May 21st, 2024  |  Students & Alumni

Children Receive Values-Centered Education After Family Business Closes

Since Arete Scholars first began awarding need-based K-12 scholarships in 2010, one thing has become clear: families will do everything they can to help their children reach their highest potential. But sometimes, working overtime hours, picking up weekend shifts, or adding a second or third job isn't enough to make the dream of a safe, effective, child-centered learning environment a reality. 

For the Zoller family, the financial assistance provided through partial tuition scholarships is essential in realizing their dream of seeing their children receive a quality education at a private Catholic school.

"Life is just so expensive," says Fred Zoller. "We're doing everything we can to make ends meet financially, but it's not enough. With six kids in school, we needed extra help." 

Arete Scholars exists to provide families like the Zollers with a much-needed boost. By helping ease the financial burden accompanying a parent's desire to see their child learn and thrive, Arete creates new opportunities for success. 

Fred and Nichole Zoller, who call Slidell their home, are just one of the hundreds of Louisiana families who benefit from Arete’s tuition assistance. All six of the couple's school-aged children, ranging from kindergarten to 7th grade, are first-year Arete Scholars attending St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Slidell.

Fred is a general manager at a local fitness gym and supplements his income by offering online business consulting to other gym owners. Nichole, who has a service-connected disability after serving 13 years in the United States Marine Corps, works as a commissioned artist. Still, requests for her one-of-a-kind works are less consistent than they would like.

"There's a reason they came up with the term starving artist," Fred laughs.

Fred and Nichole are doing everything they can to make ends meet financially, but this season of life looks very different from just a few short years ago. The coronavirus pandemic was a game-changer for the Zollers.

"When COVID hit, I owned my own training gym," he says. "But the pandemic just destroyed us. I was closed for six months and lost most of my savings. I was consulting other gym owners; they were all closed, so there was no additional income. It was brutal."

Up to that point, the Zoller children had always attended private school, but the loss of Fred's gym and income meant they had to pull them out. It was only one year, but it was enough to leave a big impression. 

"We were not ready for that," he shares. "Public schools are just much bigger, and there is very little parental involvement, which contrasts so much with our experience at the private level."

Fred and Nichole began to notice how the experience impacted the whole family—and not for the better.

"We quickly realized that life is just ordered differently for many families who put their kids in private school," he notes. "In that one year, my kids began experiencing the pressure to conform to the culture. And it was so deep—I'm talking kids sharing graphic content on phones and all the things you have to do, say, and wear to be popular—it was too much."

"Our kids were clobbered with all these attitudes and expectations, and my wife and I didn't feel like we had the mental, emotional, or physical bandwidth to overcome all the stuff they were encountering at the speed in which they were encountering it," he adds. "That pressure felt insurmountable, and so we finally just had to say no, we're not doing this anymore.”

After moving their family to a new parish, Fred and Nichole again began looking for a faith-based private school to send their children to. They spoke with admissions officials at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School and were encouraged to look into programs offering tuition assistance. Arete Scholars was one of the names they were given.

"We've always wanted our kids to attend a private Catholic school; it's just that the numbers don't always work," says Fred. "But we jumped at the opportunity to return our kids to a private Catholic school. We said we'd apply and see what happens, and when we received the email informing us that Arete would provide scholarships for all six of our kids, it was crazy and surreal." 

St. Margaret Mary offers its students a holistic, faith-centered environment. They teach the mission of the Catholic Church and promote academic excellence while cultivating spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical growth. For Fred and Nichole, it's an atmosphere that meets their children's learning needs as much as it attends to their personal development. And it's a school that starkly contrasts their prior experience.

"We probably know eight or nine teachers from our church community there," adds Fred. "We want help in raising our kids, and the more eyes that we trust that can help us, the more incredible it is. It takes a village to raise a child, or in our case, six!"

The move to St. Margaret Mary has proved to be a great transition. Fred says his children are no longer captured by material objects or status symbols popular with their previous peers. They seem less concerned with conforming and fitting in. Their focus now is different, aimed more at being kids, establishing and enjoying friendships, learning, and working hard to make good grades.

"It's been really good for our family," he says. "I understand that they have to learn how to live in this world, but they don't have to figure it all out in 4th or 5th grade. Our kids can just be kids again."

The Zollers are incredibly grateful that each of their children once more has access to a supportive, encouraging, and faith-centered learning environment. They also recognize that this door has been opened thanks to Arete Scholars and all those who support Arete’s vision to see every child reach their greatest, God-given potential. 

"An Arete scholarship is a life-changer to a family like ours," says Fred. "Our Catholic faith is essential, and we love seeing our children's education wrapped in that faith."

"And it wouldn't be possible without Arete," he adds. "The impact of these scholarships is like throwing a rock into a lake. The ripples just go on and on and on."