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Enrollment increases 11% at Catholic schools

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SAN DIEGO — Enrollment is up by historic margins at San Diego’s Catholic schools this year.

Amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents for the first time opted to give Catholic education a try.

“What we’ve seen is an 11.3-percent total increase in enrollment this school year. We haven’t seen the likes of that in over a decade,” said John Galvan, director of the diocesan Office for Schools.

Enrollment has increased by 14.8 percent at local Catholic elementary schools and by 4.2 percent at Catholic high schools. In the Diocese of San Diego, the total Catholic school student population is 14,371 – an increase of 1,460 from last year.

Schools are not only celebrating this achievement but are inviting more families to consider a Catholic education. They are particularly encouraging them to contact the school that interests them during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, when many will offer special events and tours for prospective families.

In San Diego County, the Catholic elementary schools with the greatest increases in enrollment are Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in San Ysidro with 91 new students, St. Michael’s School in Poway with 80, and Santa Sophia Academy in Spring Valley with 67.

In Imperial Valley, all three elementary schools saw increases: 60 at St. Mary School in El Centro, 57 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy in Calexico, and 13 at Sacred Heart School in Brawley.

Only two Catholic elementary schools in the diocese experienced a decline in enrollment between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.

At the high school level, the biggest gains were at Cathedral Catholic High School and Mater Dei Catholic High School, where enrollment increased by 58 and 52, respectively.

Galvan believes the increased enrollment can be credited to the fact that Catholic schools re-opened for in-person instruction earlier than their public school counterparts and, once parents “got a taste of the Catholic school experience,” they were convinced that it was “worth the price of admission.”

He said the influx of new students offers “a wonderful opportunity to evangelize” and “to continue to bring (these families) into what it means to be Catholic.”

The diocesan Office for Schools’ biannual parent satisfaction survey, which was sent out to all Catholic school parents in the fall, yielded encouraging results. To a question that asked parents whether they felt the value of the Catholic education their children were receiving was worth the price of tuition, more than 85 percent answered yes and a little over 11 percent were undecided.

Three parents, whose children are experiencing Catholic education for the first time this year at Santa Sophia Academy, told The Southern Cross what it has been like.

Melissa Bachoua, who has children in kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade, had the sense that her children’s public schools were “becoming too liberal” and promoting things that were inconsistent with her values. She wanted her children in an environment where they would grow deeper in their faith.

“We do go to church every Sunday, but I felt like they needed more, and that was my main reason why we put them in Catholic school,” she said.

From Bachoua’s perspective, Catholic education is a good investment because her children have “such a personal relationship with the teachers.”

On Dec. 3, when she spoke with The Southern Cross, she said she had received a message that day from the second-grade teacher. The teacher shared how Bachoua’s daughter had lacked confidence earlier this year to read in front of the class, but had raised her hand the previous day and volunteered to do so.

Erika Alonso, mother to a second-grader and a fourth-grader at Santa Sophia Academy, recently left a job as a medical assistant at a health center. In that role, she saw firsthand how public high schools facilitate students seeking birth control or even abortions without their parents’ knowledge.

“I thought that was very scary,” she said.

Alonso said concerns about troubling changes to the health curriculum in public elementary schools inspired the decision to enroll her children in Catholic school.

She said that her son loves his religion class and tells her about the day’s lessons when he comes home from school.

“I didn’t go to a Catholic school, so I only know so much about religion,” she said, explaining that these conversations with her son are educational for her as well.

Erika Ramos, whose husband is a permanent deacon, recognized the value of Catholic education, but “just assumed” that it was financially out of reach. But thanks to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a sense that public schools are promoting values contrary to their faith, the family opted to take a closer look at Catholic education.

All three of the Ramos children are attending Santa Sophia Academy – in transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and fourth grade. The family had homeschooled last year.

After meeting with Principal Kristin Klant and learning about the financial aid available, she and her husband wondered, “Why haven’t we done this before?”

“We love — love — the school,” she said. “The experience has been amazing.”

More information about the diocese’s Catholic schools is available by phoning (858) 490-8240 or visiting sdcatholicschools.org.

Calling All Prospective Families

Many of the San Diego Diocese’s schools are inviting prospective families to an open house during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, the annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States. They are able to speak with the principal and teachers and visit classrooms and other campus facilities.

In addition, many schools are hosting special events on one day or during the entire week to celebrate their school community. These include service projects, pancake breakfasts, dances and more. Families may also schedule a tour of the school at their convenience.

Please visit the website sdcatholicschools.org for a schedule of special events this week at the diocese’s schools. Families may also visit the website of the school that interests them for information or to schedule a tour.

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