ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — Students will not be returning to the IDEAL School in Royal Palm Beach this school year. After 28 years, the school has closed. COVID-19 is to blame, but instead of feeling defeated, Wendy Soderman, the mother who dreamed the school into reality, said she's filled with gratitude.
The IDEAL School started as a preschool in Wellington in 1993. Through the years, the school grew to include kindergarten through 8th grade.
"When the laughter is inside and the faces, the curiosity, the professionals who share your vision, that's the magic," said Soderman. "There was a rhythm, a lovely rhythm at IDEAL. The coronavirus pandemic interrupted that rhythm. A hybrid of virtual and in-person learning allowed IDEAL students and teachers to make it through the last school year, but enrollment was dropping," she said.
"I didn't go into this to break the bank, that was never my goal," she continued. "Truly, I wanted it to be for teachers, first responders, people like me who needed a place they could afford that was intimate and rich, rich in quality, so that's what I created. So we were doing well, but not well enough if you encounter a bump, adversity, financial adversity, that you had a lot of reserves," she said. "A lot of my clients, my families are restaurant owners, people making ends meet who were giving up something so their child could attend a private school. People who worked the cruise lines, services that were hurting too. And so when something had to go, often it was the schooling. We noticed the enrollment was going down and down."
Tours of the vibrant school were also off-limits, which made it next to impossible to recruit new teachers and students.
"There's not a lot of buffer. I'm not a billionaire. I don't have a big church behind me. I don't have a system behind me. This was a couple with a dream, a vision and we shared it with professionals and families and it was a simple plan and we hit a bump. A bump that wiped it out," Soderman said.
After nearly 3 decades, the school that Wendy and her husband Kris Soderman built and cherished had to close and the buildings were sold.
" I know and teach my families, that adversity is your greatest gift," said Soderman. "It's going to show you what you're made out of. So this really made me have to look deep and get quiet and what I've come up with is the magic that's created in here, the hugging, the passion, the culture perhaps it was contained and it needs to be shared."
She put out a challenge to her team, her teachers who were moving on to other schools.
"Let's make sure every child shakes hands, looks people in the eye, smiles. Let's make sure every child loves learning. Let's make sure every child takes risks to make their dream come true. So we've all decided that's what we're going to do now," she added. "We're all taking a piece of this magic that we believed in and we believe in and we're going to go spread it. So every school is gaining because the teachers that worked here for years and years and the children who attended here are now being sprinkled like seeds."
In typical fashion, they celebrated in the final days of Ideal -- Soderman style.
There was music, laughter, fun and memories. It was a celebration of all the lives touched and changed and the legacy that will live on here.
So what will become of the buildings that housed the Ideal preschool, elementary and middle schools?
"So gratefully it will become an early childhood education campus," Soderman said. "So it started as preschool and now it will be a training ground for early childhood education teachers. People will learn to become wonderful teachers. Children will still come here to have a wonderful schooling experience and all is good. It's a full circle."
Soderman said she's filled with gratitude and in awe of all that was accomplished over the last 28 years.
"I don't know how it gets better than this in my life," she added. " I can't say this is a peak because then what? But this was pretty awesome. I'm blessed, very, very blessed. I want people to know teaching is the greatest profession ever in this world. We need teachers to keep inspiring our youth. It isn't corny. Our youth need us to be passionate, to be dreamers, and to show them how to do it."
It's not just students who have stories about the impact that the IDEAL School made in their lives. Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins had a special connection to the Ideal School.
Take a look back at his visit and performance in the video below.