Higher enrollment figures continue to boost NCCS

Submitted photo Northern Chautauqua Catholic School opens this week.

The beginning of school is right around the corner for not only Western New York public schools, but private schools as well will welcome their students back in the coming days. Northern Chautauqua Catholic School is no exception to that, as their students begin school this week.

NCCS hosts kids from pre-K through eighth grade in a Christian centered community and welcomes students from all over to attend their school. Being a private school though does not exempt NCCS students from the statewide mask mandate put in effect, despite push back from local politicians and lack of clarity within imposed regulations.

“The biggest thing is that when they say masks have to be worn at all times, that’s not always practical or manageable,” said NCCS Principal Andrew Ludwig.

Ludwig said that NCCS will be following the protocols and running the school similar to how NCCS operated last year, which includes being favorable to students. Masks will be worn indoors, though the students will be able to get mask breaks throughout the day and masks do not have to be worn while eating.

“We finished last school year as generous with this policy as we had been all year,” Ludwig said. “We’re under a mask mandate just like last year and we will take mask breaks and whatever else we can to be safe and comfortable.”

Part of Ludwig’s frustration with the mandates is the county’s ability to test for the Delta variant of COVID-19 and what the scientific transmission threshold is for the mask mandate.

“No one wants to say the percentage for what it includes,” Ludwig said. “Is it 5 percent? Two percent? And the other difficult thing is that Christine Schuyler said they can’t test for the variant in Chautauqua County because they don’t have the technology, so they don’t know how many cases are from the variant. The website also doesn’t say how many kids under 12 years old have COVID or are hospitalized.”

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment at NCCS, beginning last year, has peaked to the highest numbers they’ve had since Ludwig took over as principal. The school finished last year with 182 students and early calculations of numbers this year has the school at 184.

Ludwig said there was some turnover with students, but for all those students who left, they were able to replace most of them.

“We had a handful of kids go back to public schools but we found other kids to bring in,” Ludwig said. “We had a great school year last year, and with God’s help we had no COVID transmission at NCCS. We did it last year, we can do it again this year.”

When Ludwig first started, NCCS had 96 kids enrolled and right as the pandemic started, the school was at 115 enrolled kids. Ludwig thinks that it is because of the pandemic that NCCS saw a rapid increase in their enrollment numbers.

“The big thing for parents was wanting kids in school every day,” Ludwig said. “Public schools weren’t able to do that but we were. Now that public schools are open every day, we knew we were going to lose some kids. But COVID may have sent some families here, but the quality of education and the love and care they received kept them.”

The enrollment numbers in most grade levels at NCCS are completely filled up, with only seventh and eighth grade really having any availability. That is attributed to Ludwig’s ongoing battle with Section VI to allow his NCCS kids to play sports not offered at NCCS with the public schools, but no progress has been made in his favor there yet. In spite of that, the attendance for all the other grade levels remains strong for a number of reasons.

“We also had a number of families who had such a good experience that they’re staying, as well as some who didn’t have a good public-school experience and came here,” Ludwig said. “We were able to replace every kid that left with another kid.”

In order to further improve the experience for kids at NCCS, the school is also working on renovations to the building and playground facilities. Though the playground will not be ready for student use when the school opens on Sept. 8, there are other options the school has for outdoor activities, such as the courtyards around the school and city park a couple blocks from the school. The improvements to the school go beyond just the playground.

“We’re working on the building to get it ready,” Ludwig said. “We’re upgrading the playground, painting classrooms, and we’re having some AC units installed so kids are more comfortable if they have to wear masks. We’re excited to start a new school year.”

When the NCCS school year begins Wednesday, Ludwig iterated again that while the school will do it’s best to be safe, it also is putting a primary focus on comfort for the kids.

“We’ll be as flexible and as caring for the kids as we can, we’ll abide by the mandate in a way that is generous to our kids,” Ludwig said.


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