One of the most common areas of enrollment marketing and retention strategy is to focus on the ever-important transition years. As you look to retain students, keeping them on through the transition years is an important strategy to have in place.
TIPS ON TRANSITION YEAR MARKETING:
PRESCHOOL to KINDERGARTEN
- REALITY: Parents will often take advantage of tax deductions for preschools, so private schools are viable options. However, as parents face Kindergarten, many assume that they will move back to a free public school option.
- RETENTION STRATEGY: Your Kindergarten teachers are the key to a preschool mom keeping her babies at your school. Every mom and dad is concerned about who will take care of their babies once they hit the Kinder age. Make sure your Kindergarten teachers are front-and-center at preschool pickup. Have your Kindergarten teachers provide videos about issues related to reading readiness, behavioral/parenting tips, and general discussion of the things that make a positive Kinder experience (mom will love your brief videos on their smart phones). Have fun, too, so create some parodies, some humorous routines on parenting strong-willed boys, and make them laugh and cry!
KINDERGARTEN to ELEMENTARY
- REALITY: In many suburban areas, the challenge for private elementary schools is that the nearby public elementary schools are really pretty good. Pastors are reluctant to promote a Christian elementary school because his pews are filled with good-hearted public school teachers. Because there are so many loving men and women who pour out their passion on teaching young kids, public elementary schools in your neighborhood are hard to beat on price (free!) Parents are definitely more involved at the lower school ages, too, so moms and dads are heavily invested in their school.
- RETENTION STRATEGY: Differentiation is critical at this stage. When you are competing against FREE public schools, you have to do the hard work of identifying the key elements that make you unique compared to the free options, like public or charter schools. Also, focus as well on what makes you stand out from your private school competitors. If you are not absolutely clear on your uniqueness, create something! Especially parents who have not experienced the public school option may assume that the choices between schools is really only based on price . . . and that is a lousy place to compete. Educate them on why staying from Kindergarten on into Elementary would be a better choice than going anywhere else!
ELEMENTARY to MIDDLE SCHOOL
- REALITY: These are some of the most difficult transition years. First, on a positive note, you may be able to pick up some new students who find their public middle school (or homeschool middle school) unacceptable or unrealistic. They may be receptive to a new option where the class size would be smaller which often provides more accountability and a safer place for kids. Parents and students alike find this attractive. If it didn’t make you seem desperate, I would encourage you to stand out front of the nearby middle school on opening day with a sign that reads, “If you are sitting in the car right until the bell rings because this place scares you, then stop by for a tour of our school where kids and parents feel safe and secure!” 🙂 The other reality, is that this is a year where you may lose some of your bright elementary kids because of finances or access. First, money is an important factor. Some parents will begin to think about college or even the current cost of living with multiple kids. Secondly, some moms and dads idealize the other private school or public school with better technologies, nicer facilities, and a whole lot more potential friends for their kids.
- RETENTION STRATEGY: The teachers are key in this transition. Blow out of the water the notion that middle school teachers are heartless compared to elementary schoolteachers. Showcase regularly your middle school math teacher, the volleyball coach and the middle school principal to the parents and students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. Do not wait until the latter year to rely on a “field trip” to the Middle School building to secure the deal. Secure the transition by having your students and parents fall in love with the personnel who will continue to care for their kids during the awkward preteen years. Talk about how you will help them academically, emotionally, physically and spiritually (if appropriate) in ways that a government-funded institution cannot. 6th and 7th graders should regularly mentor and befriend students in 4th and 5th grade so that students will have Middle School peers to look up to and to follow guide them through the transition. Have your Middle School boys basketball coach volunteer to lead dodge ball once a month for all 5th graders so they develop a special relationship with him. Your MS choir teacher can be the judge for the fun solo competition in 4th and 5th grade choir – have the MS teacher offer loving tips on improving vocal performance. It is all about getting the personnel into the line of sight and into the heart of students and their parents as far back as 3rd and 4th grade, not to mention 5th.
MIDDLE SCHOOL to HIGH SCHOOL
- REALITY: Some parents may pull out at 9th grade because they begin to calculate the cost of college. As well, some families begin to think about what “college preparatory” is really all about and think they want a more “real world” experience to prepare their child for post-secondary life.
- RETENTION STRATEGY: Information is important at this point, but even more so is inspiration! You will need to provide testimonies of parents who have stayed through high school and brag on the holistic preparation their child receives. You should easily be able to produce graphics and infographics that showcase the amount of merit-based scholarships your seniors have received over the past 5 years. Have alumni speak video and audio testimonies about how your school prepared them for college, both academically and in the other “real world” areas of life. Offer unique education for seniors about managing personal finances, time management, and how to discover their gifts and passions for their lives. This added value for seniors and their families will be invaluable and will make you stand out with parents when they even begin to explore other options.
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