A growing number of students entering Catholic elementary and secondary schools in 2020-21 has reversed a prolonged decline in enrollment, a feat accomplished even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents seeking safe, in-person education for their children are believed to have been a driving force, according to archdiocesan education officials.
Kindergarten through high school enrollment in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis totaled 25,010 students in 2019-20, according to the Catholic Education Mission Office, as reported in its annual report on Archdiocesan Schools, using a report date of October 1 each year. Enrollment rose 4.4% to 26,101 in 2020-21, and another 3.5% to 27,014 this fall.
Emily Dahdah, director of education quality and excellence at the Catholic Education Mission Office, said the reasons are complex and cannot be tied to a single cause, such as in-person learning. . Catholic schools in the archdiocese last year provided in-person and hybrid learning, while many public schools in the metropolitan area continued remote learning related to the pandemic.
“But, certainly during the time of uncertainty, Catholic schools have provided, and they continue to provide, parents with that stable partner in the education of their children,” Dahdah said. “And the overwhelming majority of families who choose Catholic schools remain in Catholic education year after year, including the students we welcomed for the first time last year.”
The pandemic appears to have given parents an opportunity to think deeply about the kind of education they want for their child, Dahdah said, “and they’ve found a good partner with our Catholic schools.”
The archdiocese has a long history of Catholic education, Dahdah said. In 2019, with the release of the Archdiocese’s Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education, she set the local Church’s strategic direction for Catholic education, charting a course for management of talents, especially leadership development; curricula and assessments; access and sustainability; missionary schools; and governance.
“It is this work that has really contributed to strengthening the quality and excellence of Catholic education at all levels,” she said. “If I look at the data we see as the roadmap is (more) implemented, families are increasingly recognizing our schools and choosing to want to have them as partners.”
The increase in enrollment also underscores the extraordinary effort of Catholic school leadership — including principals, pastors and chaplains — to provide high-quality Catholic education, with Jesus Christ at the center, Dahdah said. “And so our Catholic school families … want to continue to partner with Catholic schools in the education of their children,” she said.
Examples of schools increasing enrollment can be found in all corners of the archdiocese, Dahdah said, including St. Hubert in Chanhassen, St. John Paul II in Minneapolis and Holy Family High School in Victoria.
St. Hubert Catholic School, Chanhassen
At St. Hubert, K-8 enrollment in 2019-20 was 513. It increased by 23 students in 2020-21 and another 56 to reach 592 as of November 4. Preschool enrollment, which begins at 16 months, brought an additional 125 children to school this year.
David Sorkin, principal of the school, attributed three factors to the surge in enrollment at St. Hubert: in-person learning during the pandemic; the closing of the Guardian Angels school in Chaska at the end of last school year, which brought 31 students to Saint-Hubert; and some parents’ dissatisfaction with the local public school district.
Families tell friends they didn’t realize what was missing in their child’s education and that their child is happier, he said. And some students from non-Catholic families ask their parents to take them to church. “We see children reaching out to say, ‘I would like to receive my sacraments and families reaching out to say, ‘Well, we’re kind of inspired by my child.’ And they started going to church.
“They become a whole person,” Sorkin said of the students. “A Catholic education focuses on more than academics. It emphasizes the life of faith and the spiritual dimension of the human person. It focuses on the intellect. But it also focuses on family and how our students are leaders and how they put that knowledge to work for God.
St. John Paul II Catholic School, Minneapolis
St. John Paul II’s kindergarten through eighth grade enrollment in 2019-20 was 124. Last year it rose to 143 and this fall reached 158. School in North Minneapolis and St. Peter Claver Catholic School in St. Paul — Enrollment at St. John Paul II was 103, principal Tricia Menzhuber said.
Because operations such as human resources, finance and development are part of the academy’s centralized operations, Menzhuber said, school staff can prioritize parent and family engagement. .
“My staff in the building, we just take care of people,” she said. “We can focus where we need to focus – on teachers, academics and families.”
Last year during the pandemic, the school was in-person for kindergarten, grades one and two for the entire year. Other classes switched to virtual learning after Thanksgiving through February. “So we’ve seen these increases even without in-person learning,” Menzhuber said. School staff conduct graduation interviews with parents to find out why they chose the school, what they say to other families in the school, why they are leaving; and offer various incentives (tuition reduction, school jersey, etc.) to school families who refer new families to join the school. Staff members ask new families why they chose the school.
“As with all schools, word of mouth is by far our greatest leverage,” Menzhuber said. “And it’s nice that the families are really happy and feel safe here, and they share that.”
Menzhuber said the school attracted several Ecuadorian families who were
looking for a school where their children can learn English, “but learn it in a very nice way”.
The school’s bilingual staff support the whole family, she says.
“That’s really where a lot of the increase has been in the last five years,” she said, with school families explaining to other families what the school offers immigrants. Other families who chose St. John Paul II in recent years had children in public, charter, or Spanish immersion schools and realized they weren’t getting the academic support they needed to learn English. English and stay at school level. St. John Paul II has a 100% pass rate in high school, Menzhuber said.
Holy Family Catholic Secondary School, Victoria
Holy Family registrations increased from 383 in 2019-2020 to 456 in 2020-2021. This fall, it reached 525.
Michael Brennan, the school’s president, said the majority of Catholic schools that saw enrollment increases in 2020-21 likely wondered if it was “one and done.” “We didn’t have a crystal ball,” he said, but having 525 students in the building today is significant. “I think that speaks to the bigger story here, which is that I don’t want to give all the credit to the pandemic,” he said.
In late winter and early spring of last year, Holy Family interviewed families whose children transferred to school as sophomores, juniors and seniors, and families of freshmen year who decided “later in the game (July or August) to come to Holy Family,” Brennan mentioned.
The school learned that in addition to a boost from in-person learning at a time when many public school campuses remained closed, parents had reassessed their values and the value proposition of Catholic schools, did he declare.
“We have found a place where we feel supported, not just by the administration of a school, not just by the teachers, but we are supported in this proverbial sense of the village by all the other parents here who share the same values” , Brennan said of the results of the investigation. “They are all watching over our children collectively.”
Catholic schools have always stated their value proposition, he said. “Society opens its eyes and realizes, after reflection, that their values align with the values of Catholic schools,” he said.
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