Did the pandemic impact enrollment at local Catholic schools?
(WPRI) — The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything when it came to education.
When it comes to enrollment, 12 News has learned there isn’t one universal trend across the board, especially when looking at the Providence and Fall River Dioceses.
“You know, I really think it depends on the school and it depends on the region,” said Dan Roy, Superintendent of Schools at Diocese of Fall River.
The Diocese of Fall River represents a diverse area of about 250,000 Catholics spanning from Swansea to Cape Cod and out to Mansfield. What works for one community might not work for another.
“We’re seeing pockets of growth, we’re seeing pockets that are stable, we’re seeing some slippage in some areas,” Roy said.
Roy began his time with the Fal River Diocese schools in 2020 — a time when Catholic schools across the country saw enrollment drop 6.4%, according to the National Catholic Education Association.
When schools finally fully reopened, Roy said families really considered their values, the dedication of teachers, and what a Catholic school education could provide.
“The pandemic in 2020 was an impetus to get families to begin thinking differently and that way of thinking has continued,” he explained.
Coyle Cassidy High School in Taunton closed its doors in 2020 due to factors predating the pandemic.
Bishop Connolly High School also had its struggles, and a lack of enrollment forced its closure in Fall River this past spring.
“We’ve seen the rise of charter schools, the renovation of Durfee, Diman, and its position in the city, and I think there are just some compounding factors there,” Roy explained as a reason why.
However, also in Fall River, St. Michael’s School has seen years of growth. Father Jay Mello said some classes even have wait lists.
A few miles over in Dartmouth, Bishop Stang High School is holding steady and even seeing some growth. School President Jim Benson said it’s about getting their message out to the public.
“We are so excited to now be more involved in Fall River, to be able to market Bishop Stang over in Fall River, we are excited to do that and tell our story,” Benson said.
In Rhode Island, the Diocese of Providence saw a quick rebound from 2020 with a 2.9% increase in primary schools from the year 2021 to the year 2022.
Father John V. Doyle School in Coventry was an example of that growth.
“In the last four years, we’ve gained about 65 students which is a pretty significant percentage of our overall population,” Principal Kevin Peloquin said.
The school is intentionally small, with one class per grade and each one capping at 24 students.
“We were able to bring students back into the building that first fall back from the pandemic and maintain in-person learning five days a week,” Peloquin said.
Aside from more students attending the school, more of those 8th graders have also decided to continue on to a Catholic high school.