School leaders spend a lot of time trying to attract new families to join their school communities. However, once a family is enrolled there is a tendency to shift the focus of these relationships, focusing exclusively on teaching the child(ren) that has just become a new student.
This new focus, while understandable and incredibly important, often leaves you missing out on another important aspect of your relationship with your new parents: Retention.
Retention, the effort to keep current families engaged and enrolled in your school for years to come, starts as soon as a new family joins your school and continues throughout their time in your school. One of the best things you can do to begin the retention process (and keep it going) is to pair new families with a Buddy Family.
A Buddy Family is a current family with a child in the same grade as the new family who can act as a resource for the new family as they get settled in your school. Starting at a new school can be scary for students but also for parents. New parents are often nervous about leaving their child in a new place, with new people, and even the most comfortable parents will find themselves with questions.
Having a Buddy Family as a point of contact, even before school starts, gives your new families someone to ask or to turn to when they are seeking advice.
A Buddy Family program has several other benefits as well:
One familiar face can be enough
New schools and new environments can be overwhelming for both students and parents. Even in the warmest and most inviting of schools, with the friendliest students and most attentive faculty and front office staff, new families can find themselves stressed, unsure, and uncomfortable simply because they are in a new place. One familiar face can be enough to ease that tension.
Imagine a preschool parent, dropping her three-year-old off for the first time. The building is strange. There’s a ton of activity. Everyone else seems to know where they are going and what they are supposed to be doing. Everyone except them. And then they see their Buddy Family, smiling and waving them over to join the other parents and students. Instead of being alone in a strange place, your new family is now part of the group.
This kind of personal welcome can go a long way to making those first few days more welcoming and less stressful. Beyond that, it helps to form bonds and friendships between your parents. This not only roots the families within the school community but makes it more likely that they will become active participants. They are more likely to volunteer and attend fundraisers if they are doing these activities alongside their friends.
A source of answers from someone who has lived it
Even in the best schools where the office staff is awesome and well-informed, the new-parent handbook is detailed, comprehensive and easy to understand, the website is well organized and filled with easily found, up-to-date, information, your new family will still have questions.
They’re new and everything they do is the first time they’re doing it. A Buddy Family gives each new family someone they can call, email, or text with even the smallest question. What time is dismissal today? Which door is drop off? What type of treats can we send for birthdays?
And the Buddy Family has the added benefit of having lived the experience of being a new family in your school. They know what it’s like and they can not only answer these questions but make the new family not feel so bad for not knowing. There’s a comfort in finding out that you’re not the first one to ever have this experience, and your Buddy Families provide just that.
This is how things really work
You have well-designed policies and procedures, developed after much thought and consideration, that make your school work each day for parents, students, and teachers alike, except every school, works just a little bit differently than those policies and procedures. And your Buddy Family knows how things really work.
They know the best time to arrive for pick up to avoid the crunch in the carpool line. They know which after-school programs need to be signed up for immediately because they fill up fast. They know the best place to get school supplies and when to order them, so they arrive on time.
None of these things are likely to show up in your handbook or be addressed at back to school night, but these little things, or other similar things, are the on-the-ground reality in every school and having a Buddy Family to give new families the inside scoop on the way things really work not only helps new families know what’s going on, but it helps them fit in and feel connected from the very beginning.
You no longer must be the point of contact
Buddy Families don’t just help your new parents, they also provide a tremendous service to you, your faculty, and your staff. With every new family having their own, personal, point of contact you no longer must act as the gatekeeper of all knowledge and information. You have a lot to do already. Taking these small questions out of your inbox and off your desk allows you to focus on the business of running the school, working with your teachers, and getting out in the parking lot to greet everyone at the beginning and end of each day. You are much more valuable in those roles than in being the on-call “answerman or woman” for your school.
In addition, and I know this might be shocking, but some parents don’t read the handbook that closely. Some parents might not want to admit that to you but would have no problem telling a friend that they didn’t read it.
Buddy Families save you work and save your new families this small embarrassment.
Buddy families get to give back
Creating the connectedness that results in higher family retention isn’t just crucial for keeping new families engaged and part of your community; It is just as important for existing families. A Buddy Family program provides your existing families the chance to be involved, stay connected, and give back.
The more active all your families are in the day to day life of the school, the less likely they are to leave. On top of that, your school is a more vibrant and active place when the parent community from year one through graduation is a part of the success of the school.
A Buddy Family program is a great way to build connections from day one and keep them strong year after year.