Like Night and Day: Changing Our Open Houses

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result each time. This is exactly what we were doing with respect to holding open houses for prospective parents. We put an evening date on the calendar and prayed that people would attend after their work day. Until a few years ago, a good number of them did.

We have found, however, that the amount of time and energy spent planning, marketing and cajoling people to attend just does not seem to provide an adequate return on investment, especially when you spend most of the time during the open house itself urging parents to return a second time, during a school day, to see the school “in action.”

Thank goodness, we turned off the open house autopilot button, and experienced an aha moment. Rejecting monotonous open houses, we innovated to meet the needs of today’s prospective families.

We created three new models to excite families to apply to our school. We now offer a daytime open house, where families meet our leadership team and current teachers and students to hear about our school and its philosophy. The most important aspect of the open house is that our parent ambassadors, who have undergone extensive training, lead visitors on a tour of the school, so they can see learning in real time. On these tours, prospective parents witness the true collaborative nature of our learning, and the relationships between students and teachers. We no longer have to invite parents to return to school after an open house.

We continue to host an evening open house every year, but we now really think “outside the box” to plan evenings geared toward the entire family. We provide dinner, and creative, theme-based activities. Recent open houses have revolved around the opening of a new Star Wars movie, Groundhog Day and the ever-popular emojis! The themes are conducive to showcasing the progressive curriculum and innovative spaces our school offers. For example, attendees created brush bots and light sabers in our MakerSpace, and partook in “Yoda Yoga” during the Star Wars open house after enjoying Han(Solo)burgers for dinner. Our Groundhog Day open house showcased shadow theaters created in the MakerSpace, together with math prediction depiction and flashlight games. This year, families planted emoji bowls in our greenhouse, and used Blabberize in our Innovation Hub after creating their own emoji cookies for dessert.

Our parent ambassadors play a key role in our recruitment process, as neighborhood promoters who host parlor meetings in three to four key demographic areas. These informal evenings with current parents, leadership and alumni (and wine and snacks—very important) offer attendees the opportunity to hear about our school, its philosophy and why families love it, in a non-threatening atmosphere. These intimate get-togethers encourage great conversations about our school and education in general. We do not get discouraged if only a few people attend because we realize that those people tell others about the evening, and great buzz is created about our school.

All of these methods require time, creativity, effort and coordination on the part of our staff. But as our enrollment has grown over the last three years, we have found it to be a great and worthwhile investment.

Author
Amy Schlussel
Issue
School Advocacy
Knowledge Topics
Recruitment and Retention