With In-Person Learning, Catholic Schools See Jump in Enrollment During Pandemic

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School districts are working to get students back in the classroom full time. But the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Catholic schools never stopped in-person learning, and they’ve seen an increase in enrollment because of it.

There’s a teacher at the front of the classroom and students scribbling down notes. It’s reminiscent of pre-pandemic learning, if you don’t notice the masks firmly in place and desks purposefully spread apart.

“I found this school kind of by accident and was so grateful that I did and grateful we’ve been in school since August with really very few interruptions,” said parent Leah Schatz.

And the full-time in-person setting is what has brought in dozens of new students to Catholic schools across the state. When Bristol Public Schools announced they were going hybrid last year, St. Joseph School found parents wanted another option.

“Within 24 hours of that decision at the public level, we received 19 interested student calls. And they all ended up joining us, and we even got some more as the year started,” said St. Joseph School Principal Eric Frenette.

Leah Schatz has two children who started attending St. Joseph’s a few years ago and says she’s grateful for the in-person learning and the extra precautions.

“Being able to see the classrooms and how they set up and the precautions that they took I thought was really important,” said Schatz.

While parents are able to opt-in to remote-only learning, Father Michael Whyte, vicar for Education, Evangelization, and Catechesis of the Archdiocese of Hartford, says they prioritized in-person learning. Whyte oversees more than 30 schools.

“Parents want their kids to be involved. They want them to be in-person. They want them to socialize. They need the sports, you know, they need all the aspects of the academic experience,” said Whyte.

He says at St. Mary’s School in Simsbury, they have a waiting list in every class. Before the pandemic, we’re told the school system saw close to a 6% decline in enrollment, but in the last year, that’s been cut nearly in half. They’ve benefited from smaller classroom sizes with 11 students for every one teacher. Whyte says they’ve been vigilant about social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting, and creating cohorts. He says they haven’t seen any in-school coronavirus transmissions.

“If there is a spike in the community, we may go remote for a couple of days, maybe a week, something like that, but our intent is to be in person,” said Whyte.

As experts across the country tout the importance of in-person learning for students, the increasing enrollment at Catholic schools gives Whyte and others hope.

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