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How Covid is Affecting School Enrollment

The world had suddenly changed; our sense of normal shifted and rearranged. I sat in the enrollment office, fielding two types of typical phone calls. The first, parents of an infant calling to explain that they no longer needed their classroom spot. The second, grade school parents begging for somewhere to go. 

I have worked in enrollment in some capacity over the last five years. You can expect things with the job, two of which are: infant rooms always have a waitlist, and parents would love to not pay for school. We were about five months into the COVID pandemic, and school enrollment was suddenly something that we did not recognize.

Mandated Change

The school that I worked for was a private school that had classrooms for infants through fifth-grade students. Before the pandemic, the preschool classrooms were always full. Grade school classrooms had room for new students as most parents did not want to pay for their children to go to school when they could go to a public school for free.

When COVID hit, grade school students were nearing the end of their school year. Schools closed, and we sent students home. Classroom learning environments suddenly changed to online classrooms that many teachers, parents, and students were unfamiliar with.

The government ruled early education essential, and preschools were kept open to help the families of those who still had to work. In the beginning stages, preschools were instructed by the county to only allow children of essential workers on campus.

Preschool Enrollment

Although preschools were instructed to remain open, enrollment numbers dropped drastically. Restrictions were lifted, and enrollment was no longer limited to the children of essential workers. But families did not come back. Parents often explained that although they were now allowed to return, the unknown of COVID made them unsure of bringing their younger children to school. Without measurable education goals in infancy through prekindergarten, families were less concerned that their children would miss out on vital learning and more concerned about exposure.

Grade School Enrollment

With schools closing and parents faced with the future of homeschooling their children, the beginning of the fall school semester left parents scrambling to find schools with in-person education. After the initial closure, private schools decided to continue distanced learning or resume in-person learning. Our private school chose to move forward with inviting our grade school students back. Enrollment numbers more than doubled, and additional teachers and classrooms were suddenly needed.

Varied Opinions

Interestingly, there was not, and still is not, one consistent feeling amongst parents about keeping their children in school. Few can agree on the best course of action. Many parents, now working from home, felt more comfortable keeping their children at home. Other parents were desperate for their children to have some sense of normalcy and hoped that attending school in person could provide this. Yet other parents simply could not keep their children home as they still had to work at their in-person jobs.

The Challenge

Enrollment staff and school administrators were quickly faced with a few challenges. 

  • What could we do to make families feel more comfortable and confident with sending their children to school? 
  • How could we accommodate the families who were not ready to have their children back in a classroom learning environment?

In many schools, and specifically in the school in which I worked, strict cleaning standards were implemented. All classrooms adopted the thorough cleaning regiments implemented in preschool classrooms. Parents were restricted from entering the building to help minimize the risk of exposure. Classrooms were rearranged, tape was added to the floor to help with social distancing, and in some classrooms, plastic dividers were added to students’ desks. Teachers began doing double the work as they taught students both in-person and virtually. Administrators were faced with the challenge of determining what would happen if an individual in a classroom contracted the virus and how the classroom and school would move forward.

A Turning Point

January seemed to be a turning point in parent comfort levels and enrollment. While private-school and grade-school enrollment numbers consistently stayed elevated, preschool enrollment began to rise as well. Many public schools transitioned away from virtual learning and switched back to in-person classrooms.

Current Status of Enrollment

With the hard work and diligent effort put in by educators, enrollment is still consistently increasing. Teachers and administrators have built confidence within families that they have the appropriate tools to mitigate spread while also allowing students to learn in a more social and familiar environment.

The roller coaster of changing regulations has presented unique challenges for enrollment and school attendance throughout every education sector, whether public or private. It has required educators and administrators to reevaluate practices to ensure that they deliver the safest environment possible to their students and families. 

The frequent changes have demonstrated how resilient, creative, and resourceful educators are. With the adapted skills and discovered techniques, education can thrive through the challenges that COVID has presented over the last year. The pandemic's effect on enrollment has been measurable and a source of immense learning and growth.

Written by Lacy DeYoung

Education World Contributor

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