HAZLETON – As the new school begins, there are many new faces filling the halls of Catholic schools across the Diocese of Scranton.

Overall, enrollment in Diocesan schools is currently up nearly nine percent over last year. Approximately 4,400 students have enrolled in the diocese’s 19 schools to date.

“We have once again prepared diligently this summer to open our schools in the safest way for the new year,” Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools said. “We are excited to open our doors as we did last year to provide an excellent Catholic education in-person, while continuing to share good health. It is humbling to know the result of the efforts of everyone involved in our school communities is that more students will come to experience the transformative nature of a Catholic school.”

At Holy Family Academy in Hazleton, enrollment is up 17-percent this year.

Principal Jason Tribbet believes that is because many people in the community have seen how the Diocese of Scranton Catholic Schools safely managed in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. He also credits school families for sharing the benefits of Catholic education.

“Word of mouth is huge. Our existing families are so supportive of our school and getting the word out to members of their church community, their little league teams and different things that take place in the area and spreading the word about Holy Family in a positive way,” he said.

At Notre Dame Elementary School in East Stroudsburg, enrollment is up 18-percent this year.

Interim principal Sister Dorothy Kibler, I.H.M. says several grades have waiting lists.

“We are getting students who are not of our Catholic faith and we always welcome them,” she said. “We have gotten some new students from as far away as Blakeslee.”

This year, Notre Dame is also pleased to welcome two international students from China. The family recently relocated to the United States because of employment.

“They have blended in very well. We have been so happy to welcome them,” Sister Dorothy added.

This is now the third year that schools have had to face challenges because of the pandemic in some form. Both principals say as the new school year begins, they will not become complacent about health and safety initiatives.

“I sent out a reminder to our staff this week to continue to follow our safety protocols,” Tribbet said. “The COVID numbers continue to keep increasing in our communities so we have to do our part.”

“Our faculty has been very vigilant about the protocols and making sure that the students are socially distant and wearing their masks. We reinforce the fact that it is to keep ourselves healthy and to keep our friends healthy,” Sister Dorothy added.

While very conscious of the virus, the new school year continues to allow for greater flexibility as some things begin to return to normal.

All students of Notre Dame Elementary gathered last week to celebrate Mass together in-person in the high school theater. Last year, because of COVID protocols, only a few grades came together at a time and everyone else watched via livestream.

“That was very positive,” Sister Dorothy said. “Everyone participated and you could hear it in them!”