Virtual School Open Houses Put Prospective Students, Families in the Know

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Since early December, prospective students and their families have been able to participate in the archdiocesan Virtual Visiting Program for school open houses, a solid plan stemming from limitations on in-person visits due to the pandemic.

“This is critical to our recruitment process and to families being able to get the information that they need about our schools,” Veronica Jarek-Prinz, archdiocesan director of school Enrollment Management, told Catholic New York in a phone interview last week. 

“It’s been our mission to keep the schools open and safe for families during the pandemic, and so our office has worked to develop a completely safe virtual enrollment process.” 

Ms. Jarek-Prinz noted that her office sent emails to principals, “with the instructions, information and guidance on setting up a virtual visit...We provided materials for the principals to use and to share with the families. It allows the principals to talk about the specifics of their schools and the highlights of their curriculum. 

“They also have the ability to include a video of a virtual tour, or photos and slides of what the school looks like.”

She also said, “We opened our admissions on the first of December, and families have been visiting our schools virtually since we started doing that. They will get more active now that the holidays are over; that’s part of the reason we’re invigorating this push to principals. 

“We sent all of them their (program) toolkit, which helps them prepare their template and plan the virtual visits for January, February and March, which is our heaviest application period. Virtual visits will be available through at least May.” 

(Catholic high schools in general are implementing virtual tours and open houses under each school’s own guidelines and practices.)

In-person school  tours are done on a case-by-case basis, Ms. Jarek-Prinz said, “if the schools are safe to enter in that way.”

“That has to be managed on a school-specific basis with the regional superintendent. Our protocols do not permit us to have non-school personnel in the buildings during the school day,” she said.

In the virtual visits, grade-school students and their families are informed about how students have an opportunity to progress in a safe, structured learning community, from early childhood through eighth grade, and how free, high-quality UPK and private Pre-K 3 classes help young learners prepare for kindergarten.

The virtual visits also provide information about full New York State Core Curriculum—mathematics, reading, spelling, writing, grammar, social studies, science and study skills; special area subjects and programs included in the school program, such as art, music, choir, Title 1 Math & Literacy, church choir; and religious instruction: worship and service; and preparation for receiving the sacraments. 

Each school, as with regular in-person visits, also promotes its own particular programs and activities.

The school Virtual Visiting sites in general include still photos, videos, PowerPoint presentations and other online means of school information and promotion, including opportunities for students and their families to attend scheduled group Zoom meetings with school administrators and teachers. Families can also request one-to-one appointments for students and their families to meet virtually with school representatives, such as with a faculty member teaching a particular subject. 

The Archdiocese of New York has 108 elementary schools, plus 12 Early Childhood and eight Special Education programs, covering the New York City boroughs of Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx and upper counties. 

Jonathan Morano, principal of St. Barnabas Elementary School in the Bronx, said his school began virtual open houses much earlier—around May/June of last year for September 2020, and last autumn for September 2021.

“We started it towards the end of last school year when we knew that we weren’t going to be able to come back in person, and we realized pretty quickly the summer and this school year would look radically different; and that people coming in and out was not going to be the best idea,” Morano told CNY. 

“We immediately looked for that virtual solution, in particular because if parents are going to choose one of our schools, they need to be able to see what they’re choosing.”

Suzanne Kaszynski, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in West Harlem, said her school joined the archdiocesan Virtual Visiting Program in early December when most grade schools joined. 

“The pandemic has provided some challenges, but we believe we’re meeting them through virtual Zoom meetings and through virtual tours,” said Ms. Kaszynski, noting that prospective students and their parents can learn all about the school virtually from administrators and teachers.  

“We also have a welcome video, and we have a 360-degree virtual tour of the school.”

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