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 Nationwide, enrollment in Catholic elementary schools and high schools is down 1.7 percent from last year. The enrollment decline in the Catholic schools of the diocese was less than 1 percent.

 “We feel like we’re holding,” said Patricia Vesely, Superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, of the enrollment numbers. “The comment we hear the most often is that parents are bringing their children because they want them to attend a school of their faith.”

 St. Margaret Mary School in Chino reported an increase of 21 students and St. James School in Perris, which had struggled with enrollment in recent   

  years, reported an increase of 14 students in the Oct. 26 report and Principal Camile Lara says the school has since added seven more students.

 Lara says she has worked to promote St. James at area preschools with the local business community and at surrounding parishes that do not have a parish school. School parents, themselves, may be the best marketers of the school, she says.

 “I think parents are telling people in their neighborhood about where their kids go to school,” she says. “The vibe is good. Everyone has a positive outlook – parents, teachers and students.”

 Xavier High School saw a 42-student jump in enrollment this year, by far the biggest of any school in the diocese. Principal Chris Alling said he thinks the seven-year-old school is building a reputation for preparing and sending students to top notch universities. He also counts on school parents to be key ambassadors for Xavier Prep, he says.

 “I think our families are spreading the good word that Xavier is helping kids discern the best use of their gifts and talents and then is challenging them to put those gifts to good work,” said Alling.

 At the diocesan level special committees for strategic planning and for marketing have been formed to address the long-term trend of declining enrollment. The diocese is also participating in the Catholic Advantage Program, a national effort to double the number of Hispanics attending Catholic schools. With recent Census data showing substantial growth of the Hispanic population in the diocese, this program is hoped to aide efforts to boost overall enrollment in Catholic schools over the long-term.

 At the same time, Catholic school principals and teachers are encouraged to maximize communication and local community relationships to attract new students.

 “It’s old fashioned hard work,” said Lara, who came to St. James three years ago. “Basically getting the word out.”