons were very active on St. Joseph’s basketball team.”  

To date, Notre Dame Academy has enrolled 50 former St. Joseph’s Academy students. Families affected by the closures are receiving assistance with the transition from the Archdiocese of Newark, including tuition assistance for the 2020-2021 school year.

“The closing of any of our Catholic Schools is difficult,” said Mark A. Valvano, Ed.S., Principal, Notre Dame Academy. “It is like the loss of a family. I taught at a school that closed prior to becoming a Catholic School principal, so I know how hard it can be.”

He added, “Our goal at Notre Dame Academy these past few weeks is to help bring as many families into our school family as possible so that their children can continue to grow and flourish in a faith-filled Catholic School environment.”

Eric Reid Ed.S., Notre Dame Academy’s Vice Principal and Athletic Director, described the importance of the school’s faith and family-centered values. “One of the things that has always made our Catholic schools so special is the sense of family that is built by being part of a community of faith. That is why it is so difficult when any of our schools close. At Notre Dame Academy, we are working hard to make sure we can keep these children in Catholic schools and welcome their families as new members of our family.”

On Aug. 11, the Rundles received the excellent news from Notre Dame Academy that all three of their children were enrolled to start orientation week for the new school year on Sept. 8.

“We are pleased with the way everything worked out,” said Tom. “My sons know some of the other students enrolled, which makes it easier for them to start a new school year at a brand-new school. My wife and I also already know several parents, and this support has been helpful. It was just such a relief during this transition that we were able to place all three of our kids in the same school.”

Their older son, Thomas, expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of their situation. “I feel happy about my new school and excited to make new friends and meet new teachers. It’s also great that some of my friends from St. Joseph’s Academy are also going to be able to graduate from eighth grade with me.”

Mona explained that as sad as they initially felt after hearing the news about St Joseph’s Academy, they now are excited to begin a new school year. They are grateful that Notre Dame Academy has welcomed them with open arms. “We put our trust and faith in the Lord's hands. After a lot of prayers, we are relieved and blessed with the outcome,” she said. “God is good!”