Enrollment in private schools in NJ and New York State increases as families seek in-person learning

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Tuition at the Académie des Saints-Anges in Demarest costs almost $ 20,000 per year. Despite this, the school has recently received a flurry of inquiries – and a number of new students have signed up for the new school year – as parents in public schools seek an in-person experience for their children this fall.

“I think people weren’t happy with what was going on in their cities and they didn’t want to wait and see what would happen,” said Jean Miller, director of the Academy of the Holy Angels. “Families are looking for alternatives. We literally keep kids engaged throughout the school day.”

The 500-student school was set to open with in-person learning, as school officials began discussing it with a working group of parents and professionals last spring, Miller said. Now they’re well armed with a plethora of tents and picnic tables for learning outdoors, and plexiglass and social distancing markers for learning indoors.

The school is not alone. Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools in the metro area say they have been inundated with calls from families who have resorted to distance learning and are willing to pay steep tuition fees, ranging from $ 3,000 to over $ 25. $ 000 per year for in-person learning in a small school.

When their children’s public school closed last March and moved online, Jessica and Phil Oliva quickly became disenchanted with distance learning.

Their 6 year old daughter, Daniela, hated not going to school. Their son, Philip, 8, would finish his job in 20 minutes and be done for the day. “We were very frustrated,” said Phil Oliva of East Fishkill, Dutchess County, New York.

As soon as the district announced at the end of the summer that it would open for the new school year with strictly virtual education, the Oliva took action: they removed their children from the district and enrolled them in the school. nearest private school with room.

Although Phil Oliva spends over an hour each day commuting between his children and St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Yorktown, Westchester County, he does not regret his decision.

“My kids love their new school and they love their teachers,” he said.

Across the country, parents who have watched their children struggle with distance learning face similar dilemmas.

Public school districts in the suburbs of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have hesitated over their plans to reopen, which vary by district and even within districts between strictly online learning, an online learning hybrid. and in person, and some teaching entirely in person.

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In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the public school would open for in-person learning, but then gave districts the option to open remotely for a period of time until they could prepare. their buildings for in-person teaching. About a third of all districts in New Jersey have started distance school. Some schools have gone into complete isolation after teachers or students tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Education said only 10% have fully face-to-face instruction.

New York City has delayed the start of classes several times, and students are only starting to return to school now.

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In contrast, many private and independent schools, which tend to have fewer students and more flexibility, opened their doors for in-person instruction in late August or early September. Many saw a resurgence of interest from parents in public schools who did not want their children to spend the day at school in front of a computer screen.

A September survey by the National Association of Independent Schools found that nearly half of all independent schools reopen in person.

The survey also found that a third of independent schools across the country were seeing an increase in enrollment for the 2020-21 school year, and many more reported that a larger than average number of families from other schools s ‘were informed or had requested admission.

This upward trend marks a change as some private schools have struggled in recent years. Catholic schools across the country have suffered a slow and steady decline, plagued by rising costs, an increasingly secular society and the fallout from clergy abuse scandals.

In the early 1960s, which was the peak of parish school enrollment in America, more than 5.2 million students attended approximately 13,000 religious schools nationwide. That dropped to 1.7 million students in 6,173 schools, according to the National Catholic Education Association.

The Archdiocese of Newark, which has lost nearly a third of its schools in the past decade, closed 10 schools last year due to a lack of students and funding.

Hebrew Academy Joseph Kushner and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston welcomed 15 new students this school year thanks to the pandemic, bringing the number of students to 718, school leaders said. “We have received many requests and an increase in enrollments of children who were not originally part of our school community,” said Rabbi Eliezer Rubin, the principal of the school.

Many expectant parents have called to inquire about the Orthodox Jewish school’s safety protocols, of which there are many: In addition to the social distancing and masks all schools seem to put in place, the Livingston-based school has drawn up 90 tents to serve as outdoor classrooms, installed non-contact door handles and water faucets, and installed HEPA air filters and hand sanitizer dispensers in classrooms. In addition, a weekly COVID-19 screening is performed by the high school science teacher.

Rubin said he accepts students even knowing it may not be a long-term commitment from the family. “We are happy to welcome families who will register even for a year,” he said, adding that he had hired additional staff to give private lessons to students in public schools who do not know the Judaic studies.

Not all adaptations are cheap.

Yeshivat Noam, an Orthodox Jewish elementary school in Paramus, has so far spent more than $ 250,000, said Rabbi Chaim Hagler, the principal of the school. Additionally, the pandemic guidelines created more work for teachers. “The biggest burden has been on the teachers,” Hagler said. “They go from class to class. I don’t think the average person understands how hard teachers work. We had recess in seven locations and had lunch in three different dining rooms. We have quadrupled the number of rides we normally have teachers have to stay much longer to get kids to their rides safely. ”

Experts say private schools have a clear advantage over public schools during the pandemic – they are often equipped with more resources, staff and space, allowing them to create more classrooms with fewer numbers of people. ‘students to limit exposure to the disease. In addition, they are generally not unionized, which gives them greater flexibility in hiring and training.

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Smaller independent schools can take different approaches to learning and families can choose the situation that works best for them, said Myra McGovern, spokesperson for the National Association of Independent Schools, who added that many private schools had infrastructure in place that helped them make the rapid transition to distance learning in the spring.

And while public school districts must plan for tens of schools and thousands of students, private schools create plans for a single campus. This allows them to tailor their solution to a specific community. They are also able to quickly adapt their plans when needed, McGovern said.

“There was so much indecision in public schools. Now the parents from the public school are calling and saying. ” What are you doing ? said Sister Marisa DeRose, principal of Mary Help of Christians Academy, a grade 8 through 12 school in North Haledon.

The Mary Help of Christians Academy campus spans 16 acres with indoor and outdoor facilities, so there’s plenty of room for social distancing. Some of the classes at the Catholic Girls’ School have only four students, while the larger ones, with 22 students, are held in amphitheatres built for 200 people.

Iman ElDessouky, director of the Academy of Greatness and Excellence, an Islamic school with campuses in Ridgefield Park and Teaneck, said attendance initially declined due to financial pressure from the pandemic on families who could not pay scholarship fees. But more recently, “our enrollments have rebounded as other parents enrolled their children, in part because of the school’s commitment to teach in person as well as online amid the pandemic. ”

The Paramus Catholic High School, which offers a hybrid schedule to its 1,100 students, has staggered entries and dismissals, and reduced class sizes, and takes the temperature of students as they enter each day. Additionally, a ventilation expert assessed the building for airflow, said Stephanie Macaluso, the manager.

Like other directors of private schools, she responded to calls from many parents who wanted to remove their children from virtual schools. More than 15 transferred students.

Everyone was excited to return to the building, she said. “You can see the students really want to be here.”

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please register or activate your digital account today.

E-mail: yellin@northjersey.com Twitter: @deenayellin



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