Building your school begins with … making connections with people’
Several members of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) are taking steps towards strengthening their ties to the larger community.
Dunnville Christian School is one of those schools that will be focusing on building relationships in the community.
“I know that’s the next step for our school,” says Nancy Hessels, noting she is in her fourth year as development director and it seems to be the right time to move outside the school walls in a more strategic way.
Hessels and two of her colleagues were inspired in this regard by a presentation by Janet Baird, administrator of St. Thomas Community Christian School, at the OACS Advancement Conference recently.
Three years ago the St. Thomas school had an enrolment of 67 students, with a grim prospect for growth.
Determined to ‘go down swinging,’ the school hired a strategic planner and as a result restructured its board and invested in development.
Specific action plans were developed each year with the goal to increase enrolment. These goals were met by raising the school’s visibility in the community and building relationships with both prospective and existing parents in the school.
A key element of this course of action was to link the community engagement activities of the school with the school’s curriculum.
For instance, when the school decided to become involved with a local food bank they didn’t just ask students to collect canned goods to be later dropped off at the food bank by a staff-member.
Time was first taken to teach the students about hunger and poverty as well as gratitude for what they’ve been given. Students also learned how the food bank works.
When it came time to deliver the goods, the students were involved in this process as well and visited the food bank themselves, so they could see what was happening in the community. There was a focus on building relationships throughout this activity.
Engaging with other community groups in the St. Thomas area has been undertaken with a similar approach.
Today St. Thomas Community Christian School has an enrolment of 92.
Hessels notes that the St. Thomas community and Dunnville have similar characteristics so she is particularly inspired to adopt some of the strategies shared by Baird.
Angela Kaptein, office administrator and chair of the marketing committee for Clinton and District Christian School, says strengthening ties with the larger community is something she would like to see happen in her school as well.
Kaptein was also inspired by Baird’s presentation and already has some concrete ideas about what could be done at the Clinton school to build relationships in the community.
For instance, a parent recently donated a box of daffodil bulbs to the school. Rather than distributing them to the staff, Kaptein would like to see the students planting the bulbs at a nearby retirement residence.
Kaptein says one of the messages that came through very strong at the Advancement Conference was that “building your school begins with relationships. It doesn’t begin with advertising or with a splashy ad in the newspaper. It begins with making connections with people.”