GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It's a trend Catholic schools in the Green Bay area are proud of and celebrating. Student enrollment continues to climb.
At St. Bernard Catholic School Thursday, students and staff held a celebration.
For the first time in the school's history, student enrollment is above 500, at 505.
"It's not a story you hear very often in the nation right now with Catholic schools, and so to be able to turn around this decline and with really no goal of 500 necessarily, but we really just wanted to stop going the opposite direction," says Crystal Blahnik, St. Bernard principal.
Overall, the nine schools in the Green Bay Area Catholic Education school system, or GRACE, have seen enrollment increase for the past three years.
St. Bernard enrollment is up 24 percent, and school leaders credit part of that to an outreach to the local Hispanic community. Fifty percent of the student body is Hispanic.
"We're really proud of that. We're helping to nurture diversity in a number of ways -- hiring staff members that look and understand the children in greater ways, in connected-ness to the children and families as well," says GRACE President Kim Desotell.
"Now when you walk through our school building you can really see that the kiddos in our building fully represent the neighborhood that we sit in, and that is how we are going to be viable," adds Blahnik.
The enrollment increase goes beyond Green Bay.
There are 54 schools within the Diocese of Green Bay encompassing 9,300 students.
Over the last two years, the number of students has increased 3.5 percent, the first enrollment growth in two decades.
"Reasons that I hear are we provide a solid foundation for faith and values, we provide a very close-knit family atmosphere, and really, at the end of the day, we provide a high quality education," says Todd Blahnik, Diocese of Green Bay Superintendent of Catholic Schools.