Looking up — Local faith-based schools report steady, increasing enrollment numbers

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published January 24, 2013

 Third- and fourth-graders in Living Word Lutheran School teacher Joel Springer’s class sing devotional songs.

Third- and fourth-graders in Living Word Lutheran School teacher Joel Springer’s class sing devotional songs.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Many faith-based schools in the metro Detroit area are reporting steady or increasing enrollment, which school officials attribute to a boost in the economy, along with more parents looking for a curriculum that includes the teaching of moral values.

Throughout the last couple of years, Rabbi S. Robert Morais of the Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield said, the high school has seen a significant increase in enrollment across the board — most significantly, an increase in students from the secular school systems.

“We’re absolutely trending upwards. We have almost 10 or 12 more students than we did last year. For a school of 230 kids, and about 50 kids in each grade, going from 55 kids to 66 kids in a grade is a game- changer. If you look at it in terms of percentages, it’s huge for us,” he said.

Frankel Jewish Academy, a high school with college preparatory and Judaic studies, is currently celebrating its 13th year, and it recently experienced the largest incoming class since opening.

“Last year, we accepted the largest incoming class in the school’s history — there were 70-some new students that were accepted to the school,” he added.

There are a number of factors that Morais believes have contributed to the trend.

“Our academics are outstanding. The small teacher-student ratio — our classes are between 12-14 students — and the way our teachers see themselves, which is not only as conveyers of information but really as caring adults in the lives of our students, is very important, and I think that parents recognize that, see the value in that, and see that this is a way that they can help their high school students develop as young, emerging adult Jews,” he added.

Living Word Lutheran School in Rochester has also reported an increase in enrollment throughout the past few years. The school, which provides a Christ-centered education for children from preschool through eighth grade, began as an early childhood center in 1997 and expanded into a grade school in 2003. Sheri Springer, director of school outreach, said that approximately 140 children currently attend the school, and she expects that number to increase in the years ahead.

“We have seen enrollment go up the last couple of years, since 2008, when the economy took a dive. Obviously, that affected parochial schools somewhat, so we have just now seen a rebound. More people are calling and seeking out parochial-school education, so we’re encouraged by that,” she said.

Bob Christian, principal of Immanuel Lutheran School in Macomb Township, said the last few years have been steady for enrollment. Immanuel Lutheran School, which has been around since 1866, has approximately 170 students in its preschool program and about 340 students in kindergarten through eighth grade this year.

“We have not gone down. We’ve maintained our enrollment, and we’re seeing a trend, now, that our enrollment will start increasing again and the numbers will start going up. Just from what’s happened in the last few months, already with phone calls, people are interested. Some of the recruitment and marketing things we are doing that we haven’t done in the past are starting to pay off,” he said.

While Christian believes more parents are looking for a faith-based education for their children these days, he also said the economy has played a part.

“Because the economy is getting better, finances are not going to be as much of an issue to pay the tuition that, in a faith-based school, families do have to pay. So, I think the forecast of the economy is better, and that’s helping people to make that decision to come back to faith-based education or to begin a faith-based education,” he said.

Sister Lenore Pochelski, Immaculate Heart of Mary, president of Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, admitted that the last few years have been a challenge for faith-based schools — because they are tuition-based — but she expects enrollment to remain steady the next few years. Approximately 520 students are currently enrolled at Marian High School — a Catholic, college- preparatory high school for young women in Bloomfield Hills that was established in 1959.

“Our enrollment for next year is looking promising,” Pochelski said. “I don’t know if the economy is getting better or we’re just learning how to live with it better. But definitely, more people are looking for faith-based education — value education — in an environment that is safe and focused.”

For the past five years, Warren Woods Christian School Administrator Beth Denhart said, enrollment has increased. Located in Warren, Warren Woods Christian School offers a child-care and preschool program, as well as school for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school, which is celebrating its 37th year in the community, reported an increase of 20 students in kindergarten through eighth grade this year, alone.

“That is really good in these tough economic times for families,” Denhart said. “Parents see the value in a Christian education that puts an emphasis on the word ‘Christian,’ as well as a strong academic program paired with extracurricular activities.”