By Lara Unsworth '95, Director of Strategic Enrollment Management and Communications
For more than 115-years, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) has been a proud member of the Calgary and Foothills community — and community is at the centre of all we do. It inspires us, shapes us, and motivates us every single day — especially in the STS enrollment office.
As a proud STS alumna, and mom of a STS student, I understand first-hand that choosing the right school for your children is a big decision, and when you find the right fit, it can be life changing. In Calgary we are so blessed with an abundance of fantastic school choices. That said, I truly believe there is something very special in our school's core that sets us apart, and simply can't be duplicated.
As part of the admissions process, we believe it is very important for families interested in STS to see and feel our campus and community. We want them to see our beautiful country campus and state-of-the-art facilities, and how happy and engaged our students and faculty are. We want them to feel our trailblazing, curious, confident, community-centered spirit, and the sense of calm and optimism flowing through our space.
To give people a taste of STS, we host our annual Open House and monthly information coffee mornings (now available as virtual on-demand sessions to enjoy at your leisure). Also, after new students have enrolled, we host on-campus shadow mornings and new student orientation events, to ensure they feel connected to our community before school begins. We could not imagine being able to create a warm welcome for our new families without these in-person experiences — until now. In March 2020, when all Alberta schools closed to students, employees and visitors because of COVID-19, we had to re-evaluate everything we did in the enrollment office, and pivot — quickly!
When precautions to protect communities from the spread of the pandemic were at their peak, we had many families in the midst of their admissions process, from across the globe, who hadn't yet had tours of the school or met us in person. We also had a large group of newly-enrolled students who were looking forward to welcome events and meeting their future teachers and peers.
We wracked our brains to figure out how we could still give families opportunities to see and feel our campus, and to create a strong sense of community from the get-go, while keeping everyone safe and practicing social distancing.
As part of our new strategy, we used Zoom to host virtual tours for applicant families, hiring a videographer to film all of our key spaces on campus and creating a playlist of videos we could show families as part of the tours. Members of our Enrollment team and a Division Principal also met the family and had conversations, and then took the family on the tour, telling the story of our school as the footage played, giving the chance to ask questions along the way.
We also hosted webinar-style virtual information coffee mornings for families just starting their journey to look at new schools to also have a virtual experience, meet STS representatives, and ask questions. While not as good as being on our amazing campus, moving these experiences online with interactive conversations and personal touches seemed to work well for families.
Once new students were enrolled, we also introduced a few opportunities to ensure our families felt welcomed and well-informed. Our Grade 12 Prefects made a welcome video speaking directly to new students, and our Parents' Organization of STS (POSTS) President, Amy Meyer, created a special video message just for our new parents. Current parents on our New Parent Committee continued their annual tradition of calling every new family to welcome them and answer questions. We also held grade-specific virtual information sessions for families to meet teachers, students, and each other.
One of the most heart-warming initiatives this year was giving new students their welcome gift, their first school tie, in a beautifully wrapped box with a card about the 'ties that bind them to our school's history', and a note from our Head of School. Normally we give this special gift in person as part of Shadow Mornings, but instead, a group of STS employees volunteered to hand-deliver the welcome gift to each new family. They maintained physical distance and held a sign saying 'Welcome to the STS family'. There were so many beautiful moments, we will likely make this a new tradition.
Finally, pending any significant changes with the pandemic, we are starting another new tradition of hosting our new students on our campus for a 'Taste of STS' camp the week before school starts to give them an opportunity to meet each other and try a wide array of activities including arts, design, robotics, outdoor education, athletics, speech, and much more. We are excited to finally welcome our new students to enjoy our campus in person.
Despite a global crisis, I am proud that we were able to adapt our enrollment processes quickly to ensure families interested in joining our school community could still make meaningful connections, see our campus, and have a personalized experience. I am also so happy that we could create powerful moments for our new families to ensure they know without a doubt that they are now an important part of our STS family.
At the end of the day, it is still all about personalization and building community and relationships — and we have learned there are many ways to do that. In retrospect, we are grateful for this opportunity to be creative problem solvers, just as we ask our students to do, as I feel we have made our admissions process — and our community — even stronger.