By Jessica Easthope
After a difficult few years for Catholic education, enrollment is up.
Many Catholic schools are making a comeback in some of the largest dioceses around the country. Among those leading the way, the Diocese of Brooklyn.
At one school in Belle Harbor they’ve seen such an influx, they’re running out of room.
It’s been 20 years since St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy has had these many students.
“We know that we’ve made great efforts in our Diocese in trying to increase enrollment and have people try to see the value of Catholic Education here in Brooklyn and Queens.”
New data from the National Catholic Educational Association shows enrollment in Catholic schools nationwide is climbing back toward pre-pandemic levels.
Enrollment this year is up almost 4 percent and the Diocese of Brooklyn is near the top of the list with elementary school enrollment growing 2.4 percent.
St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy had 569 students last school year – this year there are 638.
Judy Lindner says her students have adapted seamlessly, watching sometimes through a small hole in their plastic shields.
Her first graders don’t take up too much space, but next year there’ll be more of them.
“Because we are growing in enrollment instead of having 2 classes of say 30 in each class, Mr. Scharbach is able to make the 1st grade into 3 classes,” she said.
As enrollment climbed Principal Scharbach has had to transform the entire school.
“We’re reusing rooms used for different reasons now as classrooms, one thing the pandemic has had us do is really be creative with how we structure a school,” he said.
He says it’s sad to see so many people forced out of Catholic schools by the economic effects of the pandemic, a problem they’ve tried to keep under control at the school.
“We’ve tried to keep tuition as low as possible and not have as large of increases as we’ve had in the past and we’ve tried to work with families around it and we have a tuition assistance committee for anyone who has fallen on tough times,” he said.
So as the school continues to make room, repurpose and squeeze in where they can , Scharbach says it’s the artwork, prayers and projects on the walls that remind him a Catholic education is a gift.