You’ve done the hard work of marketing your school, telling your story, and you’ve attracted a fantastic group of new families to join your school community. Congratulations!
Now the work of helping these families know they made the right decision and filling them with confidence and excitement about the years to come begins and one of your first best chances is at your New Parent Orientation Meetings. Remember that your retention efforts need to begin as soon as the student/parent signs their enrollment paperwork.
Here are some tips for making your new parent orientation night a success.
Having their child start a new school can be a time of high stress for parents. They are trusting you with their child and want to feel confident that they made the right choice. You can build this confidence from the beginning by making them feel welcome.
Start with bright, visible welcome signage. There’s nothing more unsettling than pulling into a school parking lot and not being sure where to go. A nice extra touch, depending on the size and layout of your parking situation, is to have parents from your parent ambassador program or school board/school commission members out in the lot greeting people and helping them get where they need to be.
As the school leader, you should be at the door to welcome everyone with a warm smile and personal greeting letting them know they are in the right place and you’re glad to see them. And to the extent possible, being able to greet them by name can make them feel like you and the school really care about them.
Inside the school, a welcome board with the name of each family clearly visible not only shows them that they are part of a larger community of new families, but also that they are valued. It also gives them a place to stop and maybe chat with other new parents.
Nuts and Bolts
Parents who are new to your school come with a lot of questions. Many of these questions are so basic and fundamental to the way your school works it’s easy to forget that new people don’t know them already.
Your New Parent Orientation should be filled with the answers to these questions. It’s much more important that parents leave understanding the basics of how the school day works than knowing your philosophy of education. This is important, but you will cover this during curriculum night.
Provide this information but try to avoid sending them home with a stack of papers that will get crumpled in the back seat, forgotten in a drawer, or immediately recycled.
Here are some of the questions you’re going to want to answer:
- Start and end times for the school day.
- Pick up and drop off procedures / How to manage the parking lot.
- How to call in sick.
- Is there a dress code?
- Your policy on bullying and how the school addresses it.
- What’s the name of the school secretary/receptionist?
- How you handle a student’s medication needs.
- How to reach their child’s teacher and where contact information can be found
- Where and when will grades be posted?
- Anything they need to log in to and how to do that.
- Where they can find the school calendar and when the big breaks are.
- How to sign up for before/after care programs.
- Information about afterschool enrichment programs.
- Sports! What sports. What grades. How much? When the seasons start.
- Where to find necessary forms.
- What about snacks? Lunch? Food allergies?
There are probably more, and some that are particular to your school, but it’s these practical things that will make parents feel more relaxed as the school year approaches. It is also advisable that you place all this information in a section of your website under a “New Parents Guide”. Chances are that a lot of “old parents” will reference this information as well!
New Parent Orientation is the beginning of your constant stream of two-way conversation with your parents. Give them some time to ask questions during the event, but more importantly, let them know who to ask when they have questions going forward and show them how to ask.
Introduce them to their main point of contact in the office for each thing they’re likely to need. Names and smiling faces will create the personal connection you want parents to have with everyone who works in the school.
Show them the website, where basic information lives, and how to find it.
No matter how many questions you answer tonight, some parents are going to discover they have more that went unanswered. They may not come up with these for hours, days, or weeks, but they will have questions. Empower them with the ability to get those questions answered when that time comes.
Depending on the size and makeup of your incoming students, it might be a good idea to hold two different events: one for parents of new students and one for parents of transfer students. These two groups will likely have different grade level students and different grade level questions. If your group of transfer students is large enough or concentrated at a certain grade level (e.g. influx of new students at the 6th grade for your excellent Jr. High program) providing them with a slightly different, targeted program can be very helpful.
A situation that arises from time to time that might require special sensitivity or a different approach and can directly impact your new student enrollment is the closing of another school. In the event that you are seeing a large number of transfers from a school that is closing, keep in mind that those students and parents are even more nervous and emotional than other transfers.
School closings create a great sense of loss for the students and families. They have been displaced and lost an important community, a home. They can also be nervous about it happening again here. Take this and every opportunity to make them feel safe and welcome. Let them know you understand their situation and are there to answer any questions they have. They likely will require more hand-holding and reassuring than other parents.
Your New Parent Orientation is the start of the new year, a chance to capture the excitement and energy of a new group of school families. The energy and enthusiasm you bring to this event can spark the same in them and help carry you through the start of the year.