Number of students rise as national Catholic school registration drops
BELLE HARBOR — Even as enrollment in Catholic schools has declined nationwide, the Diocese of Brooklyn continues to see positive enrollment numbers in its schools.
Registration within the diocese’s parish schools and Catholic academies has jumped 1,500 students compared to this time last year. Forty percent of schools either stabilized or increased their student populations this year, according to Ted Havelka, director of enrollment management and financial assistance for the superintendent of schools.
The National Catholic Educational Association reported in February that nationwide, enrollment in elementary and secondary schools declined by 6.4% between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years — the biggest single-year drop in 50 years.
Meanwhile, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy in Belle Harbor, Queens, has seen its highest enrollment rate in the last 20 years. The nursery- through eighth-grade school had 569 students this academic year. It is expecting 638 students to return to its classrooms in September.
“Even though we’ve accepted so many more students, three more classes would actually help our class size situation,” said St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy Principal Chris Scharbach, explaining that three new teachers will join the academy’s faculty this fall. “Class size actually goes down.”
This year, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy’s cafeteria, gymnasium, two science labs, and an extra early childhood classroom were repurposed as classrooms in order to meet mandated health and safety guidelines.
But, with more students expected in the building next year, Scharbach confirmed that some of those spaces will remain classrooms for the time being.
“Because we are growing in enrollment, instead of having two classes of, say, 30 in each class, Mr. Scharbach is able to make the first grade into three classes,” first-grade teacher Judy Lindner told Currents News. Currently, there are two first-grade classes.
Scharbach added that it has been sad to see families forced out of Catholic schools financially due to the pandemic. He emphasized, however, that he and the school’s board are doing everything they can to help their current 340 families.
“We’ve tried to keep tuition as low as possible and not have as large of increases as we’ve had in the past,” Scharbach explained. “And we’ve tried to work with families around it and have a tuition assistance committee for anyone who has fallen on tough times.”
Tuition for one Catholic child at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy will be $5,000 for the 2021-22 academic year.
St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy faculty, staff, administration, and families plan to live out their school’s motto — “anchored in Christ” — as the pandemic continues.
“We are just continuing to put faith first,” Lindner said.