Local Catholic school sees increase in enrollment as pandemic stretches on

Student at St. Matthew's Catholic School.jpg
Posted at 3:12 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 18:57:08-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Being in the classroom means a little more for Tabitha Karll's daughter.

"School has been her only constant with my military career. I've done deployments and traveled, so school has been the one constant in her life," said Tabitha Karll, who is active duty in the Navy. "Virtual just was not working so she needed to be in school, in-person."

Looking for other options, Karll stumbled upon St. Matthew's Catholic School, who like other private institutions, was offering an in-person education. She said she enrolled her daughter into the 5th grade immediately.

"She's more than willing to wear the mask so she can be at school, in-person," Karll said. Other families and children are also willing to make this change.

Barbara Hawthorne, who oversees admissions for St. Matthew's, said enrollment and the number of new applications has increased since public schools announced virtual learning curriculum's.

"This year, I have approximately twice as many inquiries as I would have had at this time last year. I have over 100 children who want to be placed at St. Matthew's next year," said Hawthorne.

Hawthorne said lower grades, like kindergarten and first grade, are seeing the most interest. Her data also shows that inquiries for sixth grade students has doubled.

Principal Lou Goldberg attributes that to the school's dedication to in-person learning and safety.

"Less than 1% of our students (four students) have tested positive [for the coronavirus] and we've had zero student-to-student passing of the virus." said Goldberg. "We have a little bit more flexibility than some of the public schools in that we cut down the amount of transition with our students. Our teachers are all traveling to their classrooms instead of having the students transitioning in the halls."

In addition to other safety protocols and following CDC guidelines, masks are mandatory and desks are placed 3 to 6 ft. apart. Goldberg said dating back to the beginning of the pandemic, St. Matthew's has partnered with the health department, the Diocese of Richmond and the National Independent Private Schools Association.

"We always have to keep safety in mind, we have to be very careful," said Hawthorne.

Currently the school is operating at 96% capacity, which is approximately 470 students. On an average year, Goldberg said the school can accommodate about 550 students.

“Since [we didn't give parents an option for virtual learning vs. in-person learning] we did lose a number of families over the summer who just weren’t comfortable sending their children in-person. But, again, we almost have the same amount of families coming in now that want their children to be in person," said Goldberg. "We are down about 12% from where we finished off last year, but if you look at our capacity given these conditions were about at 96% full right now."

While many opt out of a private education, whether it be Catholic School or otherwise, Goldberg said they have financial aid available. Karll said, for her, it's worth the money.

"[My daughter is a] constant at daycare regardless, so I would pay for daycare. So it's more than what you pay for daycare but much worth the extra," she said.