TNCS Admissions 2020: The Name of the Game is Flexibility, Authenticity, and Patience!

The New Century School welcomed Suzannah Hopkins to take over as Admissions Director for the 2019–2020 school year . . .  and then the pandemic hit. Despite having only a few months under her belt as TNCS Admissions Director before schools were ordered to close down, Ms. Hopkins has managed to continue her work from her dining room table—including, believe it or not, introducing TNCS to new prospective families!

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But it’s certainly not easy. “It has been a challenge to sell the school, especially since we are wearing even more hats. The common saying among Admissions Directors is,” said Ms. Hopkins, “if we can get them on campus, they’re sold. But I can’t do that! That’s the rub for independent schools right now.”

Making Connections

So how does one showcase a school that can’t operate as a brick-and-mortar enterprise? That’s where TNCS Virtual School comes in to help tell the story. “That’s how people see who we are and what we’re all about,” explained Ms. Hopkins. “I also think that pivoting in our social media is allowing me to direct prospective families to our Facebook page and Immersed to show them virtually since we can’t do it in person. I only have a small window to provide a sense of what the school culture is about, so the social media becomes even more important. I am grateful to our team including Karin Cintron, who did not miss a beat pivoting with me to change our social media focus and creating resource pages on our website such as the new Support for Prospective Parents page.” In addition, the entire brochure package is also now on the website as a pdf.

Other aspects of admissions also needed to be adjusted, such as with the process for prospective students themselves:

We can’t do a shadow visit, so with rising 2nd through 8th graders, I’ll do student and parent interviews, separately or together, but definitely making sure I get to talk to the student. For the younger ones, we’re doing parent interviews, but I’ve been encouraging parents to make sure I have a sighting of the child or even just hear him or her in the background to get a sense of the family dynamic. That part is tricky, though, because kids are so different at home than they are at school, so you’re sort of getting their most comfortable self, and sometimes that can be pretty funny.

Ms. Hopkins says she relies a lot on Zoom these days, as do many of us, and values the ability to be able to connect with people, even if it can’t be in person. “I get so excited to get on a Zoom call and see some new faces,” she said. “Families seem to be feeling the same in terms of enjoying talking to somebody new or outside their own households. I start every call with, ‘How are you doing? How’s it going over at your house?’ Everyone wants to know that someone is thinking about them and feeling a sense of connection. Periodically, I’ll see a child enter the scene, and it’s the same on my end. Anything goes, and it’s all good! The mantra for virtual admissions is flexibility, authenticity, and a whole lot of patience.”

Her efforts to make connections are paying off, and prospective families with students of all ages have been reaching out for information. “Amazingly enough, we’ve gotten signed contracts even though the families don’t get to walk through the halls and hear our students and teachers interacting,” she said. In some ways, this is perhaps not so surprising as parents come to terms with realizing that we have to be ready for whatever the fall is going to look like. Schools in Maryland will not reopen this school year, and options may not be as abundant as they once were.

TNCS on the other hand, moved quickly to get up and running virtually, and has now hit a rhythm with it that seems to work for everyone. I give our faculty and administration a lot of credit for that. With so much uncertainty regarding how schools will reopen, I’m so in awe that we are trying to think of every possible scenario. It’s a whole lot of work to do that and figure out these contingencies. How can we split up this room to maintain smaller groups, for example? Do we have preschool on campus and elementary and middle stay virtual for now? Do we implement A and B days? For now, we’re all in the dark and watching the news together.

Virtual Discover TNCS Events

In addition to operating classrooms virtually, TNCS is offering Virtual Admissions Events. The first took place in April, and a second will take place Wednesday, May 20th from 10:00 am–11:00 am.

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“The fact that we’re doing virtual open houses is awesome,” said Ms. Hopkins. “We basically took the in-person event that I did in January and turned it into a Zoom event with updated slides and additions for virtual school. Josh Birenbaum gave the parent perspective, and we had nine prospective families in attendance.” One advantage to doing the event virtually is that people were able to ask questions via chat. One family is now enrolled, and a few others are “in the funnel,” as they say in admissions speak.

This month’s event will take a slightly different format: The first half will be admissions in general, and the second will be about summer camp.

Summer Camp?

Yes, TNCS Virtual Summer Camp will be a thing! TNCS Aftercare and Summer Camp Director Hannah Brown will handle that portion, with support from Paula Kupersanin and Adriana DuPrau, who are helping to create summer curricula. “It’s been a challenge running our aftercare program from home and preparing for summer camp, under uncertain circumstances,” said Ms. Brown. “But, it has been an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and I’m really proud of what the team has come up with so far.” They are currently working on virtual offerings for K through 8th-grade students. “I think that’s where the demand will be this summer. We’re looking at academic enrichment mornings in math and ELA, and then the afternoons will be geared toward social–emotional learning with specialty camps, like art and physical activity.”

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The actual offerings and the final schedule will be available on the TNCS website soon, thanks to the invaluable work by Karin Cintron to get that and registration up and running. “I’m really excited to get the word out to parents,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t yet have a sense of how many people will register,” she continued.

Right now it’s really a balancing act for families. We want our students to have a high level of readiness for the fall, but what’s especially important to me is for them to have a sense of connectedness this summer and get some social interaction, even if it is remotely. And we really want the experience to be fun, too, whether it’s an academic enrichment or a specialty camp. Every kid’s threshold for how much virtual interaction they can profit from is different. In that spirit, we’re parsing out the day so families can do as much or as little as they need.

What We’re Grateful For

“It’s such a scary time for admissions. The job of an admissions officer is to get students into a school so there are students to teach. Hearing about schools teetering or even having to close is so sad,” said Ms. Hopkins, but she’s not one to end on anything but a positive note. “I’m so grateful that Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner are doing everything they can to make sure we’re thriving. Admissions is challenging, but the fact that we’re still getting interest from families and getting them through the pipeline makes me really happy. People are talking about us, and our name is getting out there.”

Then there’s the fact that the fundamental part of her job is still intact—more or less. “My favorite part of my job is getting to meet families and students, and I don’t get to do that in the same way now. I like to be with people—I like to talk and connect. That’s why I like admissions so much.”

Finally, there’s you, TNCS community. “We have such loyal families who have been really supportive during this time; I think it makes all the difference,” said Ms. Hopkins. “I want to thank our current families, and I also want to thank new families for entrusting their children’s futures to us. I really am so grateful for that.”


Visit Virtual Discover TNCS to register and tell your friends!

Meet Hannah Brown: Speaking the Language of Welcome at TNCS!

This post is long overdue—about a year, in fact. Hannah Brown joined The New Century School in September 2018, and thanks to her smiling efficiency, reception runs like a clock. So, it’s time get to know Ms. Brown and find out what keeps that smile on her face!

Background

Ms. Brown graduated from the University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in both French and Spanish (she double majored). Since entering college, she also worked in some capacity in early childhood education. She began as a part-time assistant in a childcare center/preschool for children ages 2 to 5, soon becoming a lead teacher there, and ultimately advancing to coordinator (second to the director). “Although it was a small school—there were about 25 students—we were very multicultural” says Ms. Brown.” We were located by the university hospital, so we had families doing medical fellowships from all over the world. It was a great precursor to what I’m doing here.”

She worked there for several years before taking a job with the standardized testing company ACT, where she was a supervisor in their student services department. She describes this stint as basically taking escalated phone calls from moms and dads to help them navigate the standardized testing experience, or, as she put it, “talking them off the ledge”—these tests can be daunting, after all!

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As for what prompted her to move east to Baltimore, she says: “I always knew I wanted to move out of Iowa—I love Iowa; it was great place to grow up—but I’ve always loved both the east coast and the west coast.” As luck would have it, during a few visits to friends here, she fell in love with the city. “Cost of living wise, it’s pretty comparable to the midwest here, unlike a lot of other cities. I thought, ‘this is something I can do,’ so I made the leap.”

She has called Baltimore home for just over a year, having moved on August 14th (a date she remembers because it’s her brother’s birthday). She started working at TNCS just a few weeks later. “I saw a job posting, came and met with Señora Duncan, and loved the school right away.” The sentiment was evidently reciprocated—TNCS called her with an offer just a few hours later!

When asked how she would characterize her position at TNCS, Ms, Brown laughed and said, “I wear a lot of different hats.” On some days, she seems to be everywhere, facilitating various school processes and keeping things straight in general. “I’m the receptionist, but also a lot more than that. I like the term, ‘multipurpose caregiver’, which a first-aid trainer once called me.” She says that some of her duties include being the school nurse, helping with student onboarding, doing administrative assistant work, and so on. “She has even conducted school tours for prospective families.

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Like she says, she does a lot, and her varied background seems to have groomed her perfectly for her kaleidoscope of roles. “I feel like I get to see a little bit of everything, and I’m very versatile” she said. She clearly appreciates this aspect of her work, but the character of the school is also a draw for her:

I love it here. Part of what appealed to me was the Spanish immersion program—the Chinese immersion program is great too; I wish I spoke Mandarin—it’s really, really inspiring. I started studying languages when I was 14, a freshman in high school, and I’m lucky that I’m somewhat language-oriented. I think that what we’re doing here, the service that we’re providing in teaching kids languages while they’re young and their brains are primed to acquire language, is just so cool. Right off the bat, that was a big part of it for me. I have a pretty extensive background in early childhood education, and I think many families don’t necessarily know that about me. People are always surprised by my language background, too.

Ms. Brown is great at her current job but says she would love to grow at TNCS as well. She has considered going to graduate school to become a teacher like her mom, who was a public school elementary art teacher for 35 years in Iowa, and some other family members. “I feel like I come by it honestly,” she laughed. She is also interested in the administrative side of schools, though, so her future path could take more than one fork.

One thing about Ms. Brown is her naturally welcoming demeanor—she’s perfect for her job as long as it fulfills her. She makes TNCS veterans, newcomers, and guests feel comfortable and puts us all at ease, so just what makes her tick? “I love music and going to concerts. I love being outside in nature, especially walking. I call myself an ‘urban hiker’ because I walk all over town, including my 2 1/2 mile walk into work every day. I’m definitely also a social butterfly. Oh, and I love to cook. For me, a perfect day would be getting together with 8 to 10 friends, making dinner, and eating it outside.” As for her cooking style, she likes to experiment and try new things and especially enjoys world cuisines.

I want to share my perspective as a midwestern gal, dropped right into the big city here: It has been really fun. I really like the culture of Baltimore, so I feel like a Baltimorean already. I love the arts scene; I love the music. I like the ‘Smaltimore scene’ with everybody knowing each other. That’s more akin to where I grew up, and so I appreciate that sense of community here. It’s a cultural value that people share here, to be neighborly with each other. Obviously, I was aware of its challenges when I was moving here, but I think there’s a tendency to focus on the negatives about Baltimore, and I believe we need a new story. I see people being kind to each other and helping each other all the time, and I think that’s really what makes Baltimore special.

Baltimore—not to mention TNCS—is lucky to have you, Hannah Brown!