29 Jul Staten Island Catholic, private schools see uptick in inquiries, enrollment
Special from Staten Island Advance / SILive.com
Published on Jul 29, 2020
By: Charlie De Biase Jr. | firstname.lastname@example.org
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As the 2020-2021 academic year gets underway amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in New York City, Catholic and private schools on Staten Island say they are seeing an uptick in inquiries and enrollment.
Parents who are making the switch out of the city’s public school system cite various concerns, including the delay in opening campuses, random coronavirus testing, and no guarantee of live instruction for blended learners on remote days.
“The primary reason we made the switch was because I want my children learning,” said Dana Faljean, a parent who transferred her two kids from public to Catholic elementary school. “They need a teacher to do that. A teacher who is in front of them, there to ask questions, not appearing over a computer screen. Once the first school start delay happened, we went on the waiting lists.”
New York City public schools were originally set to open Sept. 10. That date was then pushed back to Sept. 21, and then the city announced its phased-in opening plan, in which students began the return to campus on different days by grade level.
Faljean said her two kids, who previously went to PS 6 in Tottenville, were placed on a waiting list for two Catholic elementary schools on Staten Island, before getting into Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Dorp.
“As a mother, watching my children struggle through teaching themselves was so heartbreaking,” said Faljean. “They are struggling to use technology, struggling to learn new concepts. Then we began remote instruction, and it became even more apparent that remote learning was going to be a failure.”
Under the city’s blended learning plan, put into place amid the coronavirus outbreak to cut down on the number of students at school at one time, students return to their classroom one to three days per week, learning virtually the rest of the time. But these students are not guaranteed live instruction during the days they are learning remotely.
Faljean said she had been hoping to take advantage of the city’s free child-care program, Learning Bridges, which began offering seats to 30,000 students citywide. Her children previously attended the Regional Enrichment Centers (RECs), which were established when school buildings shuttered in March to provide free child care for first responders and essential workers.
But despite the fact that her kids have first-responder parents and also attended a REC — two factors that take priority for the program — she was told it wasn’t clear when and if her children would be offered spots in Learning Bridges.
So Faljean looked at day camps to provide care on remote learning days, but she said the programming was more expensive than enrolling her children in Catholic elementary school. While it has and continues to be a sacrifice to come up with the extra funds to cover the tuition, she said she is “confident this was the only choice.”
Now at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Faljean’s kids are getting in-person instruction five days a week. And if the school has to close for any reason, the kids will receive all-day live instruction virtually with their teacher, she explained.
“My children were over-the-moon excited to find out they’d be at a school that is going five days a week ‘like normal’ they said,” Faljean added. “They do not mind having to wear a mask all day, as long as they can be with teachers and peers. It has had nothing but positive impacts on us all. I am so much less stressed, without having to worry about how they are regressing due to lack of education, and the effect too much screen time was having on them.”
‘HARDLY AN EDUCATION’
Caroline Piazza said she pulled her two kids from PS 55 in Eltingville and enrolled them in St. Clare School in Great Kills after she learned that they would only be going to school in-person five days a month, and there wouldn’t be a guarantee of live instruction on remote days for blended learners.
“Cut to two weeks before school starts, there’s not enough teachers, there’s no live teaching on remote days and we’re back to YouTube videos and questions on Google Classroom,” Piazza said. “That is hardly an education. I decided to make the switch after the announcement of the lack of remote teachers and the mandatory COVID testing — without a parent being there at school.”
New York City will begin monthly random mandatory coronavirus testing on a regular basis in public schools this week. The medical monitoring program will test anywhere from 10% to 20% of a school community.
At St. Clare School, Piazza’s kids are enrolled in the school’s blended learning model, with two to three days in-person and the other days remote, she explained.
“With the remote learning, they are logging on at the beginning of the school day and following along live with their actual class until the end of school, so they aren’t missing anything,” she said. “There is one teacher — their teacher — teaching everyone at the same time.”
And her kids are working more — more schoolwork and more homework.
“…But my kids are learning so much more so I can’t complain. The first week was rough, as the workload was heavier than what they were used to. But, after taking numerous tests and passing them already, they are adapting beautifully. They look forward to going in or logging on daily now.”
‘WE HAD TO PIVOT’
Staten Island parents are reaching out to Catholic and private elementary and high schools across the borough to discuss their options.
“We have seen a significant uptick in inquiries from current public school families,” said TJ McCormack, a spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York.
Jason Fardella told the Advance/SILive.com on the first day of Catholic school on Sept. 9 that he took his two sons out of PS 30, Westerleigh, due to concerns with the city Department of Education’s (DOE) school reopening plan.
“They [the city] didn’t have a very good plan. It wasn’t even a plan,” he explained.
Fardella transferred his fifth-grader Anthony and third-grader Dylan to Blessed Sacrament School in West Brighton for the 2020-2021 school year. He said the decision was last-minute, explaining that the transfer only happened about a week and a half after he learned the public school year would be delayed to Sept. 21.
“We had to pivot,” he said.
CATHOLIC SCHOOL CLOSURES
The uptick comes just months after the Archdiocese of New York announced that three Staten Island Catholic elementary schools would permanently close and not reopen in the wake of the coronavirus.
The following Staten Island Catholic schools are among 20 in the Archdiocese of New York unable to reopen: St. Peter-St. Paul School, New Brighton; St. Joseph-St. Thomas School in Pleasant Plains; and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-St. Benedicta School, West Brighton.
And in February of this year, the Archdiocese announced that four Catholic elementary schools on Staten Island will merge to form two separate academies beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year.
St. Rita School in Meiers Corners merged with St. Teresa School in Castleton Corners to form the St. Teresa-St. Rita STREAM Academy. St. Adalbert’s School in Elm Park merged with Holy Rosary School in South Beach to become the Father Vincent Capodanno Catholic Academy. The new academies are operating out of the school buildings in Castleton Corners and South Beach, respectively.
OUTREACH BY PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Several Staten Island private and Catholic schools told the Advance/SILive.com they are seeing an increase in inquiries for admission, including: St. Peter’s Boys High School in New Brighton; St. Joseph by-the-Sea in Huguenot; Staten Island Academy in Todt Hill, and St. Joseph Hill Academy in Arrochar.
John Fodera, president of St. Peter’s, said he’s received an influx of calls from prospective parents. The inquiries began shortly after it was announced that public schools were no longer required to provide live instruction to blended learning students on their remote days.
More calls began, Fodera added, after Tottenville and Susan E. Wagner high schools announced they would provide all virtual instruction to students, even when kids are on campus.
“Calls seem to have come in, more numerous in number since that announcement about Tottenville,” said Fodera. “We were getting them last week, parents just checking asking, ‘What type of schedule do you have? Will students get all credits necessary for graduation?’.”
He said that he and Principal Michael Cosentino want to get the word out that St. Peter’s Boys High School is accepting transfer students from Staten Island public high schools while promoting a Catholic education. And there are financial aid packages available — the same packages for all St. Peter’s students.
“We want to provide something special…Students strictly on hybrid schedules are guaranteed going to school every day [on cohort days], and be in regular classes with St. Peter’s students,” Fodera said.
At St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School, Principal Fr. Michael Reilly said there have been more than a dozen inquiries from parents.
“We are going through the screening process and accepting them as they qualify,” Reilly explained.
SOME CAN’T ACCOMMODATE MORE KIDS
But some are overwhelmed and cannot accommodate any more students — including Staten Island Academy, which is full in most grades, according to the school.
“We are getting a number of inquiries from families in the public school system looking to have their children enrolled in on-campus, live instruction,” said Eileen Corigliano, assistant head of school at Staten Island Academy.
And according to St. Joseph Hill Academy in Arrochar, there is a waitlist for the elementary school. Lindsey Minkoff, the school’s director of marketing, said the school has been receiving more than 10 inquiries daily.
“There is a waiting list, and we are unable to accept students at this time because we need to ensure that, when the remote students are able to come back, there is space for them to return in-person,” she said.
The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding parental concerns over the city’s reopening plan and students leaving the public school system.