In last week’s Marketing Matter, it was stated that this is the year to start a Pre-K program if you don’t have one.  If you do have one, here’s how you get parents to come to experience it.  But I must warn you – doing so effectively may take a significant “mindset shift,” especially in these days of COVID-19!

First, let me ask a question.  When do you think most Catholic elementary school parents are making the decision to enroll their child in a Catholic high school?  8th grade?  No.  7th grade?  Maybe.  6th grade?  We’re getting closer.  Parents are considering high school options when their children are in 5th grade, since the 6th, 7th and 8th grade “middle school” experience forms the classroom bonds which will carry over into high school.

Of course, every now and then, an 8th grader comes home excited about the potential of visiting the Catholic high school because they may not be looking forward to going to a public school for high school, or the Catholic high school offers a unique opportunity for the student that the public school doesn’t.  A visit from the guidance counselor or admissions director at the local Catholic high school might have created a wellspring of enthusiasm in this student, and he would like to check it out with his parents.  How do I know this?  Let’s just say I know a person who did that (think of the “asking for a friend” comment on social media today).

But for the majority of the population, if the child remains in 6th, 7th and 8th grade in the Catholic elementary school or middle school, chances are that Catholic high school is seriously being considered today, and is why admissions or enrollment directors at Catholic high schools need to be speaking to 5th, 6th 7th and 8th graders, and not just the 8th graders and their parents.

So how does this relate to your Pre-K program at your Catholic, Christian, or other faith-based school?  Just do the math.  If parents are thinking 3 to 4 years in advance for high school, when do you think they need to start thinking about Pre-K programs?  That’s right – when their new bundle of joy comes into this world.

Consider a four-step program, where you reach out to new parents when their child is baptized or welcomed to the faith community, and on the 1st, second and third anniversary of this event.  That’s four contacts with the family even before the child is in the school.  In a nutshell, here are the four contact points, and what should be given at those points.  The Catholic experience is highlighted here, but can be modified to coincide with hierarchical roles within your school’s faith tradition:

At Baptism:  A letter to the parents from the Bishop (which is simply a letter on the Bishop’s letterhead, in color, with the official coat of arms of the Bishop), as well as blanket with the school’s logo, or a plush animal that has significance with the school or Diocese.

At First Anniversary of Baptism: A letter to the parents from the Superintendent of Schools, with a magnetic picture frame that says “Future Catholic School Student”

At Second Anniversary of Baptism: A letter to the parents from the Pastor of the parish, with a book of first prayers.

At Third Anniversary of Baptism: An invitation to a special open house event (such as a high tea – make it special.  “Coffee and Donuts” is not special) for the mother and child held at the school so they can visit, experience the Pre-K program, and enroll.

Here’s what’s important to remember if you decide to implement this structure – DO NOT DO ALL FOUR STEPS AT ONCE!  Since your school is probably still coming up with multiple plans for school’s opening, there’s no sense in planning a “high tea” that may be cancelled.  We just cancelled two family events on short notice, and are in the processing an event in November that we’ve held for the past 10 years.  This year, focus on those little ones who are baptized starting this month and track them.  That will be enough work to do, especially that means getting family contact information.  Since privacy issues are of key importance, the churches and parishes that support your school may not be willing to share this contact information, so you’ll need to be vigilant about forming relationships with the churches and parishes, perhaps even presenting that blanket at the baptism ceremony (with distancing and masking requirements, of course).  Then next year, add the first anniversary activities along with the baptism ones.  This is how you grow the system and offer a vision for the future as well, since it has a long-term effect.

These are, after all, “baby steps.”

If you already have a Pre-K program, including those parents in your “regular” parent-teacher meetings and encouraging them to be a part of your school community, and  they’re still not enrolling in your Kindergarten, we’ll look at that next week.

© Michael V. Ziemski/SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original Publication Date: 20100712)