Riverside’s increasing enrollment after online school affects resources and learning

By: Kendy Ortiz

Students take notes in Victoria Watson’s honors English II class in October 2021. Photo courtesy of The Pirates’ Hook

Last year, there were 1731 students at Riverside. This year, that number has increased by 209 students.

There are several factors that influence enrollment. There are currently 20 middle schools in Durham. Carrington and Brogden students make up the majority of Riverside’s freshman class, but there are students from more than ten different middle schools enrolled this year. Last year, there were a total of 665 freshmen, 406 sophomores, 361 juniors, and 296 seniors. 

COVID-19 has also played a role in the increased enrollment. As soon as the pandemic came, the number of students attending school declined. Before COVID, there were 1709 students at Riverside, and when the school transitioned to online learning that number decreased to 1643. Students who wanted to do only online learning could register for online classes. Students who still wanted to stay in their school had no option but to come back to in-person classes, due to their schools not offering an option for online learning. This caused the enrollment to increase. 

Riverside’s enrollment followed the national trend for both high schools and colleges. According to  the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “undergraduate enrollment declined 3.5 percent this fall, a total two-year decline of 7.8 percent since 2019.” Some Riverside students chose to enroll at IGNITE, the district’s online-only option, while others transferred to schools that offered in-person options, or moved out of the district. 

Durham’s population has also grown. According to the world population review, 429,000 people live in Durham. This number has grown 1.2% from 2021 and Durham’s growth since 2020 is 3.9%. 

Riverside counselor Kira Hague believes the reason Riverside enrollment has increased is because students no longer have an option to do online school.  As the pandemic came, many students enrolled in online learning, which led to the enrollment increase as soon as they no longer had an option for online learning. Many students stayed for online learning because Riverside didn’t offer an option for online learning. Students who wanted to stay in Riverside had no choice but come in person. According to CNBC, there was a “15-fold increase in the number of new learners registering on edX during the month of April 2020.” 

“I think people are getting used to getting back in person this year,” Hague said. “We don’t have many options of coming back online, so people don’t have any other options, but coming back since the pandemic is slowly going back to normal.”

This reality of more students, presents several challenges. Increased enrollment means more traffic in the hallways, which may make arriving to class on time difficult for students who have classes on opposite sides of the building. 

“I noticed that the amount of students has increased more than the amount of teachers, which may cause problems.”

Carmen Chung, sophomore  

Another impact of increased enrollment is the resources available to schools. Riverside will need more chairs, desks, books and even food. And, while school funding is directly tied to enrollment, it can complicate finances. According to NEA’s 2022 Rankings and Estimate report, “the national average for per pupil expenditures for 2021-22 Fall enrollment was $15,047. North Carolina’s expenditures per pupil were $11,651.” 

One of the biggest problems is not having enough teachers for students. Many schools, including Riverside, have a problem with teacher shortages. 

“When there are more students, it affects hiring,” Hague said. “If there are more kids that means we will need more teachers.”

As of October 26, Riverside is looking to hire 18 additional teachers. Teacher shortages have a direct impact on students’ education and their level of success in the class. If a position remains unfilled, short and long-term subs fill in. Some classes switch to online instruction, such as Riverside’s astronomy class. 

Some classes are also larger than in previous years. 

“I noticed that the amount of students has increased more than the amount of teachers, which may cause problems,” sophomore Carmen Chung said. 

Having a large classroom does not only cause disruption, but it also directly interferes with students’ learning. According to chicagoacademic.com, studies show that students who attend school in smaller classes achieve a greater level of learning. 

“The Student-teacher ratio has been found to be one of the strongest indicators of students’ success and engagement,” writes The Hun School, a private school for middle and high school students affiliated with Princeton University, on its website. “They’re also able to develop healthy one-on-one mentoring relationships and offer insight and help in ways that would be impossible in a larger classroom.”

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