COVID-19 has made 2020 a year few will forget. School administrators will remember the sudden shifts needed as the virus spread in March. Leaders and faculty worked together to deliver education virtually so that learning could continue. Later in the spring, plans unfolded for how to finish the school year–how to share final projects, celebrate seniors, and perform graduations.
As the spread of the virus continued this summer, countless hours were spent listening to state and local government officials, healthcare professionals, and other constituencies to develop scenarios for starting a new school year. Additional time was spent developing safety protocols to protect students, faculty, staff, and administration.
As a consultant and proponent of Christian education, I have heard many accounts of how successful the start of the school year has been. Whereas COVID has had a negative impact on some Christian schools, other Christian schools have seen enrollment grow partly because of the limits that have been placed on local public schools. The ability for Christian schools to adapt and pivot to meet the needs of families has provided a new opportunity to demonstrate quality and value unlike almost any other time. Families who have historically chosen public schools or other options are now investigating Christian schools because of their desire for children to learn face to face.
Now is an incredible opportunity for schools to solidify and grow their reputation with area influencers, parents, and churches. Schools and administrators must seek to maximize this opportunity to connect with new families and develop lasting relationships that will go long beyond this pandemic. Therefore, it is critical to create and execute plans for helping new families transition into the community.
What elements should be part of such a plan? One recommendation is to follow up with all new families to investigate how their transition has been into the new environment. Once new students are fully enrolled and starting classes, this communication to parents or guardians can be initiated by the Head of School, Principal, or the Admissions Office. How has their son/daughter/family adjusted to the new school? Are the students making friends? Are there questions or challenges that should be addressed? This outreach will deepen the relationship between the new family and school leadership. The information gleaned is also valuable as it gives insight on how to better serve and welcome other new families in the future.
Another recommendation would be to have a faculty member reach out to the new family—to introduce themselves and invite the newcomers into a relationship that may be quite different than what they experienced in their previous school. With back-to-school nights mostly being cancelled or done virtually, faculty have had few opportunities for face-to-face meetings with the new families. A contact from a faculty member is an opportunity to demonstrate a level of care that is unique.
One last recommendation would be to have class parents follow up with new families to make sure they are not falling through the cracks. While it may be difficult to have gatherings at schools, it may be possible in some areas to share a cup of coffee or even meet virtually. These conversations with other parents can help a new parent get acclimated and feel safe sharing concerns or asking questions. As the newness and excitement of the school year starts to wear off, now is the time to establish and deepen relationships. What we do now may have a lasting impact on these families and their children’s education.