Reflections on a Year of Growth at Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor
by Ali Reingold, Director of Admissions and Marketing
(Reprinted from prizmah.org/prizmah-blogs, October 2021)
Spanning more than 45 years and the only Jewish day school in town, our TK-5 school welcomes families from the broadest range of Jewish practice and observance, embracing the idea that the tent is big enough for us all, and that a strong community is built through the celebration of both our similarities and our differences. Over the past several years, with students numbering in the high 40s to low 50s, we employed a robust, multifaceted recruitment strategy to increase visibility and enrollment. Offering an exceptional, whole-child focused education in general studies, Judaic studies and Hebrew language, HDS found itself positioned as an excellent school in a crowded market, with a plethora of local public, private and charter options.
In March 2020, as the whiplash of the Covid-19 pandemic overwhelmed schools, everything at HDS went virtual: teaching, learning and even admissions. When we reopened for in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, the school’s Covid-19 protocols prohibited visitors from entering the building. Could admissions work continue remotely? Would interested families still fall in love with HDS from afar?
The admissions department saw this not as an obstacle but as an opportunity. Reflecting on experiences from the past, it became clear that the strategies that had allowed HDS to successfully build relationships with prospective students and families would remain the same, whether in-person or on Zoom. Conversations would still begin with an authentic description of and deep dive into the mission-driven educational product. There would still be a strong commitment to holding space for parents to show their thinking, ask questions and address concerns. And the school’s desire and ability to build community would be evident throughout, as every interaction between school and family would be professional, genuine and warm.
With the admissions team poised to pivot to remote work, inquiries began increasing, as parents in the Ann Arbor area searched for in-person instruction for their children. The power of word of mouth had never been more evident, as HDS parent ambassadors, armed with gratitude towards and passion for the school, spread the word within their communities.
I spent hours on Zoom with interested parents. As an alumni parent myself, I understood the importance of taking the time and care to learn each family’s story, helping them make connections between their current experiences and those that HDS would offer their child(ren). Teachers, still eager to connect with potential students as a part of the admissions process, constructed unique games and activities that could be played via Zoom, each one tailored to that child’s interests.
Ultimately, the admissions team spent hours online, with parents, with students and with each other, as they reviewed and evaluated the growing number of new applications. Seats filled, and a waitpool was created. By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, HDS counted its enrollment at 59 students. We are thrilled to say that for 2021-2022, after retaining nearly all of the new students who had joined the previous year, and adding 27 new students, enrollment currently stands at 70. Our school—the students, the staff and the families—is truly a joyful, and now growing, community of learners.