Jasper Hoogendam, principal of Immanuel Christian School (ICS) in Oshawa, attributes his school’s rise in enrollment to God’s humour. As it stands, 52 new students will be entering Immanuel Christian School this year, raising the number of attending students to 110.
“We politely prayed and asked God for more students and out of his sense of humour He has said, you say you are ready for more? Well let me just flood the building,” says Hoogendam.
It was a divine response that the ICS community happily embraced.
Over the summer, the status of many “likely to enroll” families changed to a, “now enrolled” status, sometimes over the course of just two or three days. Hoogendam recalls a conversation he had with a teacher about her class, which started out with 18 students at the beginning of the week, and increased to a class of 21 students two days later. Then, he remembers telling the teacher not be surprised if that number grew to 23 students by Friday. Sure enough, his prediction was right.
To address this year’s rapid rise in enrollment, ICS staff had to implement some important changes very quickly. That meant assigning teachers to different classes and expanding a teaching position that they were hiring for. The adjustments caused some stress, but there was reason to stay positive during the unpredictable weeks leading up to September.
“The undertone was ‘Wow, these are good problems to deal with,’ says Hoogendam.
Although he doesn’t connect this year’s enrollment boost to one specific initiative, he does suspect that a more active presence on social media helped increased the school’s profile. For the last year and a half, photos, updates and announcements appeared on the school’s Facebook page two or three times a week. Images of ICS piano recitals, baseball tournaments and track and field days provide visitors to the page with a clear sense of the school’s lively and welcoming community.
Beyond social media, Hoogendam believes that more and more parents are catching on to the school’s commitment to expanding their services, particularly in the area of serving students with disabilities. He says that word of mouth, combined with a staff eager to meet the diverse needs of families, has helped to create a positive buzz.
Asked what advice he would give to schools struggling with enrollment, Hoogendam’s answer is simple: “Cue into the needs of the inquiring parent. Find out what they are looking for and let them know what needs you can meet.”
Once parents step into the building, it’s not simply about winning a numbers game.
“It’s not, oh yeah it would be great if you could come here, it would help our numbers— my posturing is ‘let me know if we can be of help,” he says.
Hoogendam also encourages his teachers to be what author and entrepreneur Seth Godin calls “the purple cow” — in other words, to do things that stand out.
“You don’t need to be perfect. Just be remarkable. You want parents talking about something positive,” he says.
Over the years, he’s come to understand that small, intentional gestures can go a long way. Hoogendam uses the example of a teacher who regularly sent students home with short notes to let parents know what kind of day their child had in kindergarten. It showed families that the teacher had a vested interest in the development of each child.
With so many new students filling the classrooms of Immanuel Christian School this year, there will be new opportunities for teachers to create “purple cow” moments. For Hoogendam, that in itself is an answer to prayer.
Interested in talking more with Jasper Hoogendam about enrollment? Connect with him on his eCurriculum wall!