The Holy Cross Academy (HCA) is seeing enrollment in its 10 preschool and elementary schools across Stark County stabilize.

The Holy Cross Academy (HCA) is seeing enrollment in its 10 preschool and elementary schools across Stark County stabilize. Registration in Catholic schools across the U.S. has seen a steady decrease since 2001 so much so that 133 schools have closed across the country.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6.3 million students were enrolled in private schools throughout the United States for the 2001-2002 school year. By 2011-2012, that number had dropped to 5.3 million.

In Stark County, Catholic preschool and elementary schools faced a similar problem. They saw a steady decline in enrollment for 17 years. Kristie Cramer, director of marketing and enrollment for Holy Cross, said things are changing. The 2014-2015 data shows that trend has been stopped.

“Our attrition rate of 135 student on average per year went on for almost two decades,” Cramer said. “This year, our data is showing we haven't had any decline in enrollment and one of our schools has seen an increase. We can attribute the change to a number of factors.”

A new marketing campaign, community outreach, new and expanded programming and remodeling projects at several of the schools are just a few of the reasons the trend has been stopped.  HCA President Jackie Zufall said the school system is leaving the past behind and is looking to the future.

“We've added a new drama program which became instantly popular,” Zufall said. “We're especially excited about offering a speech and debate program. Speech and debate is never offered at the elementary grade level. We're offering band starting in the fourth grade and the school system hired a band director to work with students in all of the schools.”

The new drama club is available to students in the kindergarten through eighth grades at nine out of the 10 schools. Students work on productions and learn about theater once a week over seven weeks. In its first year, 145 students are participating.

St. Michael's School completed a major building renovation with a new entrance and administrative offices. St. Paul's School received a grant to build a butterfly garden on its campus. St. Barbara's is completing a remodel project putting in new windows and adding a technology center and new library. St. Peter's School added a new garden to its courtyard. Sts. Philip & James School dedicated the Nancy Judge Arts Building and Sandra Folland Computer Center in early October.

Adding arts programming and the dedication of the parents are also helping to contribute to the success.

“While many school districts are eliminating or reducing their arts programming, we are building the arts at HCA,” Zufall said. “Plus many of our parents recognize the importance of our faith component, education excellence and our discipline elements.”

Students also learn to develop strong character traits.

“We teach our students respect, responsibility and accountability and they learn with a consistent message in the classrooms, from the principals and from the priests during mass,” said Claire Gatti, principal at St. Michael's School. “We see our students exercise what they've learned in a number of ways throughout the school day. One way is the older students take responsibility to help the younger students find their bus and help them with other things throughout the day. There's also a strong sense of family in all of our schools. Our parents go above and beyond to help out our schools.”

HCA is in the process of forming an alumni association for those who have graduated from one of the elementary schools. Many of the graduates have expressed a strong interest in participating.

“So many of our alumni talk about how they treasure the time they spent in one of our elementary schools and how the feeling of being a part has stayed with them,” Zufall said. “Being a part of Catholic education has an essence about it, it's a feeling much like that of getting a big hug.”

There are 21 Catholic parishes in Stark County. Ten of those parishes have schools. All ten of those schools are represented by the Academy. Zufall said each of the 10 campuses represented by the Holy Cross Academy continues to have its own uniqueness and personality. Each school is representative of the associated parish.