Local Catholic School Enrollments Have Risen as COVID Cases Remain Low

St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy of Queens students in the lower grades worked on their rhyming skills before Thanksgiving. (Photo: Courtesy of St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy of Queens)

WINDSOR TERRACE — As the first trimester of the school year comes to a close on Dec. 7, the 69 Catholic schools and academies across Brooklyn and Queens continue to go above and beyond for their communities. Children are still learning the fundamentals, while adhering to health and safety guidelines, through in-person learning or a hybrid learning model.

Enrollment’s Up for Nearly Half the Diocese

The current total student population within the diocese (for kindergarten through eighth-grade elementary schools) is 19,147. Forty percent of schools have 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. In the last week of September alone, for example, 274 new students enrolled in Catholic schools.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy of Queens saw an increase of 105 students this year, according to principal Catherine Mangone. Seventy-two students came from the recently-closed Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy, and 33 from local public schools. Last year’s total enrollment, without nursery students, was 216 — this year, it’s 332.

“An interesting fact is our current eighth grade has 13 students from our seventh grade last year. That seventh grade was our smallest class going to the building,” Mangone explained. “Now, 32 students are in this year’s senior class and are in two separate classrooms. We have a greater number of new students in that class than we had in our original class.”

[Related: Local Catholic Schools Continue In-Person Learning as Public Schools Go Remote]

Thirty-three St. Stanislaus Kostka students are currently attending the St. Thomas Aquinas Distance Learning program. They have the opportunity to return to the building for in-person learning in January. Mangone said her classrooms, which currently seat up to 16 students, have the capacity to take in students who choose to return.

According to principal Allison Murphy, St. Kevin Catholic Academy — which has 302 students learning under a hybrid model — saw a “very big jump in enrollment.” About 50 new students across kindergarten and eighth grade enrolled, with 10 children transferring from closed Catholic schools and the remainder coming from local public schools.

Though the Flushing school wasn’t located within a yellow zone as of Nov. 30, Murphy said her school has put at least $200,000 toward meeting the mandatory health and safety guidelines. She added that approximately $180,000 had been spent by the first week of school in September to update the school’s WI-Fi system, purchase new devices, and hire more staff.

“By the time this is all said and done, it’s going to definitely be about $250,000,” Murphy said.

COVID-19 Numbers, Testing Updates

Since September, 173 cases have been reported in academies and schools across the Diocese, according to the state’s online “report card” database. The data was last updated on Nov. 30.

The diocese is currently working with two vendors to administer COVID-19 testing in yellow-zone schools. Some schools began their weekly testing before the Thanksgiving break; other schools will soon begin their testing.

Twenty percent of on-campus, yellow-zone school communities must be randomly tested every week. If a weekly random sampling generates at least nine positive cases, schools must close and transition to remote learning.

The Department of Health announced in mid-November that yellow-zone schools will no longer be required to conduct testing if each individual school’s positivity rate is lower than the yellow zone positivity rate, over the course of two weeks.

Testing costs in the diocese range between $2,000 and $10,000 per week. Those costs are currently being shouldered by each school whose budget is already stretched. The diocese, however, told The Tablet on Nov. 30 that it is still working on a $1.3 million grant application to help cover testing costs.

St. Stanislaus Kostka, which is currently in a yellow zone, had not yet begun their weekly testing as of Nov. 30. But the school is thoroughly prepared for the day when a vendor arrives.

“The testing permission slips already went out to parents and faculty members, and we’ve collected them,” Mangone said.

She has already calculated the testing costs her school will have to pay. The cost is $49 per test and — under the mandated 20% sampling — 67 members of her school community will have to be randomly tested every week. That amounts to $3,283 each week.

“We’re ready the minute they say they can come and we’re ready for them to come and test,” Mangone added. “We’re just waiting on them to let us know when.”