COVID crisis boosts enrollment at local school

WWNY COVID crisis boosts enrollment at local school

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Here’s an odd side effect from the coronavirus crisis. It’s actually helping to boost enrollment in one local school system.

The Immaculate Heart Central (IHC) school system is the Catholic school system for the greater Watertown area. Last year, it had 310 students. This year, it’s on track to have 340 students.

Given that IHC, like many Catholic schools, has struggled with enrollment in recent years, the uptick is significant. Why is it happening?

The big reason: unlike most public schools, IHC - at both the primary and secondary levels - will offer five day a week in-school instruction this year.

“When the public schools released their reopening plans, and they were going to be hybrid, that’s when our phone calls started to come in,” said Daniel Charlebois, IHC’s principal.

Of course, much of the appeal of the IHC schools is traditional - it’s a faith-based education. But being open for in-person learning five days a week is no small bonus.

Most public schools are adopting a “hybrid” model for the coming school year, in which students come to school part of the week, and learn remotely the other days. That’s being done in large part because public schools don’t have the room to socially distance all their students at once.

The IHC schools have enough room, in class and in the halls. Students will mostly stay in one room and teachers will rotate in and out, but the students will be offered specialty courses like music and physical education, which will take them out of their classroom.

“They’ll have the in-person instruction,” said Charlebois. “As much as we tried with virtual instruction it’s simply not the same as having a teacher there in person.”

Elizabeth Dean agrees. Dean, a Watertown mother of five, has three children who go to IHC schools.

When schools abruptly closed last spring, it was rough.

“It was very difficult for us,” she said.

“So we had our three kids, all on their Chromebooks - which they had to be issued from school because we don’t even let our kids do electronics - and they were all trying to be on the internet at the same time.

“The signal just couldn’t handle the three kids, let alone the course work and doing the different subjects all at the same time,” she said.

“I’m not a professional teacher, so it was just crisis school. We were all just trying to do the best that we could.”

Dean is “thrilled” IHC is doing five day a week in-person instruction.

“I think it’s really important,” she said. “I think that they need the consistency, they need the support of their friends and their teachers.”

The demand is enough that there is a waiting list for some grade levels, Charlebois said. And on occasion, some families can’t get all their children in.

“Being open five days a week comes with some trade-offs,” he said.

“We can only accept so many within the confines of social distancing. So some families we were unable to enroll because we couldn’t fit the whole family in.”

School opens September 8.

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