Students at St. James School in Biddeford check out  notes they posted in the school’s windows, thanking first responders and essential workers for their work during the pandemic. Courtesy Photo/St James School

BIDDEFORD — Some classes at St. James School are getting big enough that the school is looking for more teaching staff for the fall term.

Overall, enrollment is up — due in part to the pandemic, said Principal Nancy Naimey.

Other contributors, she said, include the school’s reputation— enhanced by the way faculty and staff handled remote learning when classes were shut down mid-March through the end of the school year in 2020, and the way it prepared for in-person learning this year.

Last year, the school, which educates children from Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade, had 158 students. This year, there are 165, an increase of slightly more than 4 percent.

And a week ago, the school marked 100 days of classes — St. James has had in person learning five days a week, with precautions against the coronavirus — since classes commenced in September. To celebrate, kindergarten students dressed up for the day like 100 year olds, the principal said

The increased enrollment at St. James mirrors almost exactly enrollment growth across the Roman Catholic diocese’s 10 elementary/middle and two high schools.

St. James School students work on decorating a window thanking essential workers and first responders throughout the pandemic. Courtesy Photo/St James School

Maine Catholic Schools Superintendent Marianne Pelletier said enrollment across the state’s Catholic schools had been declining by about 10 percent a year for the last few years. “To be up 4 percent is phenomenal,” she said. “I credit my principals, who are doing a great job with the safety procedures and keeping the schools open, five days a week. We worked hard all summer to make that happen, here in Maine in terms of enrollment, our Catholic schools are doing very well.”

Enrollment upticks at parochial schools aren’t limited to Maine. In the area around Saratoga Springs, New York, according to a CBS news report, Saratoga Central Catholic School saw enrollment jump by 10 percent in the month before classes were to open last September.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, enrollment in the Twin Cities Catholic Schools was up 4.4 percent, according to a November report by the Archdiocese there.

Naimey, at St. James, cited  the school’s  faith component, along with academics, as other possible reasons for the increase.

“The kids are respectful and think of others and kind, and in this day and age this is an important piece parents want for their children,” she said. A week ago, she noted, students decorated the school’s windows with messages thanking health care workers, police, firefighters, parish workers and others for their work during the pandemic.

“The other piece is … you have a child who is well rounded and sure of who they are when they go to high school,” said Naimey.

In the spring of 2020, when classes shut down, St. James School pivoted to remote classes — creating the school day as much like in-person as possible. Over the summer, staff devised ways to structure classrooms and installed plastic barriers, along with other enhancements. The school uses air purifiers, and has taken other safety measures, like nightly sanitizing, to keep COVID-19 away. There is hand sanitizing and mask wearing and the like. A couple of class cohorts closed for a time around the Christmas holiday due to cases of coronavirus, said Naimey, but that is it.

Kindergarten students at St, James School dressed up like 100-year-olds one day last week, to mark 100 days in school. Courtesy Photo/St. James School

As registration opens for new students, Naimey is looking at ways to show the school to families who are considering enrolling their children, like a Zoom walkaround. Ideally, she pointed out, the best way to show the school is when there are children present, but that isn’t possible during the pandemic.

Tuition is $4,850 if the family are parishioners, and $6,250 if they’re not, less than the $9,000 annually it costs to educate children. Naimey noted that the school receives support from the parish, which helps reduce costs to families.

Part of the reason for the enrollment increase, Naimey said, is that some families had been thinking about St. James School for a while and the pandemic situation propelled their interest into action.

“Absolutely, the pandemic has played a role,” said Pelletier, the Catholic schools superintendent. “Some were on the fence, and then made the decision.”

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