The tumultuous and unpredictable pandemic has brought little good over the past year, but it has provided Catholic grade schools with at least one God send: a significant increase in admission applications.
Attendance had been declining over several years, leading to several catholic elementary schools shutting permanently in the summer. The admissions tide turned for the 2020-21 academic year, however; the Diocese of Brooklyn reported a surge in families wanting to join the religious education communities.
“We did get an increase at the very beginning of the school year ... We did get a nice enrollment boost,” said Principal Joan Kane of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrement Academy in Bayside.
The K-8 school’s enrollment jumped 12.5 percent this academic school year, according to Ted Havelka, the director of enrollment management and financial assistance for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Registration at Catholic schools across the diocese closely reflects the increase, Havelka said.
Kane explained that a good portion of the new families had been transferring from public schools, though that is not true for all new students.
What drew an abundance of new students to the Bayside school, Kane believes, is OLBS’s ability to adapt to the unprecedented situation. The need drove the school to update its technology to the modern age.
“Like everything we do, we’ve had to re-think, re-imagine, make things safe,” Kane said, noting that its Feb. 8 open house will be completely virtual. “We put a lot of information on our website, we’ve been using social media to share a lot of information ... [We have] an online application. You never have to pass a piece of paper and information to us.”
Registration no longer requires parents to come into the building, which is not only a safer alternative in the age of the virus, but makes the task easier for families to squeeze into their daily lives. Kane pointed out that for a growing number of the parent population, handling the procedure online is second nature to them.
“This is how they live. It makes it easy for them,” the principal said, adding that the process of coming down to the building to fill out paperwork is “archaic to them.”
Maura McCarthy, the president of OLBS’s board of directors, pointed out that the technology upgrades are reflected in the classrooms.
“We also have parents not comfortable sending them in, so we purchased webcams and microphones,” she said on the school’s flexibility to offer remote learning to some students. To accommodate the 12-students-per-classroom limit inside the building, the school invested in new smartboards, upgraded internet and other devices.
McCarthy went on to note that while the cost of attending private schools is too high for many families, the community has established a scholarship fund to help support those who might otherwise be unable to attend OLBS.