St. Peter’s Catholic School in Cambridge is busier this fall than it’s been years.
At a drop-off one recent morning, one-by-one kids in blue and green plaid uniforms say goodbye to their parents and head inside. The parents and kids here seem excited to be back in this routine. Most have their masks on as soon as they get out of their cars, but a few need some gentle reminders.
"Hey buddy, I need you to pull up your mask before you get inside," Principal Pat Boyden whispers to one student as he approaches the door.
About 180 kids are enrolled at St. Peter's School this fall, and a third of them are new to the school. Boyden says most of those families were drawn in because this school and most of the Catholic schools in the area are offering 100% in-person learning this fall.
"I think for a lot of students, particularly only child households, just being able to be around other kids again has been so important," explains Boyden. "And parents just love that we’re building community."
That was true for Megan Litvinenko and her family.
"It felt like a really great fit for us," she says.
When Litvinenko moved to Cambridge a couple of months ago, she started to enroll her two kids in Cambridge Public Schools, but was disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to be in school every day this fall.
"It felt too in flux for us," she says. "That's why we decided to go the private route this year."
Litvinenko acknowledges that just being able to afford the $7,000 tuition per child at St. Peter's is a huge privilege, but she’s grateful to have it right now. Her children are happy to be interacting with other kids again.
For Litvinenko, the priority was stability. Her family is Catholic, but the religious education at the school wasn’t really part of her decision.
Enrollment in Catholic schools in Boston and nationwide has been steadily dropping since the 60s. Shortly after the pandemic hit, enrollment dropped by about 5,000 students — or 16 percent. The Archdiocese closed nine diocesan schools. But in July, things changed.
"It felt too in flux for us. That's why we decided to go the private route this year."Megan Litvinenko
Thomas Carroll, the superintendent of schools for the Boston Archdiocese, says calls started pouring in shortly after state teachers unions called for a remote start to the school year, arguing for things like improved ventilation and widespread COVID testing.
"When it hit the evening news, our phone(s) started ringing off the hook all across all of our 100 schools," Carroll says. "I joke that we should send a thank you note to the school districts, because of their tone deafness, in terms of what the parents were looking for."
Since July, more than 4,000 students have enrolled in Archdiocesan schools — almost making up for the loss in the late spring. When asked by WBUR, the Archdiocese said it hadn’t calculated how many of these are new students and how many had withdrawn and then re-enrolled, like Deland Senatus and his family.
"COVID has affected my wife’s job and that’s taken a big toll on our income," explains Senatus whose wife is a stylist at a hair salon in the Back Bay. "Our initial response was, 'Hey, we just simply cannot afford for our son to attend this school any longer.'"
Senatus managed to find financial assistance through the Catholic Schools Foundation in Boston, which allowed him to keep his son at the St. Columbkille Partnership School in Brighton. The group says it raised $1 million last school year to keep up with increased demand for scholarships since the pandemic began and are trying to raise more.
But while Catholic school leaders are happy to see this spike in interest, superintendent Thomas Carroll is trying to keep it in perspective.
"The influx of people coming to our school is allowing us to live to another day," he says. "We don’t know whether all of those parents will stay, or their just making accommodations because they don’t like the remote-only approach a lot of school districts are taking. So we will see."
Carroll says he hopes that once families get in the doors they’ll like what they see and eventually want to stay.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the location of St. Columbkille Partnership School. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on September 30, 2020.
This segment aired on September 30, 2020.