Recently, I worked with a wonderful school who asked me "what one thing should we focus on as a new school year begins?" I think they anticipated that I'd answer with some recruitment strategies or marketing plans, but that is not the answer I gave.
My answer: Ensure a smooth transition for new families.
It is easy for school staff to lose sight of the tremendous anxiety that may be present for new families. We are excited for them, we know how wonderful our program is, we know that we will take great care of them.
However, it is a big deal to go to a new school! Ideally, new families have a buddy family, met some new friends over the summer, and are already feeling part of your community even though they are technically just starting when opening day begins.
The transition period is also a way to pave the way toward retention by ensuring a fabulous experience for new students and their families. New families are eager to be reminded about how amazing the school is, they want to know the in's and out's of each element of the program, and they want to connect with the community in meaningful ways. Keeping your eye on retention can be helpful in planning new student transition.
You can help smooth the transition by trying to do some of the following - these are just ideas!
In the first month:
- Greet families at drop off and pick up
- Offer a casual coffee get-together for new parents
- Check in pro-actively with teachers
- Depending on the structure at your school, ask the Head of School to host an informal gathering in his or her office after drop-off, or ask the Head to call a couple of new parents to check in.
- Be sure new families are plugged into all electronic communication methods at school.
As the first semester progresses:
- Call each new parent to see how things are going
- Hold a special lunch for new students who are older (perhaps, 3rd grade and up)
- Follow up with buddy families, ask them to check in again with the new family.
When there are school events approaching:
- Send a quick email to new families letting them any cultural details about the event that are not immediately obvious (ie: what to wear, what to bring, if it's ok to be late, if it's kid friendly, etc).
- Ask buddy families to greet new families at the event, or invite them to drive together.
In the second semester:
- Survey new families regarding their experience transitioning and any advice they have to improve the transition.
- As families fill out the survey, you have an easy opening to reach out personally and follow up regarding any concerns they expressed, or just to say thank you!
- Host another gathering for new students to reflect on their experiences transitioning to a new school.
- Thank buddy families for their role in ensuring the smooth transition.
- Host a party for buddy families and new families toward the end of the year.
- Send handwritten notes to new families letting them know how glad you are to have them as part of the community.
- Make a phone call to each new family with an anecdote of something wonderful you observed at school involving their student.
- Check in with teachers regularly regarding new students.
By keeping new families at the top of your priority list throughout their first year, you ensure that they are experiencing the full value of your school. This pays off in dividends year over year. It's worth your effort and time.
Other ideas? I'd love to hear them. Share your additional thoughts in the comments.