Monomoy Doesn't See Enrollment Spike; District Population Actually Drops 5 Percent

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Monomoy Regional School District , COVID-19

Teacher Julia Messersmith works with homeschoolers Rosie Wittenstein, Nolan Wittenstein, Stanley Swain, Siena Young, and Ada Young. The three families opted for home schooling for both safety reasons and after learning that remote learning wasn't a good fit. COURTESY PHOTO 

Nearly two dozen students who are living in summer homes or staying with grandparents are attending classes in the Monomoy Regional School District this fall.

But that increase in new students is more than offset by declines in enrollment, including the loss of 55 students whose families opted for home schooling rather than attending classes in-person or remotely. The district's total enrollment this fall dropped by more than 5 percent to 1,790, a loss of 102 students.

The years-long trend in declining enrollment in the elementary grades, particularly in Chatham, is partially responsible for the lower numbers, said Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter. This year's kindergarten class at Chatham Elementary School, for instance, was originally forecast to include 11 Chatham residents, but only nine are currently enrolled. Four students from Harwich and three school choice students make up the rest of the single 16-member kindergarten class.

Carpenter released the numbers after hearing rumors all summer long of a “spike” in enrollment from second homeowners staying on in the fall rather than heading back to their year-round homes. While some of that has happened – there are 20 students enrolled in the district who are living in seasonal homes or with grandparents – concerns that the system would be overwhelmed were unfounded.

“The opposite is actually happening,” Carpenter said, noting the declining numbers. There's no doubt that many second homeowners are opting to stay on longer into the fall than in the past, but school-age children in those families may be attending their home districts remotely.

“I am certain there are families like those 20 living in summer homes and doing distance learning somewhere else,” Carpenter said. About a quarter of Monomoy students choose remote learning over attending classes in-person.

Families who opted to home school their children account for the large single drop in the enrollment numbers. In the past there have been a handful of students system-wide who were homeschooled, Carpenter said. “This is a significant increase,” he said. Most have indicated they preferred home schooling over both remote and in-person learning either due to concerns about the pandemic or because they were not happy with remote learning.

“The question is, post pandemic, will we see those families come back?” Carpenter said.

Home School Decision

Harwich resident Courtney Wittenstein initially planned to have her 7-year-old son Nolan learn remotely, not wanting to chance exposure to the virus because he has asthma and she wanted him to be able to continue to see his grandparents. Within a few days it was clear remote learning wasn't a good fit for Nolan. Getting together with two other families with whom they'd formed a social “bubble,” they requested a specific teacher for the group, which also included Wittenstein's 4-year-old daughter, and a hired a friend to help with the lessons. Still, the fit was wrong, she said.

The three families ended up unenrolling their children and submitting an education plan to home school them, with the help of the part-time teacher.

“All of us have jobs and even though this is a big financial undertaking, I wanted to do what's best for our kids, and that is to be kids,” Wittenstein said. “Sitting in front of the computer for six hours isn't even something I can do.”

The families have had “wonderful experiences” with the Monomoy system. “I can’t imagine the pressure schools and teachers have right now and I truly appreciate all they’re doing for safety measures,” she said. “When it feels right, our kids will be back.”

Some of the families of the 20 students living in summer homes or with grandparents were from more densely populated areas off Cape or indicated that Monomoy's learning options are better than what their home districts are offering, Carpenter said. There is one student who is living with family out of state but attending Monomoy High School remotely because it was more convenient for the family, he said. Most of those new students are in the middle and high school, he added, with three attending Chatham Elementary School.

Five students from within the district who previously attended the Nauset High Schools through school choice also opted to return to Monomoy where, unlike Nauset, classes are being conducted in-person at least part of the time, Carpenter said.

There has been no need to add or eliminate staff due to the change in numbers, Carpenter said, but some have been shifted around to accommodate grades with larger population, including the eighth grade, which, with 182 students, is the largest grade in the system. Because of that, there is a waiting list for eighth grade students to attend class in-person, he said. He added that he was waiting to see if that changes after an eighth grade student recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Impact Of Real Estate Market

While real estate sales records on the Cape broke records this summer, most properties continued to be snatched up by second homeowners, according to local realtors. Some are buying to have “another option” in case of a pandemic resurgence, said Tony Guthrie of Robert Paul Properties, and few indicate plans to change their residency or enrollment their kids in local schools.

“I think there's still a lot of kids on Cape from other areas, going to school remotely at the schools they're enrolled in,” he said.

In August Chatham saw a 150 percent increase in pending sales over 2019, and for the year to date sales are up 62 percent, according to the Cape Cod and Islands Association of Realtors. The median sale price is also up 61 percent to $1,040,000. Orleans saw a 314 percent increase in August sales over the same month last year, with a year-to-date sales increase of 76 percent. Harwich saw a more modest increase in August of 13 percent, with year-to-date sales up 2.5 percent.

Both buyers and renters are thinking of Chatham “beyond July and August,” said Chris Rhinesmith of Pine Acres Realty, who said the company is seeing more multi-month rentals in the fall than usual. There was also a huge boom in multi-month rentals in from April to June, especially after schools closed or went to remote learning, “something we've never seen before.”

“There's a shift in the way people want to live,” said Guthrie. “I don't think people are going to flock back into the cities anytime soon.”

Both see the market continuing to be strong into the fall.

If second homeowners, especially those with young families, opted to stay year-round because of the ability to work remotely, that would be a “silver lining” to the continued drop in enrollment, Carpenter said. He especially worries about Chatham Elementary School's continued decline in kindergarten and pre-school, which has only five students this fall.

“Chatham Elementary School is the one place where we're not seeing any sort of bump,” he said, adding that as the housing market tightens, “families that I think were priced out of Chatham are probably even more priced out now.”

The enrollment situation is likely to remain “fluid” this fall and winter, Carpenter said.

“I think all year there's going to be a little ebb and flow,” he said.