By Tony DeGol
Tajia Zedek is the first grade teacher at All Saints Catholic School in Cresson.
For her, it is more than a job. It is a vocation.
“This is my 10th year here at All Saints, and I love it here,” she said. “The kids are amazing. The families are amazing. It’s just a very tight-knit group, and I love being here with such a family atmosphere.”
Last academic year, all Catholic schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown rose to the challenge of in-person education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
All went well, but, at times, there were a few rocky roads.
At the risk of sounding like an SUV commercial, a Jeep seems like the perfect vehicle to navigate through rough terrain.
“I had a couple of friends send me pictures of safari Jeeps,” Zedek explained. “I took the idea to my mom. She’s the doer, and I’m the creator. We worked countless Sundays on putting together these Jeeps and making the safest environment possible for the kids.”
The mother-daughter duo transformed each desk to truly look like a Jeep, with the “windshields” giving students a protective barrier from potential germs.
The trick apparently worked. Zedek is proud to report that she had no students who missed school last year – even for the common cold.
Forget the practicality, however. The clever creations were simply a big hit with her young students.
“They loved them,” Zedek assured.
So clever was the idea that Zedek’s mom nominated her daughter for the “Thank a Teacher” contest sponsored by Staples, the national office supply store.
The contest gives parents, students, and supporters a platform to recognize an outstanding teacher who has made a positive impact in the lives of their students.
Out of thousands of heartfelt nominations, Zedek was one of 20 winners from around the country.
All Saints Catholic School and Staples surprised her with a special celebration on September 28th at the school.
Besides the honor of being recognized for her genuine care for her students and her creativity, the award comes with a nice chuck of change for Zedek and the entire school community.
Staples gave her $2,000 and awarded All Saints Catholic School a $5,000 gift card to purchase school supplies. Each student also received a box of supplies from Staples.
“With COVID being such a problem last year, we wanted to find those teachers who went out and really took advantage of the opportunity to educate and keep the kids safe,” noted Jacob Patterson of the Altoona Staples, who was on hand for the surprise gathering.
For school leaders, Zedek is yet another example of the outstanding teachers who dedicate themselves to make Catholic education such a valuable ministry of the Church.
“I love our teachers,” stated All Saints Catholic School Principal Kathy Maurer. “They go above and beyond what they need to do for our students. We’re like a family here at this school. Everyone is welcoming. They take care of each other, especially during the past two years with the pandemic, making our students feel welcome. Having them feel safe is so important.”
Added ASCS Pastor Father Leo Arnone: “It’s amazing. They do what all teachers do with regard to academics, but because of our Catholic setting, they have the freedom and willingness to share their personal faith. We maintain a faith presence around the clock.”
Zedek’s mom turned out for the celebration, and like any mother, was beaming with pride.
“This is her calling,” assured Ann Stephens. “She loves to teach, she loves the families, she loves the students. I think this is where God wants her for now.”
Zedek extends thanks to her mom for nominating her for the contest, and also for being a tireless supporter of her teaching ministry.
She is eager to stay open to bold ideas to constantly enhance the Catholic education experience for her students.
“I always say if it doesn’t work, try again,” she added. “I tell my kids that every day. Erasers are a thing for a reason. If it doesn’t work, try it a different way. Just finding that way and keeping the kids safe and also having a good time is important. We’re in it for the kids.”
[Editor’s Note: See more of the All Saints Catholic School celebration of teacher Tajia Zedek on Proclaim! TV on October 10 at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23.]
[Photos: (Top) Teacher Tajia Zedek surrounded by her current first grade class at All Saints Catholic School. (Inset) Zedek’s winning desk Jeep designs in her classroom last year.]