Catholic schools retaining 90% of students who enrolled last year

Private schools that pushed in-person learning last school year during the COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant increase in student enrollment. And those numbers are holding up as schools begin holding classes again.

Fifth graders at Notre Dame Academy, a Catholic PreK-8 school in Minnetonka, are getting to know their new classroom with a scavenger hunt on their first day of school.

Notre Dame Academy saw an 11% increase in enrollment last year, a gain of roughly 20 students. This year, nearly all of them are back.

"We have about a 95 or 96% retention rate, and that’s what we saw this year, too," Principal Bonita Jungels said.

Jungels says some of the increase is likely from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Catholic schools pushing to teach students in person, but not all.

"I believe the families are finding a home. They are not just finding a school — they are finding a home, a place where people care about each other," she said.

According to Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, more than a thousand new kindergarten through eighth grade students started in Catholic schools in the Twin Cities last fall, and more than 90% are staying put this year.

At Notre Dame Academy, the K-8 enrollment of 200 students is expected to climb.

"In fact, we are giving tours today, on our first day of school, so we expect that number to go up yet this week," Jungels said.

She says it’s a good situation, although some parents inquiring at other schools say it’s resulting in waiting lists.

"There have been waiting lists at schools for years. It ebbs and flows with what is going on, but it is definitely becoming more common," Jungels said.

Like last year, students and staff at Notre Dame Academy are wearing masks, but this year they’re hoping that ends after the first 30 days, depending on how things go with the COVID-19 delta variant.

"We are not offering distance learning this year, so we want to make sure students can be here and be in a healthy and safe environment," Jungels said.